When I graduated from college, I had no idea how to view my federal student loans — and my ballooning balance. I knew that all of my small $2,000 and $3,000 loans had mounted, but I wasn’t sure exactly how much I owed.
After speaking with my school’s financial aid office, I pulled my free credit report via AnnualCreditReport.com to learn the precise amount of my education debt. Since then, however, I’ve learned that there’s a much better way to calculate your student loan debt. It’s called the National Student Loan Data System (NSLDS).
What is the National Student Loan Data System?
The NSLDS is a student loan database that keeps track of individuals’ federal education debt. It stores all of your information so you can access it at any time.
Besides displaying your loan amounts, the NSLDS will show each debt’s status. Yours could be enjoying your grace period or another type of deferment, or you could be in repayment, default or paid up.
The database also breaks down the type of loan you have so you can differentiate between subsidized and unsubsidized loans. Keep in mind that any Parent PLUS Loans that were borrowed in your mom or dad’s name won’t appear in this space. The same goes for your private student loan debt if you have any.
While plans are underway to overhaul how student loans are tracked and serviced, the NSLDS is currently the best first stop to make when you’re looking for information about your federal student loans. Just be sure to protect your FSA ID and password by finding the correct website — the URL in your browser should read “nslds.ed.gov,” and the homepage will probably look something like this:
How does the NSLDS get my student loan information?
I consolidated my loans after I graduated, but the NSLDS showed each of my original loans, plus the consolidated loans, which were around $16,000 each respectively.
Because the original loans were paid off through consolidation, the database has marked them with a $0 value.
As you can see, once you’re logged in to the NSLDS, you can view your total federal loan debt to the exact dollar amount. The information is sourced from colleges and universities across the country, which send your loan data to the NSLDS.
If you’re still in school, be aware that new loans are reported to the student loan database within a month of disbursement. If you’ve been in repayment, meanwhile, keep in mind that the outstanding balances posted by the NSLDS could be as much as 120 days old. For more up-to-date information, you could log into your servicer’s online portal or contact their customer service.
If you find your NSLDS loan information to be incorrect, rather than just out of date, contact your school or loan servicer. If you’re unsuccessful, you can reach the NSLDS directly via snail mail:
Director, National Student Loan Data System, FSA
U.S. Department of Education, UCP
830 First Street NE, 4th Floor,
What do I need to sign up for NSLDS access?
If you’ve never logged in before, the process is straightforward. Logging in recently took me only a few minutes.
You’ll need a valid email address and Social Security number, and you’ll have to set up security questions which you would answer if you need to recover your username or password.
To log in for the first time, click “Financial Aid Review” on the homepage. When you reach the login screen, click the tab that says, “Create An FSA ID.”
You’ll have to follow a few more basic steps before you can get access to your information. Then you can log in as many times as you want to check on your student loan amounts.
Keep an eye out for high-interest student loans
When reviewing your loans within NSLDS, it’s also worth noting any loans with especially high interest rates. While federal student loans generally carry low rates, any that don’t could be good candidates for refinancing with a private lender.
Student loan refinancing allows you to replace one or more loans with a single private loan, possibly with lower monthly payments and a lower interest rate. Alternatively, you can also use refinancing to shorten the terms on your loans, which could raise your monthly payment but save you money on interest costs.
A student loan refinancing calculator can make sense of the math. Input your combined federal loan information, which you can grab from NSLDS, plus your potential refinancing terms — you can get a sense of refinancing rates comparing quotes online. Then the calculator will pump out your potential savings.
To qualify for refinancing, you’ll need a strong credit score, plus steady employment and income. Adding a creditworthy cosigner to your application, however, could make up for deficiencies in this area.
As lovely as the rewards may sound, refinancing isn’t right for every borrower. If you count on your federal loan protections — a list that includes access to Income-Driven Repayment plans, mandatory forbearance and pathways to loan forgiveness — you’re likely better off keeping your loans where they are.
Before making a decision, weigh your options, as refinancing with a private lender is irreversible and immediately strips your debt of these government-only safeguards.
The National Student Loan Data System is a great first stop
If you have student loan debt, it’s important to you know just how much you owe.
Trust me, I know it’s not fun to look at the amounts. I didn’t like seeing my approximately $32,000 balance at all.
However, I know that knowledge is power, and the NSLDS helped me learn how to view my federal student loans. And now that I know how much I have to pay back, I’m one step closer to accomplishing my goal of being debt-free.
You should use the NSLDS to paint an accurate picture of your student loan debt. When you start paying them off, log in frequently to see your balance drop. Visiting the student loan database will keep you motivated and allow you to track your progress.
Andrew Pentis contributed to this report.
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