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Student Loans: Who Do I Actually Owe?You’ve decided it’s time to tackle your student loan debt. Maybe you owe old loans and you’re tired of hearing from collection agencies every so often. Or perhaps you are a recent grad and you want to pay off your student loans as quickly as you can. Or you’ve heard about Income Based Repayment and you want to find out if it can help you lower your payments.

Before you can do any of these, you have to know:

  • How much you owe.
  • What types of loans they are (private or federal).
  • Who currently holds or services your loan.

Sometimes the answers to those questions can be hard to find.

[Related Article: The First Thing You Must Do Before Paying Off Debt]

Free Credit Check & MonitoringYour first stop for federal loans

The first place to start is with the National Student Loan Data System (NSLDS). This database, run by the Department of Education, lists details about federal student aid, including federal student loans. You’ll find information about your loans, including the type of loan, original amount, current balance, name of the loan servicer or holder of the loan, and loan status (for example, in repayment or in default). Information about new loans is usually reported within 30 days of when the borrower received the funds.

To access the system, you will have to provide your Social Security number, the first two letters of your last name, your date of birth, and your PIN (formerly known as EAC). If you don’t already have a PIN (it’s the same PIN you used if you filled out the FAFSA form for financial aid eligibility) then you will have to use the PIN website to set one up.

Tip: When requesting your PIN, don’t enter your Social Security number directly. Instead, look for the “virtual keyboard” below the spaces where it is requested. Use that keyboard, as it’s a safer way to enter that sensitive information online.

The good news is that this database “is 99% accurate (when it comes to) federal loans,” says Joshua Cohen, aka The Student Loan Lawyer. But he warns that it is not always accurate when it comes to how much you owe. Even the Department of Education also states that balances listed by NSLDS may be up to 120 days old and encourages borrowers to contact their loan servicers for more up-to-date information.

Cohen also notes that some federal loans may not show up here. In those cases, the loans “are likely from the early ’80s,” he says.

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But what about private loans?

There is no similar database for private student loans. So if you owe multiple private loans, or if it’s been some time since you made a payment on one of these loans, you’ll have to rely on other sources to try to track them down.

One place to start there is with your credit reports. Order copies of your credit reports from all three credit reporting agencies and read them carefully to see what loans are listed. There should be contact information listed for each company that reports so that you can reach out to them for more current information.

There’s no guarantee that the information on your reports is accurate or up to date, however. If the servicing of your loan was transferred, for example, the latest information may not be listed. And older student loans may not be listed. However, it is a place to start for non-federal loans.

And if you’re in collections?

Finally, if you are contacted by a debt collector about a student loan, you can gather additional information. Do this by sending them a letter (certified mail is best) requesting they verify the debt. Under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, you have 30 days to do this, and it triggers a requirement that the debt collector send you written verification with details of the debt.

If despite all these efforts to track down your student loans you are still running into problems, you may need to contact a consumer law attorney. “When in doubt a student loan lawyer can help,” Cohen suggests.

[Student Loans: Research and compare options for student loans at Credit.com]

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