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How to Know if Your Student Loans are Federal

How to Know If Your Student Loans are Federal
Rebecca Safier
Rebecca SafierUpdated September 7, 2023
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Editor’s note: Lantern by SoFi seeks to provide content that is objective, independent and accurate. Writers are separate from our business operation and do not receive direct compensation from advertisers or partners. Read more about our Editorial Guidelines and How We Make Money.
If you borrowed student loans for college, you may be wondering whether your student loans are private or federal. The majority of student loans that students and parents take out are federal — only 13% come from non-federal sources, such as state agencies or private lenders, according to College Board. Fortunately, it’s easy to find out whether your student loans are federal. Simply sign into your account at to see the full list of your federal student loans. Keep reading to learn more about the differences between federal and private student loans, and how to recognize which ones you have.

Understanding the Difference Between Federal and Private Loans

It’s important to identify whether your student loans are federal or private, since these two loan types have important differences. While both can be used to cover your educational expenses, they may have different interest rates, repayment options, and other features. Here’s a closer look at both loan types. 

Federal Student Loans

Federal student loans come from the Department of Education. They have relatively low, fixed interest rates and are eligible for a variety of repayment plans, including income-driven repayment. You can also pause payments on federal loans through deferment or forbearance if you have a qualifying circumstance. Federal student loans include Direct Subsidized Loans, Direct Unsubsidized Loans, Grad PLUS Loans, and Parent PLUS Loans. Depending on where you work, you may qualify for loan forgiveness through a program like Public Service Loan Forgiveness.Recommended: Subsidized vs Unsubsidized Student Loans: Which Is Better? 

Private Student Loans

Private student loans come from a private lender, such as a bank, credit union, or online lender. Similar to federal loans, private student loans are usually unsecured, meaning they don’t require collateral. They may have fixed or variable interest rates and don’t usually offer income-driven repayment options.Instead, you may get to choose loan terms between five and 15 or 20 years when you borrow. If you’re having trouble paying back your loan, your lender may offer deferment or forbearance options, but this will vary by lender and be determined on a case-by-case basis. Unlike federal student loans, private loans often require good credit and a steady source of income to borrow. To meet these requirements, most undergraduate students have to apply with a cosigner, such as a parent, who shares responsibility for the loan. 

How to Know If You Have Federal Student Loans 

You can easily find out if you have federal student loans by logging into your account at Log in with your FSA ID to see a list of any federal student loans you borrowed, along with any grants you received for school. You can also check your student loan balance.Along with seeing which loans you owe, you’ll also see your loan status, servicer, interest rate, and other details. From your Federal Student Aid account, you can also take other steps, such as applying for income-driven repayment or loan consolidation. 

Recognize Key Federal Loan Features

Another way to tell if your student loan is federal is to recognize key features of federal student loans. All federal student loans have fixed rates, for instance, so if your loan has a variable interest rate that changes over time, it’s not a federal loan. Federal loans are also eligible for repayment plans like income-based repayment and SAVE (which replaced REPAYE). If you’re paying back your loan on one of these income-driven plans, it’s a federal student loan. Federal student loan payments have also been paused at 0% interest since March of 2020. This payment pause is coming to an end in October 2023, and interest will start accruing again on September 1. 

Review Student Loan Servicer Information

Another way to determine whether your student loans are federal or private is to check who your student loan servicer is. Federal student loans are serviced by the following companies: 
  • Great Lakes Educational Loan Services, Inc.
  • Edfinancial
  • Aidvantage
  • Nelnet
  • OSLA Servicing
  • ECSI
  • Default Resolution Group
If you’re not sure who your loan servicer is, you can contact the federal student aid helpline at 1-800-4-FED-AID for assistance. If the helpline informs you that none of your loans are serviced by the above companies, then your loan is probably not federal. 

Verify Loan Status With the School

You can also contact your school’s financial aid office to learn more about your student loan. The Department of Education, as well as most private lenders, disburse your student loans directly to your school. After applying your loan to tuition and fees, your school will send the leftover funds to you to use on supplies and living expenses. Since your financial aid office receives your loan directly, it should be able to tell you where the loan came from and whether it’s federal or private. 

Check Billing Statement

For more information on the source of your student loan, you can also check a recent billing statement. Your billing statement should list the name of both your student loan lender and loan servicer. Alternatively, you can order a copy of your credit report for free from Your credit report will list your loans, along with the lender that owns the loan and how much you owe. You can contact your lender for more information about your loan and repayment options. 

Differentiating Federal and Private Loan Companies

Federal student loans come from the Department of Education and are serviced by their servicing partners, such as Nelnet and Aidvantage. Private loans, on the other hand, come from a private lender, such as a bank, credit union, or online loan company. Some states and institutions also provide loans to eligible students. Understanding where your loan comes from can help you manage repayment more easily. By tracking down the details of your loan and communicating with your loan servicer, you can gain a clearer understanding of your repayment options and long-term loan costs. 

The Importance of Financial Literacy

Financial literacy equips you with the knowledge and skills to manage your personal finances and pay back your loans. Paying back student loans can be a long and frustrating journey, but learning about your options will empower you to take control of your debt. Federal student loans, for example, are eligible for a variety of repayment plans, such as income-driven repayment, that can adjust your monthly payments so they work better for your budget. They’re also eligible for forgiveness programs that could help you get out of debt faster. Private student loans don’t have as many protections, but some lenders offer useful borrower benefits, such as the option to change your payment due date or pause payments if you lose your job.If you have high-interest student loans, you might also consider refinancing them for better rates. Just be cautious about refinancing federal loans, since doing so turns them private and thus makes them ineligible for federal repayment plans and forgiveness programs. 

The Takeaway

Learning how to tell if your student loans are federal or private is an important part of paying back your loans. Fortunately, it’s easy to track down all your federal student loans in one place — your account. While there’s no centralized dashboard for private student loans, you can find your lender by checking your billing statement or reviewing your credit report. Understanding where your loans come from can help you make on-time payments and come up with a strategy for getting out of debt. If you decide refinancing is part of that strategy, Lantern by SoFi can help you compare student loan refinancing rates with leading lenders.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are considered federal student loans?
Are FAFSA loans for federal or private?
What student loan companies are federal?
Photo credit: iStock/Prostock-Studio

About the Author

Rebecca Safier

Rebecca Safier

Rebecca Safier has nearly a decade of experience writing about personal finance. Formerly a senior writer with LendingTree and Student Loan Hero, she specializes in student loans, financial aid, and personal loans. She is certified as a student loan counselor with the National Association of Certified Credit Counselors (NACCC).
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