#1 Student Loan Lawyer
Updated on February 4, 2023
You check your credit report, and your student loan balance says zero. Or maybe your loan was closed. Or, even better, the loans disappeared completely. Whatever it says, you get excited because you hope it means you’re free from the debt that followed you for years. I hate to break it to you, but that probably isn’t what happened.
Here’s what those statuses probably mean:
Paid in full – the loans were recently consolidated or were commercially held Federal Family Education Loans that defaulted and were sold to the guaranty agency that owns the debt.
Closed – the loans were sent to a new servicer.*
Zero balance – the Education Department may have forgiven the student loan debt, but what’s more likely is that the loans were moved to a different servicer.
Disappeared – the loans defaulted several years ago and fell off the report.
Unless you got word from the federal government or a private lender like Navient that your loans were wiped out, the likely answer is that your loans moved to a new company, and you still owe the balance.
Learn More: Student Loan Account Closed Due to Transfer
* Last year, three companies — FedLoan, Granite State Management, and Navient — ended their contracts with the Education Department. The department had to move millions of borrowers to new servicers. Many of those moves have happened, but more are still to come before federal student loan payments resume.
Why your student loan balance disappeared
Your student loans may be gone from your credit report or show a closed or zero balance. Don’t get too excited! It’s doubtful that you’ve escaped. The loans have likely moved to a new servicer who will report the debt soon — unless you defaulted long ago. In that case, the loans won’t return. They’ll sit and wait, ready to pounce on you when you least expect it.
Sure, your student loans’ mysterious disappearance from your credit report could be because the loans were forgiven as part of the piecemeal fixes the federal government made to existing student loan forgiveness programs. Those changes have led to billions of dollars in debt cancellation for hundreds of thousands of borrowers with federal loans.
Related: Student Loan Borrowers in Shock Over Zero Balance
But if that was the case, you would’ve gotten a letter or email from the department or your student loan servicer confirming that your loans were forgiven or canceled under a specific program. For example, if you applied for the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program or the PSLF Waiver, FedLoan Servicing would have sent you a letter like this confirming that your student loan balance was zero because it was erased:
PSLF Award Letter
What does paid in full by consolidation mean?
Paid in full by consolidation in student loan terms means that multiple loans have been combined into one larger loan — typically with improved repayment terms, such as more flexible repayment options, lower monthly payments, or greater loan forgiveness opportunities. This results in the full repayment of the consolidated debt and a “paid in full” status for the borrower.
In the past, federal student loan borrowers consolidated their loans through either the Federal Family Education Loan Program or the Federal Direct Loan Program. But the FFEL Program was discontinued by Congress in the early 2010s. As a result, borrowers who apply for student loan consolidation now receive a Direct Consolidation Loan.
You can view your past consolidation loan applications on StudentAid.gov.
Note: Consolidating won’t save you money by getting you a lower interest rate. The new loan will have a fixed interest rate for the life of the loan based on the weighted average of your existing rates.
Check your loan status
Maybe your letter got lost in the mail, or the email was delivered to your spam folder. That’s possible. Here’s how to discover if you still owe federal student loans:
Call the Federal Student Aid Information Center at 1-800-433-3243. Provide the representative with your Social Security Number and birthday and ask that they check the National Student Loan Data System to see if you have loans with an outstanding balance. If you don’t, congratulations. You no longer owe federal student loans. But if you do, get the contact information for the student loan servicer. Work with that company to determine repayment options before the pandemic forbearance ends.
You can also use StudentAid.gov to view your loan history with the U.S. Department of Education.
For private student loans, contact the loan holder and ask the same question: do I still have a balance? If you don’t, ask if your loans were canceled or charged off and sold to a collection agency. Read more about how to get rid of private student loans.
Options if you still owe student loans
If it turns out that your loans weren’t forgiven, here are four things you can do before the forbearance ends to put yourself in a position to have an affordable monthly payment and eventually get your loans forgiven:
Sign up for income-driven repayment. IDR plans cap your student loan payments at 10-20% of your discretionary income. The plans come with an added benefit: loan forgiveness after 20 to 25 years of payments. Read more about income-driven repayment forgiveness.
Get out of default. Delinquency and default block most paths to loan forgiveness. Plus, student loan default puts you at risk of having your wages garnished, tax refund seized, and Social Security benefits offset. Getting out of default will restore your eligibility for income-based repayment plans, deferments, loan forgiveness, and so on. It will also improve your credit score.* Read more about how to find defaulted student loans and how to get student loans out of default.
Consolidate if you have FFEL Loans. The Education Department announced it would make a one-time account adjustment to give borrowers credit towards IDR forgiveness to fix issues related to forbearance steering. Eligibility for this benefit is limited to borrowers with department-held loans. If you have commercially held FFEL Loans — you have these types of loans if you had to make payments throughout the pandemic — you must refinance the loans into a new Direct Consolidation Loan to qualify. Read more about the IDR account adjustment.
Apply for borrower defense. Around 200 thousand former students who went to for-profit schools they said defrauded them will have their loans wiped out under a deal the Education Department struck to settle claims pending from the Trump administration. Check the borrower defense school list to see if your school is listed. If it is — or even if it isn’t, but you believe your school lied to you about job placement, job readiness, the transferability of credits, and so on — submit a claim on studentaid.gov. You may be eligible to get your balance erased.
Related: What Increases Your Total Loan Balance?
* In April, the Education Department announced it would automatically restore all borrowers in default with federal loans to good standing before payments resume. Read more about the student loan fresh start program.
During the pandemic, the White House has frozen student loan payments, set interest rates to zero, and cleared the accounts of hundreds of thousands of federal student loan borrowers with FFEL and Direct Loans.
The Biden administration is also proposing to stop interest capitalization, change forgiveness programs permanently to make it easier for public servants, disabled people, and people who went to schools that closed abruptly or defrauded their students to get relief and introduce a new income-driven repayment plan that lowers monthly payments and leads to loan forgiveness sooner.
Given all those changes, maybe your loans were wiped out, which would explain why your student loan balance decreased or shows closed on your credit report. But before you jump for joy, contact the Education Department and confirm your loan status. The more likely explanation is that your loans were moved to a new company — work with them to find a payment plan you can afford.
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