The government has extraordinary student loan collection power. The government can seize tax refunds, deny new student loans and grants, garnish wages without a court order, take a portion of Social Security benefits, and charge very large collection fees.
Most crimes can only be prosecuted for limited periods of time, but there is no time limit for collection on federal student loans.
Collection efforts begin soon after you miss a payment. The collection tactics get worse the longer you fail to pay. The most severe consequences kick in only if you default.
Private student loan collection is different. There is a time limit for collection and private collectors do not have as many collection tools as the government. This does not mean that private student loans are better than government loans. In fact, federal loans are usually more affordable and have important borrower protections.
The government and private lenders almost always hire private collection agencies to try to collect from borrowers. These agencies may engage in abusive or deceptive behavior that violates state or federal laws. You should be aware of common problems and ways to fight back. This includes letting the Department of Education and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau know of you complaints about collection agencies.