NEW YORK ( MainStreet) — Student loans from the federal government are generally easy to get . With the exception of PLUS loans , which are co-signed by parents or guardians, credit scores are not checked, because most borrowers are assumed to be just out of high school. Employment histories aren't checked for the same reason.

So the New York Fed added some questions on the topic to its Survey of Consumer Expectations last July that were directed to heads of households as opposed to the students — referred to as "the child" — who got the loans. The result? The respondents, the report concluded didn't know what they were in for.

For example, 1,029 respondents were asked:

If a borrower is unable to repay her federal student loan, what steps can the government take to collect the debt?

  • A. Report that the student debt is past due to the credit bureaus.
  • B. Garnish wages until the debt, plus any interest fees, is repaid.
  • C. Retain tax refunds and Social Security payments until the debt, plus any interest and fees, is repaid.

The answer? All of the above.

A June 5 post on the New York Fed's Liberty Street Economics blog stated that its authors found that less than a third of U.S. household heads – 28% - knew that the government could take all of these actions. Taken independently, 41% believed the U.S. government may report delinquent student debt to the credit bureaus, 41% believed the government may garnish wages and 51% believed the government may retain tax refunds and Social Security payments.

"We also asked people about the likelihood that someone's student debt would be forgiven if they were to file for bankruptcy, on a scale from 1 to 5 (where 1 is 'extremely unlikely')," wrote the report's authors, Zachary Bleemer, Meta Brown, Wilbert van der Klaauw and Basit Zafar.

Only 37% go the right answer—"1"—that it was extremely unlikely to have a student loan discharged in bankruptcy. The borrower must prove the loan caused undue hardship which the report said was "a very high legal bar." The report's findings were not endorsed by the New York Fed as an organization.

U.S. student debt has more than tripled since 2004 and is now significantly greater than credit card and auto loan balances combined .

"There are substantial potential benefits to be gained from taking out a student loan to fund a college education, but the loans frequently carry relatively high interest rates and fees," the report said, adding that delinquency is common.

And Uncle Sam gets his money more often than not. "Reported federal recovery rates on defaulted direct student loans exceeds 70%," the report says -- a percentage any debt collector would sign for.

The Fed found that under 50% of respondents to the survey had what it called "high student loan literacy." By the same token, the Fed study found that that getting in the game — and borrowing money — can lead to student loan literacy, even if it's learned the hard way and learned too late.