Great Lakes Student Loans Review

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For 43 million Americans, student loan debt is a reality. It’s just part of life. As of 2019 Q3, there is $1.48 trillion in student loan debt from federal student loans. A company called Great Lakes is servicing a large portion of those loans.great lakes student loans logo

Yet many borrowers have never heard of Great Lakes or their role in federal student loans.

Let’s take a closer look at Great Lakes to find out who they are, what they do, and what borrowers can do if Great Lakes is their loan servicer.

What are Great Lakes student loans?great lakes student loans

Great Lakes, also known as Great Lakes Educational Loan Services, Inc., is one of the largest loan servicers in the U.S.

They are one of nine student loan servicers used by the federal government to service their loans. Millions of students have had loans serviced by Great Lakes over the past several decades.

Great Lakes was acquired in 2018 by Nelnet, another federal loan servicer.

Student Loan Servicer vs. Student Loan Lender

Student loan borrowers often get confused with student loan lenders and servicers. Often, they receive a letter about their student loans from a company they’ve never heard of before.

Student Loan Lender

A student loan lender, or originator, is a company or organization that originates student loans. They set the terms and also disburse student loan funds to schools or individuals to pay for college.

It’s entirely possible to never have any contact with your student loan lender after applying for a student loan. In the case of federal student loans, the federal government is the lender.

Student Loan Servicer

Lenders often hire student loan servicers to manage their student loans for them. This includes managing loan payments and providing support for borrowers. Borrowers don’t get to pick their loan servicer.

One is assigned to you shortly after your loans are disbursed. Student loan servicers can change during the repayment period based on whatever deals the lender has in place. As mentioned, the federal government uses nine loan servicers to manage all of their student loans.

Setting up your Great Lakes account

If you are assigned Great Lakes as your loan servicer, you should receive an email or letter from them shortly after your first loan disbursement.

Once this happens, head to Great Lakes’ website to get set up with an online account. From within your online account, you’ll be able to see all the details of your student loan, payment due dates and amounts, and more.

Great Lakes also has a mobile app that gives access to your account from anywhere.

great lakes mobile app

Managing your Great Lakes student loans

Payments

Once you’re set up with a Great Lakes account, what options do you have with your student loans?

In terms of loan repayment, borrowers have a couple of options that can save money. By signing up for automatic payments, people can earn a 0.25% interest rate discount on their student loans. Payments will be withdrawn directly from your bank account.

For people looking to pay off their student loans faster, there are options to pay them off more quickly. This includes setting up auto payments for more than your required monthly payment.

Any payment amount above your monthly payment will go towards your loan principal. If you have more than one loan, the extra money will go towards the loan with the highest interest rate. Borrowers can also set up multiple loan payments during the month, which can have the same effect.

Other Changes To Your Great Lakes Student Loans

Beyond managing payments, Great Lakes also can help borrowers make changes to their loans. This includes tasks such as:

  • Changing from a standard repayment plan to an income-driven repayment plan
  • Applying for loan deferment
  • Applying for loan forbearance
  • Paying your student loan in full
  • Advice on federal student loan consolidation

What if there is an issue with my Great Lakes student loan?

None of the federal loan servicers have an excellent reputation when it comes to customer service. Great Lakes has been known for its poor customer service practices too. They currently carry a B- rating with the Better Business Bureau.

Because borrowers are assigned a loan servicer, you don’t have a say in who manages your student loans. This means you need to be informed of the details of your student loans. Borrowers should also be diligent in keeping detailed notes of any interactions with Great Lakes’ customer service. Tracking loan payments can help if Great Lakes makes claims of missing or late payments.

If, for some reason, you find yourself in a situation where there’s no resolution to an issue with Great Lakes, there are other steps you can take, like filing complaints with the Better Business Bureau (BBB) and The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).

If you’ve kept detailed records of your case against Great Lakes, contacting your Congressperson could also help move things in the right direction. This may seem extreme, but with so many borrowers facing similar issues, you could get lost in the shuffle without a little extra help. One call or email to your congressperson could nudge Great Lakes to take proper action to revolve your issue.

How to contact Great Lakes

There are multiple ways to contact Great Lakes if you have questions or want to file a complaint.

  • Phone: (800) 236-4300, Monday through Friday,  7 a.m. to 9 p.m. (Central Time)
  • Fax: (800) 375-5288 or (608) 246-1608
  • Email: borrowerservices@glhec.org
  • Address: Great Lakes – Borrower Services, PO Box 7860, Madison, WI 53707-7860

Complaints can be filed directly with Great Lakes by logging into your Great Lakes account and submitting a  complaint.

Common Problems

As mentioned above, Great Lakes doesn’t have the best customer service reputation. While they don’t receive the number of complaints that other federal loan servicers do, Great Lakes has their fair share of issues.

What are some of the more common issues that borrowers face with Great Lakes?

Lack of Communication

A scan of complaints about Great Lakes with the BBB and CFPB reveals that they have communication issues. Borrowers have a hard time getting straight answers from Great Lakes or answers at all.

Another communication problem for Great Lakes is that their customer service isn’t on the same page. Talking to different customer service reps will lead to different answers and advice.

Payments Being Handled Incorrectly

How your payments are handled is of the utmost importance for borrowers, especially if they are pursuing loan forgiveness. Borrowers are able to set payment preferences like what to do if they pay more than their monthly loan payment.

Often, these preferences aren’t being honored. For borrowers with more than one loan, there are times when funds are allocated to the wrong loan. Other times, borrowers are marked with late payments because they were processed incorrectly, which can show up on credit reports.

Unauthorized Changes to Accounts

There are many complaint reports of borrowers being signed up for the wrong repayment plan or being switched to another plan without consent. Most of the time, these changes aren’t communicated either, leaving borrowers surprised down the road.

With Great Lakes being purchased by NelNet, it’s unclear if this will have an impact of customer service practices within the company.

Consolidating your Great Lakes student loans

As mentioned, borrowers have no say in what loan servicer they are assigned to when their loan funds are disbursed. There is no way, on your own, to switch loan servicers.

However, one way you can choose your loan servicer is to consolidate your student loans into a Direct Consolidation Loan. Consolidating your loans takes multiple loans and combines them into one loan with one loan payment.

There are plenty of pros and cons of consolidating student loans. One positive of consolidating is that you can choose your loan servicer from a list of options. If you have significant issues with Great Lakes, this is your chance to replace them with another loan servicer.

However, this doesn’t mean that you will have better luck with another loan servicer. Here’s a list of federal loan servicers:

  • Nelnet
  • Navient
  • Great Lakes Educational Loan Services, Inc.
  • Fedloan Servicing (PHEAA)
  • MOHELA
  • HESC/EdFinancial
  • CornerStone
  • Granite State – GSMR
  • OSLA Servicing

Not all loans are eligible to be consolidated. For example, Parent PLUS loans and private loans are not eligible. Consolidating your student loans can sometimes lengthen your loan terms and cost more money in the long run than your original loans.

Take time to decide if this is the right move to make with your student loans.

Refinancing your Great Lakes student loans

Another option for unhappy borrowers is to refinance your Great Lakes student loans. By doing this, your loans will be paid by a private lender, and you’ll be issued a new loan with new terms and a new interest rate.

Borrowers with excellent credit can score a much lower rate, which could potentially save thousands of dollars in interest over the life of the loans. If your credit isn’t that great or you haven’t established credit yet, most private lenders allow you to add a cosigner with excellent credit. A cosigner is someone who is financially responsible for loan payments should you be unable to pay them.

Refinancing federal student loans turns them into private loans, which means you’ll no longer have access to federal programs and protections like repayment plans, loan forgiveness, forbearance, and deferment. Make sure you won’t need access to federal protections before choosing to refinance.

In the end, the best thing for borrowers is to have a solid student loan repayment plan. Whether you should consolidate, refinance, or simply pay attention to your loans better, having a plan can lead to paying off your loans quicker and more efficiently.

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