Just in case you were confused, the e-mail from what you thought was some travel agency trying to get you to take a tour of the Great Lakes is actually not a travel agency.
Nope, in fact, My Great Lakes, or technically the “Great Lakes Higher Education Corporation,” happens to be one of the biggest student loan servicing companies out there.
Managing somewhere in the neighborhood of 250 billion in student loans according to their website, Great Lakes is one of the “Big 7” when it comes to servicing student loans (See the Full List of Student Loan Companies here)
However, while this it not a visit to the Great Lakes, today in this full review of Great Lakes Student Loans, you will learn what all borrowers should know including:
- What student loan servicers do
- What all my Great Lakes borrowers should know
- How to log in and navigate your My Great Lakes accounts
- Making Payments
- Contacting My Great Lakes
- Problems with My Great Lakes
- Other options for student loans
Note: I will refer to Great Lakes as My Great Lakes as well because that is what they use to differentiate their website from the actual great lakes!
Do you have student loans?
If you have student loans, there is a high likelihood you have logged into a student loan servicing company such as Fedloan, MOHELA, Navient, Nelnet, or my personal favorite, “My Great Lakes.”
And while I wish I could tell you the relationship I have with Great Lakes for student loan servicing was “Great,” it is in fact quite the opposite. I wish the two of us never got to know each other.
See also, 8 Sacrifices to Payoff $150,000 in Student Loans
Bad jokes aside, I actually had my student loans serviced by MOHELA, but my wife’s student loans were with Navient and Great Lakes. And since her balance was a little bit on the high side, (About $270,000 in student loans) dealing with My Great Lakes has been a monthly occurrence for the last three years.
Logging into watch our student loan balance dwindle is rewarding, but at the same time somewhat annoying when you see the interest, you pay.
However, I never knew how student loan servicing companies really worked. In fact, I thought Great Lakes was just a bank my wife got her student loans from (She grew up near Great Lake Erie).
So I decided to write an article about what student loan borrowers should know about Great Lakes as a student loan servicing company. But first, what is the purpose of a student loan servicing company?
Student Loan Servicers 101.
The big “5” student loan servicers that take care of most federally funded student loans are:
- My Great Lakes (acquired by Nelnet in 2018)
Having made a student loan payment to three out of the five, I can tell you that each has it’s pros and cons. But before I dive into some of those, the bigger question for me early on was:
Recent college graduates and even older millennials like myself sometimes wonder what the role of a Great Lakes or Navient really is. Essentially they are the middleman between you and the lender of your money, which in most cases is the federal government.
A student loan servicing company like My Great Lakes manages, tracks and collects payments for the borrower. The role of a student loan servicer is to help customize repayment plans and make changes to repayment plans when needed.
Additionally, student loan servicing companies serve another huge role. They help borrowers process deferment requests and forbearance. Decide to go back to college? Well your student loan servicing company will help you place your loans back into deferment.
Understanding the general role of a student loan servicing company is important, but in the case of My Great Lakes, what should borrowers know about them?
Side note: Public service loan forgiveness is done through Fedloan, but your servicer helps with determining eligibility.
What Great Lakes Borrowers Should Know 101.
The Good (Pros of Great Lakes)
The good news about Great Lakes is that of all the student loan servicers out there, they have the fewest complaints. This is huge considering the overall lack of transparency many borrowers complain about when dealing with student loan service companies.
Additionally, Great Lakes has an A+ Better Business Bureau rating and is known to swiftly handle issues borrowers may face.
The Bad (Cons of Great Lakes)
Borrowers have complained that they have had problems with Great Lakes when it comes to switching their payment options and receiving false or incorrect information about their loans.
The ability to apply extra payments towards your loans serviced by Great Lakes is an absolute pain. Most of the complaints levied against My Great Lakes revolve around loan repayments, allocation of payment funds and unnecessary late payment documentation added to accounts.
Quick Story: I had a friend of my wife who experienced the allocation problem first hand. She tried to make an extra payment on two occasions to pay off a $210 balance. The first time it did not work and she assumed she did something wrong. The second time she allocated the funds correctly with an extra payment and sent us the screenshot showing she did so. Once again the payment was not applied correctly so she had to call to have it resolved.
Logging Into & Accessing Accounts in Great Lakes
Logging into My Great Lakes is pretty straight forward (Just don’t be confused by how happy this girl is below, she just hasn’t had to make student loan payments yet, jk).
After logging in, accessing your accounts is pretty straight forward. Simply click my account and account summary. Once on this page, you can locate your different student loan accounts (Most people have 1, unless you have grad school loans with My Great Lakes too).
Once a borrower is inside of their Great Lakes student loan account summary, they have access to make payments, see payment history, calculate their payoff amount and most importantly – see the breakdown of each individual student loan (see below).
Seeing the breakdown of each “Individual” student loan account is important because it details each interest rate and the amount owed for each specific student loan. The loan type, whether it is unsubsidized or subsidized, is also included as well.
Knowing this information is vital for people who are looking to pay off their student loans quickly. Most student loan payoff strategies involve attacking the loan with either the highest interest rate or the lowest remaining balance.
However, this is also the step where borrowers will most likely get confused when using My Great lakes – making and applying extra payments to their student loans.
Here is how the process of making payments with My Great Lakes works.
Making Payments with Great Lakes
Here is where most people complain about Great Lakes.
Making extra payments can be tricky because it involves knowing how to access the option to first do so, then it requires some simple math, that isn’t always so simple.
After selecting an account and the “Make a Payment” option, borrowers have to enter an amount and payment. Pretty simple.
However, in order to target specific loans, they then have to scroll down and check the box pictured below that says, “I’d like to review and allocate my excess payment while scheduling my payment.”
Note: if this option isn’t chosen and you are making extra payments, My Great Lakes will just apply the extra payment towards your standard repayment plan, therefore the payment will not target a specific loan.
Making an extra payment:
Once a borrower checks the extra payment option, here is where the simple math comes in that is 100% unnecessary (Pun intended, you will see what I mean in a second).
In order to make sure the extra payment goes towards a targeted loan within My Great Lakes, borrowers have to choose the Custom Allocation option and then denote the percentage that goes towards each loan. See picture below.
If borrowers are applying 100% of their extra payment towards a specific student loan then the process is simple, just a bit tedious. On the other hand, if they want to target two loans at one time, then they have to do some calculations like the example above.
Whether or not simple math comes easy to you or not, figuring out how much goes to each loan should be a simpler process. Additionally, borrowers also listed the following as common problems:
Common Problems & Complaints About Great Lakes
The most common Great Lakes complaints include:
- Allocation of payments
- Flexibility with payments/plans
- False or incorrect information about loans
That entire sequence two paragraphs above is one of the common complaints borrowers make in terms of My Great Lakes performance as a student loan servicer.
Additionally, borrowers have stated that they have had problems changing repayment plans, canceling or setting up auto payments, and receiving incorrect information about loans.
Troubles such as how payments are handled, processed and allocated are typically the most common complaints against Great Lakes. Borrowers should keep in mind that Great Lakes has the fewest complaints of all the student loan servicing companies and an A+ Better Business Bureau rating, but that doesn't make them perfect.
As a general tip – keep an eye on your accounts and follow up especially when dealing with things like forbearance and deferment forms/applications.
Contact Great Lakes
When you find yourself in a predicament with Great Lakes, they are simple to contact. Use this contact us link to get in touch with Great Lakes or the information below:
Phone: (800) 236-4300
PO Box 7860
Madison, WI 53707-7860
For the most part, Great Lakes won't give you the run around if you need to contact them… Unlike your favorite internet or cable provider who makes you dial every number on the keypad before you even reach the automated menu you actually need.
The reason they have the fewest complaints and problems of any of the student loan servicers is because of their customer support and follow through with any issues on their end.
If your issue with any student loan servicer is not handled correctly or to your liking, read below what course of action you can take.
What are your options when it comes to student loans servicers?
Earlier I joked about my love/hate relationship with “My Great Lakes,” but in all seriousness with student loan repayments traditionally lasting 10 years, but even up to 25 years, it is vital for student loan companies to hold their end of the deal up.
If for some reason your student loan servicer is not providing the best service there are several options you can take, but unfortunatley switching student loan servicers is not one of them.
Option 1: Submit a complaint about your student loan servicer with the U.S. Department of Education’s Federal Student Aid office.
Option 2: Refinance your student loans with someone like LendEdu or LendKey. If you are at a point where you really just can’t work with My Great Lakes, then the second option is to refinance with a private lender.
Keep in mind refinancing means you lose federal perks such as forgiveness, income-based repayment and deferment. Additionally, refinancing can sometimes lengthen the terms of your student loans.
Related: 4 Questions Before You Refinance Student Loans
My takeaway for what borrowers should know about Great Lakes:
Other than the fact that applying extra payments is conventionally complicated, paired with the fact that the overall site navigation could be simpler, I really can’t complain too much about Great Lakes.
I am not really sure if the extra payment process is complicated on purpose to discourage extra payments, or if a software development team somewhere thought it was a more efficient way to make extra payments.
Either way, if you are just looking to follow the standard repayment plan (10 Years Fixed), and Great Lakes is your servicer, then you are in good hands overall.
According to the consumer financial protection bureau, in one 365 day span Navient had over 3,500 complaints compared to Great Lakes who had just 310.
So while having to pay back student loans might be a thorn in the side, at least if you have them with Great Lakes you are in good hands!
Josh writes about ways to make money, pay off debt, and improve yourself. After paying off $200,000 in student loans with his wife in less than four years, Josh started Money Life Wax and has been featured on Forbes, Business Insider, Huffington Post and more! In addition to being a life-long entrepreneur, Josh and his wife enjoy spending time with their chocolate lab named Morgan, working out, helping others with their debt and recommend using Personal Capital to track your finances.