Great Lakes Student Loans Review: What You Need to Know
Great Lakes Loans is an official federal student loan servicer for the U.S. Department of Education. While student loan servicers are assigned to you, you can change your servicer if you consolidate your loans. Read our Great Lakes review to help you decide if it’s right for you.
If you haven’t yet started repaying your federal student loans, you might not have heard about Great Lakes Student Loans. But if you have outstanding federal student loan debt, there’s a good chance you’ll need to get acquainted with them soon. Great Lakes Loans is one of the nation’s largest student loan servicers, servicing 1 in 4 student loans or 23% of direct loans. That adds up to around 8 million Great Lakes borrowers with debts of over $220 billion.
This Great Lakes review will cover everything you need to know about your Great Lakes loan.
In this review:
- Getting a Great Lakes Student Loan
- Basic Information: Rates, Terms, Fees, & Limits
- The Benefits of Great Lakes Loans
- The Downsides of Great Lakes Loans
- Great Lakes Repayment Options
- Great Lakes Customer Service
- Can I Refinance with a Private Lender?
Getting a Great Lakes Student Loan
When you apply for a federal student loan, your servicer is assigned to you from a list of around 10 major loan servicers. You usually can’t transfer your federal loans to another servicer unless you consolidate your loans.
However, you can choose your student loan servicer when you apply for the Direct Consolidation Loan program. When you consolidate your loans, you bring all or some of your federal student loans together into one consolidated loan. This gives you one interest rate, one monthly payment, one loan servicer, and one loan to deal with.
The new interest rate is calculated based on a weighted average of the interest rates of the loans that you’re consolidating, and this amount is rounded up to the nearest one-eighth of a percent. In order to be eligible, you have to have at least one federal loan that’s eligible for consolidation. You also need to have already graduated.
In order to consolidate your loans and become a Great Lakes borrower, you need to:
- Log into studentloans.gov and apply for a student loan consolidation. The application takes around 30 minutes to fill out.
- You can choose here to consolidate your loans with Great Lakes Borrowing Services.
- You also choose what loans you want to consolidate and what kind of repayment plan you want and then submit the application.
- The application review and disbursement usually take 30 to 60 days but can take up to 90 days. You must continue to make loan payments on your existing loans while you’re waiting for your loans to be transferred to Great Lakes Higher Education Corporation.
- Repayment begins after the grace period on your original loans has ended if you refinanced your loans while they were still in the grace period, or within 60 days of your Great Lakes loan being paid out.
- You will then have to log onto the My Great Lakes portal to make your student loan payments and manage your loan.
Basic Information: Rates, Terms, Fees, & Limits
There is no fee for consolidating your loans, and doing so is necessary to qualify for the income-driven repayment plans (more on these later).
- These programs allow you to pay just 10% to 15% of your discretionary income toward your student loans.
- After 20 to 25 years of repayments, you will have your remaining student loan balance forgiven. You can also sign up for a standard repayment plan or any other repayment plans offered by the Department of Education.
- You also must consolidate your student loans if you want to access certain student loan forgiveness programs like the public service loan forgiveness program.
Benefits of Great Lakes Loans
As a federal student loan servicer, Great Lakes offers all of the same benefits you’d get with any other federal loan servicer. These include things like access to repayment programs, forgiveness programs, and forbearance and deferment.
These benefits are in place to support you if you decide to go back to school or if you experience financial difficulty.
Another benefit of Great Lakes Loans is that by consolidating your loans, you simplify your monthly loan repayment since you will only have one federal student loan to worry about. Although this won’t necessarily save you any money, it can give you a full view of your student debt in one number, and it can make tackling your repayment less daunting.
Downsides of Great Lakes Loans
Great Lakes borrowing might be a good option for consolidating your federal loans, but it’s important to note that you won’t be able to lower the interest rate on your loans by doing so.
You can make your loans more affordable by taking advantage of student loan repayment plans that extend the term of your loans and lowering your monthly payments. But these longer terms will mean that you’ll pay more interest over the life of your loan— even if you eventually qualify for forgiveness. If you don’t think you’ll need the protections of federal student loans, such as income-driven repayment plans, or if you’re trying to repay your loans more quickly, you might benefit from refinancing your loans with a private student loan lender to lower your interest rates.
Also, it’s important to note that the Better Business Bureau has received a number of complaints about Great Lakes Loans and that it was recently acquired in 2018 by Nelnet, another student loan servicer. Nelnet has negative ratings (earning just 2.5 out of 5 stars from Credit Karma) and that could affect the service you would get from Great Lakes Loans in the future.
Great Lakes Repayment Options
Like all federal student loan servicers, the Great Lakes borrowing service offers seven standard repayment plan options.
- Standard Repayment – Level: You make the same monthly payment for 10 years. You are automatically enrolled in this plan when you graduate.
- Standard Repayment – Graduated: You start by making lower payments and increase your payment size every two years. This is helpful if you have a low income now but expect to make more in the future.
- Extended Repayment: Only available if you have over $30,000 in Direct loans or a Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL). You can pay your loans over 25 years instead of 10. This allows you to lower your monthly payments, but you’ll ultimately pay more in interest.
- Revised Pay as You Earn (REPAYE): For Direct loans only. You pay 10% of your discretionary income towards your loans. After 20 years, your undergraduate loans will be forgiven. If you also have graduate loans, it will take 25 years to have your loans forgiven.
- Pay as You Earn (PAYE): This is for Direct loans only. It requires proof of financial hardship and will allow you to pay just 10% of your discretionary income towards your loan. It has to be renewed every year.
- Income-Based Repayment (IBR): For FFEL and Direct Loans. If you have financial hardship, your monthly payments will be 10% to 15% of your discretionary income and after 20 to 25 years your loans will be forgiven.
- Income-Contingent Repayment: For direct loans. This is also the only plan Parent PLUS loans are eligible for. Does not require financial hardship. You will have to pay 20% of your discretionary income or the amount you would pay under another repayment plan with fixed payments over 12 years.
Great Lakes Customer Service
Great Lakes Loans provide a number of ways to get in touch with them:
- Phone: (800) 236-4300. They are available from 7:00 am to 9:00 pm Central Time.
- Email: You can e-mail them here.
- Fax: (800) 375-5288
- Mail: Great Lakes PO Box 7860 Madison WI 53707-7860
If you want to file a complaint, you can do so by calling a customer service representative first. If that doesn’t work, you can file a complaint by logging into your account.
Can I Refinance with a Private Lender?
You don’t have to consolidate your federal student loans with a federal student loan servicer if you want to consolidate your loans. There are times when refinancing your federal loans with a private lender along with your private student loans might make sense.
For example, if you want to speed up your student loan repayment and won’t need to use an income-based repayment program or the forbearance or deferral protections federal student loans offer, private student loan refinancing could save you money.
However, this choice shouldn’t be taken lightly, since you would permanently lose the protections provided by your federal loans. You also might not qualify for a lower rate through private refinancing, in which case, sticking with your federal student loan servicer would probably make the most sense.
If you do decide that student loan refinance is right for you, here are a few of the best student loan refinancing companies:
- Fixed APR: 3.26% to 7.82% (with autopay discount)
- Variable APR: 2.41% to 7.21% (with autopay discount)
- Loan terms: 5, 7, 10, 15, 20 years
- Loan Amounts: $5,000 to $500,000
- Co-signer release: You cannot apply with a co-signer
- Read our full Earnest Review
- Fixed APR: 3.48% to 8.07% (with autopay discount)
- Variable APR: 2.41% to 7.08% (with autopay discount)
- Loan terms: 5, 7, 10, 15, 20 years
- Eligible degrees: $5,000 to $500,0000
- Co-signer release: Possible after 24 months of on-time payments
- Read our full Commonbond Review
- Fixed APR: 3.50% to 7.02% (with autopay discount)
- Variable APR: 3.23% to 6.65% (with autopay discount)
- Loan terms: 5 to 20 years
- Eligible degrees: $5,000 to your outstanding loan balance
- Co-signer release: Possible after 36 consecutive, on-time payments
- Read our full Laurel Road Review
Bottom Line: Are Great Lakes Student Loans Right for You?
Great Lakes Student Loans are one of many student loan servicer options for your federal student loans. They have good customer service, and consolidating your loans with them might help you enroll in a different student loan repayment program that could greatly benefit you. However, it won’t qualify you for an interest rate reduction.
Author: Amanda Reaume
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