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
- Pros & Cons 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 student loan servicers. You usually can’t transfer your federal loans to another servicer unless you consolidate your loans.
However, you can change your 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 and monthly payment to deal with.
Your new interest rate is calculated based on a weighted average of the rates of each loan you’re consolidating, and this amount is rounded up to the nearest one-eighth of a percent.
Who’s eligible for consolidation?
To consolidate your loans with Great Lakes or another servicer, you have to have at least one federal loan that’s eligible for consolidation. You also need to have already graduated. Additionally, you need to:
- Log into studentloans.gov and apply for 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.
Pros & Cons of Great Lakes Loans
- Federal protections: 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 income-driven repayment programs, student loan 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.
- Simpler repayment: By consolidating your loans, you simplify your monthly loan repayment. 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.
- No interest rate reduction: Consolidating your loans with Great Lakes won’t reduce your interest rate or save you any money.
- Longer repayment terms would mean more interest: If you choose to extend your loan repayment term when you consolidate, you’ll end up paying more in interest over the life of the loan. If you don’t think you’ll need the protections of federal student loans, or if you’re trying to repay your loans more quickly, you might benefit from refinancing your student loans with a private lender to lower your interest rates.
- BBB complaints: The Better Business Bureau has received a number of complaints about Great Lakes Loans and the student loan servicer that owns it, Nelnet. You can learn more in our Nelnet Student Loan review.
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 (ICR): For direct loans. This is also the only plan Parent PLUS loans are eligible for. It 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 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 might make more sense.
If you do decide that student loan refinancing is right for you, check out our guide to the best student loan refinancing companies.
Bottom Line: Is Great Lakes Student Loans Right for You?
Great Lakes Student Loans is one of several student loan servicers that might oversee your federal student loan repayment. Great Lakes has accessible customer service, and consolidating your loans with the servicer might help you enroll in a different student loan repayment program.
However, it won’t qualify you for an interest rate reduction, so if you’re looking to save money and you have good credit, a private student loan refinancing company may be worth considering.