Great Lakes Student Loans Review

Advertiser Disclosure

Great Lakes can help you stay on top of your student loans, offering advice and repayment options to suit all types of graduates.

Great Lakes is the second-largest student loan servicer in the nation. It doesn’t lend you the money itself; it collects it on behalf of the lender, and then works with you to come up with a payment plan. Great Lakes offers standard repayment plans, where you pay a set dollar amount each month, as well as income-based repayment plans, where your monthly payment varies depending on your current income. There are several ways to pay, including online, by phone and through the company’s mobile apps. Enrolling in auto-pay is the smartest way to go because it’ll shave 0.25% off your interest rate.

If you’re new to student loans or aren’t sure what the best repayment strategy is for you, Great Lakes has online tools to help. Its Knowledge Center provides answers to many common questions about student loans and its Repayment Planner can help you determine the smartest payment schedule for you. And if you still have questions, you can contact Great Lakes Monday through Friday, and its student loan experts can assist you.

The Specs

Price Varies by loan amount, interest rate, etc.
Best For Anyone looking to take out a student loan
Not For People who don’t need a student loan
Loan Terms 10 – 30 years
Repayment Options Standard, Income-Driven, Deference, Forbearance
Better Business Bureau Rating A+
In Business Since 1967
Standout Features Extensive educational resources
Discounts for auto-paying
Flexible payment options

The Claim

Great Lakes works with students, graduates, parents, and lenders to ensure successful student loan repayment. It educates borrowers on how to pay back their loans efficiently and assists them in selecting the repayment plan that works best for them.

Is it True?

Yes. Great Lakes is a loan servicer, which means it doesn’t set the terms of your loan. You apply for either a federal or private student loan, and the lender determines how much you qualify for and what the interest rate will be. Great Lakes functions as a middleman, collecting your payments and helping you figure out the best repayment plan for you. If you have any questions about your loan or are unable to make your payments, a Great Lakes customer service rep can assist you.

The company offers you a variety of options in how you want to pay back your student loan. The standard repayment plan charges you a monthly payment over a 10-year period. But if that doesn’t work for you, there are other options. Income-driven repayment enables you to pay less when your income is low, and more when your income is high, so you can lessen the strain on your wallet. If needed, you can also extend your repayment period up to 30 years. For those who forget payments frequently and those looking to save a little, enrolling in automatic payments will result in a 0.25% interest rate deduction and save you money in the long-run.

If you’re not sure which repayment plan is best for you, Great Lakes’ Repayment Planner can help you. This tool enables you to play around with different options to determine how much each will cost you monthly, and over the lifetime of the loan. And if you’re still stuck, Great Lakes has an extensive Knowledge Center that can answer many of your questions. Representatives are available five days a week to help you come up with a repayment strategy, too.

Should you find yourself unable to pay back your loan, Great Lakes can help you determine your next move. Deference and forbearance can temporarily suspend your loan payments, though you’ll still have to pay the interest, or it will build onto the principal. Still, these are useful options to have if you find yourself temporarily unable to repay your loans.

Consumers seem pretty satisfied with Great Lakes’ service and flexibility. According to a 2015 survey by the Department of Education, Great Lakes received the highest customer satisfaction rating out of 10 popular student loan servicers.

Our Deep Dive

  • Several repayment plans: The simplest option is to go with a standard repayment plan, where the cost of the loan is spread out over a period of years (usually 10) and you pay in a certain amount each month. If this doesn’t work for you, you have a few options. You can extend the length of the repayment period, so your monthly payments are less, or you can look into income-based repayment. This adjusts how much you pay on your loan to mirror how much you’re making — when your income is low, you pay less toward your loan, and when it’s high you pay more. If for some reason you find yourself unable to make payments at all, you can apply for deferment or forbearance.
  • Many ways to pay: You can make payments online, over the phone, or through regular mail. The company also has mobile apps for iOS and Android devices, and you can pay directly from one of these as well. If you’d rather not have to worry about forgetting a payment, you can also enroll in auto-payments, which will deduct a set amount from your bank account each month.
  • Save with automatic payments: Enrolling in automatic payments will remove 0.25% from your interest rate, which can result in significantly less interest paid out over the life of your loan. So if you can afford to do this, it’s definitely the way to go.
  • Get help from loan experts: Great Lakes has representatives standing by Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Central Time to answer any questions you have about your student loans. You can also contact the company through email, fax, mail, or social media. If you don’t understand how your loan works, or you need help choosing a repayment plan, these representatives can steer you in the right direction.
  • Repayment Planner tool: Great Lakes has a Repayment Planner tool, which enables you to see how much different repayment plans would cost you monthly and over the lifetime of the loan. This is a good place to begin if you’re not sure what the best repayment strategy is for you.
  • Loan consolidation services: If you have several loans, Great Lakes can help you consolidate them into one, so you only pay a single payment. You’ll get a fixed interest rate, and you won’t have to pay any consolidation fees.
  • Extensive knowledge center: If you’re new to student loans or aren’t sure what the best repayment plan for you is, Great Lakes’ collection of help articles can get you started. They cover the basics of loans, repayment strategies, financial aid and more.
  • Mobile loan management: Great Lakes enables you to manage your account from your smartphone or tablet. View your account details and make and schedule payments right from the app. You can also set up payment reminders for yourself if you’re not on an automatic payment schedule.

Cost Rundown

The cost of a student loan varies depending on how much you borrow, your interest rate, repayment terms, and in some cases, your credit score. The only way to know how much it’s going to cost you is to explore multiple options before making any decisions. If your loan has been assigned to Great Lakes, use its Repayment Planner tool to help you determine which option best fits into your lifestyle.

Don’t just look for the minimum monthly payment, though, unless that’s all you can afford. Paying more than the minimum is going to help you pay off your loan faster, and it’ll lessen the amount of interest you’ll have to pay overall. Look at how much you’ll pay out over the lifetime of the loan and choose the option that costs the least, while still keeping the monthly payments affordable.

Cheaper (or Free!) Alternatives

If you’re looking to reduce the amount you owe, try some of these money-saving strategies:

  • Educate yourself. Learn about student loans and how they work and borrow just as much as you need. This way, you’ll have a better idea of what you can expect in terms of monthly payments, so you can budget accordingly.
  • Pay while you’re still in school. If you can afford to do so, pay off some of the loans while you’re still in college. This will reduce the amount you’ll pay out in interest over time.
  • Pay more than the minimum payment. If you have a little extra money left over each month, put it toward your student loan. This will also help you pay your loan off faster and decrease what you pay in interest.
  • Enroll in auto-pay. Great Lakes will take 0.25% off your interest rate when you enroll in auto-pay. Over the life of your loan, that could save you quite a bit of money.
  • See if your qualify for loan forgiveness. Some federal student loans will forgive borrowers’ loans under certain conditions. If you are a teacher or work for a government agency or a nonprofit, you may be eligible. You may also qualify if you become disabled, or if your university closes down while you are a student.

The Competition

FedLoan Servicing: FedLoan Servicing is the largest federal loan servicer in the nation. Its offerings are similar to Great Lakes, with a variety of repayment plans available so that borrowers can choose the one that suits them. If you’re unsure, FedLoan Servicing has a number of online resources to help you decide. Like Great Lakes, FedLoan gives a 0.25% interest rate discount to borrowers that enroll in auto-pay, so this is probably your best option if you can afford to do so.

Navient: Navient offers traditional and income-based repayment schedules, as well as loan consolidation services. The company also offers a graduated repayment plan, where the payments start off low and slowly increase over time, ideally as your income also rises. This is not the same as income-based repayment, however. In the Department of Education survey, Navient scored the lowest in terms of customer satisfaction, but if your loan has been assigned to Navient, there’s little you can do about it.

Nelnet: Like the other companies on this list, Nelnet offers traditional and income-driven repayment plans, so you can choose which one best suits your lifestyle. If you sign up for automatic payments, you’re eligible for a 0.25% interest rate deduction. Those new to borrowing will appreciate the extensive FAQ section, designed to help borrowers navigate the repayment process. The company also has mobile apps available for Android and iOS devices if you prefer to manage your loan remotely.

What Others Are Saying

  • The Lincoln Journal Star reported that Great Lakes has teamed up with its competitor Nelnet to bid on a federal contract, which aims to create a single student loan servicing solution. When asked about the partnership, a Nelnet spokesperson said the decision was made “with the idea of bringing the nation’s top servicers together to transform student loan servicing for borrowers.”
  • A New York Times article discussed the large number of borrowers who struggle to pay back their student loans. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau labeled loan servicers, including Great Lakes, as part of the issue. It said that “servicers do not inform borrowers about applicable payment plans unless the borrowers specifically ask. But putting more borrowers in such plans could go a long way toward reducing delinquencies.”
  • The Cap Times ran a story about Great Lakes’ emergency grant program, which has helped increase graduation rates among low-income college students. These grants help students cover expenses not covered under traditional financial aid. Its effectiveness has encouraged the Wisconsin government to implement a similar program. When asked about the program, a Great Lakes spokesperson said: “Through that work it became very apparent that for too many students, one more life hurdle, a $300 or $400 bill for car repairs or school materials they can’t afford, is one hurdle too many…After all they’ve done to get to college, to have them drop out because the car battery died when a small investment could help them get to the finish line — it seems obvious we would want to be in that space.”

The Bottom Line

Great Lakes gives you several flexible repayment options and its customer service representatives are standing by to answer any questions you may have. If you’re not sure what the best loan repayment strategy is, or if you’re having trouble making payments, a call to Great Lakes can do a lot to set your mind at ease.