When it comes to managing your federal student loans, your loan servicer plays a big role in your debt repayment. Your servicer is who you go to if you have questions, if you need to change your payment plan, and to make payments. 

One of the biggest loan servicers is Great Lakes Educational Loan Services. Together with its parent company Nelnet, Great Lakes is responsible for managing nearly 40% of the outstanding debt held by student loan borrowers. 

You can find out who your loan servicer is by looking up your information on the National Student Loan Data System or by calling the Federal Student Aid Information Center at 1-800-433-3243. 

If Great Lakes is your loan servicer, here is what you need to know. 

What Is Great Lakes Educational Loan Services?

Loan servicers aren’t lenders. In the case of federal student loans, the Department of Education is your lender. Your loan servicer is the company the Department of Education assigns to handle billing and customer service issues. You cannot choose your own loan servicer⁠—one is selected for you after your loan is disbursed.

Great Lakes Educational Loan Services—more commonly known simply as Great Lakes—is one of 11 companies that are currently authorized to service federal student loans. As one of the largest student loan servicers, Great Lakes works with more than 6,000 schools and millions of students nationwide. 

Great Lakes and its parent Nelnet will no longer service federal student loans after December 2020 due to a government plan to streamline student loan repayment. If you have a loan serviced by either, you will be assigned a new student loan servicer by the Department of Education.

 

Is Great Lakes Federal or Private? 

While Great Lakes does offer private loan processing for other lenders, its primarily known as a federal loan servicer. Currently, Great Lakes services both Federal Family Education Loan Program (FFELP) loans and Federal Direct Loan Program loans, including the following loan types:

What Can Great Lakes Help You With?

If you have Great Lakes as your loan service, you can contact its customer service department if you have any questions or issues about the following topics: 

  • Student loan repayment: If you need to make your monthly payment, want to sign up for automatic payments, or make an additional student loan payment, you can do so online, through the mobile app, or by calling customer support. 
  • Alternative repayment plans: If you can’t afford your monthly payment, contact Great Lakes right away and explain your situation. Your loan servicer can help you apply for an income-driven repayment plan where your monthly payment is based on your income and family size. Depending on your situation, your payment could be significantly reduced. Some applicants even qualify for $0 monthly payments. 
  • Student loan consolidation: If you have multiple federal loans with different monthly payments and due dates, you can consolidate them and simplify your payments with a federal Direct Consolidation Loan. 
  • Deferment and forbearance: If you’re experiencing a financial hardship, such as a sudden job loss or medical emergency, contact Great Lakes. You may be eligible for deferment or forbearance and can temporarily postpone your loan payments. 
  • Loan forgiveness: If you work for a non-profit organization or government agency full-time, notify Great Lakes and let them know that you’d like to pursue Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF). As a PSLF candidate, Great Lakes will transfer your loans to FedLoanServicing, the designated PSLF loan servicer. 

How to Make Great Lakes Payments

Great Lakes allows you to make payments in several different ways: 

  • Phone: You can make payments over the phone by calling 1-800-236-4300. 
  • Mobile app: If you download the MyGreatLakes app (Apple App Store and Google Play), you can make payments from your smartphone. 
  • Mail: If you prefer to make your payments via check, you can mail your payments to Great Lakes. However, the mailing address depends on where you live, so log in to your account to find out where you should mail your check. 
  • Online: You can pay your monthly bill online. 

To make online payments, follow these simple steps: 

1. Create an Account on MyGreatLakes.org

To sign up for an account, click on “Sign Up” on the top right of the screen at MyGreatLakes.org. Then, enter your Social Security number and birth date. The site will prompt you to create a username, password, and PIN number. 

2. Select Your Loan Account

Once your account is verified, you can select your loan account and schedule a payment. You can decide to make a one-time payment, or set up recurring automatic payments. If you can, automatic payments are a good idea. When you enroll in autopay, you’ll get a 0.25% interest rate discount. 

When it comes to your student loan payments, there are rules that apply to all student loan servicers. All outstanding interest and fees, if applicable, must be paid first, before the servicer can put any of your payment toward the principal

If you make extra payments, the excess is automatically applied to the accrued interest since your last payment. If there is any money left over, it’s applied to the principal of the loan with the highest interest rate. If you’d prefer the excess be applied to a different loan, you can change your preferences online under your account Excess Payment Preferences

About Great Lakes Educational Loan Services

Great Lakes Educational Services has been in business for more than 50 years, and has a “C” rating with the Better Business Bureau. It is worth noting that critics have argued that there’s an inherent conflict of interest when a ratings organization such as the Better Business Bureau receives revenue primarily from the businesses that it grades, which opens the door for those ratings to be suspect.

Complaints

Great Lakes is a large servicer and has experienced some issues over the years. According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s (CFPB) 2019 Student Loan Ombudsman Report, the CFPB handled 6,600 federal student loan complaints between September 1, 2018, and August 31, 2019. Approximately 4% of those complaints were about Great Lakes, making it one of the most-complained about federal loan servicers. 

Class Action

In May 2020, the Student Borrower Protection Center filed a class-action lawsuit against Great Lakes, Equifax, TransUnion, Experian, and VantageScore. The lawsuit alleges that Great Lakes mishandled CARES Act pandemic relief efforts by illegally providing inaccurate information about millions of its customers to Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian—the three major credit bureaus—damaging borrowers’ credit. 

How to Contact Great Lakes

To contact customer support, call 1-800-236-4300. Representatives are available Monday through Friday 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. CST. You can reach customer service through the mobile app or secure email, as well.

In addition, you can mail general correspondence (not payments) to:

Great Lakes
PO Box 7860
Madison, WI 53707-7860

Is Great Lakes Your Only Servicer?

Unfortunately, you can’t pick your federal loan servicer. However, there are two ways to get a new servicer if you’re unhappy with the one you have:

1. Consolidate Loans

If you want a new loan servicer but want to keep your federal loan benefits, consolidating your loans with a Direct Consolidation Loan may be a smart solution. You can choose a new repayment term, may be eligible for a new payment plan, and you’ll get a new loan servicer. 

Your interest rate is based on the weighted average of your current loans, rounded up to the nearest one-eighth of 1%, so you won’t save money by consolidating your debt. But, it can be worthwhile, especially if you have multiple federal loans to juggle. And you may become eligible for repayment plans you didn’t qualify for before. 

2. Refinance Debt

If you’re willing to give up federal loan benefits like income-driven repayment plans, another option is student loan refinancing. With this strategy, you work with a private lender to take out a loan for the amount of your existing student loan debt and use it to pay off your old debt. The new loan will have different repayment terms, including the interest rate and monthly payment. 

If you have good credit and reliable income, you could qualify for a lower interest rate than you have now. Over time, refinancing your debt could even allow you to save money. If you think that refinancing sounds like the right thing for you, check out our list of the best refinancing lenders.

Our Verdict

While Great Lakes does have a history of some issues with borrowers, you can minimize the chance of problems by signing up for automatic payments, reviewing your account regularly, and reaching out right away if you can't afford your monthly payments. But you'll want to do so well before the end of 2020, as Great Lakes will no longer service federal student loans after that.