Federal student loan servicers are notorious for their incompetence and lack of customer service. But if you have to deal with one, you could do a lot worse than Great Lakes Educational Loan Services.
When we recently used the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s (CFPB) complaint data from May 2018 to May 2019 to rank every servicer, Great Lakes was the best, ranking No. 1. In fact, its complaint rate was over three times less than Nelnet, seven times less than FedLoan Servicing and 18 times less than Navient.
Great Lakes student loans also came out on top in Student Loan Planner’s in-house student loan servicer survey. In a poll of 386 people, it received the highest score of all loan servicers: 3.8 out of 5 stars.
But 3.8 out of 5 still isn’t great.
If we were talking about restaurants or a product on Amazon, you’d probably stay away. So, although Great Lakes may be the “best of the worst,” it still receives its fair share of complaints. Here are the three top Great Lakes higher education complaints to have on your radar.
By far, the most common complaint regarding Great Lakes student loans related to payments. Issues mostly surfaced when handling more than one loan and when extra payments were made.
Handling multiple loans
A common problem was how Great Lakes chose to spread out payments for multiple loans.
One person filing a complaint to the Better Business Bureau (BBB) said:
Great Lakes overpaid on three of the accounts and did not apply ANY PAYMENT to my largest student loan account. I have spoken to two separate representatives about this issue with no resolution.”
One of Student Loan Planner’s survey respondents said that it’s not easy with Great Lakes to allocate more of your payment toward high-interest loans.
The respondent stated, “It is nearly impossible to pay on loans with higher interest rates over those with lower.
Making extra payments
One person complained to the BBB about how difficult it is to pay extra money toward your Great Lakes loans:
I pay more than the amount due every month but I have never seen a servicer make it so difficult to pay more… I can only make excess payments on my due date? So essentially, they don’t allow you to make any payments at any other point in the month…”
One Student Loan Planner survey respondent made a similar complaint, saying they’re forced to “pay extra payments toward principal on [the] day of automatic withdrawal instead of any day during the month.”
2. Forbearance and deferment
Several Great Lakes complaints were related to how it handled (or mishandled) forbearance and deferment.
One person complaining to the BBB said Great Lakes put their students loans in forbearance without permission:
Great Lakes put my student loans into forbearance in April 2019 without my permission or consent, which has an effect on the interest accrued on my loan.”
On ConsumerAffairs, one person said their account was also put into forbearance without their knowledge during the chaos that ensued after Hurricane Harvey struck in 2017:
When Hurricane Harvey hit Texas, my (student loan) payment was delayed but I was unaware. [Great Lakes] emailed me and I called to see what was going on. I had never missed a payment in 7 years. They put my account in forbearance which it still is but I continue to make my payments as always.”
On the flip side, you may have a hard time getting removed from forbearance or deferment. A Student Loan Planner survey respondent said that Great Lakes struggled mightily with helping her forgo in-school deferment on her dental school loans so she could sign up for Revised Pay As You Earn (REPAYE):
It has been extremely difficult to figure out how to ‘suppress’ my in school loan deferment so that I can become eligible for REPAYE (my husband has income, and we would like to save as much as possible by utilizing the 50% interest subsidy for the next three years that I am in residency).”
If Great Lakes is your servicer, keep a close eye on your student loan statements. You don’t want your Great Lakes student loans to rack up interest in forbearance or deferment without your consent.
3. Income-driven repayment plans
Income-driven repayment (IDR) plans can be confusing.
First of all, borrowers must recertify their household size and income each year. Otherwise, they’re kicked off their IDR plan.
There’s also no one-size-fits-all IDR plan. The “best plan for you” could change as your financial, marital or family situation shifts.
With these things in mind, it’s no wonder that student loan servicers struggle with handling IDR plans. And Great Lakes is no exception.
Here’s just a sampling of the many IDR-related Great Lakes borrower complaints that can be found online
One Student Loan Planner survey respondent said:
Difficult time submitting IBR paperwork.”
A ConsumerAffairs complaint on April 19, 2019 said:
Every year it takes me MANY HOURS to renew my income based repayment plan…Every year it ends the same way – A confirmation email that they have received my documentation followed immediately by an email that says I’m getting kicked off the plan for not submitting my documentation. This is typically sorted once I share the confirmation email with another few people (more calls, more emails). The entire song and dance takes about 4-6 weeks.”
Another ConsumerAffairs complaint on May 21, 2019 stated:
I had my loan reset for repayment based on my income. Never received any documentation in the mail. Very disappointed in their follow up. I missed my first payment & need to work with them again to fix.”
If you’re a Great Lakes borrower and you’re on an IDR plan, be prepared. There’s a good chance you may run into an issue at some point down the road.
Great Lakes: Good intentions don’t always equal high service
If there was one area that Great Lakes shined in Student Loan Planner’s survey, it was customer service.
Over and over again, Great Lakes borrowers shared how kind and helpful the Great Lakes customer service team had been. Below are just a few examples:
- “It is regularly one of the best customer service experiences of my life because they answer my specific questions quickly and clearly.”
- “Always helpful and answered or resolved my issue.”
- “Every time I have contacted Great Lakes support they have all been very helpful, courteous, and resolved my issue within one phone call.”
- “Great customer service. Willing to help and answer questions. Follows up too!”
From these (and many more) responses,Great Lakes truly seems to wants to provide great customer service — and wants to solve its customers’ problems.
But that doesn’t mean you’ll always talk to someone who has been trained or informed well enough to do so.
Here’s what one respondent had to say:
Overall my experiences have been good… That being said, a couple of times I’ve called, I’ve talked to people who clearly had no idea what they were doing, but no one has ever been rude.”
Remember the respondent who said that working with Great Lakes was “one of the best customer service experiences of my life”? Well, that glowing remark was followed up with a small dose of reality:
But, I am required to call due to inaccurate information via email.”
That sums up the way your customer experience may go with Great Lakes.
There’s a good chance that you’ll deal with people who want to do what’s in your best interest. But you’ll still need to be on the lookout for mistakes.
What can you do if you’re a Great Lakes student loans borrower?
If you’re unhappy with Great Lakes, you can file a complaint with the CFPB, the BBB or ConsumerAffairs. The government won’t allow you to switch servicers (except during a Direct Loan Consolidation), but that doesn’t mean you’re stuck.
A Student Loan Planner consultant can help you figure out what to do you with your Great Lakes student loans. Depending on your situation, a student loan refinance might be a good option.
If you have a healthy income and good credit score, you may be able to refinance with a private lender that takes customer service seriously. Book a consultation today.