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Updated on Friday, November 6, 2015
Great Lakes is one of the largest student loan servicers that work with borrowers who have loans from the U.S. Department of Education. It also services loans from private lenders, but if you use Great Lakes to pay your loans, chances are, they’re federal.
Unfortunately, when you have federal student loans, you don’t get a choice of which student loan servicer you’ll work with. Your loan servicer can actually change because your loans can be sold to other servicers.
This review provides information about people’s reported experiences with Great Lakes as well as how to contact customer service and get disputes resolved.
Overview of Great Lakes
According to its website, Great Lakes is a non-profit organization that is partnered with the U.S. Department of Education and private lenders. It’s headquartered in Madison, Wisconsin, and its mission is “doing what’s right to change lives for the better.”
Great Lakes provides a good overview of what it offers on its website, so if this is your first time figuring things out, you should look there first. Key pages to look at are:
- Know Your Repayment Options – An absolute must-read for any borrower, whether you can afford to make your payments or not. You should always know what options are available to you in the event you hit a financial rough spot.
- Repayment Planner – You can get a visual look at how your payments will determine when your loans will be paid off. This includes the amount of interest that will accrue as well, which might motivate you to pay extra on your loans. Unfortunately, it’s not interactive, so you can’t make adjustments to your repayment schedule to see how making larger payments will affect your pay off date, but it’s a good place to start.
- Knowledge Center – This is a quick overview of the different sections of the site that you’ll be visiting the most, such as managing your accounts, making a payment, and retrieving your monthly billing statement. Consider it a mini-tour of the website so you know how to access the information you need.
If you’re someone who loves to bank via mobile, you might appreciate the fact that Great Lakes has a mobile app that you can use to make payments and monitor your account. It’s available for both iOS and Android.
What Borrowers Are Saying
Great Lakes has a rating of one and a quarter stars on Consumer Affairs. There are many reports of customer service being unhelpful, rude, or misinformed. A few other borrowers have had trouble with the way payments have been applied to their loans, or how payments aren’t going through at all.
The story is the same on the Better Business Bureau website, where borrowers cite Billing/Collection Issues as the most common problem. Out of 48 reviews, only 5 are positive.
Yet another complaint was posted on Blogging Away Debt. While this post is older, there are still comments coming in from 2015 reporting poor experiences with Great Lakes’ customer service. At the very least, its social media department has reached out and responded to comments, but many borrowers remain upset at the lack of user-friendliness on Great Lakes’ website.
I can tell you first-hand that all of this is true, as Great Lakes is my student loan servicer. I pay more than the minimum on my student loans, and like the post from Blogging Away Debt says, it’s extremely difficult to choose how payments are applied. Great Lakes has a detailed post on that, but it can still be confusing to understand.
It seems like they’ve updated it with more examples since I last looked, but suffice to say, making a payment and then emailing customer service with directions on how to apply the excess payment can be frustrating. Other loan servicers, such as Nelnet, allow you to choose how much you want to pay toward each individual loan. This makes it a lot easier to target loans with higher interest rates or loans with the lowest balance, if you’re following the debt avalanche or snowball method.
Additionally, the few times I’ve had to call, I’ve been met with unhappy and unhelpful service. I had changed my bank account information in the system, but it apparently never updated on their end. A payment was pulled from my old account, causing an overdraft (I was in the process of closing it out), and they said it wasn’t their fault because they couldn’t see the new bank account I had entered into the system.
When I logged onto my Great Lakes account, the only bank account I saw was the new one I had entered. Thankfully, my bank waived the overdraft fee, and you’ll notice a disclaimer on Great Lakes’ website that says it’s not responsible for any overdraft fees that may occur. I also never received an email from Great Lakes stating the payment didn’t go through – it was my bank that contacted me.
Lesson learned – stay on top of your communication with representatives, each and every day. Don’t let them brush your issues off. If you don’t receive notice, call up or email so you have a paper trail.
How to Get Disputes Resolved: Contact Great Lakes First
Have you experienced customer service issues when dealing with Great Lakes? There are a few avenues you can take to make a complaint and get a dispute resolved.
First, as much as you might not want to hear it, you need to contact Great Lakes to attempt to straighten things out. Studentaid.gov recommends you follow this checklist before moving on to contacting the Federal Student Aid Ombudsman Group. It lists common issues borrowers have and the steps they can take to resolve them. You must have contacted your loan servicer before forwarding disputes to the Ombudsman Group.
You can call Great Lakes at 1-800-236-4300; representatives are available Monday through Friday from 7:00am to 9:00pm Central Time. You can also send an email by logging into your account, going to this page, and clicking on “Email us.” Lastly, you can also write to them at this address:
PO Box 7860
Madison, WI 53707-7860
If you’re still unsatisfied with the response you’ve received (or haven’t received), you can file a complaint with Great Lakes directly on their website by clicking here (you’ll need to log into your account).
Next, Contact the Federal Student Aid Ombudsman
Once you’ve followed the steps above and have exhausted all of your options, you can then contact the Federal Student Aid Ombudsman Group. Before reporting a dispute, you should gather all the information on this list. The Ombudsman Group needs all the relevant information you can give them to reach a decision on how to help you resolve your dispute.
You can contact the Ombudsman Group by calling 1-877-557-2575, you can fill out the short online dispute form here, or you can write to them at
U.S. Department of Education
FSA Ombudsman Group
830 First Street, N.E., Mail Stop 5144
Washington, DC 20202-5144
Keep in mind, you should only contact the Ombudsman Group if you have Federal student loans with Great Lakes. In the event you have private student loans, you should direct your complaints and concerns to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).
How to Submit a Complaint With the CFPB
The CFPB is in charge of fielding concerns from borrowers with private student loan debt, and you should make them aware of any issues you’ve had with your private lender. The CFPB has been cracking down on student loan servicers to ensure that they’re providing adequate help to borrowers. After all, if you’re looking to make any changes to your repayment plans, you’ll need to contact your loan servicer. It’s important that they give you the knowledge you need to adjust your student loan payments accordingly.
How can you submit a complaint? It’s easy. Go to the CFPB website here and fill out a 5 step form. The CFPB outlines what happens after you submit a complaint, but in short, the loan servicer has 15 days to give you a response, and the CFPB will work on your behalf to get that response. Most disputes are resolved within 60 days.
Bottom line: there are a few ways you can act to get a response. The CFPB and Ombudsman Group can help if Great Lakes does not. If you have an online presence with a blog or social media account, you can always try calling attention to your issue there as well.