Man in woods after student loans monthly payment doubled

Great Lakes Student Loans: A Simple (But Complete) Guide 2019

February 10, 2020

You’ve tried to keep up with your student loans since you left school. You’ve called. You’ve created accounts. You read letters. Lots of letters. Still, it seems like every time you look up your federal student loans have been sold to some other company.

Now you’re getting letters from Great Lakes Student Loans. When that happens it’s natural to ask:

Who is Great Lakes Student Loans Servicing

Great Lakes Higher Education Corporation & Affiliates is a nonprofit company in Madison Wisconsin that’s been in business since 1967.

Great Lakes is one of the largest student loan servicers in the nation. In particular, Great Lakes services about $224 billion in federal student loans for the Department of Education for 7.5 million borrowers. It services another $10.7 billion in Federal Family Education Loans for 479 thousand borrowers. And it services $8.5 billion in private student loans for about 415 thousand borrowers.

As of November 15, Great Lakes has changed their name to Ascendium Education Group. The reason for the change is a result of Nelnet Inc. acquiring Great Lakes’ loan-servicing subsidiary. Now, Ascendium, formerly Great Lakes, is the largest guarantor of federal student loans.

Nelnet’s purchase of the loan servicing division of Great Lakes means that one servicer, Nelnet, will control almost 42% of loans held by federal student loan borrowers and more than 40% of the balances.

nelnet buys great lakes

What Does Nelnet’s acquisition of Great Lakes Student Loans mean

It’s too early to say. According to Nelnet’s press release, Great Lakes is supposed to continue servicing its federal student loans. Later, Nelnet will integrate technology, as well as shared services and other activities, in an effort to become more efficient and effective in helping student loan borrowers. I assume this will happen through GreatNet Solutions, LLC.

Great Lakes Has Been One of The Best Student Loan Servicers

You’re in luck if Great Lakes services your federal student loans. In my experience as a student loan lawyer, Great Lakes is the easiest servicer to work with. And, on top of that, they typically process paperwork the fastest.

My positive experience appears to be backed up by reports from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. According to the 2017 Annual Report of the CFPB Student Loan Ombudsman, student loan borrowers made almost 13 thousand complaints about federal student loan servicing. Of those complaints, only 340, or about 3%, were lodged against Great Lakes.

Navient had the most complaints followed by AES.

The most common complaint made against Great Lakes was for general issues dealing with them as a servicer (i.e., enrolling in Income-Driven Repayment plans) followed by struggles with student loan repayment, and capped by problems with credit report information and credit scores.

Access Great Lakes By Creating a login

The best way to see loan information about the student loans Great Lakes is servicing is to sign up for account access at

To log in, you’ll need to provide your SSN and DOB.

From there, you’ll be asked to create a User ID and password.

Once that’s done, you’ll be able to log in and look your repayment plan options, the interest rate of your loans, and loan payoff statements, etc.

Repayment Plan Options

Your student loan repayment options are many — at least for federal student loans.

As you know, if you need a lower monthly payment, you can repay your federal student loans under an income-driven repayment plan. You can choose from the:

  • Revised Pay As You Earn Plan
  • Pay As You Earn Plan
  • Income Based Repayment Plan for New Borrowers
  • Income Based Repayment Plan
  • Income Contingent Repayment


Each of these plans uses your adjusted gross income, family size, and state of residence to determine your discretionary income. From there, each plan will take a percentage of your discretionary income to calculate your monthly payment.

In addition to those plans, there’s also the Graduated Repayment Plan, the Extended Repayment Plan, and the Income-Sensitive Repayment Plan.

Finally, there’s the Standard Repayment Plan.

Which one is right for you depends on your financial situation and your goals.

Let me know if you want some help choosing the right repayment plan for you.

When It’s Time to Recertify

As a reminder, your monthly payment under an income-driven repayment plan is good for 12 months at a time. As your last payment nears, Great Lakes will contact you to recertify. Once you submit your recertification paperwork, it should be processed in a few weeks.

wall calendar and computer desk

If this process takes longer, you’re entitled to keep making income-driven payments at the same amount you until your new payment is calculated.[footnote]34 CFR 685.209(a)(5)(viii)(A), (b)(3)(vi)(E), (c)(4)(viii)(A), 685.221(e)(8)(i), (ii).[/footnote]

How to Make Payments

The easiest way to make a payment is to pay online at You have two options to make payments: one-time or auto pay. The benefit to signing up for autopay is you get an interest rate reduction of .25%.

I imagine this reduction is helpful if you’re trying to pay off your loans early. But if you’re on an income-driven repayment plan? That benefit may not outweigh the risk.

Here’s what I mean. When you sign up for auto-pay, you’re authorizing Great Lakes to draft money from your account on a recurring basis — no matter what your monthly payment amount is.

You’re okay with that so long as Great Lakes takes out your monthly payment under an income-driven repayment plan. But what if you fail to timely recertify? In that case, Great Lakes may move you to the Standard Repayment Plan. In doing that, your payment will likely be a lot more than what you budgeted. And that can leave you calling Great Lakes to try and get them to reverse the auto draft.?

In addition to online payments, you can also make payments by mail. There are two different addresses for federal student loan payments to Great Lakes:

  1. Direct Loans. Payments for loans held by the Department of Education being serviced by Great Lakes should be mailed to:
    Great Lakes, US Department of Education, PO Box 790321, St Louis MO  63179-0321
  2. FFEL Loans. For FFEL loans, your payments should be mailed to:
    Great Lakes, PO Box 3059, Milwaukee WI  53201-3059

Your payment is on-time if you make it within 15 days of the due date.

One final way you can make payments is via the Great Lakes mobile app. They have mobile apps for both iPhone and Android.

How to Find Payoff Statements

Great Lakes labels your student loans by individual Payment Reference Numbers instead of typical account numbers. A Payment Reference Number is a 15-digit number that’s included on your Great Lakes billing statement.

great lakes billing statement sample

Here’s how to get your 10-day payoff amount:

  1. Visit and login to your account.
  2. Click “Payments” in the top navigation bar. From there, select the first option in the dropdown menu, “Manage Payments”.
  3. Next, click the “Calculate Payoff Amount” link.
  4. Use the “Choose Payoff Date” field to select a date 10 days from the current date. Then click the “Calculate” button.
  5. The Payoff Amount is shown below.

How to Find Student Loan Interest Rate

There are 2 ways to find the student loan interest rate on loans Great Lakes services for you:

  1. Login into using your account information; and
  2. Login into using your FSA ID.

Both options will allow you to look at your loan balance, repayment plan, repayment status, and interest rate.

Once you learn your interest rate, you’ll likely wonder:

How Can I Get a Lower Interest Rate On My Great Lakes Student Loans?

You’ll hear people say you should consolidate your loans to get a lower interest rate.

That’s bad advice. You see, when you consolidate federal student loans, your new interest rate is a weighted average of the loans you’re consolidating. So your loans with a higher interest rate may end up with a slightly lower interest rate. But your federal loans with a lower interest rate may end up with a higher interest rate.

With federal student loans, the only way to get a truly lower interest rate is to complete a student loan consolidation with a private lender like SoFi or Earnest. While getting an interest rate reduction is a good thing, giving up the rights you have with federal student loans isn’t.

Here’s what you potentially lose when you refinance federal student loans with a private lender:

Why My Great Lakes Federal Student Loans Payment Doubled

The likely reason the monthly payment on your federal student loans doubled is that you failed to timely recertify your income-driven repayment plan and, as a result, Great Lakes placed your loans on the Standard Repayment Plan.

Man in woods after student loans monthly payment doubled

Great Lakes Deferment & Forbearance Programs

There will be times when you can’t afford the monthly payment Great Lakes says you can afford. And that’s true even if you’re repaying your loans under one of the income-driven repayment plans.

When those times popup, consider asking Great Lakes Customer Service representative about your eligibility for a deferment or a forbearance.

Ideally, you’d want your loans placed on a deferment rather than a forbearance. That’s because the government will cover the interest that accrues on the subsidized portions of your loans.

Here are your deferment options for your Direct loans, FFEL loans, and Perkins loans:

  • In-School Deferment Request
  • Parent Plus Borrower Deferment Request
  • Graduate Fellowship Deferment Request
  • Rehabilitation Training Program Deferment Request
  • Unemployment Deferment Request
  • Economic Hardship Deferment Request
  • Military Service and Post-Active Duty Student Deferment Request

Your options for forbearance are broken up into two broad categories: general forbearance and mandatory forbearance.

A general forbearance, which is often referred to as a “discretionary forbearance”, covers those times when you’re facing:

  • Financial difficulties
  • Medical expenses
  • Change in employment and
  • Other reasons your loan Great Lakes Student Loans finds acceptable.

General forbearances can be granted for 12 months at a time.

You may be eligible for a mandatory forbearance if:

  • You’re serving in a medical internship or residency
  • Your debt burden is 20% more than your total monthly gross income
  • You’re serving in an AmeriCorps position
  • You teach and qualify for teacher loan forgiveness
  • You qualify for partial repayment under the US Department of Defense Student Loan Repayment Program
  • You serve on active duty in the National Guard and don’t qualify for a military deferment

Like general forbearances, mandatory forbearances may be granted for no more than 12 months at a time.

Great Lakes Student Loan Forgiveness Programs

Great Lakes, as a servicer of federal student loans, makes several student loan forgiveness programs available to you.

The most common of these loan forgiveness programs for student loan borrowers are:

Student Loan Default With Great Lakes Student Loans

Here’s a simple truth:

With all the available deferments, forbearances, and income-driven repayment options, it should be incredibly difficult to default on your federal student loans.

But the fact is, people default on federal student loans daily.

How someone goes more than 270 days without making payment on their loan is a little beyond me.

That said, I understand. You move. You work. You raise a family. You forget about your student loans. It’s easier that way; especially, when you can’t afford to repay your loans.

Rather than ponder why you defaulted, let’s talk about what happens when you default on Great Lakes Student Loans.

The two biggest things are that you’re eligible for wage garnishment and tax refund offset.

Obviously, you want neither of those things to happen. So let’s talk about how to fix defaulted Great Lakes Student Loans.

The two main ways to get out of default are federal student loan consolidation and loan rehabilitation.

I go over those options elsewhere, so I won’t get into much detail here. What I will say is that, generally, loan rehabilitation offers more benefits. But it’s a lot slower than consolidation. Loan rehabilitation takes about 9 months. Consolidation, on the other hand, takes about 3 months.

So if you need to get out of default fast, like to go back to school and get federal financial aid, consolidation might be the better choice for you.

How to Move Your Loans From Great Lakes

There are two ways for you to move your student loans from Great Lakes to another servicer: completing a student loan consolidation and working for an employer that qualifies you for Public Service Loan Forgiveness.

Consolidating your federal student loans allows you to choose your new student loan servicer. That is something you don’t when you work for the government or a qualified nonprofit. In that instance, when you alert Great Lakes of your employer, your loans will automatically be transferred to FedLoan Servicing.

How to Choose Which Student Loan Gets The Extra Monthly Payments You Make

When you make a payment, Great Lakes has to follow rules set by the federal government when it applies your payment to your loans. The rules require them to pay:

  • Outstanding interest first;
  • Late fees after that; and
  • Loan principal last.

The rules change when you make extra payments. You have more flexibility. When you make an excess payment, Great Lakes automatically applies the excess to:

  • Accrued interest since your last payment.
  • The principal of the loan with the highest interest rate.

If you’re in school, grace, or deferment, after outstanding interest for all loans has been paid, your payment will be applied to the unsubsidized loan with the highest interest rate.

If you like, you can change how Great Lakes applies your extra payment. To do so, user your login to define your Excess Payment Preference.

You can do this for just one excess payment or for all future excess payments.

How to Contact Great Lakes

Contacting Great Lakes is straightforward. Here’s their general contact information:

Great Lakes
PO Box 7860
Madison, WI 53707-7860

Phone: 1-800-236-4300
Fax: 1-800-375-5288

As a Great Lakes student loan borrower, you can also contact Great Lakes through their social media channels. Not only can you ask questions via their Facebook and Twitter pages, but you also might also pick up useful information from questions other borrowers have asked.

Having said that, if you prefer private communication, you can speak with a Great Lakes representative Monday through Friday, 7am to 9pm, Central Standard Time at 1-800-236-4300.

You can also email them at

How to Get Help With Great Lakes Student Loans

There are a few ways to get help with Great Lakes Student Loans.

You can always contact a Great Lakes Customer Service representative. Of all the federal student loan servicers, I find their representatives to be among the most knowledgeable.

Another option to get help with your Great Lakes Student Loans is to use Great Lakes’ online Student Loan Knowledge Center. The Center does a solid job of providing federal student loan help in a digestible way.

Finally, you can hire a student loan lawyer (like me for instance) to help develop a repayment strategy.

How to Submit a Complaint About Great Lakes Customer Service

Upset with the treatment you received from a Great Lakes Customer Service representative? Here are 3 ways to submit a complaint:

  1. Federal Student Aid Feedback System. Use the FSA Feedback System to file a complaint using your FSA ID. When you do, you must describe the issue you’re having, how you’d like it to be resolved, and attach any relevant documents.
  2. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The CFPB has handled over 1 million complaints. for various financial products and services, including for student loans. You can submit your complaint by answering a few questions to categorize the problem you’re having. Later, you’ll have an opportunity to describe that problem in detail.
  3. Better Business Bureau. When you file a complaint with the BBB, they’ll forward your complaint to Great Lakes Student Loans and will ask for a response within 14 days. If Great Lakes doesn’t respond, the BBB will send a second request.


A preliminary report of the FSA System showed that although Great Lakes serviced 27% of all federal student loans, they received 10% of the overall complaints. Meanwhile, Navient, which serviced only 21% of all federal student loans, had 29% of the overall complaints.

chart showing FSA feedback system complaints

Final Thoughts

The one thing I want you to keep in mind with your Great Lakes Student Loans is that you have options. At least for your federal student loans. Whether you’re interested in lowering your monthly payment, student loan consolidation, or loan forgiveness, Great Lakes’ Customer Service team should do a fairly decent job of helping you do so.

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