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Frustrated with Great Lakes!

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I mentioned several months ago that my Stafford Loans were transferred to Great Lakes for servicing.  Pay close attention, because this will be one of the only times you’ll ever hear me saying the government did something better.

I have 2 categories of Stafford Loans, subsidized and unsubsidized.  Under each category, I took 2 individual loans during school, for a total of 4 loans.  With me so far?

When the loans were serviced directly by the Department of Education, they were arranged into “groups,” and payments were calculated and applied to each group.  You could pay extra on any group you wanted, right online, point and click.  I could also rearrange the loans into groups in whatever fashion I desired.  This was helpful, because I could break out one individual loan into its own group and snowball that loan with extra payments.  You could always see the balance, principal, and interest on each loan or loan group, payments were applied within a day or two.  It was very easy.

Since my loans were transferred to Great Lakes, the online experience has been decidedly lacking.  The online portal only shows the total balance off all loans.  You can see that there are subsidized and unsubsidized loans rolling up but you can’t do anything with those “sub-loans” online.  Furthermore, the individual loans that made up the 2 groups are now completely gone online.  If I want to apply a payment to one of the four individual loans, I have to call in to customer service.  The automated phone attendant makes me enter in about 6 pieces of information and then wait on hold for a rep.

Then, the kicker – the customer service has been so frustrating!  Since my subsidized loans had smaller balances, I wanted to attack those first.  Every time I tried to do this, the rep would argue with me – “Most people want to pay down their unsubsidized balance first.”  I understand why they say this, but I have to tell them 4 times that I am paying off the smallest balance first.  (Truthfully, the unsubsidized vs. subsidized decision doesn’t make a difference for me anymore – only if I lose my job and qualify for a deferral).  Then, they take the payment over the phone, and it takes about a week to apply to the balance, but it spreads the payment across all the loans.  At this point, a human has to intervene and re-apply the payment to the individual loan I requested.  That results in another 4 day wait and sometimes another follow up phone call.  Lately, they want to argue with me, “Why do you want to apply to a single loan – they are all the same interest rate!”  2 reasons: because it’s more motivating to attack a $9000 balance than a big hairy $20k balance.  And because each loan I eliminate lowers the monthly payment required in case we get in a situation where we are only able to make minimum payments (but only if I call in and ask them to recalculate the payment).

So – if you have any choice in the matter, avoid Great Lakes as a loan servicer!  I will be stuck with them for a while since they have both my Stafford and my Discover loans.  Ugh.  Can’t wait to get rid of these guys.

 


And Now It’s Time for a Breakdown (Part 1)

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Name that tune.

Now that we’ve done the formal introductions, it’s time to get you acquainted with our debt situation.  We’ve been working on our mountain of debt for 3 years so far, and our goal is to make our last payment on my 35th birthday in July, 2017.

At this point in the journey, we’ve paid off all of our cars, some credit cards, and our undergraduate loans.  Still to go, we have 2 credit cards that are a testament to our ongoing financial lack of discipline, and my remaining graduate school loans.  Here are  the debts we’ve paid off so far.

Emily Credit Line $180
Orchard Bank Card $250
Short-term Loan $500
Prudential Insurance $1,000
Citi Private Student Loan $3,070
Ford Focus $9,365
Emily Dept. of Ed. $7,000
Emily Sallie Mae $6,350
Citi Credit Card $2,400
Lexus RX300 $5,000
Adam Sallie Mae $15,200
Total Paid – July 2013 $50,315

Emily’s credit line was a revolving loan she took on with her bank after college. Thankfully we knocked that out right away, along with the dreaded Orchard Bank card.

Short-term loan: During my first year of graduate school, my loans for the entire semester were disbursed at the beginning, and it was my job to budget my living expenses until the next disbursement in January.  As I approached Christmas my first year, I realized I wasn’t going to make it! This was one of the most stressful times of my entire life. I was worried I might not be able to go home for Christmas, get anyone any gifts, or anything else.  For the first time in my adult life, my bank account approached $0. I’m grateful that my school offered a $500 bridge loan that got me through the holidays, but it was on our snowball list when I graduated.  I definitely knew at that point that I didn’t want to be in that position ever again, to the extent that I could control it.

Prudential Insurance:  Chalk this up to the stupid tax.  My parents bought me a whole life policy when I was a baby. They paid the premiums and the policy was worth about $5000 when I was in high school. I wrecked my car during high school and had to get some repairs, and my mom suggested I borrow against this policy.  She paid the interest on the debt every year (about $30) until I was 26. I finally said I wanted to get that weight off my shoulders and paid that stupid debt back, cashed out the remaining policy amount and paid off some of our other debts. I’m glad to be rid of it.

Citi Private Loan: The hits keep coming. My junior year of college, I had the opportunity to study at Oxford University for 4 weeks during the summer. Of course my family couldn’t pay for this, so Uncle Citibank came to the rescue. It was a great study abroad program, but every month making that payment for several years so I could do a cool extracurricular was just maddening.  Thankfully we got that one eliminated.

Cars: These stories are worth a post of their own. We currently have a 2009 Ford Focus with 60k miles and a 2002 Lexus RX300 with 174k miles. We hope these cars last us until we are out of debt so we can buy our future cars in cash.

Credit card:  stupid stuff that I thought couldn’t wait, like school expenses, interview suits, a plane ticket for the holidays here and there, and suddenly we have a big credit card balance.  We’ll talk more about this as we go.

Student Loans:  Both Emily and I attended small private liberal arts schools.  She had more help from her family than I did, but we both ended up with about $15k in loans.  This May, 9 years after I graduated, I finally paid off that bachelor’s degree.

That’s the story on what we’ve paid so far! Next time we’ll get into the tsunami wall of remaining debt we have to tackle!


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