by Adam Dawson
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. In the meantime, I’ve got a JackpotJoy Bingo promo code I can use to have some online fun.