Student loans are a reality for many Americans. Over 43.2 million student borrowers have an average debt of over $39,351 each. If you currently have a federal student loan or you’re planning to take one, you’ll have to work with a student loan servicer.
A student loan servicer is a private company used by the government to manage your student loan payments. Even if the money you’re borrowing is coming from the federal government, these student loan servicers are the “middlemen” that collect and track your payments. They are also responsible for helping you manage your payments and give you the best advice so you can repay your loan diligently.
In this article, we will talk about the different federal student loan servicers and how they rank based on latest data (up to 2021) from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau or CFPB. We will also talk about why your student loan servicer may change in 2021 or 2022.
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Can You Choose Your Student Loan Servicer?
No, you cannot choose your student loan service when you first take out a federal student loan. This is not like getting a credit card or a car loan where you have the flexibility to choose your lender or decide where to borrow your funds.
There used to be 9 student loan servicers that the U.S. Department of Education works with to service federal student loans. However, one of these companies called Cornerstone (UHEAA) terminated its contract with the federal government in October 2020 effective immediately. Currently, there are 8 student loan servicers for federal direct student loans.
Since these are all different companies, the level of service will be different depending on which student loan servicer you’re assigned to. Yes, you read that right – you will be “assigned” a student loan servicer when you first take out your loan.
When you get assigned a student loan servicer, you don’t have a choice but accept that servicer. The only way you can switch to a servicer you want out of the eight student loan servicers accredited by the federal government is to go through debt consolidation. Debt consolidation is the process of combining multiple federal student loans into one new federal direct loan. This could make it easier for you to manage your payments and extend the term of the loan.
One of the reasons you could be reading this article is because you are planning to consolidate your debts. During the consolidation process, you have the option to switch to a student loan servicer of your choice. However, this is not applicable if you’re just taking a federal student loan for the very first time.
Big Four Federal Student Loan Servicers in the United States Ranked
Out of the 8 student loan servicers used by the Department of Education for federal student loans, 4 companies get around 90% of the loans. The remaining 10% are distributed to the remaining 4 smaller student loan servicers.
The four companies getting the bulk of student loans are often referred to as the “Big Four”. If you’re applying for a federal student loan for the first time, the chances of going to one of these student loan servicers are obviously much higher. However, just because these are the bigger companies, does not necessarily mean that they are better.
To come up with our rankings, we looked at the total complaints filed by consumers to the CFPB Consumer Complaint Database from when data became available in 2015 up to 2021, in relation to the number of borrowers they have. Using the number of complaints available makes this ranking data driven, rather than subjective.
As the number of borrowers are concentrated on the Big Four, they will logically have more complaints than the rest of the 4 smaller servicers. So in order to make a (somehow) fair comparison, we decided to list and rank the Big Four student loan servicers separately from the 4 smaller companies. You can then look at the number of complaints as a basis to see how each company performs. We included screenshots from the CFPB Consumer Complaint Database to make it easier for you to see a snapshot of the available data. Note: this screenshot is static. To get dynamic data based on your selection you will need to access the link above.
1. Great Lakes Higher Education Corp.
Number of borrowers: 8 million approx.
Number of complaints: 1,042
Number of complaints per 100,000 borrowers: 13
Being the second largest federal student loan servicer, it is actually surprising to note that Great lakes only tallied 13 complaints per 100,000 borrowers. While Great Lakes is not a perfect company, their complaint record is still much better than the other three big student loan servicers. Another interesting indicator to note is that in the first quarter of 2021, Great Lakes still had zero complaints filed to the CFPB.
2. Nelnet, Inc.
Number of borrowers: 6.6 million approx.
Number of complaints: 2,949
Number of complaints per 100,000 borrowers: 45
Out of the Big Four, Nelnet is the smallest with only 6.6 million borrowers. Nelnet is short for National Education Loan network which was founded in 1978. Its headquarters are in Lincoln, Nebraska. Nelnet had a total of almost 3,000 complaints, which is almost three times the number of complaints that Great Lakes had. Nelnet also received 96 complaints already in the first quarter of 2021. However, despite this, it still has the second-lowest number of complaints per 100,000 users amongst the Big Four.
3. AES/PHEAA (FedLoan Servicing)
Number of borrowers: 8.4 million approx.
Number of complaints: 7,366
Number of complaints per 100,000 borrowers: 87
More popularly known as FedLoan Servicing, AES is the largest federal student loan servicer in America with over 8.4 million student borrowers. Being the largest, it is also one of the most complained about student loan servicers with a total of 7,366 complaints. In the first quarter of 2021, AES received 154 complaints already.
4. Navient Solutions, LLC.
Number of borrowers: 7 million approx.
Number of complaints: 16,097
Number of complaints per 100,000 borrowers: 230
Navient Solutions LLC services approximately 7 million student loan borrowers, making it the 3rd largest student loan servicer. Unfortunately for Navient, it is notorious for having the most complaints filed to CFPB. Navient logged 230 complaints for every 100,000 borrowers. If you compare that to Great Lakes’ number of 13 per 100,000 borrowers, that’s really a bad number. In the first quarter of 2021, Navient already received an overwhelming 205 complaints.
Smaller Federal Student Loan Servicers in the United States Ranked
With most of the federal student loans serviced by the Big Four companies, the remaining are split between the other smaller student loan servicers. There used to be five smaller companies until one company (Cornerstone) terminated its contract in 2020.
Now, there are 4 small federal student loan servicers that manage the remaining 10% of federal student loans. As there is no available data on how many borrowers each servicer currently have, we will rank them based on the number of complaints that they have received.
1. OSLA (Oklahoma Student Loan Authority)
Number of complaints: 47
Oklahoma Student Loan Authority or OSLA is one of the most sought-after student loan servicers for federal student loans. Since 2015, it has only had 47 complaints filed to the CFPB. It also has an A+ rating from the Better Business Bureau. The advantage of having a smaller student loan servicer is that because there are fewer borrowers, you are likely to get better customer service.
2. Granite State Management & Resources
Number of complaints: 69
Known simply as Granite State or GSM&R, this is another small student loan servicer used by the Department of Education. The company was established in 1986 and serviced both federal and private student loans. Based on CFPB data, Granite State only received 69 complaints since 2015.
3. EdFinancial Services/ HESC
Number of complaints: 206
EdFinancial Services is a company founded in 1988 and is based in Knoxville. The CFPB data shows that it received 206 complaints, which is more than 4 times the number of complaints OSLA received. In the first quarter of 2021, it already received 6 complaints.
Number of complaints: 378
MOHELA is short for Missouri Higher Education Loan Authority. The bad news for MOHELA is that it has the most CFPB complaints at 378 of the 4 smaller student loan servicers. Just like EdFinancial, MOHELA already received 6 complaints in the first quarter of 2021.
Why Your Student Loan Servicer May Change In 2021
As explained in the earlier section, you are not allowed to choose your student loan servicer. You have to stick with the servicer you are assigned to unless you decide to go through debt consolidation. If you apply for Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF), you will be transferred to FedLoan Servicing which handles this process so you really have no choice but to be switched to FedLoan. Another option is to refinance your loan with a private lender, however, take note that you will lose federal benefits including loan forgiveness and income-driven repayment plans.
If you’re frustrated with your current loan servicer but you’re not really looking to consolidate your loan, there’s still hope. There is a huge possibility that you could get transferred to another student loan servicer in the next two years.
According to a Forbes article, the Department of Education announced in June 2020 that it has signed new contracts with 5 student loans servicers that will all eventually support federal student loan customers. While there will be 5 servicers, the goal of the Department of Education is to simplify the repayment process by using one platform for all borrowers.
These companies are:
- EdFinancial Services LLC
- F.H. Cann & Associates LLC
- MAXIMUS Federal Services Inc.
- Texas Guaranteed Student Loan Corporation (Trellis Company)
If you have a student loan from Navient, Great Lakes, Nelnet, or FedLoan, you may not see any change until the end of December 2021. While student loan borrowers whose servicers are Granite State, OSLA, MOHELA, or EdFinancial may not see any change until 2022.
Depending on your current student loan servicer, these upcoming changes could spell good news for you or it could be bad news if you’re assigned to a low-performing servicer. The new platform, however, could potentially lessen problems faced by student loan borrowers.
How To Deal With Your Student Loan Servicer
No student loan servicer is perfect. Even if you’re assigned to the best servicer, you could still face difficulties in the future. If you are not satisfied with their service, you can file a complaint to the company or CFPB, switch servicers through consolidation, or consider private refinancing.
Before you decide on consolidation or refinancing, it is wise to wait until 2022 when the new servicers take over. You wouldn’t want to go through the process of debt consolidation or giving up your federal benefits in refinancing if your servicer is going to change anyway without you having to do anything.