Using Data to Empower Borrowers

May 27, 2015
A graduation cap and diploma is seen in the background, with a hand holding a calculator and a stack of hundred dollar bills in the foreground.

It’s been a while, but in previous posts, I described what we’ve learned from operating, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Federal Student Aid website created to educate students and borrowers about the federal student aid programs and process and help them make informed decisions about financing college and career school.

We first released the site in 2012, but we haven’t sat still yet! The plan has always been to create new and integrate current features that exist on other FSA websites. You may also be familiar with;….what can we say, we liked to create websites. That said, we understand that making the user experience more seamless is critical to breaking down barriers for students and borrowers.

Since I last wrote, we’ve come out with two exciting new initiatives—the Repayment Estimator and the ability to view federal student aid data—as well as many smaller improvements that should further empower borrowers and enrich the user experience.

With the Repayment Estimator, we allow borrowers to plug in different scenarios so that they can better understand how various federal repayment plans impact their monthly loan payments. Users can select pre-set scenarios if they are just in the exploratory stage, or we can pull up their personal loan balances and guide them to different amounts they’d pay under different repayment plans. Sticking with the standard plan your loan servicer automatically places you in may not be your best option—get informed!

Last year we also introduced the ability to log in to view your aid data and history, straight from our National Student Loan Data System (NSLDS®). Here, you can view your federal student loan and grant balances, find out your loan servicer and interest rate, and download all your data into a text file to use as you wish. We’ve offered this view for a long time, but it was through a different website—so it was the important next step of better integrating our websites so that users can have all the information they need at their fingertips. Better yet, it is optimized for use on all mobile devices.

Finally, while we are constantly trying to balance limited budgetary resources to make big impact changes like those above, I want to share how we incorporate user feedback to ensure our changes work best for the customer. Recently, we’ve been renaming pages to better explain what information a user will find on them: turns out ‘Repay Your Loans’ overpromised and under delivered according to our site survey feedback, since you currently must pay loans on your servicer’s website (I know, another big project for another time!) So, we simply changed the page name to better set expectations: How to Repay Your Loans.

We also used our Google Analytics and DigitalGov Search data to determine that users just want to know how to get their loans forgiven (don’t we all!). As a result, we elevated our loan forgiveness pages within the site menu to make those pages more accessible. We believe it’s these types of things that can make a big difference in improving the customer experience—which, working in the Customer Experience Office, is our #1 priority.

Brenda Wensil is the Chief Customer Experience Officer for Federal Student Aid (FSA). FSA’s Customer Experience Office is responsible for identifying, measuring and reporting customer expectations and satisfaction with the financial aid services and products offered at Federal Student Aid.