I know that student loan service providers have absolutely no incentive to create an amazing, holistic customer experience... but a girl can dream can't she?
This year, I've been on a mission to understand how student loans work, and how I can pay mine off as fast as possible -- and not surprisingly, I've run into some roadblocks along the way. Here are five ways companies could start to look at the loan industry differently.
1. Lift the Veil
When I sat down to make my repayment strategy, I remember scouring my lender's site to find out my basic information:
- How much I originally owed
- How much I had paid so far
- How much I had left to pay
- When my loans would be paid off given my current schedule
I couldn't believe that this information was not clearly showcased on my profile page -- it seemed so obvious. And not only was it not there, but it took a long phone call with a frustrated customer service representative to dig it up for me. Eventually I got shoved off to something called an amortization calculator, which as a novice who has never owned a car or a house or anything really, was super intimidating.
2. Show Me Progress
If any of you have paid over the minimum monthly payment on your loan, you know it's the most underwhelming use of your money. The loan servicer tracks in "number of payments." I currently have 124 payments left on one of my loans. When I pay my minimum balance each month, $32 goes towards interest and $87 goes towards the principal. If I wanted to overpay an extra $120 one month, you would expect the system to log it as an extra payment and display that I only have 122 payments left. Nope. Not only does it not show you this progress, besides displaying your super depressing outstanding balance that went down a tiny hair, but your monthly amount due goes down to $0, tempting you into skipping next month's payment instead of encouraging you to stick with your overpayment plan!
3. Protect Me From Myself
I sure could use some tools to help me stick to the insanely strict budget that I've made to pull off this overpayment strategy. I know there are lots of apps out there, but none of them leverage my networks to motivate me. Why couldn't an app on my phone get to know my kryptonite -- the places where I spend unnecessary money each week, and notify the community mentioned above when I'm in striking distance of breaking down? How awesome would it be to receive a barrage of texts from my friends that say, "turn around, it's not worth it!" or "you won't be able to get rid of your loans if you keep buying coffee!"
4. Give Me a Community
One of the hardest things about scraping by each month to save up money to overpay on my loans is that I feel really alone. Although we've all heard the sad figures of how many thousands of Millennials are stuck with obscene amounts of debt, there's no tool out there to connect us all. Even further, there's nothing out there to connect those of us who are hacking away at our payments with a vengeance. I long for a community of peers to share frustrations, tips, and most of all -- successes. Companies like Venmo offer ways for friends to share commentary on their money transfers (oh, and they also track your progress, in a way, showing how much you're spending at specific venues), so I'd like to see a student loan provider do the same.
5. Celebrate My Wins
After the disappointing experience of overpaying monthly, my husband and I decided to save up a big chunk of money to knock off a specific loan group in his private loans. This was a big deal for us, as we had been painstakingly saving up for months to do this. I don't know what we were expecting, but we definitely weren't expecting... nothing. We called up the loan servicer, arranged the payment over the phone, and after it was processed, that was it. There was no confetti, no gold star, no thank you card in the mail. Here we were, in a sense, making a huge "purchase" with a large sum of money, and yet we felt almost depressed.
I know it's easy to sit back and complain about all of this stuff, but I like to think of it more as an opportunity. These challenges are ripe for the picking, and Millennials are hungry for solutions that help them manage their finances in a way that makes sense to them.