Built an app to simplify federal student loan repayment
Rhea Rakshit (design) and myself, with additional help from advisors, classmates, and a volunteer web developer.
Rhea Rakshit and I built Out Loan as our MFA thesis project in Design for Social Innovation. Our goal was to simplify the student loan repayment process in two steps:
Guide users through a series of simple questions to determine their eligibility for income-based repayment and public student loan forgiveness.
Help borrowers customize their repayment plans and understand their options in the context of their lifestyle.
Millions of federal borrowers default on their loans even though they qualify for income-based plans, which reduce their payments to a manageable amount. These plans are under-used because they are unnecessarily complex and poorly explained on studentloans.gov.
To start, we sorted through all of the information on the various plans, and made a series of wireframes and site maps.
Developing Part 1
We prototyped different ways of explaining this information. We made flow charts and interactive prototypes using tools like InVision. We even tried a mystery game - The Adventures of Sherlock Loans.
After usability testing, we realized our users wanted to focus on the information without the fluff. So we settled on a clean design that gets the users the information they need clearly and quickly.
Developing Part 2
Figuring out the dashboard was more difficult. We knew we wanted a tool to help users understand their payments and visualize how paying a little more today can drastically change their loans over time. But we wanted to balance this with an understanding that a lot of users can't afford to pay extra.
Our "AHA moment"
A big insight came after speaking with positive deviants - expert repayers who strategically paid their loans quickly. They made complex spreadsheets to model out the different plans and scenarios and intentionally picked the plan that worked best for their particular lifestyle. Our task became visualizing these spreadsheets.
To better understand our users' needs, we made static wireframes of the look and feel of the dashboard and conducted usability tests, doing the calculations on a spreadsheet as we led participants through the screens.
As we tested, we kept improving the dashboard:
Testing a working MVP
To validate the Out Loan dashboard we needed to test it with users in the real world, so we made a minimum viable product.
During a workshop with students from the Gallatin School of Individualized Study at NYU we realized that everyone's repayment situation is unique and their questions are personal. At the same time, it is important to maintain a sense of community - because we all have student loans and we can help each other understand them.
accounting for our behavioral biases
As users adjust the sliders they can see how small changes affect the timeline of their loans, accounting for present bias or our tendency to prioritize present concerns over future ones. Because we would rather avoid losses than acquire gains (loss aversion), the summary highlights how much interest users have to pay.
Instead of explaining the plans, users can switch between them to see how they affect their budget. This principle is simple - show don’t tell.
We all budget in different ways, so users have the ability to view their budget on a daily, weekly or monthly basis.
Finally, users can set up savings goals, because it is easier to save for something tangible than having an abstract savings account.
We presented Out Loan to designers, banks, student loan providers and government agencies, including Capital One, American Express, Navient, and the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau. We were invited to pitch Out Loan alongside other FinTech Startups, and we explored the idea of partnerships with banks.