Monday, March 20, 2017

Nudging Students Toward Smart Borrowing: Using loan summaries to help borrowers better understand their loans

By Matt Nettleton, Inceptia Strategic Business Director

As students increasingly rely on loans to finance part or all of their college education the need for relevant, timely information to help make informed borrowing choices has become more critical than ever.

Students themselves are indicating a need for such initiatives, as demonstrated through a number of surveys that uncover numerous confusing concepts for loan borrowers. Consider the following:

·         48% of borrowers either don’t know or incorrectly estimate the amount they have borrowed.1
·         28% incorrectly believe they have no federal loans at all.1
·         94% of student borrowers do not understand their loan repayment terms.2

The ramifications for borrower confusion can be significant. When students do not invest in or avail themselves of existing loan counseling resources, those students, as well as schools and society at large, suffer from the effects of over borrowing, lower degree attainment, increased attrition, and student loan default.

A number of schools and states, however, are using a simple yet innovative approach to help students actively manage loan debt as they progress toward degree completion. These institutions use loan summaries, sometimes called “debt letters,” to supplement loan counseling practices and expand on financial education outreachkeeping students apprised of their individual borrowing levels and allowing them to make informed choices about future repayment scenarios.

Loan summaries/debt letters are a simple, low-touch effort to keep student borrowers engaged in the active management of their loans while in school. While letters can vary among institutions, commonalities include a summary of current aggregate borrowing, estimated monthly repayment amounts, and resources for learning more or obtaining help. These summaries are strategically scheduled to be delivered at times when students are making financial aid and/or course registration decisions, thus providing a highly-effective, just-in-time intervention for borrowers.

Inceptia’s newest research brief, Loan Summaries: Nudging Students Toward Smart Borrowing, examines how three different universities administered their loan summary initiatives and the corresponding results on student behavior. The results offer support that this simple, lost-cost practice can impact not only borrowing behaviors, but also academic performance and enrollment persistence. Furthermore, the brief offers best practice considerations for schools looking at implementing loan summaries as to support student success.

The research brief and a recorded webinar diving deeper into the brief’s findings and offering insight and strategies on how loan summaries help borrowers better understand their loans can be viewed at

1. Akers, E. and Chingos, M. (2014, December). Are College Students Borrowing Blindly? Brookings Institution. Retrieved from:

2. Rathmanner, D. (2016, January). January 2016 Student Loan Borrower Survey. LendEDU. Retrieved from

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