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Stupid Usability #53

Student Loan Redux

Written By: High Monkey
Posted: 5/26/2014

From the mind of Lindsay Jones, Project Manager at High Monkey:

Let's start with the fact that student loans + federal government NEVER equals easy. I consolidated my student loans with a federal direct loan 3 years ago and set up an automatic payment plan. Upon realizing that it would take me about 100 years to pay the loan off completely given the paltry amount I was putting towards it each month, I recently tried to log in to my account to change the monthly payment. Naturally, the site that I used to initially set up payment for the loan is no more. No redirect, just gone.

A simple search of "Federal student loan log in" brings up the following sites:

Let's start with This is where I used to go to manage my financial aid when I was in school. When I log in here, they have my name, date of birth, and social security number on file, but no information on my actual loan. I can "request" a federal direct loan, but I already have one, so that doesn't help me.

Next site: It's a .gov site, and it has to do with student loans, so I figure this has a good chance of getting me to payment management. Alas I can't even enter my log in information:

For "security" you are required to enter your PIN by selecting from columns of numbers rather than simply typing it in, like allows you to do. I'm using Firefox on a Mac running OS 10.7, and look at that. I can't see the numbers. And what browser to the recommend? Internet Explorer. And what browser isn't available for the newest Mac OS's? Internet Explorer.  So in the interest of security, I now have to find a public PC to use Internet Explorer to log into this site. Come to find out, will only display my total loan amount. It has zero payment options or even a link to where I can control my payments. Onto the next one.

This sounds promising: I have a federal direct loan after all; this should get me into my account. I get onto the site, and here is what I see:

Where do I log in? How does this help me? I click on "Students" and get a bunch of information on applying and what happens while I'm in repayment. I click on "Direct Loan Consolidation" and get a bunch of information on WHAT loan consolidation is, but nothing that shows me where I can log into my existing account. This one is a bust, too.

I'm down to the final site on my list: This one seems a little sketchy to me. It's a .org, not a .gov, for one. It's also has completely different branding than any of the other federal loan sites I've been to:

There's a big "Sign In" button though, so I figure I'll give it a shot. This site doesn't even ask for my social security number, so I'm not too concerned about a phishing scam that steals my log in information for my student loan. What are they gonna do, pay it for me? I create an account and ta da! There's my loan amount, my billing history, everything. It still takes a little digging to figure out how to INCREASE my monthly payment ("Manage Repayment" gives me plenty of info on reducing payments and deferrment), but eventually I discover that I have "sign up" for direct debit again to replace the current automatic payments that I have. This involves resubmitting my bank account information along with changing the payment amount. It's messy, but it works.

Much can be learned from this experience. Namely, the federal student loan program is in need of some serious usability testing. Not one of the .gov sites that you use to sign up for or consolidate your loan in the first place gives any indication of where you can go to actually manage your account and make payments. Not only that, the .org site I eventually found was branded so differently from the other federal loan sites that I was concerned with its legitimacy. Really, federal government. I'm trying to give you more money; the least you could do is make it easier for me.

Chad's Bio Coming Soon!

More About Virgil

Virgil Carroll is the owner and president of High Monkey – based in Minneapolis Minnesota. Virgil also wears the multiple ‘hats’ of Principle Human Solutions Architect and SharePoint Architect.

Virgil is one of those rare individuals who can dive deep into technical topics while speaking clearly to the business owners of a project and never forgetting that the end user experience has the highest priority. He calls it using both sides of his brain. Virgil is passionate about leveraging technologies ‘out of the box’ as much as possible with a focus on the strategic use of content to create websites that deliver the right content to the right audience on the right device at the right time. Virgil brings high energy, an ironic wit, and a sense of grounded perspective whenever he speaks to an audience. Virgil regularly speaks at conferences and user groups throughout the United States and occasionally in Europe.

Posted: 5/26/2014 12:00:00 AM by Brian Haukos | with 0 comments