Student Loan Market Breakdown: Federal Loans

Part
01
of two
Part
01

Federal Student Loan Lenders, Messaging & Application Practices

In general, federal loan applications are done through FAFSA and financial aid offices. Borrowers can only manage their student loans using loan servicing platforms like the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency, Great Lakes, Navient, and Nelnet. These companies act as liaisons between student loan applicants and their lender (the US government). They do not actually provide student loans, they only send account statements, help borrowers set up payment plans, and process payments for borrowers. This means that they do not reach out to loan applicant directly until these borrowers have either expressed interest in federal loans or applied for one via FAFSA. Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency is the only loan servicer that also offers private student loans. However, since private lenders are banned from servicing federal loans, PHEAA offers private student loans under a different name.

Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency (PHEAA)

Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency is a student loan servicer with a mission to “create affordable access to higher education for students and families.” In order to reach out to loan applicants, the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency maintains a good relationship with post secondary schools. For colleges in Pennsylvania, the organization has a“Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency” which can visit these schools and provide relevant support. PHEAA’s key message is to help students plan for education. They conduct college fairs which allow high school students to speak with college representatives and ask about getting college loans. PHEAA also offers training workshops and webinars that allow “post secondary schools to report and verify key components used in evaluating eligibility and disbursement for State Grant awards.” The organization has a plethora of program-specific resources on its website about different financial aid and student loan programs including the Pennsylvania State Grant Program and Act 101 program.
For students applying for its private loans, the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency claims that there are no application or origination fees to worry about. Its loan application can be done in just 4 steps - checking eligibility, creating an account, “tell us about yourself,” and submitting the application. The agency also provides a breakdown of what applicants need to have in hand before filling out the application in order to make the process easier. PHEAA has smart borrowing tips available on its website so that loan applicants can be well-informed.

Great Lakes

The organization’s main mission is to help students “make choices and understand options that lead to success in college and beyond.” They do this by working with more than 6,000 schools in the US to make the financial aid process straight forward.
Great Lakes also has a knowledge center on its website with bite-sized tips on applying for student loans, repaying these loans, the difference between private and federal student loans, and other useful information. They have financial aid representatives which assist thousands of schools in the US. Signing up to manage student loans on Great Lakes can be done in three simple steps. The first step involves providing a social security number and date of birth, creating a User ID and password, and setting up preferences. Great Lakes can easily be contacted via phone, email, fax, or mail if borrowers have any issues.

Navient

Navient is one of the largest loan servicers in the US and handles about 20% of federal student loans. This alone sets it apart from other federal loan servicers. Its main mission is to help millions of Americans “achieve financial success through services and support.” On its website, Navient offers a wide range of free educational resources such as “Career Playbook” videos and interactive budgeting worksheets. Navient also has a blog where it offers financial tips. These tools and resources help borrowers manage their loans and finances in general. In addition, Navient has a mobile app that loan applicants can use for convenience. The organization provides different contact details so that loan applicants can easily reach out with questions.
Note that as of Sunday at 1:00am EST, Navient’s website is currently down for maintenance. Therefore, we were unable to determine what the organization does to communicate with current loan applicants and potential applicants. We also attempted searching for news on Navient’s partnership with colleges on college-related websites like Finder but this was an unsuccessful strategy. This information was also not available on the company’s LinkedIn page or other social media accounts managed by them.

Nelnet

Nelnet provides a breakdown of federal student loans on its website including who can get them, different types of federal student loans, and interest rates. Nelnet’s main aim is to make “student loan repayment as simple as possible” by guiding borrowers through the different stages of federal loan applications. Nelnet claims that it offers excellent customer service so that federal loan applicants can have their questions answered quickly. Its primary aim is to make sure students have the “best borrower experience possible.

Registering for a Nelnet account can be done in just three steps. The agency also has an “FAQ” section which provides answers to questions about student loans, repayment, making payments, deferment, tax information, and more. Nelnet also offers resources for financial aid professionals and schools. These resources help schools inform their students about the ins and outs of federal student loans. Nelnet has a mobile and web app for convenience.
Part
02
of two
Part
02

Private Student Loan Lenders, Messaging & Application Practices

One of Discover's application practice selling points is its pre-qualification option, which allows borrowers to apply well in advance for private student loans. One of Citizens Bank's application practice selling points is the live chat feature it offers for on-demand student loan support. Below is the information about the key messages and application practice selling points for Sallie Mae, Discover, Navient, Citizens Bank, Wells Fargo, and PNC Bank.

lenders' key messages & application practice selling points

SALLIE MAE

1. key messages

The first key message used by Sallie Mae is "student loans with competitive rates." The second key message used by the lender is "private student loans for every type of student." The third key message Sallie Mae uses is "[w]hether you’re an undergraduate or graduate student, or the parent of one, there are private student loans designed to help you make education happen." Lastly, the fourth key message used by the lender is "[c]hoose the private student loan that’s right for you."

2. application practice selling points

The first application practice selling point used by Sallie Mae is that its customer service representatives are all based in the U.S. The second application practice selling point is that the lender does not charge a fee for loan origination. The third selling point is that Sallie Mae does not charge a fee for submitting a loan application. The fourth application practice selling point is a live chat feature, so applicants or prospective applicants can ask questions about the loan application process or the loans. Lastly, the fifth application practice selling point is that the credit check component of the loan application process is completed within just 15 minutes.

PNC BANK

1. key messages

The first key message used by PNC Bank is the title of its landing page, which is the "Student Loan Center." The second key message that PNC Bank uses is "[w]e are dedicated to helping you advance your education. Learn the facts, get answers and find the right private student loan for you." The third key message used by the lender is its section title which reads "Student Loan & Refinancing Options." Beneath that title, the key messaging states: "We have loans and refinancing options for you whether you are seeking to bridge the financial aid gap while in school or simplify your college debt repayment by refinancing." The fourth key message PNC Bank uses is a section titled "Financial & Educational Insights." The fifth key message the lender uses is "Explore Our Graduate & Professional Loans." Lastly, the sixth key message that PNC Bank uses states: "Have Questions? We're Here to Help."

2. application practice selling points

The first application practice selling point used by PNC Bank is an application checklist stating all the information required in the application. The second application practice selling point is a PDF document that contains instructions for each step of the application process. The third selling point is that the lender offers phone support. The fourth application practice selling point is that applicants can visit a branch to inquire about or complete the application. Relatedly, the lender also offers a branch locator tool for added convenience. The fifth selling point is an online appointment scheduling tool, so people can make an appointment at a branch regarding their student loans. The sixth application practice selling point is a a save feature within the application so that the application can be completed at a later time. The seventh selling point is a live chat feature for on-demand support. The eighth selling point is a FAQs section, which contains additional information. The ninth selling point is an email support option, so people can submit their questions about the application process/loans via email. Lastly, the tenth selling point is a calculator for estimating student loan amounts/payments

WELLS FARGO

1. key messages

The key message that Wells Fargo uses is "Going to College? Cover your expenses with a Wells Fargo Private Student Loan."

2. application practice selling points

The first application practice selling point that Wells Fargo uses is that there's no fee for loan origination. The second selling point is that there's no fee for submitting a loan application. The third selling point is a feature that allows applicants to save their applications and submit them later. The fourth selling point is loan consultant phone support offered between 7 a.m. and 8 p.m. (CT). The fifth selling point is a payment calculator to help people choose the right loans to apply for. The sixth selling point is an online document upload feature. The seventh selling point is that loan-related updates can be sent via text and email. The eighth selling point is that applications can be submitted via a tablet, computer, smartphone, or by phone call. Lastly, the ninth selling point is that the lender offers email support for loan servicing.

NAVIENT

1. key messages

Navient's key messaging is extremely straightforward and is mainly just about loan details. With that said, the key messaging themes are "contact us for help [or to learn more]," flexible repayment choices, and payment postponement options.

2. application practice selling points

As with the key messages, Navient's application practice selling points are also very limited, as the company hardly mentions any such information. The only application practice selling points noted by the lender are phone support and the ability to apply online for private student loans.

DISCOVER

1. key messages

The first key message that Discover uses is "[s]tudent loans with great rates." The second key message used by the lender states: "Select a student loan to help pay for college." The third key message is a section titled "Student loan resources for students and parents." Lastly, the fourth key message is the lender's 4.6/5-star rating based on 351 customer reviews, which the lender features front and center on its landing page for private loans.

2. application practice selling points

The first application practice selling point that Discover offers is a loan pre-qualification option (for loans that people seek for future education). The second selling point is that there's no fee for submitting a loan application. The third selling point is that the lender offers 24/7 customer service from "student loan specialists." The fourth selling point is the lender's "student loan specialist[]" team is fully based in the U.S. The fifth selling point is that Discover offers a calculator for estimating student loan payments/amounts. Lastly, the sixth selling point is a feature that allows applicants to save their applications and submit them later.

CITIZENS BANK

1. key messages

The first key message that Citizens Bank uses states: "Peace of Mind with multi-year approval." The second key message used by the lender states: "Apply once and be done. Citizens is the only lender to help you secure student loan funding for all the years you are in school." The third key message is "[g]et the private student loan that fits your life." The fourth key message states: "Private Student Loans from a Leader in Student Lending." The fifth key message is "[o]pen a student checking account and get a rate discount on a new student loan" (with no minimum balance required in order to open the account plus "no monthly maintenance fee" until the age of 25). Lastly, the sixth key message states: "Questions? Ask a Citizen."

2. application practice selling points

The first application practice selling point that Citizens Bank offers is phone support. The second selling point is that in-branch support is available. Relatedly, the lender offers a branch locator tool for added convenience. The third selling point is that a live chat feature is offered. The fourth selling point is that the lender provides an application checklist that notes all the information that will be needed for the application. The fifth selling point is a calculator that helps people estimate their student loan payments/amounts. Lastly, the sixth selling point is a FAQs section, which contains additional information.
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