SALT LAKE CITY, (SEPTEMBER 27, 2023) — WGU Labs, an affiliate of Western Governors University, and Savi, a social impact technology startup that helps employees understand, optimize, and repay their student debt, today released findings from a study exploring the impact of student loan debt on borrowers. The June 2023 survey, fielded with the assistance of Gallup, examined the extent to which borrowers understand their repayment options — including if borrowers are aware of their options and, if so, who is making the most of them.
Findings indicate borrowers understand some of the available options, but most aren’t fully aware of all the options they have – and aren’t taking advantage of the best option available for their circumstances. This seems to be particularly true for borrowers who have less than a bachelor’s degree and borrowers living on limited income.
“With 43 million student loan borrowers across the country holding $1.6 trillion of federal debt, student debt and repayment is a national concern,” said Dr. Betheny Gross, Research Director, WGU Labs. “This survey is an important reminder that, if we want to ensure our loan program is setting borrowers up for successful repayment, they can’t be left alone to figure it all out. It is also a call to action for loan services, universities, employers and anyone else who is invested in the financial well-being of America’s borrowers.”
Other key findings from the report include:
- Restarting payments will add $200 or more to monthly expenses for nearly 80% of borrowers
- Borrowers without a bachelor’s degree are less likely to engage with their loan servicers, with one in four not knowing who their servicer is
- Borrowers without a bachelor's degree are almost three times more likely to report being in default than borrowers with a bachelor's degree
- Relative to those holding a bachelor's degree, borrowers without a bachelor's degree are almost 15% less likely to say that they find their loan servicer very or extremely trustworthy
- More than one-third of borrowers aren’t taking advantage of alternative repayment options; and borrowers who don't have a bachelor's degree are almost 10% less likely to use an alternative plan than those with a bachelor’s degree
- Borrowers may be leaving good repayment and forgiveness options on the table given only 28% are aware of all the options, and almost 20% of borrowers with less than a bachelor's degree report they didn’t know about any alternative plans
- Despite broad awareness of the Teacher Loan Forgiveness (TLF) program – more than 80% of eligible surveyed borrowers are aware of the program – only about 17% reported taking advantage of the TLF program
- Similarly, nearly 80% of those reporting that they work in the government sector are aware of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program, but just over 30% of government workers report taking advantage of the PSLF
"This research highlights those populations most likely to fall through the cracks during the return to repayment – particularly those with debt but no degree, low-income workers and those in the public sector. Critically underserved groups are not aware of plans that could lower their monthly payment or provide loan forgiveness over 10 or 20 year periods,” said Aaron Smith, co-founder of Savi. “We are committed to reaching these communities, to give them the support they need to successfully navigate this complicated process."
WGU Labs and Savi surveyed a nationally representative sample of 3,406 student loan borrowers aged 21 to 50 to learn more about what they owe, how they are navigating repayment, and how the debt they carry shapes their personal, professional, and financial choices. Find the complete report here.
Savi, co-founded by Aaron Smith and Tobin Van Ostern, is a social impact startup that positions themselves as experts in student debt with the aim to help student loan borrowers tackle the complex loan repayment system and their student loan debt. They develop financial technology that helps borrowers find the optimal forgiveness or repayment plans for their needs, automate their payments, and keep an eye on re-enrollment needs and new benefits that may emerge and be applicable for the borrowers. They are working to solve the pressing student debt crisis and help everyday working class individuals. For more information, please visit bysavi.com
About WGU Labs
WGU Labs is the nonprofit EdTech incubation, research, and design arm of Western Governors University. We seek an education ecosystem that provides universal access to meaningful learning experiences that enrich individuals economically, intellectually, emotionally, and socially. To achieve this vision, we seek to identify and support scalable solutions that address the biggest challenges in education today. For more information, please visit wgulabs.org.