I remember feeling physically lighter, like taking off a heavy backpack after a long hike. It was a warm spring morning just last year when I opened my email to find an official notice. I had reached an important milestone that will set me up for a healthy financial future – No, I’m not talking about buying a house or opening a retirement account (or reaching a mountain summit). I’m fondly remembering the day I learned that I had paid off my last student loan.
I’m lucky to have been able to accomplish this before turning 40. In fact, student loan debt is not just a problem for recent graduates. A recent AARP report found that Americans over 50 owe almost $290 billion of the nation’s student loans, up from $47 billion 15 years ago. In total more than 44 million Americans have outstanding student loan debt, owing more than $1.5 trillion. Despite prolific media reports about students who borrow upwards of $100,000, the large sums that are owed don’t illustrate the true problem. Studies show that those with less student loan debt are actually more likely to default because of lower earning potential and other debt obligations and financial struggles. In fact, almost 1 in 3 people who owe less than $5,000 for their education default within four years, compared with just 15 percent of borrowers who owed more than $35,000. Defaulting on even a small student loan can cause a borrower’s credit score to tank, forcing them to pay higher interest rates, and delaying asset building.
A recent survey from Student Loan Hero showed most borrowers harbor a lot of misconceptions about how to handle the debt, from believing that you don’t have to pay off your loans if you can’t find a job after graduation, to thinking that student loans don’t impact your credit score. Findings also suggest that in many cases, misconceptions, lack of clarity about how to pay off debt, and general feelings of being overwhelmed are more an indication of whether a student will default, rather than the actual loan amount.
So let’s do something about this. As innovators in FinTech we can’t relieve everyone’s debt tomorrow, but we can do better to help consumers find assistance.
How can we get student loan borrowers the help they need to get out of debt faster?
By providing information through channels that struggling borrowers are already accessing for assistance, like SpringFour.
Did you know the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program could eliminate some of your student loan debt if you work in a public sector job? Or about possible interest rates discounts for enrolling in autopay? I certainly didn’t when I graduated from college. And I wish I had. A lot of information is available on the internet, but how do consumers know that it is trustworthy and unbiased?
At SpringFour our mission is to provide financial institutions, employers, and nonprofits with the tools they need to improve their customer’s financial lives. Our subscribers are already using SpringFour to make thousands of referrals each day to local resources that address financial challenges. We’d like to extend this helping hand further and offer documents with concrete, clear steps that anyone can take to improve their financial situation and save money in a variety of areas.
SpringFour Tip Sheets for Saving Money are now available in a variety of categories to all subscribers through both our call center application (S4pro) and self-serve tool (S4direct). Tips for Paying Back Student Loans Faster is our latest tip sheet that provides suggestions to better understand repayment options, save money on interest rates, and find deferment and forgiveness programs. Our expert data team drew upon our personal and professional experiences to create this easy to reference list of tips and tricks that can help any borrower lighten their load, pay off their student loans faster, and put them on a path to achieving true financial wellness.
Contact us to find out more about what you can do to help your customers and employees who are struggling with student loan debt.
Vice President, Data Integrity & User Experience, SpringFour Inc.
Financial Health for consumers has quickly risen to the strategic forefront as a huge focus for many companies across our nation; especially knowing that 40%+ of Americans don’t have $400 in the bank for emergency expenses (per a report published the Federal Reserve). And, with all kinds of creative solutions being devised, partnerships with emerging FinTechs being formed, and billions of dollars being invested into the “Financial Health ” strategy bucket, it has most of us wondering “are we making an impact?” Well…at SpringFour, we ask that question every day, as we want to be certain that our solutions not only sound like the right thing to do, but also confirm what we believe to be true – that access to local, vetted and trusted resources helps to reduce expenses and financially stabilizes households.
Solutions That Work
SpringFour solutions (S4pro and S4direct) enable access to nearly 14k local non-profit and government resources aimed at reducing household expenses in up to 30 spending categories (Food Savings, Utility Savings, Medical Savings, etc.). By annually connecting over 250k struggling Americans to these high impact resources, SpringFour gets individuals and families living paycheck to paycheck back on track and helps to create a cushion for paying down debt and setting aside savings. And, in partnership with our clients, we have proven that offering SpringFour solutions really DOES make an impact.
Consumer Impact & Case Studies
Published case studies with our client partners U.S. Bank and LendUp demonstrate the positive impact SpringFour is creating for the consumer, the employee, the business and its brand. Evidential data within these studies show that the SpringFour solutions increased debt repayment by 10% and more than doubled the likelihood of consumers participating in key activities such as foreclosure prevention. These figures were fueled by the finding that many of those who received SpringFour resource referrals reduced their household expenses by as much as $250 per month, with some cases showing savings north of $1,000 per month. These savings impact figures were highlighted by the fact that many of the struggling consumers receiving SpringFour referrals stated that just a $50 per month cushion would greatly assist in managing repeated and unexpected income swings.
Employee Well-Being & Productivity
Going a step further, SpringFour has also pursued other meaningful and impactful measures with our client partners. Beyond the impressive portfolio impact and consumer expense savings figures stated above, we also found that offering SpringFour to consumers had an impact on the purpose and well-being of the employees providing the SpringFour resource referrals. With nearly 75% of employees stating that SpringFour improves their ability to provide customer service and over 80% of employees agreeing that SpringFour allows them to provide quality financial health resources to their consumers, SpringFour has found a way to create a stronger mission-based bond between not only a company and its consumer, but between the company and its employee. Consequently, we are seeing upticks to key employee measurements such as employee retention rate when SpringFour is part of the equation. And, the benefits of this stat alone can save a company thousands of dollars per employee each year.
At SpringFour we also see that the brand value of a company offering SpringFour solutions improves. And, brand value alone can have immeasurable impact over the course of a company’s journey with their consumers. In fact, we have client partners that are tracking significant improvement to NPS scores due to the introduction of the SpringFour offering. This impact to brand and company loyalty can be attributed to 94% of surveyed respondents noting that SpringFour helps provide for a better experience and that 88% of those same respondents stating that SpringFour addresses real-life problems and greatly reduces stress. These impact stats are also echoed within an insightful Q&A piece with BMO Harris Bank where we share how SpringFour is changing the typical collections conversation and is providing a tool that is easy to use with 90% of those surveyed noting appreciation by the consumer for the referrals delivered.
We are proud of the work we have been able to accomplish alongside our client partners over the last 15 years we have been in business, but we are not stopping there. At SpringFour, we have our sights set on continuing to expand and improve our solution offerings. This will enable us to build on the already incredible impact that we have created.
In order to continue and accelerate our impact, we will look to build on our nationwide coverage – currently offering financial health resource listings in all 50 states and in 475 cities. Additionally, we will work hand-in-hand with our client partners to ensure that our product evolves with the need of their consumer base and continues to provide access to the most trusted local resources aimed at reducing expenses and increasing overall financial health. Lastly, we will sustain our track record of building partnerships that respond to and deliver required scale, ensuring more consumers have the help they need and deserve to be financially healthy. In doing all of this, SpringFour and its client partners will resoundingly answer “YES!” to the question of “are we making an impact?”
Chief Operating Officer, SpringFour Inc.
I’m an amateur baker, which means I have way too many ingredients in my pantry and probably too many cookbooks. When I find a recipe that I like, I just can’t resist making it again and again until it’s perfect (and since it’s dessert my family doesn’t complain). I like to share my recipes with anyone who is interested because I believe that we can all benefit from a good meal.
I’m also a financial technology professional and the VP of Data Integrity at SpringFour. SpringFour’s award winning solutions inspire me to work everyday to ensure that the resources our customers access are the very best possible. So in the spirit of recipe sharing, I’m going to outline the four key ingredients that make up SpringFour’s data integrity strategy and insure that we are delivering the best data possible to our clients.
It’s no secret that we like the number four. SpringFour’s FOUR guiding principles: connections, impact, integrity and savings are informed by our mission to connect consumers to the financial health resources they need. Our executive team of FOUR committed go-getters and do-gooders, has been recognized by our partners and the industry, including large financial institutions and innovative FinTechs, for excellent relationship management, forward thinking, commitment and innovation in the field of financial health.
So what’s the winning recipe?
Step 1: Professionally Vetted
In the age of AI and advanced technology many people are surprised to learn that SpringFour resources are updated manually. Each listing is reviewed by a trained human eye at least 3 times before being seen by a consumer.
Web scraping, the process of importing information from a website into your own files or spreadsheets, is used by many other referral systems as the source of the information they provide to their customers. We don’t do it, ever. Ethical concerns aside, those of us that work with data in the realm of public policy know that there is no perfect tool for evaluating the complexity of a nonprofit and government program offering. A computer can not look at a list of services or even a list of phone numbers and decide which would be the most useful to a person struggling with a number of financial challenges.
Instead, we rely on the eyes and experience of talented people who review each resource for suitability and accuracy. Our Resource Integrity Team includes quality control specialists and research analysts with years of experience in housing, community development, social services, community health, education, and small business development. Our team of nonprofit and business professionals have graduate degrees, serve on nonprofit boards, and volunteer in their community.
Our passionate team is motivated by the impact their meticulous work has on hundreds of thousands of people who receive SpringFour referrals each year.
“It’s amazing to work for a fintech company that is focused on a mission to help those that are less fortunate. Through the training process I learned about the sheer number of resources that SpringFour provides to those that are down on their luck. Everything from utility assistance, to immigration support, to paying for medication. And there are numerous resources across several categories in every state. Each listing provides all of the information you need to make a call or visit a location to take advantage of those services. It really is a game changer and I’m so excited to be a part of the team.”
Jessica Williams, Resource Integrity Specialist, SpringFour
Step 2: Curated
Not only is our information vetted but it is also heavily curated. According to the National Center of Charitable Statistics, there are 1.5 million nonprofit organizations in the U.S. In New York City alone there are close to 100,000 nonprofit agencies, meaning it would take a New Yorker about 30 years to call every agency to find help.
People in financial crisis are already overwhelmed. A survey last year found that 85% of Americans are stressed about money. For those that turn to the internet for help, the sheer amount of information can result in a feeling of powerlessness and confusion. A person searching Google for “help with debt” will see 500 million results, many of which are unscrupulous actors that may wish to take advantage of a desperate situation.
Similarly, call center agents and counselors looking to help their customers don’t have the extra time it takes to sift through most referral websites. Agents that are juggling back-to-back calls, pulling up financial information and listening to customer concerns, need to find relevant information that can be reviewed and delivered in a matter of seconds.
Our goal at SpringFour is not to list everything available, but to list the very best resources available at the local and national level, for each particular financial challenge.
Step 3: Unbiased
Our revenue model allows our data integrity team to be completely unbiased in their work. Other applications in the hands of consumers charge a “referral fee” to organizations and companies who wish to be listed or earn affiliate fees for the products or services that are “recommended”. SpringFour never charges the organizations listed in our database or accepts any kind of self-reported information. Any information that comes through our doors is always vetted and evaluated by our professional data team.
“It’s great to have a service like this that provides unbiased referrals to non-profit and government services because we never have to question the authenticity of the information we’re passing on to our clients in need”.
Step 4: Quality
The talent of our professional data team combined with our processes for vetting and curating contributes to a resource quality that is unmatched in our industry. The protocols for updating our proprietary database meets or exceeds Information & Referral (211) Quality Assurance Standards. Our own quality standards are outlined and reviewed bi-annually.
We’ve been perfecting this strategy since 2005 to bring our users and their customers resources they can trust.
So if you’ve ever tasted a perfectly crafted tart or pie crust (here’s my favorite recipe by the way), you’ve benefited from a pastry chef who knows the benefit of following a strict process and taking the extra time to get it right. I believe we should expect the same from our data, especially when people’s financial health is at risk.
Are you hungry for trusted resources? Want to find out more about how you can leverage our vetted and curated quality resources and easy-to-use platform to help your customers? Get in touch.
Vice President, Data Integrity & User Experience, SpringFour Inc.
Over the weekend, my niece who recently graduated from college was asking for my advice about doing some community service. She received a grant that would allow her to work anywhere in the country, so she asked me “Where do people need the most help?”. Should she go to a rural impoverished area? Big city facing gentrification? Southern state? Disaster prone area? As the VP of Data Integrity at SpringFour, I am often asked how we decide where to offer financial health resources.
While the economy and the job market have boomed in the post-financial crisis period, Americans living in “distressed” zip codes are struggling to find stability. These zip codes are increasingly rural and suffer from low job creation and crippling levels of student debt.
But while high income areas in Coastal and Northern cities may seem ideal, states experiencing the most economic boom are also the communities with the highest numbers of people who are living paycheck to paycheck. They are facing housing shortages and an affordability crisis that has led to historic numbers of working families that can’t afford basic needs and levels of homelessness that remain stubbornly high despite economic growth. Nationwide middle class people are falling deeper into debt just to afford a middle class lifestyle.
So the answer is; people need the most help everywhere. That’s a pretty grim picture to paint for a young person looking to make an impact on her own. But it also gets to the heart of our mission at SpringFour, the simplicity and accessibility of the products we offer, and how we approach building our proprietary database of financial health resources. We understand that serving America’s diversity means investing our research and development efforts all over the map. Our annual growth plan considers a variety of factors including population size, community needs, and market availability.
Nationwide coverage means that we provide the best curated and vetted financial health resources to as many people as possible, and we work every day to grow that number.
That’s why we are pleased to announce that SpringFour offers full coverage in 475 cities in 175 Metro Areas. If resources are not available in a rural zip code, we offer statewide and national resources that can help people by phone or online. No matter where a person lives, we want them to be able to find help through SpringFour.
Don’t see your service area on the coverage map? We work with our subscribers to add resources where their customers need them most.
The best thing about our work at SpringFour is that we aren’t doing this on our own. We work with dozens of companies and nonprofits to provide real impact with over 1 million financial health referrals made annually. Our subscribers understand that it’s more important than ever to have a presence in as many communities as possible, not only because it helps their bottom line, but because underbanked communities and the people who call these neighborhoods home deserve access to transparent lending products, asset development tools, and ways to save.
Vice President, Data Integrity & User Experience, SpringFour Inc.