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Report: Student loan financial aid process more stressful than applying for college

Citizens Bank study finds more than half of borrowers don’t fully grasp financial aid process; more than three-quarters want help navigating process; majority of Millennials worry about ability to repay loans.

It’s the season for students and families across the nation to start filling out their federal student aid applications and a study released today by Citizens Bank finds that a large majority are more stressed by the loan process than by actually applying to college, while more than half do not fully understand the student loan financial aid process.

The online survey of more than 2,000 Americans aged 18 and over showed that Millennials in particular found the process both confusing (74%) and stressful (76%) with more than half (53%) of Millennials and 60 percent of parents and others pointing to lengthy and unclear paperwork as the source of confusion and stress. Difficulty understanding legal and financial terminology followed close behind. The great majority of respondents indicated that the process would be less stressful if they could speak to a financial professional about their student loan application.

“Students and families today are grappling with the rising cost of college and many don’t know where to begin when it comes to navigating the financial aid process. While going off to college is an exciting time, figuring out how to fund an education can be daunting,” said Christine Roberts, Head of Student Lending, Citizens Bank. “Talking to someone who is experienced with the financial aid process is one of the best ways to be prepared and to alleviate the stress that comes from not understanding your options, but many people don’t think to ask their financial professional or banker for advice.”

Detailed survey findings include:

  • 71 percent of those that have been through the student loan application process consider it more stressful than the actual college application process.
  • 52 percent do not fully understand the student loan process.
  • 81 percent indicated that the process would be less stressful if they could speak to a financial professional about their student loan application.
  • Three in four Americans (75%) and 80 percent of Millennials worry about their ability to pay back their student loans.

While those surveyed indicated they turn to college/university financial aid offices (53%) and federal student loan websites (53%) for guidance and advice, many (57%) would prefer to speak with financial professionals for advice on paying for college.

Citizens Bank offers hundreds of student loan specialists who will help students and families understand their many loan options and recently began taking student loan applications in its branches where borrowers can sit down with a banker and ask questions about the process. The bank also offers a Student Loan Awareness site that provides valuable information about paying for college, as well as a Facebook community where borrowers can ask each other questions.

Commenting on widespread concern among respondents about their ability pay back their student loans, Roberts said, “It’s important for families to understand their options when it comes to one of the biggest financial commitments of their lives. This is true for both funding an education and for planning how to make payments once school is over. Refinancing that student loan can save money and shorten the payment timeframe.”

Citizens offers a range of borrowing options for credit-qualified students and graduates and their families including refinancing options for both private and federal student loans, as well as the Citizens Bank Student Loan, the Citizens Bank Student Loan with Multi-Year Borrowing and the Citizens Bank Parent Loan. In most cases, Citizens lends to in-school borrowers who apply for loans with credit-qualified co-signers. To ensure that student borrowers fully understand the terms of their loans, Citizens includes a thorough review of the borrower’s options (federal and private) at the front end of the application process and sends borrowers an annual “report card” describing how much they have borrowed to date and what their monthly payments will be after graduation.

To learn more about Citizens Bank, call the customer contact center at 1-800-428-7463, follow the bank on Facebook and Twitter or visit the Citizens Bank website.

Survey Methodology

A double wave online omnibus survey was fielded in September 2016 among Americans 18+. The survey aimed to understand perspectives on student loans, including pain points around the loan application process. The sample consisted of 2,086 Americans 18+. The omnibus survey was conducted online for Citizens by ORC between September 15-21, 2016.

About Citizens Financial Group, Inc.

Citizens Financial Group, Inc. (“Citizens”) is one of the nation’s oldest and largest financial institutions, with $145.2 billion in assets as of June 30, 2016. Headquartered in Providence, Rhode Island, Citizens offers a broad range of retail and commercial banking products and services to individuals, small businesses, middle-market companies, large corporations and institutions. In Consumer Banking, Citizens helps its retail customers “bank better” with mobile and online banking, a 24/7 customer contact center and the convenience of approximately 3,200 ATMs and approximately 1,200 Citizens Bank branches in 11 states in the New England, Mid-Atlantic and Midwest regions. Citizens also provides wealth management, mortgage lending, auto lending, student lending and commercial banking services in select markets nationwide. In Commercial Banking, Citizens offers corporate, institutional and not-for-profit clients a full range of wholesale banking products and services including lending and deposits, capital markets, treasury services, foreign exchange and interest hedging, leasing and asset finance, specialty finance and trade finance. Citizens operates through its subsidiaries Citizens Bank, N.A., and Citizens Bank of Pennsylvania as Citizens Bank, Citizens Commercial Banking and Citizens One. Additional information about Citizens and its full line of products and services can be found at www.citizensbank.com.

Material from a press release was used in this report.