ChangEd is an app that helps people with student loans pay them off faster without having to change their budget. ChangEd tasked my team to evaluate and implement a refinancing feature within their app. After talking with users, we came to the conclusion that in order to present refinancing in a personalized fashion, we needed to gather more information from them first. We tested several different concepts to determine what ways users were more likely to offer up more information and what features they found the most beneficial. The results led us to design a goal center for users to set and track their student loan goals. By inputting more information, users would receive options specific to them and their goals. This information would be used by ChangEd to determine users are good candidates for refinancing and present them with personalized offers.

Throughout the process, I moderated interviews, synthesized gathered data, ideated design solutions with my team, conducted concept tests, built wireframes, task flows, and prototypes, and led weekly updates for our clients.


The project

Product: ChangEd
Nick Sky (founder), Dan Stelmach (founder)

Role: Researcher, Strategist, Designer
Tools: Sketch, Axure, Keynote, paper prototypes
Timeframe: 4 weeks

ChangEd (pronounced changed) is a fintech app that helps student loan borrowers send additional payments towards their debt. The app connects with debit and credit accounts to keep track of payments, rounding them up to the nearest dollar and eventually sending this built-up change to the loan servicer. ChangEd charges $1 per month for use of their services and also helps users visualize how much money they could potentially save with these payments. ChangEd’s user base has grown quickly over the last two years, and the creators, brothers Nick and Dan, even found an investor in Mark Cuban while featured on Shark Tank.

This is the main screen of ChangEd. As round-ups are transferred to an FDIC-insured account, the squirrel fills up.

Due to ChangEd's growth, Nick and Dan want to expand the app to stand out from their competition. In order to stand out and grow, they are partnering with refinancing lenders and preparing a marketing campaign to reach a larger audience.

Currently, ChangEd boasts a 15% conversion rate and a 98% retention rate.

Nick and Dan’s main objectives for 2019 are two-fold:

The former will be addressed via marketing and the latter by concentrating on integrating refinancing options into the app, as this would lead to increased revenue from directing users to the lenders they’ve partnered with.

Nick and Dan tasked my team with exploring, evaluating, and validating new features to best complete their objectives.

The challenge

There were several features and updates that Nick and Dan were interested in exploring, but it was the integration of refinancing that was the main challenge of this project. Based on options the clients gave us, we asked ourselves:

How do we integrate refinancing workflows, education, and messaging into the existing app?

During our first client meeting, I walked both Dan and Nick through a few performance continuum questions to understand their expectations. My team was concerned that we may discover through interviews that users are not interested in refinancing and were curious if we should explore other features more suited to user needs. So I asked how we should err in this case: on the side of their business goals or the user goals?
They both agreed that we should err on the side of the users because

“if you make sure your customers are happy, you're going to be profitable.”

We took this as approval to pursue a different path if we found refinancing not viable.


Understanding the landscape

As we moved forward, we had three main goals to help understand the problem:

01 Understand the app's current state via usability tests

02 Understand the worlds of fintech and student loans

03 Understand the user base

From here we would be better poised to identify the problem and start designing a solution.

01 Understand the app's current state

To begin our foray into research, we conducted a few current state usability tests with non-users of ChangEd to get a better understanding of what discourages downloaders from becoming active users.
We learned the largest barrier is trust. Participants were unsure whether or not to trust an app that was asking them for a lot of sensitive, personal information. One user expected more security, such as two-factor authentication and password strength confirmation, for something that asked for his address and loan information.

Participants also felt the eight-step process was too long and were deterred by the amount of required loan information.

02 Understand the worlds of fintech and student loans

Next, we looked into fintech and student loans. We wanted to get a better understanding of the domain that ChangEd exists within and I wanted a better understanding of student loans as I had little experience with them.
To do so, I chatted with an expert: a financial advisor with a long of history with refinancing and student loans, both personally and professionally. He confirmed one of the insights we gathered from our current state usability tests: trust is the biggest barrier for all financial institutions. People are cautious when it comes to their money, and since many have been burned by lenders in the past, they’re less likely to interact with them now. As such, around 60% of people don’t know that refinancing is an option to help simplify their finances and their lives. He also talked about how out of control student loan debt has become and how it’s impacting people and the economy:

“It’s gotten so bad that it’s affecting people’s behaviors in a way that’s... delaying major life events and it’s affecting how they’re making core financial decisions.”

From this conversation, I understood that people want better control over their debts so as not to feel so powerless with their financial future; they don’t trust financial institutions to help them gain this control.

03 Understand the user base

Before conducting user interviews, my team established what was most important to learn:

  • Who is the main user base?

  • What knowledge and interest do users have in refinancing their student loans?

  • Why do users trust ChangEd?

  • What frustrations do users have with the app currently?

  • What goals do users have concerning their loan repayment?

  • How do users currently interact with the app?

The main user base

From our interviews, we determined our main user base was composed of millennials with multiple loans, that feel financially savvy, and are stressed and frustrated by their student loans.They all feel ChangEd gives them a modicum of control over their loans, which are then less overwhelming.

User knowledge of and interest to refinance

We asked several questions about what users know about refinancing, as well as their level of interest.

We put together a spectrum to visualize where users fell in terms of knowledge and interest.

However, aside from the user that had refinanced in the past, no users had a strong interest in refinancing their loans in the near future.  Most users fell on the left end of the spectrum as they either didn’t do any research or they had and felt refinancing wouldn’t help their situation or had no interest dealing with more lenders.

Why users trust ChangEd

Since trust is such an important factor for fintech apps, I was surprised to hear how strongly users trust ChangEd. But it was clear why as each user learned about ChangEd from a source they already trusted–such as friends, family, coworkers, and Shark Tank–and this encouraged them to trust the app enough to try it out. Their trust solidified as soon as their first $100 payment was sent and they saw it post to their student loan account.

User frustrations with the app

ChangEd currently only allows users to input one student loan at a time. Users were frustrated with this, wanting to be able to change where payments go to counteract variable interest rates or make a dent across each evenly. They also wanted to be able to see all of their loan information at once to get a better understanding of their overall progress.

User loan repayment goals

There was a mix of goals from our users, as some were more concerned with paying less, paying faster, or being able to budget better. All in all, they wanted a strategy to feel less financially burdened. They felt this burden kept them from achieving other personal goals, such as buying a house or saving for children.

How users currently interact with the app

Most users only interacted with the app once a week at most, typically prompted to open it because of an email or to see how much of the homepage squirrel filled up. Most have a “set it and forget it” mentality surrounding the app; a very “out of sight, out of mind” approach. Many felt there wasn’t much else to do after initially setting up their account.

Throughout the research process, we created several affinity maps to synthesize the data we collected.

We had three main takeaways from our research:


Finding direction

With this research,  we determined our two main audiences and created personas to represent them:

Since users weren’t interested in seeing refinancing offers and the clients said to err on user needs, it didn’t make sense to prioritize it moving forward. And since there wasn’t an issue with user retention, it also didn’t make sense for small fixes, such as control settings, to be a priority either. Instead, because of the business drive to exponentially grow their user base via marketing, we figured that converting downloads into active users would be more of an immediate issue, and we could have the most impact by addressing the issues with trust and onboarding.

When we presented this direction to our creative director, he warned us to not forgo the business goal of integrating refinancing and to instead reframe our plan to consider how to address both issues.

So we took another look at our personas and their goals. Looking over the data, I realized that many of these goals could be accomplished if they were to refinance. For example, users with multiple loans could renegotiate the interest rates through consolidation or user that needed a lower monthly payment could increase the length of the loan. Potentially the best way to offer refinancing as an option was to personalize it for each user, showing them how refinancing could help them in their particular situation. However, this required the app to gather more information than it currently does.

At this point I figured in order to make an offer to refinance as effective as possible, we needed to rethink the onboarding process in order to gather the necessary information.


Ideating a solution

To start the process of conceptualizing, we first asked ourselves two main questions to start ideating:

How might we determine whether a user is Cassie or Henry or someone else?

How might we earn trust in general?

After sketching out several quick ideas, we filtered and combined them, and tested twelve concepts with users. Based on their feedback, we whittled those to five main concepts to move forward with:


A method to instill a sense of security with the voices users find most trustworthy. I tested whether users appreciated quotations from the founders, Nick and Dan, other ChangEd users, Shark Tank, and ChangEd partners. I wanted to see if any of these would engender trust with users.

  • Users responded the best to seeing more about Nick and Dan’s story; knowing they started the app because of the same frustrations users were experiencing felt more humanizing.

  • Users expected to see this as part of either the onboarding process or in the App or Play Store before downloading the app.

Feedback pop-up

A pop-up that alerts users when they’ve hit a milestone, such as sending their first $100 payment and asks them to enter more information to better personalize their experience. This feature capitalizes on the moment the app gains the most trust from users.

  • Users appreciated the pop-up as they felt a sense of accomplishment, and were willing to enter more information at this point.

  • This should be combined with one of the concept methods for gathering information.

Quick questions

A quick, fun way to help the app learn more about user habits in order to serve them better. I styled it after Tinder’s match feature to make entering information simple and enjoyable.

  • Users felt this was very on brand for ChangEd as it felt lighthearted.

  • Questions should have binary “YES” or “NO” answers to make answering quicker.

Goal Center

A new tab for users to input, track, and learn about options for achieving their financial plan. This uses visualization and encourages users to enter more information and receive personalized options for their goals.

  • Users liked having a “hub” to check but wanted the visualization aspects to be pushed further.

  • Users wanted to adjust goals or explore new ones.

Unlockable tab

A locked, extra feature tab that users feel motivated to unlock by entering more information. The extra features help the user personalize their experience within the app.

  • Users were familiar with this pattern and would be willing to unlock it for more personalization. They also appreciated that this feature wouldn’t be forced on them.

  • This should be combined with one of the concept methods for gathering information.

Converging concepts

During concept testing, I started to see how the converged prototype would take shape. As a team, we created a diagram of the user’s journey from downloading the app to receiving an offer to refinance their loans. We then planned where users would encounter each concept:


To gain trust, the testimonials from Nick and Dan would be shown at the beginning, either on the app download page or right when the app is first opened during onboarding.

Feedback pop-up

Once the user has been using the app and they send their first $100 payment (or another milestone), they receive a notification or email alert that directs them to the app. An in-app pop-up congratulates them on reaching the milestone.

Unlockable tab

It is at this point that the app also introduces the user to the currently locked goal center that can be utilized for setting and tracking goals for their student loans.

Quick questions

If the user agrees to continue, the app asks some swipeable questions to get a quick understanding of their current loan and financial situation.

Goal center

With the questions answered, the app takes the user into the goal center where it has been personalized as per their responses. Here the user has options to enter more information to personalize the feature even more. With the information gathered, the goal center presents several different options that users can take to complete their goal. Once the app has enough information, it presents the user a personalized refinancing offer.

Due to time constraints, we decided to focus solely on the goal center and the few steps required to lead up to it as this was where we could have the most impact. I felt there were benefits to the testimonials concept, but it could easily be incorporated separately in the future. When we checked-in with Nick and Dan later, I recommended adding the testimonials to the app’s information page since that was where most users expected to see them.


The final prototype

Moving forward with this goal center, we worked on building out the concepts as wireframes in Axure. I built out the milestone pop-ups and the swipeable question process. I also built out a task flow/app map to illustrate the user’s journey from the current home screen to within the goal center.

Starting at the home screen, once a user meets a milestone, they're presented with a pop-up encouraging them to answer some questions and access the goal center to get a better handle on their student loans. After setting a goal and swiping to answer some questions, they're brought to the main page of the goal center. If their answers do not match their original set goal, the app will recommend a different goal that's more appropriate. Once in the goal center, the user can see several visuals based on their loans and see what options they can take to reach their goal. They can also access profile pages to better personalize the experience as well as fill out more loan information.

With our wireframes and task flow finished, I converged them into our final prototype.

When users hit a milestone, they will see this pop-up in-app, encouraging them to utilize the Goal Center. After informing users why this information is needed by the app, they are asked to choose a primary goal for their loans.

After quick instructions, users are presented six Yes or No questions to answer by swiping the appropriate direction. Each question pertains to their finances and a few have follow up questions that ask the user to type in a number.

Once users have finished the questions and if their answers do not line up with their original goal, the app will suggest a more appropriate goal and allow them to switch.

Here is the home screen for the goal center. Users can see visuals of their total loan progress, information about their individual loans, and recommendations. And clicking "See my options" takes them to a screen where users get ideas, recommendations, and information about what they can do in and out of the app to accomplish their goal.

Here users can view, input, and edit personal and loan information.

Future recommendations

The final prototype tested well with users in our final round of concept and usability testing, with a few issues that needed to be addressed. Due to time constraints, we detailed these as recommendations before the design should be implemented:

Add and test more questions during the Goal Center onboarding process: No user found the question process to be exhausting, so it may be worth it to add more questions to gather more necessary information for personalization.

Remove the financial profile floating action button: Most users confused the button for a chat feature. It should be removed and all profile screens accessed elsewhere. Loan information should be accessed via the loan detail tiles on the main screen and the personal information should be moved to the settings menu.

We tested a few different icons for this floating action button, but users always expected it to take them to a chat function.

Nick and Dan were pleased with the final product and thrilled we were able to balance their business goals with the user goals. They currently are working with their development team to determine when they will be able to implement the Goal Center with a future update.


Looking back on the project, I came away with several different insights about my needs and process.

Clients may say one thing, but mean another. Especially in regards to user needs.
Sometimes clients will give me the freedom to disregard their business goals if the user needs conflict, but I need to take this with a grain of salt and still focus on how to accomplish both.

Hammer out constraints at the beginning to better direct research.
If I knew ahead of time that refinancing was never off the table, I would have approached the interviews differently to get a better understanding of how users felt.

Sometimes a user interview isn’t useful and it’s necessary to end prematurely.
I moderated a concept test that wasn’t providing any useful information, so instead of wasting time, I made the decision to finish testing the most important concepts and then wrapping it up early.

Stepping back every once in a while is important to see the bigger picture.
At times I felt overwhelmed by the scope of work, but by stepping back and taking a minute to discern what’s a priority and what’s feasible, I could direct my efforts accordingly and not feel as pressured.