Student Series: Deciphering Credit Reports

Students have been hard at work this semester to continue to develop, test, and improve self-help materials that are part of the Lab’s Financial Distress Research Project (FDRP). There are over 4o students working with the Lab on projects, and within FDRP several student teams are tackling specific tasks such as bankruptcy form instructions, debt management, and applying for fee waivers. We have students figuring out the legal details of these forms as well as constructing the best designs to translate complicated information to a self-represented litigant. If you’ve been following our blog you’ve read about some of the challenges that arise along the way as students try to make legal information and forms comprehensible.

This week, we hear from Alina Wattenberg, a 3L working on credit card debt self-help packets.

From Alina:

My current assignment for FDRP is to revise a packet that was sent out for cognitive interview feedback a few months ago. The packet, which guides readers through the steps they can take to receive, read, and fix their credit reports, is fundamental to helping consumers get control of their debt and plan for their financial future. Credit reports summarize a consumer’s credit history and provide information on such things as credit card use, loans, overdue debts and payment history. This information is often reviewed by banks, landlords, and employers and is used to calculate a consumer’s credit score, affecting many parts of a consumer’s life. It is thus extremely important that a consumer understands what his or her credit report says and makes sure that all information on the report is accurate.

20---phone.pdfThe original challenge in drafting a packet on credit reports was accounting for the fact that a consumer can request a credit report from three different credit report companies: Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax. We ultimately decided to provide instructions only for the Experian report because we thought the Experian report was the easiest report to read and because we thought our instructions for the Experian report could be applied to the other companies’ reports, should the consumer choose to get their report from a different company. However, after we received comments from consumers who had tested out the packet, we realized that the information provided by Experian was far more varied in format than we had originally anticipated. Consumers were having a hard time following our instructions because the report they received looked very different from the one we described in the packet.

With this feedback in mind, the challenge for me now is to edit the instructions in the packet so that they apply to a variety of report formats. There are a number of ways to do this, and my task is to play around with different editing options to determine the best, clearest method for guiding users. A few of the edits I am currently considering include reframing the images of reports that are used in the packet as examples, inserting new images to show different report formats, removing images of reports entirely from the packet (since users may not be able to pattern match), and providing more general, text-based instructions. Once I have made the necessary changes, consumers will again test the packet, hopefully this time with better results.

This process of revision is representative of the kind of editing I have done for other FDRP packets. Obtaining quality feedback from users about a packet and then promptly and comprehensively responding to that feedback through effective editing is necessary to keep up with changes in the law and, as was the case here, to account for unanticipated conditions affecting users.

Stay tuned for future blog posts from students!

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