Since financial health and know-how (aka financial literacy) have never been more important, getting the right help at the right time is vital to personal success, both short and long term. From college-bound high school freshmen to current college students, graduates, and students who have not completed or changed their higher ed plans, almost everyone can benefit from online tools and live expert support to help them successfully manage and repay their student loan debt. It’s a win-win-win for students, families, and educational institutions.

To assist schools and their students with loan repayment and loan management, two unique companies, i3 Group, LLC and iontuition, Inc. work together to provide loan counseling services and loan management tools to promote student success. The financial services and products that i3 and iontuition offer were specifically designed to help students navigate their college finances and make their Return on Investment (ROI) more attainable.

Because one-on-one live counseling has been so successful with the students and families, we went behind-the-scenes with i3 student loan counselors and asked them to help us better understand what they do, and why it is so important. We sat down with two i3 loan counselors, Brad and Nicole, and this is what we learned!

Tell us a little about yourself…

Brad: I’ve been with i3 for almost three years. I had just gotten married when I applied for this job, and I was interested in the field of customer service. I had a higher education degree and I had student loans, so I know I could relate to the people I’d be counseling.

Nicole: I’ve been with i3 for almost two years. I’m currently working on my bachelor’s degree in accounting. I also felt that my experience as a student, and having student loans myself, would be very helpful as a student loan counselor.

What about your job do you enjoy the most?

Nicole: I really like being informative and educating people. Most of all, I like the sense of relief we can give people.

Brad: As a company and service we have grown from offering basic help on loan repayment to more education with financial literacy tools to help borrowers who are in the process of paying their federal student loans. I really enjoy that I get to focus on finding or providing solutions every day. Student loan repayment can be challenging, and my job is to make the process easier.

In your experience what are the qualities that make a student loan counselor successful?

Nicole: You have to be very personable and understand that everyone has a different situation. You have to evaluate the situation depending on what the person is going through.

Brad:  People who are outgoing, but also introverts who are good with attention to detail, can be successful. This job requires stepping outside your comfort zone, and relating as equals in a professional manner. We’re not the government, and we’re not collecting on debt; instead we’re offering expertise and we want to be considerate of the caller’s needs and priorities.

What are some of the most common situations you deal with on your job each day?  Is there a typical day?

Nicole: It always varies based on the people we talk to, the atmosphere, but we know that we’re coming to work to help others. People thank us. You know you’re making a difference. The challenges may be different but our goal is to help everyone.

Brad: A typical day involves hard work to reach as many people as possible. There is no one optimal time to reach all people, so we work hard to connect at a time that is convenient.

What is the ‘culture’ on the job? Is there camaraderie? Healthy competition? What do you like best about your work?

Nicole: Definitely there is healthy competition. Sometimes we’re in teams, they mix things up and make it fun.

Brad: There’s still an element of production. It’s a positive element, and we know at the end of the day what our performance was.

Nicole: Everyone one we work with is really willing to help each other, from other loan counselors to managers. Even if you’ve been here for years, there will always be a new situation that presents itself, and our management team is always available to mentor or guide us.

What do you think makes i3 different from the competition?

Brad: We’re required to provide solutions to students on every call to help prevent student loan delinquency and default. We offer more than short-term fixes, we’re focused on helping the borrower with long-term solutions.

Nicole: We’re trained to carefully evaluate every situation, to sit down and really figure out what’s going to help each borrower in the long run.

Do you think it’s cool to talk to a student or a borrower via web chat?

Nicole: It’s a great tool for people who want an immediate answer. Our web chat service is fast and gives easy access for a lot of people.

Brad: It’s a challenge sometimes that callers think we’re servicing their loan, or we have all the information they do. Once they give us their email address, we can find all their information and help them quickly.

Is giving students a web portal like iontuition useful? 

Nicole: I actually use iontuition myself. It breaks down a lot of information. Our callers are also very interested in getting the online tools. Often, it’s just a matter of answering a few questions for first time users about how to upload their student loans. Once all of their loans are uploaded, it’s a great one-stop tool to see and track everything. It’s an easy platform but some people just feel better having a live person to talk to when they’re getting started. For a lot of people, if you have someone (like us) who’s willing to sit down and explain it to you, it makes it easier. We’re always happy to help explain or point them to the right spot.

Brad: I think it’s definitely valuable to have your account at your fingertips. My honest answer, it’s valuable to most people, but many of the people we talk to on the phone may still not have internet access, and it’s not just the private sector even public services are going online.

What would you like to tell student loan borrowers?

Nicole: Ask questions and do your research. Our services are free to students through our school partners yet there are a lot of scams out there asking for money and making false promises. There are really a lot of options for student loan repayment. We can help walk through all of them but I’d also encourage sitting down and taking the time to learn through reputable websites like iontuition.

Brad: On the flip side, I think it’s important to face reality whatever it is. Anger and avoidance are not the solution. Taking control of your circumstances is what we want to help you do. That is really what our job is all about.

How has working here helped you with dealing with your own student loans?

Nicole: I have learned about options that I wasn’t aware of before. Even though I’m in an in-school deferment, I’m making payments. I know I’ll be more successful with my student loans because of this job.

Brad: During my time at i3, I have been able to pay off and prioritize my loans more quickly. Unfortunately, I consolidated when I didn’t have to, and asked only for a forbearance instead of a deferment. A deferment would have been the best choice for me had I known more.