Randomizing Provision of Information about FICO Score Availability to Student Loan Borrowers

Last registered on April 09, 2018


Trial Information

General Information

Randomizing Provision of Information about FICO Score Availability to Student Loan Borrowers
Initial registration date
April 07, 2018

Initial registration date is when the trial was registered.

It corresponds to when the registration was submitted to the Registry to be reviewed for publication.

First published
April 09, 2018, 10:41 AM EDT

First published corresponds to when the trial was first made public on the Registry after being reviewed.



Primary Investigator

University of Chicago

Other Primary Investigator(s)

PI Affiliation
PI Affiliation
University of Wisconsin

Additional Trial Information

Start date
End date
Secondary IDs
Traditional financial literacy interventions are typically ineffective at improving financial outcomes. We test an alternative approach using a field experiment with over 400,000 student loan borrowers in which treatment group members received communications about the ability to view their FICO Score, a personalized metric of creditworthiness. After one year, treatment group members have fewer past due accounts, are more likely to have at least one credit account, and have higher FICO Scores. Survey data on a subsample of borrowers find treatment group members were less likely to overestimate their own FICO Score, indicating the intervention may correct for overoptimism.
External Link(s)

Registration Citation

Homonoff, Tatiana, Rourke O'Brien and Abigail Sussman. 2018. "Randomizing Provision of Information about FICO Score Availability to Student Loan Borrowers." AEA RCT Registry. April 09. https://doi.org/10.1257/rct.2871-1.0
Former Citation
Homonoff, Tatiana, Rourke O'Brien and Abigail Sussman. 2018. "Randomizing Provision of Information about FICO Score Availability to Student Loan Borrowers." AEA RCT Registry. April 09. https://www.socialscienceregistry.org/trials/2871/history/27797
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Experimental Details


We conduct a large-scale field experiment with over 400,000 clients of Sallie Mae, a national financial institution specializing in student loans. Beginning in June 2015, Sallie Mae offered borrowers access to unlimited views of their FICO Score as part of a broader initiative by FICO to increase consumer access to their scores through partnering financial institutions. More than 250 million consumer accounts included free access to FICO Scores as of the start of 2018. We exogenously vary the likelihood of viewing by randomly assigning borrowers to receive additional communications about the program's availability.

Borrowers assigned to the treatment group received one of three quarterly emails that provided (1) instructions on how to view their score (2) instructions plus additional information about economic consequences of FICO scores, or (3) instructions plus additional information about peer behavior. All emails notified borrowers that an updated FICO Score was available to be viewed through the loan provider's website. Borrowers assigned to the control group did not receive any emails about program availability.
Intervention Start Date
Intervention End Date

Primary Outcomes

Primary Outcomes (end points)
Key outcomes include data reported on borrowers' TransUnion credit reports including balances past due (30, 60, or 90 days), revolving trade activity (presence of revolving trade accounts, account balances, percent of credit utilized, and FICO Score.
Primary Outcomes (explanation)

Secondary Outcomes

Secondary Outcomes (end points)
If possible to receive additional data on student loan and school performance outcomes we would like to examine those as well, although our access to this data is not certain.
Secondary Outcomes (explanation)

Experimental Design

Experimental Design
On June 24, 2015, Sallie Mae, a national financial institution specializing in student loans, launched the FICO Score Open Access program and began providing free score access to customers through the their website. Clients who logged in to the website saw a visual display that included their FICO Score beside a barometer showing the range of possible FICO Scores. The display also listed two “reason codes” that explain the key factors contributing to the individual’s score, such as limited credit history or account delinquency.

While all customers had the ability to log in and view this information, many borrowers may not have been aware of the new program. To test the effect of providing information about a borrower’s FICO Score, we experimentally vary knowledge of FICO Score availability through additional communication about the program.

A. Sample Population

The sample for the experiment consists of the 406,994 student loan borrowers who held a loan with Sallie Mae at the start of the FICO Score Open Access program and continued to hold that loan for the following two years. Table 1, Panel A presents summary statistics of the demographic characteristics of our experimental population provided by Sallie Mae. The average age of borrowers in our sample is 25 years old with just over half currently attending school, while the remainder are out of school and, therefore, have started paying off their student loan debt.

B. Experimental Conditions

Prior to the roll-out of the FICO Score Open Access Initiative through Sallie Mae, borrowers were randomly assigned to one of four experimental groups – three treatment groups and one control group. Roughly 90 percent of our sample was assigned to one of the three treatment groups, while the control group contained the remaining 10 percent of the sample. Borrowers assigned to the treatment groups received email communications from Sallie Mae alerting them to the availability of their FICO Score and providing instructions on how to access the information while control group members did not receive any communication about the program beyond what was provided on the provider’s website.

All emails included a short description of the FICO Score and informed borrowers that their score was available to view. The email also included a link to log in via the loan provider’s website. Treatment group members received these communications once per quarter on the date that scores were updated informing them that their FICO Score had been updated and, again, providing a link to log in to view the score. Due to privacy considerations, no personalized information was included in the email itself.

Borrowers who received an email were randomly assigned to be in one of three conditions: (1) baseline, (2) economic consequences, and (3) social influence. In the baseline condition, borrowers received only the information described above (Figure 3). The two additional conditions included the same information as the baseline email as well as additional messaging. In the economic consequences condition, clients received an email that was intended to emphasize the impact of the FICO Score on economic outcomes (e.g., “When you apply for credit – whether it’s a credit card, car loan, student loan, apartment rental, or mortgage – lenders will assess your risk as a borrower...”). Building on research demonstrating the effectiveness of messaging informing individuals of prosocial actions of their peers (Allcott, 2011; Ayres et al., 2012; Cialdini and Goldstein, 2004; Kast et al., 2012), the social influence condition included messaging informing readers that their peers were taking actions to improve their credit (e.g., “Many of your peers are building strong financial futures. You can, too, by effectively managing your student loans.”).

C. Experiment Timeline

The three treatment groups in the main sample received eight quarterly emails starting in June of 2015. Each treatment group received their assigned message for three consecutive quarters (June, September, and December of 2015). However, beginning in 2016, all three treatment groups received only the content included in the baseline email message. In other words, clients in the economic consequences and social influence conditions began receiving the baseline message starting in March of 2016; clients in the baseline condition continued to receive the baseline message. The control group never received any direct communications about the program.

The experimental design included a separate population of 37,393 borrowers – the “discontinued sample” – that received quarterly emails for only three quarters. This sample was also split into three treatment message groups, and received quarterly email communications in June, September, and December of 2015. Our main analysis focuses on the 326,609 treatment group members who received quarterly communications through the end of the intervention in June of 2017.
Experimental Design Details
Randomization Method
Randomization was done at Sallie Mae by a computer.
Randomization Unit
Randomization was conducted at the individual level.
Was the treatment clustered?

Experiment Characteristics

Sample size: planned number of clusters
Approximately 400,000 individuals
Sample size: planned number of observations
Approximately 400,000 individuals
Sample size (or number of clusters) by treatment arms
Control: 42,964 Baseline Treatment 108,759 Economics Treatment 108,813 Social Treatment 109,065 Discontinued Sample 37,393
Minimum detectable effect size for main outcomes (accounting for sample design and clustering)
In this case, the number of participants was determined by our partner organization, Sallie Mae.

Institutional Review Boards (IRBs)

IRB Name
Study has received IRB approval. Details not available.
IRB Approval Date
Details not available
IRB Approval Number
Details not available


Post Trial Information

Study Withdrawal

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Is the intervention completed?
Data Collection Complete
Data Publication

Data Publication

Is public data available?

Program Files

Program Files
Reports, Papers & Other Materials

Relevant Paper(s)

Reports & Other Materials