Hassle Factors

Posted in Principles

Sometimes we don’t act in accordance with our intentions because of seemingly minor inconveniences, or “hassle factors”. We might intend to mail an important document for weeks, but the having to find a stamp and an envelope (or, heaven forbid, going out to buy them) can be enough to convince us that tomorrow is definitely a better day to mail that paperwork.

One well-known hassle factor among college applicants is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Although filing a FAFSA can give low and middle-income families thousands in grants and subsidized loans towards college, many families still fail to complete the form. Why? Behavioral science shows that – unlike the rational model of standard economics – we can be greatly affected by hassles such as an eight-page, 100 question form, even when the reward of several thousand dollars in financial aid make it clearly worthwhile.

How do we address these hassle factors? One study gave aspiring college students professional assistance in filing out the FAFSA from professional H&R Block tax preparers. These students were 15.7% more likely to submit the form than a control group (which received no help, just information about the FAFSA). And it did not just lead to more applications – simply reducing the hassles of filling out a form led to a 29% increase in college enrollment among those who received federal assistance.

Minimizing hassle factors by eliminating unnecessary complications and confusing jargon, as well as providing clear channels for our actions are essential steps to help those actions match our intentions. When a process is by nature complicated or confusing, offering regular reminders and clear steps for seeking assistance can help people get through the hassle.

Return to Principles index.