MONEY

3 Start-ups Tackling the Student-Debt Crisis

The student-debt crisis is imploding. These start-ups are trying to save American students from defaulting on their loans.
Occupy Wall Street demonstrators participating in a street-theater production wear signs around their necks representing their student debt during a protest in Union Square, in New York City.
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In April, the total amount of student debt for young Americans surpassed $1 trillion.

To put that in perspective, $1 trillion is more than the size of the national GDPs of Israel, Finland, and Greece combined. College seniors who graduated in 2010 carried an average of $25,250 in student-loan debt each, and about five million federal-loan borrowers are currently in default.

The ripple effects of the student-debt crisis are having a profound impact on the country, too, from a weakening housing market to individuals delaying other major purchases, and bumping back life decisions, including marriage and having children.

If you're still not cringing, consider this: It's not just young Americans in student-loan debt, either. A recent report by Barclays found that nearly 16% of outstanding student-loan balances are held by Americans ages 50 to 59.

A recent report by Barclays found that nearly 16% of outstanding student-loan balances are held by Americans ages 50 to 59.

Thankfully, many in the tech and investor communities have reacted swiftly. The Young Entrepreneur Council, for instance, has launched a new start-up accelerator and investment company, Gen Y Capital Partners, that, in addition to providing seed capital for young founders, agrees to pay off the entrepreneur's student debt. On a smaller scale, Skillshare, a marketplace for online classes, recently gave away $5,000 to one founder to pay off a college loan.

Managing debt is not easy, especially for students and recent graduates, many of whom are financially inexperienced. Here's a look at three companies seeking opportunity in helping the next generation of students deal with debt.

Alltuition

Founded by Sue Khim, a third-year medical student in $50,000 of debt, Alltuition.com walks students through the financial-aid process, from finding eligibility to choosing a loan. The company, founded in 2010 and based in Chicago, offers online tools for students and families to understand managing education debt. Some of those tools include visual graphs of payment plans, and reminders about when loans are due. Although the site does not lend, it acts as a resource for students shopping around for different loan plans. "The comparison shopping took forever, and it was really painful," Khim recently told The Huffington Post. "Students are, many times, overpaying for loans, because the info to compare their options isn't available to them." OKCupid founder Sam Yagan is one of the company's lead investors; in 2011, the company closed a $1 million round of seed financing.

ReadyForZero


ReadyForZero is probably one of the easiest ways for students to view--and manage--their debt online. Founded in 2010 by Rod Ebrahimi and Ignacio Thayer, the Y Combinator start-up has attracted financing from 500 Startups and Polaris Venture Partners. According to Ebrahimi, finding venture partners for a student-loan site wasn't an easy process. "Believe it or not, you go around [to investors] and say that people have debt in America, and some of them are like, 'They do?'" he told Entrepreneur recently. "One investor said his house was paid for, and he couldn't understand why people have debt. That was the wrong guy."

Tuition.io (Binksty)



Founded in 2011, Tuition.io, which was rebranded from its original moniker, Binksty, is a new tool for managing student loans, and lets users optimize debt for their unique situations. Its founder, Brendon McQueen, was inspired to start the company because of his own experience with debt: He graduated from Columbia with 12 loans and more than $100,000 in debt. "What we're doing is saving students and graduates time and money while working with the lenders to streamline the entire process so that everybody wins," he told TechCrunch. Tuition.io is now helping borrowers manage over $50 million of student loans. The company offers a dashboard of important dates, personalized advice, and online tools, such as customized payment plans, to help make the process of repaying student loans easier. Student loan borrowers can also receive "customized optimization plans that take advantage of little-known and hard-to-understand restructuring options," according to McQueen. The company will be launching their updated tool in August.

 

IMAGE: Andrew Burton/Newscom
Last updated: Jul 30, 2012




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