NEW YORK (MainStreet)—Paying off student loans has gained a new urgency with the legislation over Stafford loan interest rate hikes.Those facing the daunting mountain of student debt would do well to arm themselves with technological solutions.
Products such as Student Loan Hero and Tuition.io are helping thousands of people repay their student loans by presenting the complicated info in a form app-loving Millennials can understand. They even offer recommendations to suit users' individual needs, filling a gap in the loan industry.
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"Nobody is helping you," Student Loan Hero's CEO Andrew Josuweit said of student loan holders. "Financial advisors only talk to people with money."
Both Student Loan Hero and Tuition.io cull info from every loan a user has in order to display his or her total principal. Student Loan Hero also shows the average interest rate for all of a user's loans and has a dashboard that prioritizes those loans by interest rate and other factors.
Just seeing all the info in one place can help users gain focus on their debt.
"It really helped me get into the mindset necessary for being responsible with my loans and payments," said spring 2012 grad Katy Gardiner, who uses Student Loan Hero. "It was great to see the big picture."
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Tutition.io's dashboard has a sliding tool that graphs how long it would take a user to pay off his loans depending on how much more or less he adjusts monthly payments. The Santa Monica, Calif.-based company did not disclose its number of active users but said it is dealing with more than $500 million in debt. (Say Tuition.io's name out loud, minus the dot, to get the pun.)
Josuweit said Student Loan Hero, based in New York City, has 4,970 users with $290 million in debt.
While Student Loan Hero's aggregating service is free, users will eventually be able pay for personal consultations. Tuition.io provides automated suggestions based on personal info users provide. Steve Pomerantz, president and co-founder of Tuition.io, said one example would be informing people in public service jobs of a loan forgiveness program just for them.
"There are all these programs that people wouldn't even know the right question to ask to find out it exists." he said. "When we tell them about these programs, we put them in layman's terms and give a pros-cons analysis. The jargon around student loans can be really intimidating, and we want to take the intimidation out of it."
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That might help explain why the loan delinquency rate is as high as 22%, according to a May estimate by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
Pomerantz declined to say how Tuition.io, which he described as "still pre-revenue," will make money. Josuweit said Student Loan Hero has plans to partner with universities that will pay $1 for each student who uses the product.
LoanLook, which puts users in touch with counselors, among other services, has a similar strategy. Spokesman Shann Grewal said LoanLook has partnered with a number of colleges and universities to work with their students on paying off about $4 billion in debt.
Student Loan Hero is still in beta. During this time, it is providing some consultations for free.
"When you're in college, nobody talks to you about debt in a real way," said Gardiner, whom Josuweit advised on consolidating her $40,000 debt. "It was great to finally talk to someone who knew what they were talking about so I could know I was making a good financial situation."
Doubts and Concerns
For all the promise of such apps, they may encounter major problems with lenders as the apps gain more users. Student finance expert Mark Kantrowitz said the way the apps access students' debt info violates lenders' terms, which state customers cannot give their log-in credentials to third parties.
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"Frankly I'm surprised that these sites haven't been cut off already," Kantrowitz said. "From the loan services' perspective, having a lot of access all coming from a single IP address would appear like an attempt to compromise security."
Josuweit maintained that as long as users willingly provide their log-in credentials, lenders have no grounds to object. Pomerantz said Tuition.io is in constant contact with the Counsumer Financial Protection Bureau to make sure it is not in violation of any guidelines.
Barring a major backlash from the student loan industry, debt apps are poised to gain more users like Gardiner, who runs a start-up of her own called Knautlius.
"I don't want to have to compromise my business because of my stupid student loan payments," she said.
--Written by Shant Shahrigian for MainStreet