To say that educational debt weighs heavily on people these days is a bit of an understatement: The average recent college grad leaves school with more than $30,000 in loans, and total student loan debt now tops some $1 trillion in the U.S.
So it should come as no surprise that more and more borrowers are seeking new solutions to tackling the crisis. They are even getting some help from the White House; recent political proposals have spanned everything from capping loan payments to 10% of income to allowing borrowers to refinance their debt.
But a few ideas garnering particular interest among new grads are making the act of paying down those loans a little more meaningful. The driving theme is doing good in return for some debt relief.
Intrigued by the idea, we’ve rounded up some of our favorite initiatives that tie paying back student loans to public service. From crowdfunding your volunteer work to conducting health research, these programs will give you the dual satisfaction of reducing your debt and doing good for the community.
This buzzy new organization’s mission is threefold: Increase civic engagement among younger generations, decrease grads’ student loan burdens and help young adults beef up their résumés with high-impact non-profit work.
How It Works: Through the SponsorChange site, debt-saddled volunteers propose community service projects they’d like to take on—in exchange for donations earmarked for their student loans.
After filling out a profile, volunteers (called “Change Agents”) are matched with a non-profit that meshes with their stated interests. Then it’s time to fish for sponsors—anyone from your Uncle Joe to an anonymous donor who’s simply intrigued by your public service project. Every hour of volunteer work rakes in between $10 and $20—and goes directly toward student loan payments. (Read: You can’t divert that cash toward your restaurant budget.)
Get Involved: Visit SponsorChange.org. Projects are currently only available in Pittsburgh, Washington and Chicago, but the organization is quickly expanding into other high-demand cities.
This organization shares SponsorChange’s core aim of easing loan burdens and improving local communities at the same time. But instead of specific sponsored projects for an hourly wage, ZeroBound uses a unique crowdfunding platform to bring together volunteers and donors.
“We hope to use the trend of crowdfunding to not only help a generation pay off their debt, but also increase volunteerism among an age bracket that actually volunteers the least,” ZeroBound co-founder Kelli Space told LearnVest last year.
How It Works: ZeroBound users create a profile illustrating why sponsors should fund their volunteer work and name a specific goal amount they are hoping to raise to complete their intended project. If the campaign is successful, the campaign’s earnings are applied directly towards the grad’s student loan account.
Profession-Specific Repayment Programs
If your full-time gig has a public-service facet to it, you may be eligible for some amount of student loan forgiveness or payment assistance.
You’ve probably heard of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program, which offers a reprieve on any remaining federal student-loan balances after 10 years of full-time public service employment (as well as 120 on-time payments toward the loans). Eligible careers under this program can include everything from work at a non-profit or government organization (like libraries or schools), to public interest law and health care. Find out more about eligible occupations here.
But it’s worth investigating whether your specific industry offers its own loan assistance programs. Teachers in underserved areas, for example, may be eligible to have up to $17,500 of their public loans forgiven through the Teacher Loan Forgiveness Program.
Lastly, those in the health sector have a couple of options. One is the National Health Service Corps, a program that sends primary care providers to underserved areas—and rewards them with up to $50,000 in loan repayment over two years. Meanwhile, The National Institute of Health repays up to $35,000 of grads’ student loans each year for those who conduct research for a non-profit or government organization.
This was originally posted on LearnVest.