As graduating college seniors no doubt know, early May is the time for the checking off a long list of to-dos. Pick up cap and gown? Check. Submit senior thesis? Check. Take stock of student loans?
While a six-month grace period means that organizing a pile of loans doesn’t seem as pressing as say, turning in that final Classics paper before graduation, it’s something that should happen sooner rather than later. That’s the advice of Brendon McQueen, creator of a new student loan organizing site called Tuition.IO.
“I would have everyone out there immediately figure out who you owe and if you’re able to pay for it,” McQueen said.
He’s speaking from experience: after graduating from Columbia in 2009, he knew he had student loans — about $120,000 worth — but had know idea who he owed, if he had any power to negotiate the interest rates or the ability consolidate the individual loan amounts.
“We’re talking about incredibly fundamental questions,” he said. “I thought, ‘If I’m having this problem, there must be a ton of other people out there having a similar problem.’”
It was the effort to fix that problem that led to the creation of Tuition.IO. The site (which is a pun: “Tuition I Owe”) is free to use, and works like this: after signing up, you’re taken to an “organize your loans” page. To figure out how many federal loans you have, you’ll need to enter your social security number (the site uses VeriSign, the same type of encryption that banks use for online transactions), and your National Student Loan Data System PIN. (You or a parent received the pin when completing the FAFSA, so check your records or request a duplicate pin through the Federal Student Aid website.)
Once you add any private loan information, Tuition.IO takes you to an account overview, which, using a graph, shows you how much you owe, when the balance will be paid off, and, through a slider, how much faster you could pay off the balance if you added an extra $50, $100, or even $500 per month. There are also tabs where you can learn the pros and cons involved with consolidation, deferment, forbearance, and even loan forgiveness for public service.
McQueen says that it’s that last subject — loan forgiveness for public service — that has piqued the interest of many users. Many teachers and soldiers with student loans don’t seem to realize they can take advantage of some of these forgiveness programs, he says. “The crazy part is people aren’t even [getting] enough information to ask the important questions.”
If the numbers are any indication, people are, at the very least, learning that Tuition.IO can help manage their debt load. In September of last year, when Tuition.IO did a demo at the technology conference Finovate, they had roughly $60 million in aggregate user debt; now, they have $500 million in aggregate user debt. “We get a ton of emails from people just saying, ‘Thank you thank you thank you for creating this!’” he said. “And of course, that always feels pretty good.”
As for McQueen’s own hefty loan balance — is it down to zero?
“I have not paid off my loans, but I just consolidated, and I’m about to jump into income-based repayment. So I’m improving my situation,” he said. “Slowly.”