Dan Stelmach graduated with a Business Management degree and over $70,000 in student loan debt to match. He couldn’t have predicted that that hefty financial burden could be a positive thing. In fact, it would lead to him starting a business helping thousands of people pay off their student loans faster.
When he graduated in 2014, like many 20-somethings, he wasn’t even totally sure of the exact amount of debt he had. “I did my best to manage payments, but it was close to $1,000 per month,” he says.
The only guidance he really received was make sure to pay the student loan bill on time every month.
Then three years after graduation, he was ready to put a small down payment on a home. He was approved for a mortgage and ready to celebrate. Then he ran the numbers. With his student loan debt, it just didn’t make sense to take on a mortgage in addition to that.
That set back forced Stelmach to look deeper into his student loans and how long it would take to pay off his college debt. He decided, along with his brother Nick, to develop an app to help other borrowers in his same shoes.
And the ChangEd app was born.
How the ChangEd App Works
The ChangEd app links to both federal and private student loans and puts extra money towards the loan balance. Users can save in interest costs and reduce the time they are paying on their loans.
The extra cash for student loans comes from rounding up purchases to the nearest dollar. For example, if you buy a coffee for $4.50, the purchase is $5, and $0.50 goes towards student loans. If you make a purchase on a credit card, the extra $0.50 would come from your linked checking account.
Family and friends can link their accounts to help pay off their loved one’s debt. You can also make a one-time extra payment whenever you’d like.
You can even earn points for free payments to your student loan debt by referring friends and reaching milestones. These points are then entered into a weekly raffle for a chance to win a student loan payment.
In March 2017, ChangEd was featured in the Apple App Store’s New Apps We Love.
They have helped borrowers make more than 5 million payments to student loan debt.
Feedback from users has been positive and he feels they are turning around the way people feel about debt repayment. People even tag them on social with screenshots, happily sharing that another student loan payment is being sent.
“People are excited to make student loan payments,” he says. “We’re thrilled to see that and see how we’re helping people reframe the way they look at their debt.”
Swimming with the Sharks
The Stelmach brothers had been watching the popular show, Shark Tank, since the first episode. So, when a producer from the show contacted them to be a featured business, it was surreal.
Stelmach says the experience was a rollercoaster of emotions. They were excited and nervous pitching in front of “the sharks” with adrenaline pumping.
Mark Cuban invested in the Chicago-based startup.
“The day I paid off my student loans was one of the happiest says of my life,” Mark Cuban said in a video update of ChangEd from ABC. “Student loan debt is an incredible burden. Not just on the students that owe that, but on the entire economy.”
When they pitched on Shark Tank, they had only 800 customers. Afterwards, they have more than 30,000 users, managing more than $1 billion in student loans.
The Biggest Student Loan Mistakes
Stelmach says then the best way to avoid taking on too much student loan debt is proper planning. He recommends that students consider the most cost-effective education plan.
For recent high school graduates who don’t know what they want to do yet, they could consider attending a community college to figure things out for a fraction of the price of a traditional school, he suggests.
“Maybe what you really like to do doesn’t require a college education,” he says.
The number one mistake when it comes to repaying student loans? Ignoring their student loans, says Stelmach.
“People see this astronomical amount of debt $20,000 or $70,000 or $200,000. It’s going to be in their life for such a long time, so they don’t look into different repayment plans and fall behind.”
Check out our Student Loan Prepayment Calculator evaluates the impact of making extra payments, showing you how much you save on interest by making extra payments and how much extra you’d have to pay to pay off your debt quicker.
At Savingforcollege.com, our goal is to help you make smart decisions about saving and paying for education. Some of the products featured in this article are from our partners, but this doesn’t influence our evaluations. Our opinions are our own.