Rewards Programs: Grads Do Good While Making Good On DebtBy: Ashley Olds - February 26, 2014
Typically, a rewards program is about “getting back what you give”.
You might hear “loyalty program” and immediately think of forking over your credit card anyplace from the airport kiosk to a retail queue. Indeed, there’s much to be said for stretching our hard earned money as far as we humanly can when we dole it out – whether it’s on holiday or as we make a quick Monday night run in sweatpants to procure caffeine for the morning. However, thanks to some innovative programs, this concept can itself be stretched from everyday expenditures – all the way to student debt.
For instance, SmarterBucks is one great program that’s emerged for whittling away at finances owed.
“I wasn’t expecting to get rich off of it,” said University of Phoenix graduate Crystal Knapp. She added, “but it definitely helped, and it only takes a little bit of my time.”
The mother of two was having a tough time either finding work or decreasing that debt of $65,000 she owed, when her search engine offered SmarterBucks as a solution to her “ways to get rid of student debt faster” search. The idea is that she can slowly reduce what’s due by letting cash back from purchases at participating vendors go straight into her loan payments. In addition, she can make extra bucks via simple surveys or blog reviews. So far, she’s earned about $800 in over a year.
But maybe that’s not enough for you. Or maybe you’re just thinking, “Um, a shopping spree at J. Crew seems like a pretty bad solution when I’m already poor from this degree I’m not even using.” You have a pretty valid point, there. So, perhaps you can chip away at both debt and guilt over those bacchanalian collegiate evenings on the town – by helping humanity.
Programs like Zero Bound, for example, help graduates using sponsorship for volunteer projects.
It doesn’t matter if you’re in debt a little or a lot; you just decide how much you’d like to not be in debt anymore, commit to volunteering on a given project, recruit donors to aid in reaching the goal, and Zero Bound helps seek out sponsors as well. The campaign runs its course and when the dust settles, so does your debt. Not bad for a good cause.
Or, you can start putting your newly acquired skillset to work by volunteering. Actually, it’s not even 100% selfless volunteering – because with programs like SponsorChange.org, you ultimately are getting your debt paid off. They plug college graduates into positions with nonprofit organizations who really need qualified workers, the grad says “I’d like to volunteer X amount of hours”, people pledge to sponsor that quantity of volunteer work, and then the graduate gets matched to a nonprofit that can use his or her abilities. The nice thing about this is that the volunteer work not only mitigates debt while also aiding nonprofits – it’s also an ideal cure for that common lapse in brain-practice many experience between graduation and actual job acquisition.
Likewise, you could jump into a nonprofit job itself (versus just as a volunteer gig). Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program offers eligibility for those working in the public service sector once a minimum amount of qualifying payments gets met. And don’t be daunted by the term “nonprofit” or think there’s no room to grow (or for your wallet to). Some of the top CEOs and presidents of nonprofit companies started in service, having no idea it might land them comfortable and rewarding leadership positions.
This idea is in the same vein as similar programs that compensate grads willing to work in under-served regions. Whether you work on brains from the inside in an operating room or train them from the outside in a lecture hall, you could stand to make a decent dent in your debt with your professional skills, by committing to exercise them for a few years in a place that could totally use the help – and getting a good chunk of change for your service. Some examples include Veterinary Loan Repayment Program, Teach Grant, and research positions with National Institutes of Health.
When it comes to “getting back what you give”, these sorts of rewards programs are two-fold.
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