What It's Really Like to Win Money to Pay Down Student Loans
NEW YORK (NerdWallet) – As the U.S. student loan balance surpasses $1.5 trillion, a trio of contests promise a lucky few a shot at putting a dent in their debt.
While most of the over 44 million people with student loan debt can't count on winning an oversized novelty check to pay off their balance, they can turn to tried-and-true tactics like income-driven repayment plans to lower monthly payments or refinancing to pay off student loans fast .
But for a select group, these games do bring relief. Here, three winners share behind-the-scenes details about what it's like — and what it takes — to win.
'PAID OFF' GAME SHOW
TruTV's "Paid Off With Michael Torpey" pits contestants against one another to eliminate some or all of their student debt. It returns for a second season in May.
Jodeci Richards, 27, of Atlanta won almost $10,000 on the show — about enough to wipe out her remaining loans from Florida State University. She filmed the show in March 2018, but didn't receive the payout until after the episode aired in July. In the meantime, she continued making payments.
"I didn't want to fall behind," she says. "Navient, Sallie Mae — they get a little antsy."
BEHIND THE SCENES: The audition process was lengthy, beginning with a Google form application , then phone calls, video interviews, an in-person callback and a background check. Richards said she was a skeptic throughout.
"If this is real, they're not going to send a Google form," she remembers thinking.
"I wound up actually trying to do a background check on their background checkers, because I wanted to cover myself."
NATTY STORIES CONTEST
Under its Natural Light brand, Anheuser-Busch is giving away $1 million to help 70 people pay down college debt in 2019.
To enter, student loan borrowers must post a video to social media by May 18 about why they went to college. The video must include the green dollar-sign tab found on limited-edition cans of Natural Light, and the social post must include #NattyStories and #Contest.
RJ Young, 31, of Tulsa, Oklahoma, won $40,000 in the 2018 contest. His entry explains that he went to college to learn to tell compelling stories, but that he needed student loans to pay for it. Young has a bachelor's, master's and is pursuing a Ph.D. in English. He estimates that he owed over $100,000 before winning.
BEHIND THE SCENES: Prize money is taxable income. (Richards' winnings were also taxed.) After Young received his check, he used some of the cash to hire an accountant. The remainder stayed in his bank account for almost a year while Young sorted through how the winnings affected his 2018 income taxes.
"It's a first world-problem," Young says. He warns future winners to "be careful who you talk to about it. Not everyone wants to help you."
Givling is a trivia game and crowdfunding effort in which users play for cash prizes and $50,000 toward student loan or mortgage repayment.
Players win $50,000 in loan repayment by getting to the top of Givling's queue. They climb the queue by playing trivia, watching ads, buying merchandise, purchasing coins to play extra trivia and using Givling's sponsors, which include SoFi and Uber Eats .
The app funds the prizes — and makes money — from sponsorships, merchandise sales and in-app coin purchases. Once enough is raised, the player at the top of the queue wins $50,000 and the process repeats for the next-in-line player.
Rosheeda Sylvestre, 36, of Brooklyn, New York, won in March. At that time, she had about $52,000 in student loans remaining, down from the roughly $100,000 she owed for two bachelor's degrees and a master's.
The money is applied directly to winners' loans in eight weekly installments; Sylvestre estimates she'll be debt-free by May.
BEHIND THE SCENES: Players get two free trivia games daily, but the most competitive players drop tens of thousands of dollars to race to the top of the queue.
Sylvestre says she spent about $10,000 on coins and sponsorship offers, and $11,000 on merchandise. She used a 0% interest credit card that she plans to pay off before interest accrues. She also donated the merchandise she purchased and claimed it as a tax write-off. In total, she spent about $21,000 over nine months before winning.
Givling's loan repayment prizes aren't taxable because they're crowdfunded, says Givling Chief Marketing Officer Seth Beard. The trivia cash prizes are taxable.
By Teddy Nykiel, a writer at NerdWallet.This article was provided to The Associated Press by the personal finance website NerdWallet.