In October BetaKit covered Student Loan Hero, a platform that helps students aggregate their federal and private student loans in one place, and make a plan to pay them off. Today Santa Monica-based Tuition.io, a platform also focused on helping students pay off the over $1 trillion in U.S. student debt, launched to the public after several months in private beta. The company connects all of a student’s federal and private loans in one central dashboard, showing them details and helping them to set goals and manage payments.
Founder Brendon McQueen graduated from Columbia with 12 loans that totaled over $120,000, and started the company to tackle his own need for loan management tools, and help others in the same situation. “A ton of people who are on our site have this huge pain point that’s just hanging over their head. ‘I have a ton of loans, and often times I’m not even sure how many I have, or who I owe, or how much I owe,'” he said. “Presenting the information in an incredibly simple and elegant user interface has always been super key for us.”
McQueen said they designed the site to have a simple onboarding process, since he believes a lot of financial products are “incredibly cumbersome and complicated.” Students can connect their loans manually, via their provider like they would on Mint or another personal finance tool, or via the National Student Loan Data System (NSLDS). Students then get a dashboard where they can view the details for all their loans, tracking how much they’re paying per month for each loan, the interest rates, and the outstanding balance on each loan. Students can also set up reminders, for example sending themselves an email reminder the day before each payment is due, and create action plans for monthly payments and long-term repayment options.
For the public beta, the company is also introducing its EasyOptimize feature, which asks users a series of questions about their payment goals and suggests products to help them pay off their loans faster, whether via forums or online resources, or financial products. In certain cases that might include private loan consolidations, and if a user does go that route, Tuition.io would take a fee from the consolidation company. McQueen said that this monetization route makes more sense than charging users, and they always plan to keep the platform free for students.
“A lot of people on here are extra broke,” he said. “Our aim is to help people out, if you are trying to find the crux of our site it’s helping people who are having a hard time. So how am I going to charge a person who’s broke? It doesn’t make any sense.”
U.S.-only for now, McQueen said the focus after the public beta launch will be adding the ability to actually process payments on the platform, since right now while it helps students forecast their ideal payments, they have to actually pay their loan providers directly. The company has now helped students from over 130 universities manage over $100 million in debt, which represents over 10,000 student loans.
In terms of how Tuition.io differs from other financial management tools, McQueen said his experience as a struggling student is key to the platform’s user-friendliness. “It’s always important to create a product from the perspective of the people who are going to be on there.” Competitor Student Loan Hero’s founder has a similar story, and was $100,000 in debt when he started the company.
According to the company, more than 37 million people in the U.S. have student loans, so more than one startup can likely succeed in the space. Finding a way to monetize in an authentic way, aka not recommending loan consolidations to users because they make the company money, but rather because they make sense in that user’s specific case, will be key to getting students on board. With students increasingly asking how they can get their debt paid off faster, Tuition.io’s public beta will likely win it several new users, and should be a good barometer of whether students want or need these types of services to handle loans after they graduate.