Around 70 percent of college grads owed money on student loans last year, with the average debt approaching $30,000. All told, total US student loan debt is very quickly approaching the $1 trillion mark. That’s $1,000,000,000,000, or nearly the entire gross domestic product of South Korea.
With college loans and a sour job market crippling graduates and saddling them with debt that sometimes lasts into middle age, today’s young adults are looking for novel ways of paying back what they owe. And according to TakePart.com, volunteering opportunities that allow them to do just that are expanding rapidly.
A small nonprofit organization called SponsorChange.org recently received a community service award at Austin’s South By Southwest music festival for its innovative program that helps college graduates lower their student loan balances by volunteering.
Under the program, indebted grads sign up to volunteer at various organizations in need of help. Donors who’ve also signed up on the SponsorChange.org site contribute money to pay down students’ debt. The donors essentially provide the nonprofits with free labor, while the volunteers lower their debt and gain real-world work experience.
SponsorChange.org founder Raymar Hampshire says he wants the site to become like Kiva.org, which empowers people around the world via microloans.
Then there’s ZeroBound.com, a crowdfunding platform that allows college grads to volunteer with local nonprofit organizations to create beneficial projects funded through the site’s donors.
More established volunteer organizations such as the Peace Corps and AmeriCorps also offer varying levels of student debt relief. The Peace Corps offers both loan deferment and cancellation options.
For the more adventurous graduate who also happens to live in New York, the Firemen’s Association of the State of New York offers the unique opportunity to volunteer for one or more years and receive college tuition payment in exchange.
These are but a handful of the growing number of choices for college graduates looking to reduce their student loan debt by volunteering. Check with your college to find out what kind of programs are available in your area, or contact the Peace Corps, AmeriCorps or other organization offering programs to reduce debt through volunteerism. Not only will you pay off those crippling student loans faster than before, you’ll also feel great knowing you’re making a real contribution to the community in which you’re volunteering.