• 11.25.13

Got Student Debt? Pay It Off By Volunteering

ZeroBound lets people slammed by paying for college raise money in exchange for doing good.

Got Student Debt? Pay It Off By Volunteering
[Image via Shutterstock]

A new project is betting that a unique combination of volunteering and crowdfunding could offer some relief to the ballooning student debt crisis. Zero Bound lets students and graduates cut their arrears in exchange for a few good deeds.


Founder Sabrina Norrie was working as a policy analyst and volunteer manager at several nonprofits, when she started to think about the potential economic and social consequences of the country’s $1 trillion student debt mountain. Student debt has more or less quadrupled in the last decade. Many people are deep underwater, with little hope of paying back what they owe. (It’s tough given that millennial unemployment is so high).

“As I was sitting at my desk, I was thinking there has to be a way to be creative about student loan debt, and the path out of student loan debt,” she says. “The essence of this is the student base. We see 38 million Americans in debt, and the $1 trillion of education and skills they represent. We want to reinvest some of that into the community.”

On Zero Bound, students (or graduates) would set up a profile and campaign page, much as you would on Kickstarter. They sign up for volunteering projects listed by nonprofits partnering with Zero Bound, and the campaign runs for a limited time. Then, once they complete the task–maybe designing a web site, or helping some kids with their reading, Zero Bound transfers the money to a student loan account. Presto: less debt.

The video here has more:

It’s up to sponsors to decide how much a task is worth. But the nonprofits are encouraged to give as much detail as possible, so people can gauge the complexity involved and skill level required. Zero Bound plans to launch a beta version of its platform early next year. We look forward to seeing more details about Zero Bound (and a new web site) in 2014.

About the author

Ben Schiller is a New York staff writer for Fast Company. Previously, he edited a European management magazine and was a reporter in San Francisco, Prague, and Brussels.