CLEVELAND — Playing a game to pay off your student loan debt — well, there’s an app for that.
It’s called “Givling” and applies crowdfunding to paying off student loan debt for its 450,000 users.
The app, launched several years ago, has funded $3.5 million in prizes and student-loan payoffs and paid a $50,000 “grand prize” to nearly 50 winners since it began.
One of those winners is here in Cleveland.
Jen Marie Zeleznak is an artist in Northeast Ohio. She received her Bachelor of Fine Arts from the Cleveland Institute of Art, and her MFA from the Savannah College of Art.
Like millions of Americans, Zeleznak was drowning in in student loan debt — her tuition racking up more than $250,000 in student loans.
“A little embarrassed in a way, or shameful,” Zeleznak said about her mixed feelings. “Like, gosh, that was a big mistake — or was it? I don’t know. I’m struggling right now to find full-time work, I’m a teacher between several colleges and I’m hardly getting by.”
Zeleznak said a friend introduced her to the Givling app three years ago — and she has been playing ever since. This month, she learned she won the $50,000 that will go directly toward paying off her private student loans.
“That moment, that day, that first day was really emotional for me. I just couldn’t stop smiling,” she said. “It’s getting rid of a whole big loan payment that I used to have every month so I’m able to reinvest that money somewhere else.”
Zeleznak said she spent roughly $8,000 on the app over the course of the three years — spending money on sponsored products or buying coins to move her up in the queue.
“That’s why I’ve been doing it for three years, knowing there was a payoff in the end,” Zeleznak said.
But experts warn to be cautious with putting money toward anything without a guaranteed return.
“I also think it’s almost like gambling in a way, or playing the lottery — trying to find a way to quickly pay off the debt,” said Traci Schmotzer, a financial advisor with Vantage Financial.
Student loans account for more than $1.6 trillion in debt.
Schmotzer said the popularity of the app shows how desperate so many folks are to pay off their student loans and a few dollars here and there is fine — but added that it can get risky.
“I do think it can get out of control for folks,” Schmotzer said. “When you see people putting $40,000, $20,000 into an app in hopes they get $50,000 out of it, that doesn’t make a lot of sense in my financial mind.”
The money spent on the app goes toward funding the payoff for student loans of folks before you.
The creator of the app has stated that all she did was apply crowdfunding to student loan debt and when you play, you’re paying off someone else’s loan. She said that if you’re playing solely to get your loan paid off, “you’re mad.”
For Zeleznak, the wait — and the payoff — has been worth it.
“It’s really exciting to know that you’re kind of involved in something larger than yourself and really cheering on people that are getting the 50k before you,” Zeleznak said.
In addition to the $50,000 dollars for her student loans, Zeleznak won an additional $10,000 through the trivia app that can she can put towards anything.
News 5 reached out to the Ohio Attorney General and received the following response:
“Our Consumer Protection Section has not received any complaints against Givling.
In general, we recommend that consumers be wary of any app or game that seems too good to be true. Also, consumers should always research organizations to see exactly where the money is going.”
The FTC told News 5 reporter Homa Bash that they could not comment on this specific app, but wanted to share the following advice:
“If you are struggling with student loan debt you don’t have to gamble – you can discuss repayment options with your servicer or go to studentaid.gov.
· You can find more tips about dealing with student loan debt here: https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/1028-student-loans [consumer.ftc.gov]
· If you’re thinking about contributing to a crowdfunding campaign [consumer.ftc.gov], take a minute to research the creator’s background and reviews before you pay. For example, has the creator engaged in previous campaigns? How did those campaigns turn out?
· If you learn about a crowdfunding scam, report it to the Federal Trade Commission [ftc.gov] and your state attorney general.”