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Start-up Snapchatting financial aid tips to millennials

One start-up is taking a new-school approach to financial aid, connecting with millennials on their mobile devices.

"We help them save time, get more free aid and build trust to help with all money decisions throughout college," said Kelly Peeler, founder of NextGenVest.


Learning the ropes

Peeler's idea came from studying financial crises while at Harvard College, "I believe the next financial crisis is rooted in the student loan market," she told CNBC.

So Peeler founded NextGenVest in 2013 as a platform to help students navigate major financial decisions, and the company does this by engaging with teens in their own language: over texts and other mobile apps like Snapchat.

Trained "Money Mentors" assist users during the often confusing financial aid application process, by identifying scholarships and helping students to develop a budget.

"Students leave $2.7 billion on the table every year in free federal aid and substitute with loans because the application process is very complex, confusing and unguided, leaving the average student with a debt burden of $33,000," Peeler told CNBC.

The 24/7 text-message service is free, and can be accessed by texting "I want help paying for college" to the start-up's hotline number.

NextGenVest would not disclose its number of users but Peeler claims, "We help thousands of students across 40 states," adding, "to some extent, we're their sixth most texted person."


Roll call

But Angel Investor Nat Burgess questioned the start-up's profitability.

According to Peeler, 17 states require high school students to take personal finance courses, so NextGenVest sells its digital financial education platform to schools nationwide.

"We currently charge schools around $1,000 to $1,500, depending on the school size," said Peeler.

But the start-up also said it plans to add premium services, like helping students open their first bank accounts, which Peeler said should be useful for students transitioning into a university lifestyle.

"As a student goes into college, we know where they're going to college, we know, generally speaking, how much they have in student loans. And we can really curate and customize different financial products for them, to continue to save them time and nudge them so that they're on the right track," Peeler told CNBC.

Nikhil Kalghatgi, a Partner at Vast Ventures, wondered how NextGenVest builds enough trust to retain its millennial user base.

Peeler boiled it down to how they communicate with their young users. The start-up introduces GIFs and emojis into all text message conversations, and uses Snapchat to provide students with key financial aid deadlines.

And responses are not automated. "We also start a conversation in a really personal way and introduce a real human to them," said Peeler.

The New York City-based start-up is currently in its seed round of funding.

Peeler told CNBC NextGenVest plans to expand its services to guide users through "all of their major money decisions through college and beyond."


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