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Crowdfunding, volunteering, trivia — and other unexpected ways to wipe out your student debt

  • More employers are looking into offering student debt assistance.
  • Yes, volunteering can bring you debt relief.

As student debt grows, so do the plans to squelch it.

Some of the ideas are pretty creative: New Jersey, for example, is considering establishing a lottery for borrowers burdened by student debt. Other ways of getting money to eliminate your education debt don't rely on luck, but rather require rolling up your sleeves or knowing historical facts.

Keep in mind, however, that these endeavors aren't free aid. The funds are taxable, even money from an organization in return for volunteer work.

"All money you receive for volunteering or win on a trivia app or lottery is considered income by the IRS," said Mark Kantrowitz, a student loan expert.

Here are some of the ways to get other people to pay off your debt.

1) At your job 

Currently, just 4 percent of employers offer student debt assistance. But that's changing as more employers come to realize education debt is a problem for many of their workers, said Katie Berliner, account executive at YouDecide, a benefits firm.

"In order to attract and retain talent, employers are looking at offering contributions to people's student loans," Berliner said.

Companies that have offered their employees help with their student loans include Aetna, Penguin Random House, Nvidia and Staples.

Fidelity announced recently that 25 employers — including Hewlett Packard Enterprise, New York Air Brake and Millennium Trust — plan to implement its student debt employer contribution program, with 9,000 employees expected to enroll by the end of June. (Fidelity also offers a student debt benefit for its own employees.)

"Do a quick Google search and find the employers who are out there doing this," Berliner said.

Most likely the company you're interviewing with won't offer the benefit, but that shouldn't stop you from asking about it, Berliner said.

"In the course of the interview, there comes a point where the interviewer says, 'Do you have any questions?'" Berliner said. "It would not be out of line to say: 'I want to get your perspective on whether you think this a valuable benefit.'"

2) By volunteering

Some organizations will help you pay off your student loans if you offer to do volunteer work.

Check out sponsorchange.org, where you can search to help in fields like disaster relief or politics, and will receive payments to put toward your education debt in return.

Starting in June, borrowers can enroll with Shared Harvest Fund. Users create a profile and list the social causes they're interested in, such as gender equality or homelessness. You'll work on projects for nonprofits and businesses and receive a monthly stipend of $250 to $1,000.

Although the work will start off in Los Angeles, Chicago and New York, "eventually, people can live in Arkansas and do work for a nonprofit in Los Angeles," said NanaEfua B.A.M, founder of Shared Harvest Fund.

3) Apps/online

Some people are turning to charity for help with their student loans, by detailing their story on a crowdfunding website like GoFundMe or YouCaring. One debtor, Andrew Daniel Rocha, managed to raise more than $5,600.

Keep in mind, Kantrowitz said, "these campaigns don't seem to be successful unless the story is really compelling."

Givling is an app that lets student loan borrowers play trivia, with the winning team each week earning roughly $5,000 per person. "Some people are not the best trivia players, but they're motivated to get help with their student loans," said Seth Beard, Givling's chief marketing officer.

The app ChangeEd will put your spare change toward your student loan payments. For example, if you buy a coffee for $1.75, 25 cents will go toward your debt.

You can register your student loan account with Gift of College, an education registry, and then share your profile with friends and family, who can contribute funds directly to your debt. Nadine Perry, director of marketing at Gift of College, said: "Wouldn't you rather get Aunt Emma to kick in toward your student loans than give you another ugly sweater for Christmas?"

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