The payments paused, but the problem only grew.
American adults now owe over $1.75 trillion in federal and private student loans, an amount that ballooned even though federal loan payments paused at the start of the pandemic.
The State of Georgia carries a particularly high burden when it comes to student loans. The average borrower is $41,6000 — a number only eclipsed by borrowers in Maryland, according to available data.
“Nothing has been done to slow down to slow the student debt crisis. The country hasn’t put a dent in it,” Defynance founder and CEO Farrukh Siddiqui told Hypepotamus.
The “will they won’t they” dance of loan forgiveness has left millions of borrowers more confused than ever. But for local FinTech startups like Defynance, it has created an opportunity to innovate.
The team, which works out of ATDC, has recently officially rolled out its ISA (income share agreement) Credit Fund, a fixed-income investment vehicle that supports those looking to refinance student loans.
Siddiqui said that the platform is taking a different approach to tackling the overall debt crisis. While currently only open to accredited investors, the goal is to help investors diversify their portfolios. Since incomes grow even during inflationary periods, investors can look for greater returns while helping others stuck in the student debt crisis.
The Defynance platform works to mitigate risk by using AI to better assess the future earning potential of a borrower.
Siddiqui added that pool of qualified investors could expand in the coming year.
“This is a middle-class problem,” he added. “We want to create a mechanism where not only can we help them get out of debt, but a place where they can invest in each other and get a return on that investment.”
Student loan debt is also more likely to impact those from minority or underprivileged communities. Siddiqui sees building such a FinTech company in Atlanta as an important way to build a more equitable future.
The investing side of the business is an extension of Defynance’s consumer-facing product for student loan borrowers looking to refinance. Even though payments have been paused for the last two years, borrowers have started to come to Defynance for loans that aren’t up for any sort of forgiveness or because they are looking to pay down debt faster.
Importantly, Defynance has also been hyper-focused on creating learning materials and resources for those dealing with student debt, which they call ROEP (Resources Optimizing Earning Potential). Siddiqui considers this the “third pillar” of the company and is available for anyone looking for financial and wellbeing resources.
Such resources are becoming increasingly important as student debt is seen as a central part of increased stress and anxiety for borrowers.