While colleges and universities across the country provide students with a higher education, the opportunities often come at a great cost — literally.
According to Forbes, student loan debts in 2020 total around $1.56 trillion, with 45 million borrowers across all age groups and demographics. Student debt is now one of the highest consumer debt categories, second only to mortgage loans.
To help students keep track of their finances, Penn State students Jack Quinn and Michael Miller created LoanCrunch — an app for students to track and pay all of their student loans in one place. The app is set to launch later this summer.
Quinn (senior-computer science) and Miller (senior-values driven digital product design) will soon graduate and face the challenge of paying their own student loans, the very task that led them to the idea for LoanCrunch. Quinn works on the app’s software development, while Miller takes on the business side.
However, LoanCrunch wasn't Quinn and Miller’s first idea — they had initially gotten into the Happy Valley LaunchBox with another app concept called LineHopper.
“The idea [of LineHopper] was you would be able to order your food through somebody else who’s already waiting in line,” Quinn said. “And they would get money for picking up your food while they’re in line getting their own food.”
However, the financial logistics of LineHopper did not work out, since the individuals expected to order food often wanted too much money for it.
Because of this, Quinn and Miller — who were accepted into the Summer Founders Program, a startup incubator that provides students with money and resources to work on their business — had to quickly pivot from the old idea and find something new, eventually landing on LoanCrunch.
“We actually just kind of locked ourselves into a room for a good week and just wrote ideas on the board," Quinn said. "We had walls of just ideas of things that we wanted to do, and they all centered around finance."
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While there are general apps made for managing personal finance, there had not been one specifically made for student loans until recently.
“To us, that's an indicator that there’s still a lot of room for growth in this space, a lot of market left to be captured,” Quinn said.
LoanCrunch will be available for free, allowing anyone to create an account and craft a loan payment plan. There's also a premium membership option that costs around four dollars per month and allows members to pay their loans through the app automatically.
“There’s three simple steps to using LoanCrunch,” Miller said via email. “Linking your loans, telling us a little about your life goals, and then paying off your loans every month. We use industry-leading software to securely link all your student loans and build you a custom payback plan that tells you how you should allocate your spending every month.”
Aside from the revenue generated by premium membership purchases, Miller said LoanCrunch is partnering with other employers and educational institutions to expand sources of income.
Although the app is not set to publicly launch until later this summer, Quinn said he and Miller have been receiving feedback from a small, diverse group of students — some with a lot of loans, others with no loans at all — and that the information provided has been helpful in their efforts.
Quinn and Miller have also been entering LoanCrunch into startup pitch competitions to receive more funding and make business connections. Miller said he and Quinn try to take advantage of as many opportunities as possible.
Quinn said the LaunchBox played an important role in LoanCrunch's development by providing a workspace open 24 hours a day and one-on-one mentorship.
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“The LaunchBox is key for anybody who wants to start on an entrepreneurial journey because they provide you with free connections, free legal advice, funding," Quinn said. "Any kind of connection you can name, you find at the LaunchBox."
Lee Erickson, Ben Nason and Jason Jubert advised the duo at the LaunchBox. Erickson, the LaunchBox's chief amplifier, currently runs the entrepreneurial program Quinn and Miller are in.
“We wouldn’t be where we are without dedicated advisers like Lee Erickson and Ben Nason believing in us, supporting us and showing us what’s possible,” Miller said.
According to Quinn, the only people currently working on LoanCrunch are himself and Miller, which can make the workload a bit strenuous.
While the amount of work could be lessened by hiring more people, Quinn said he wants to be cautious with who they bring in.
“We want to make sure we are hiring slow... You want to hire slow and make sure the people you are bringing onto the team [are people] you can trust,” Quinn said. “Because in these early stages when there are just a few people in the business, it's just so key that you make sure you have the right team.”
Despite a loss of work space as a result of the coronavirus, the pandemic didn’t have much impact on the timeline of the app, since Quinn and Miller used the LaunchBox to work with others. Quinn said the great thing about software development is that you can do it anywhere.
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Quinn and Miller have been able to communicate every day through Zoom meetings and by entering virtual pitch competitions. The upcoming Pennsylvania Technical Assistance Program, for example, could potentially reward the pair $30,000 in funding for the app.
Currently, Quinn and Miller are focused on a United States LoanCrunch launch because of differences in app regulation from country to country. However, they are taking it slowly and hope to eventually reach every major market with a student debt issue.
“We need to make sure we are being smart business-wise, and making sure we aren’t getting into any kind of legal trouble by offering advice to students on how to pay off their loans,” Quinn said.
Quinn and Miller agree that clear and consistent communication is key when it comes to making decisions. Quinn said the most important thing in a startup is trust — while Miller trusts Quinn with the development of the app itself, Quinn trusts that the business decisions Miller makes are the right ones.
Even when it comes to making tough decisions, however, their policy has always been to keep it light and foster a happy environment.
“We’ve made a ton of fun memories, laughs and relationships along the way that keep us pushing forward even when things get difficult,” Miller said.
While most of the LoanCrunch app is set in stone, one small detail that remains uncertain is its motto.
“We have a ton of [motto ideas], and we’re kind of just playing around with them,” Quinn said. “I say, ‘Life over loans.’ Michael says, ‘It's not the lattes. It's the loans.’”
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