How Volunteer Work Can Pay Your Student Loans

To pay off $85,000 in student loans, Danny McGee is looking for extra work outside of his job as a building systems engineer.

But he’s not looking for odd jobs or a restaurant gig — instead, McGee wants to focus on nonprofit work to pay down his debt from college and grad school.

The Michigan dad, who earned a bachelor’s degree from Tufts University and a master’s degree from the University of Colorado–Boulder, says he worked two jobs to help cover his student loan payments of $850 a month before his son was born. Even though McGee works full time at a sustainability consulting firm in Grand Rapids, Michigan, he’s looking for alternative ways to combine volunteerism with earning extra funds to pay down his student loans and save money for his child’s education.

“I spend a couple hours each week looking for additional ways to pay off my debt,” he says.

Through one of his recent web searches, McGee found out about the Shared Harvest Fund. This platform, which launches June 19, allows professionals to engage in volunteer work to benefit social causes while reducing their own student debt. Members who subscribe on the website could be connected with paid volunteer opportunities at nonprofit organizations.

“Hopefully, debt freelancing is a way I can be a little bit more efficient with my time and that I can combine my passions in things that I care about with supporting myself,” McGee says.

[Read: How Postponing Student Loan Payments Raises Costs.]

Users on the Shared Harvest Fund platform create a profile and list the social causes they’re interested in, from homelessness to community development. If they are connected with a project run by one of the participating nonprofits, subscribers can expect to receive a monthly stipend between $250 and $1,000. The funds are paid directly to their student loan servicers to cover payments.

While the opportunities start in Los Angeles, Chicago and New York, subscribers can also find remote work outside these cities, says NanaEfua B.A.M., co-founder and CEO of the Shared Harvest Fund. The types of projects range from providing legal assistance to bookkeeping.

[Read: Explore Loan Repayment Programs for Health Professionals.]

The organization refers to its volunteers as “debtfreelancers,” who use their skill sets to reduce their debt burdens by contributing to social causes, says B.A.M: “The reality is what limits people from volunteering is time, in terms of their availability, understanding their skills and connecting with a passion.”

According to a 2016 report released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, bachelor’s degree holders are more likely to provide professional assistance or tutoring compared with volunteers with less education. The report found that volunteers without bachelor’s degrees tend to participate in general labor, such as preparing or servicing food. The BLS’s data also show that the bulk of volunteers in the U.S. are between ages 35 and 54.

When dealing with student loans, some millennials think they don’t have the time to volunteer, financial education experts say.

“I’m really looking for work that’s more conducive to my schedule,” says Jan Overton, who took out a six-figure amount in student loans to pay for a doctoral degree in pharmacology at the University of Southern California. “Even it it’s only an extra $250 — at least those hours I work are giving to someone else to help someone.”

Overton participated in a few surveys for the Shared Harvest Fund on her expectations for debtfreelancing. “If I could help other people at the same time while paying off my loans, not just for a job, but actually enriching my life, it’s such a better way to do it.”

Zero Bound and, similar platforms that list freelance philanthropic work in exchange for student debt repayment, haven’t posted any new projects since 2016.

But student loan borrowers can also receive student loan repayments through service work.

[Read: How You Can Requalify for Public Service Loan Forgiveness.]

The National Health Service Corps offers a loan repayment program to health care professionals, such as primary care providers. For those who qualify, there’s a two-year commitment to practice in a high-need, underserved area and in return, professionals may earn up to $50,000 in loan repayments.

Another option is AmeriCorps, a division of the Corporation for National and Community Service, a government program that places young adults ages 18 to 24 into service positions. Services can range from helping with relief efforts associated with a natural disaster to working in conservation.

Following full-time service, which is around 1,700 hours, AmeriCorps members receive the Segal AmeriCorps Education Award; full-time service equates to the maximum amount for the Pell Grant; the current award for Pell for the 2018-2019 year is $6,095.

AmeriCorps members are eligible to earn up to two full-time education awards; these funds can be applied toward qualified student loans or paying for college or grad school.

“Since the program’s inception, the more than 1 million AmeriCorps members who have served have earned more than $3.3 billion in education awards to fund their education — more than $1 billion of which has been used to pay back student loan debt,” wrote Samantha Jo Warfield, a spokesperson for the Corporation for National and Community Service, in an email.

Trying to fund your education? Get tips and more in the U.S. News Paying for College center.

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