Montez Smith

Philly 25-year-old creates “almost randomized” plan to end student loan debt

Montez Smith’s story isn’t unlike those of more than 70 percent of college graduates. Smith paid the way through Temple’s tuition, finished up school in 2011 and is now saddled with increasing student loan payments.

Now, Smith wants to end it by crowdfunding what’s called, “The Fight Sallie Mae Project” — a movement Smith started that will include resource guides for handling student loan debt and “a bailout” program to help forgive the student loan debt of random graduates in Philly.

“For so long you think ‘this is my problem, my only individual problem,’” Smith, 25, of Mt. Airy, said. “But then when you start to speak to anyone else, everyone is going through the same problem.”

Nationally, student loans comprise the second most consumer debt — $1.2 trillion — in the country, behind only home mortgage debt, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Borrowers across the country average around $29,400 in student loan debt, and Pennsylvania’s is higher.

The Keystone State clocks in at third in the country with average student loan debt at $31,675, according to the Institute for College Access and Success. That’s partially because some the state’s most attended public colleges have among the highest tuition in the nation.

On Nov. 4, Smith, with the help of three friends, launched an IndieGoGo campaign to jump-start the Fight Sallie Mae project and set a lofty goal of funds the group would like to raise by May 2015: $250,000. But Smith and the financial advisers the group is working with have it figured out.

Those funds, if raised, will be split in three specific ways: The first is to develop a website that’s meant to house resources, the second is to create the resources on that website like videos and fact sheets, and the third is to start funding the bailout program.

That program, Smith hopes, will be funded by donations and revenues incurred from digital ads and site traffic to the website that’s developed. The group hopes to be able to funnel $500,000 into banks and lenders to purchase student loan debt and then forgive it by November 2015, or “when Sallie Mae starts knocking.”

Smith said the group, once funded, plans to start bailing out student debt in Philadelphia by identifying which private lenders, banks and debt collectors are hosting the majority of student loan debt in the city. From there, they’ll only be able to obtain a small amount of information on the students they’re helping. They’ll buy the student loan debt, and then forgive it.

“We won’t be selecting specific students,” Smith said. “It’s going to almost be a randomized thing.”

While Smith admits the goals are lofty and that it’s a risk to dedicate so much time to the project, the group is hopeful enough people will pitch in so that the movement can expand past Philadelphia in order to help students forgive debt in cities across the country.

“As a society, we’re always really focused on the individual,” Smith said. “When, if we turn our focus to the community at large and really making sure everyone is OK, we will see that the benefits trickle down to the individual. I’m focused on how can we make this the best movement and the best project for everyone.”

Click here to donate to the IndieGoGo campaign.

This article was updated to reflect Smith’s preference for gender neutral pronouns.

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