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New crowdfunding platform helps students secure up to $10K in loans for college tuition

PYT Funds, a crowdfunding platform to help current and future students finance their education, has helped about 20 students reach their financial goals since launching in November 2014, according to company founder Stacie Whisonant.

PYT, short for Pay Your Tuition, was created to provide loans up to $10,000 to students who need it. The majority of the $10,000 is a traditional loan from a regional bank (PYT is currently working with two and looking to partner with more), but students have to come up with 20 percent of the loan amount to apply. Applicants who don't have $2,000 can use PYT's platform, which looks like a Kickstarter or Indiegogo, to raise it. The $2,000 raised is considered a donation; the remaining money is a loan that goes directly to the student's school and is paid back like a normal student loan.

Students have to undergo a fairly rigorous screening process to be considered for PYT's platform. "We're looking for STEM majors, with a GPA of 3.0 or higher, who have character and cash collateral," Whisonant, a ten-year veteran of the banking and finance industry, says. Students also have to demonstrate evidence of "civil leadership and giving back to their communities."

One of PYT's first success stories is Francina Akuazaoku, who needed to raise $11,000 to continue her undergraduate education at Howard University. "She started a GoFundMe page," Whisonant says, "and she was bullied [by posters], telling her to 'get a job' or 'choose a cheaper school.'" Whisonant found out about her situation through a friend and reached out, inviting Akuaszaoku to tell her story at a PYT event. She raised $10,000 at that event and was able to stay in school.

"I come from a big family," Whisonant says. "Crowdfunding is not new to us. PYT makes students feel like their goals are more attainable—that they can get to the finish line."

PYT is currently working with City National Bank in New Jersey and Liberty Bank and Trust in New Orleans. "The banks pay us for new leads," Whisonant says. "Our goal is to continue to build out additional bank-appropriate products with banking partners. We'd like to get some larger banks on board."

PYT, currently headquartered at WeWork in Shaw, is also considering raising a seed round so that the company itself can become an originator of short-term loans.

Read more articles by Allyson Jacob.

Allyson Jacob is a writer originally hailing from Cincinnati, Ohio, and is the Innovation and Job News editor for Elevation DC. Her work has been featured in The Cincinnati Enquirer and Cincinnati CityBeat. Have a tip about a small business or start-up making waves inside the Beltway? Tell her here.
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