5 Innovative Tools for a Debt-Free College

With These Tools, Parents and Students Can Get Ahead

$37,172. That’s the amount of debt the average college graduate had in 2016. As the cost of college increases every year, that number is only set to increase over time.

While there are ways to lower that number—opting for public, in-state schools, transferring from community college, working throughout school—those tactics often aren’t enough. To help students bridge the gap, quite a few innovative new tools and resources are popping up. Regardless of whether you're a parent preparing on behalf of a young child, a high school student just starting to think about college, or a current college student trying to manage your finances for the first time, we've found the best new technology tools for you.

Here are 5 of the best new ways for students to graduate debt-free.


CollegeBacker website

For parents, it can be confusing to navigate the college savings process. 529 College Savings Plans are a type of tax-advantaged investment account designed for college savings. They’re one of the best ways to save for college offering flexibility, low-risk growth potential, and tax benefits for families.

CollegeBacker makes it easy to not only find the best plan for you, but it also makes it easy for family and friends to contribute to your student’s college education. Whether for a grandparent who wants to contribute on an ongoing basis or as a way for friends and family to give on special occasions like baby showers and birthdays, CollegeBacker makes saving for college a community effort.

Starting a college savings account early and contributing regularly is one of the best ways to ensure your child graduate debt-free.


RaiseMe website

RaiseMe is a social enterprise that partners with colleges and universities and enables students to earn “micro-scholarships” throughout high school. Unlike many scholarship matching services, RaiseMe is open to students as early as 9th grade.

Students can earn money for college based on good grades, volunteering, and extracurricular activities. Once the student applies, gets accepted, and enrolls at a participating university, the scholarship is applied.

By earning scholarships early for their high school achievements, students not only earn more towards college over a longer period of time, but they also gain motivation and ambition as they move through high school and plan for college.

Frank for FAFSA

Frank website

The first step towards getting financial aid for college—including federal, state and school grants and loans—is filling out the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). Yet, just 47% of eligible students make it through the application process and actually submit the FAFSA. Frank aims to change that, offering a free, user-friendly alternative to the Department of Education’s application that takes just minutes to complete.

Taking advantage of all the financial aid options available to you, including need-based aid, work-study, scholarships, and grants is one of the most important steps to graduating debt-free.


Scholly.com website

Each year, an estimated $49 billion is awarded to students by the federal and state governments, colleges and universities, and private sources like individuals, foundations, and nonprofit organizations.

Yet about $100 million in scholarship money also goes unclaimed each year in the U.S. This free money is just waiting for students, but many aren’t sure how to find it.

Scholly is a scholarship-matching online platform and mobile app that has helped students earn more than $50 million for college to date. Their platform delivers targeted matches, so students can focus on applying for the scholarships they have the best chance at winning. It’s open to high school seniors, current undergraduates and graduate students in the U.S., and international students coming to study in the U.S.


Mint.com website

While tuition is the largest share of student debt, other expenses can add up for students living on their own for the first time. One of the best ways to avoid taking on unnecessary debt for living expenses is to get in the habit early of creating a budget and sticking to it.

Mint is a popular budgeting app that tracks spending and debt and enables you to create budgets for everything from housing and groceries, to coffee, alcohol, and entertainment.

For students using credit cards for the first time, it’s a great way to keep a close eye on spending and avoid graduating with a hefty balance.

The Takeaway

For most families, your best bet to help your student graduate debt-free will likely be a combination of these tactics. For instance, most experts recommend parents aim to save ⅓ of expected college costs in a 529 plan, with scholarships, work, and other sources making up the rest. Try the calculators at CollegeBacker.com to estimate your college savings goal.

Remember that whether you’re saving in a 529 plan, researching and applying for scholarships, or learning to stick to a budget, the earlier you start, the better your chances of earning a debt-free college degree.