A lot of people are talking about student debt, both on the campaign trail and at the kitchen table. It’s understandable.

According to CNBC, the nation’s student loan debt was $517 billion in 2006 and it’s now topping $1.5 trillion. That’s a huge jump.

According to different articles, student debt affects how borrowers do in school, approach their careers, decide where to live, feel mentally and physically.

So, I wanted to let students and families know that there are non-profit organizations fighting the student debt crisis and helping students in need with interest-free loans. Each organization serves a certain population such as the families of military officers, religious groups, or the residents of certain cities, etc.

I work with JELF.org (Jewish Educational Loan Fund) that offers Jewish students from FL, GA, SC, NC and VA no-interest, no-fee loans. Each of these group have different qualifications. Most require that the family fill out the FAFSA, Free Application for Federal Student Aid, and have a co-signer.

These “no-interest” student loans must be repaid just like traditional federal or private student loans. However, they pay no more than they are given. The rates on many private loans, as of July 2019, can go as high as 13.99%. So, according to Lending Tree, an interest-free student loan of $29,800 (the average student loan) could save a borrower up to $25,702 in interest. Then as the borrower pays it off, that same money goes to fund someone else’s education. So, the money can keep going, from one graduate to the next.

This is one of the best kept secrets about college financing. Even when you google it, you need to weed through pages of ads, bank loans and other articles to find good information. Students looking for these loans should check with their school guidance counselors, college financial aid counselors, local chambers of commerce and religious organizations. JELF.org has a list of organizations on their site as well.

Student debt is a huge problem. I can’t speak to any government or candidate’s plan for dealing with it. But I know I’m making a difference in students’ lives through interest-free loans. Hopefully, more and more students can use this form of financial aid and we all can have a more financially free society.

David Cohen works with the Jewish Educational Loan Fund and can be reached at DCohen@JELF.org

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