Can you imagine what it would feel like to have your student loan debt disappear because you got some trivia questions right?
Some student loan borrowers had this dream come true when they took part in a new game show called “Paid Off.”
The show, devised by actor-comedian Michael Torpey, debuts at 10 p.m. ET July 10 on cable television channel truTV. The initial 16 episodes will feature contestants with student debt who win money toward loan repayment.
While the show features humor and takes a lighthearted approach, it also has a serious purpose of raising awareness of the student debt crisis.
‘Paid Off’ pays off a fortune in student loan debt
“Paid Off” was designed to appeal to young truTV viewers, and contestants were carefully chosen for their stories of being stuck in debt despite doing everything right, a topic likely to resonate with people in their 20s and 30s.
The show follows the format of traditional TV game shows, but with a funny or educational twist. Some questions are college-related, while others are just plain fun, such as sorting which nicknamed characters are from the mafia film “Goodfellas” and which are from the children’s show “Thomas & Friends.” Celebrities in silly outfits also make surprise guest appearances to pose questions.
The number of correct questions determines how much each contest wins, with the maximum prize equal to 100% of the value of their loans.
In the initial slate of episodes, the contestants collectively received close to $500,000 to repay their loans, with one contestant winning $60,000, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (AJC) reported. Every participant walked away with some money, with third-place finishers getting $1,000.
While show producers had wanted to pay off loan balances directly, logistics made this impossible, so winners are awarded money intended to be used to repay loans, according to The Washington Post.
A show with a higher purpose
Quirky TV game shows are nothing new, and, indeed, the “Paid Off” team includes a veteran of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.”
What sets the show apart is that it was developed in consultation with Natalia Abrams, executive director of Student Debt Crisis, a nonprofit aimed at changing policies on student loans. Serious issues are raised amid the fun atmosphere, including a “super depressing fact of the week” about student loan debt in each episode, according to The Post.
Contestants also have more “camaraderie” with each other, Leslie Goldman, truTV senior vice president of development and original programming, told the AJC.
“Everyone is in the same boat,” she said, according to the AJC. “They all have this debt.”
Torpey was reportedly inspired to create the show after seeing the struggles his wife faced repaying debt from her undergraduate and graduate degrees.
He helped her pay off what she owed by booking an ad to sell underwear, and saw how emotional it was for her to free herself of the $40,000 debt burden.
“I know what we are doing is a little ridiculous,” Torpey told The Post. “But in a way, the show matched my family’s story. The only way we could pay off student loans was because I booked an underpants ad? That’s insane.”
The Post reported that Torpey pitched the show to truTV, which felt the concept would resonate because student debt is holding back so many young viewers from life milestones such as homeownership and even marriage. More than 44 million borrowers owe $1.48 trillion in student loan debt.
You can still tackle your student debt even if you don’t win a game show
Most of us aren’t lucky enough to land an underwear ad or find ourselves featured on “Paid Off,” but repaying student loan debt still needs to happen. The good news is, there are tools to help, including:
- Income-driven repayment programs that cap payments at a percentage of income and can result in some debt being forgiven
- Public Service Loan Forgiveness, which allows debt to be forgiven after 120 qualifying payments if you work in an eligible public service job
- Student loan refinancing, which could reduce your interest rate and lower your monthly payments
You can also keep tabs on legislation that affects student loan borrowers and make your voice heard by voting or contacting your representatives.
The main image is from the official “Paid Off” site on truTV.com.
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