Candidly, debt can be difficult. Debt can be daunting. Debt can block savings and retirement savings. The data from my alma mater show that 84% of those with student debt cite student debt as the number one reason for lack of retirement savings participation.  That was true for me, and may be true for you.  Today I am excited to share with you that has rebranded to Candidly.  Our mission here at Candidly is to unlock student debt savings to unblock savings and retirement savings and to empower hard working Americans to go beyond debt, into wellness, and ultimately – yes, wealth.  We aim to enable simultaneous progress on debt pay down and wellness creation rather than the sequential progress that leaves decades of compound interest on the sidelines.  Ouch!

And, I’m tired of the shame – the shame that we hear families feel when they decide to take on debt.  With the cost of education rising almost 9 times as fast as incomes, it is no longer to expect families to pay tuition and all higher education expenses out of pocket.  In fact, the majority of U.S. households don’t have $500 for unexpected expenses, in part because their debts are holding them back from securing financial resilience and retirement readiness.  And, for most families – especially those without savings, education is the most reliable way up the socioeconomic ladder.  The data show that lifetime earnings materially increase with every year of higher education.  The alternatives, unless you’re Bill Gates or Jay-Z, don’t look so good.

Creating modern solutions for modern problems

So, for us mere mortals, I founded in 2016 to empower 47M Americans to crush their student debt by applying best-in-class data science and digital experiences to the largest consumer liability – second only to mortgages.  As an executive who has spent my entire career in tech, I just couldn’t believe how terrible the experience of navigating the education financing system was and how daunting it was to become debt-free.  Just last year, Federal Student Aid tweeted that borrowers in need of support should call or fax their student loan servicer.  Fax.  No wonder it takes an average of 17 to 20 years for borrowers to pay down debt, when the entire ecosystem is 30-40 years behind the times.

As a former Googler who led a Global Business Unit, I can emphatically confirm that users turn to search, their phone, their employer, their bank, and their friends, but they do not turn to fax.  In fact, search intent on solutions and forgiveness related terms has increased by 5000% every time there is a material event related to student debt and the current moratorium on payments.

Two different timelines: from 2016 (top) and 2018 (bottom)

One of the most frustrating things about student debt is that the solutions users are seeking are already available, but the process of finding and applying for them are opaque and riddled with friction. This problem is uniquely well-suited to technology.  After five years of dedicated effort from a world-class team, our platform personalizes three simple actions from 3M unique combinations of solutions available across every age and wage of student loan holder.  We have mastered the very complex problem of all-things-student debt management.   So, naturally, we ask ourselves what more we can do to serve those who aspire through education – past, present and future.

Moving beyond student debt

Since founding the firm, the number one question that I have received from friends, family, classmates, and customers beyond student debt management – how to mitigate it in the first place.  Currently, over one third of our workforce is in the process of planning for or paying for college.  It’s a lot of mental gymnastics to think through how much to save, pay, and borrow with the yips built in along the way as life invariably goes through twists and turns. Candidly, we understand that education is one of the largest investments most people will make in a lifetime — whether for themselves or their children. And like any investment, it needs to be planned for and managed in the context of one’s overall financial picture.  And, it’s complicated.

We are eager and proud to answer this call with expanded capabilities that move beyond student debt and enable individuals and families to plan and prepare for college, fund educational pursuits, and build financial resilience by bringing our same approach – smart, personalized, AI-driven digital experiences that drive improved outcomes – to the entire borrower journey. These new capabilities, along with the rebrand to Candidly, reflect our growth and evolution into a fully-configurable financial wellness platform that addresses the full lifecycle management of education expenses.  In addition, we decided to acquire the College Finance Company to dramatically accelerate the sophistication of our offering.

I have had the privilege of partnering with Kevin Walker and Larry Rausch for over four years, the CoFounders of the College Finance Company.  These two seasoned entrepreneurs and rainmakers have over 20 years of experience in the education financing space.  And they have built the industry-leading solution to empower families to access information, content, and the lowest cost of capital to finance higher education.  No one wants to pay more for their debt than necessary.  Not only do I admire what they have built, I admire them as leaders.  And, so, I quietly and aggressively pursued them through the second half of 2021.  I am thrilled to share that we completed the acquisition of College Finance Company on December the 30th, 2021.  Today, Kevin joins me as Co-Founder and President and serves as my partner on the board.  Larry continues to drive meteoric growth for the company and our colleague Michael helps us understand TikTok and the next gen of B2B2C.  Seriously.  There is a lot to learn from him.

Our users will now be able to read content on strategies for college savings and utilizing 529 plans, information on how to find scholarships, and tactics on how to find scholarships. We will also help them to understand the important differences between federal and private student loans, and to compare private lending options to help them close the gap on college funding. The next time a friend calls me to ask what they should do for their daughter or son, we will be able to respond.

Sea change is coming

My vision in 2016 was that, one day, benefits that address student debt would become a new normal within the workplace. It has been thrilling to see the passage of the Consolidated Appropriations Act, enabling employers to offer up to $5,250 of tax-free contributions to pay down student debt.  Unlike other benefits with single digit uptake, student loan repayment has an average uptake of 22% across an entire employee population.

It is further inspiring to see the imminent passage of the SECURE Act 2.0, which will enable employers to offer a retirement match to employees who are making payments to pay down their student debt from qualifying institutions.  My mother, a social worker, and I have managed to pay down almost $200,000 of student debt between us.  I imagine what my retirement savings would look like, and what my mother’s retirement savings would look like, had the SECURE Act 2.0 passed years ago.  Americans need savings and we need to be able to retire.  And, this smart bill will enable Americans to create an average of $430,000 in retirement savings at the time of their retirement, after paying down their debt for 10 years.  Finally, financial inclusivity is arriving within the workplace.  Today, these benefits are the top 3 requested benefits within the entire wellness benefits stack, behind salary and healthcare coverage.

As I reflect on where we have come from since pioneering an entirely new category as a workplace benefit and banking reward, I am incredibly grateful to share that we serve some of the largest and most financially inclusive employers in the US, such as Fiserv, Salesforce, and American Eagle Outfitters. Further, it is a privilege to partner with and be distributed  by the largest financial services companies in the world who are also customers and investors of Candidly, including UBS and Fiserv.  As Can-doers, we have developed the only platform strategy that addresses the full lifecycle of education expense management. We’re saving users an estimated $79M and over 4,700 years of time in repayment off their student debt And we are just getting started.

Our new name – Candidly – embodies our position today as an advocate for destigmatizing debt and approaching conversations on how to manage the full lifecycle of education expenses with candor. Candidly reflects who we are as a company and how we engage with our users.  We are direct, honest, approachable, sincere, and transparent. Our new visual identity is a nod to the shapes that make up bar charts and graphs, and evokes the feelings of purpose and precision with which we approach helping users make informed decisions – simplifying the complex into simple on-platform actions.  Our trusted, intelligent, and comprehensive solutions enable Americans to build financial resilience so they can reap the rewards of their investment in education. Because candidly – education should propel people toward opportunity, not be a financial headwind that holds them back.