Steve spoke with Charlie Javice. She is the 26-year-old founder of fin-tech startup, Frank. She’s also on Forbes’ “30 under 30” list. She created the company to help students as they apply for financial aid. Her goal? To completely transform the application process, making it easier to complete and easier for students to find the funding they need to go to the school of their choice.
Why Get Involved In Financial Aid?
Charlie explained that she started the fin-tech company as a direct result of her grandparents, who survived the Holocaust. The lesson they left her with is that education is vital. You can take it with you for the rest of your life. There is a definite need for many kids to apply for financial aid in order to get a higher education, and the process can be a nightmare.
Sometimes the biggest issue is, “Where do I start?” This is how Frank came to be. It helps students learn the resources available to them while making the entire process a lot less complicated and daunting. Many students find the process so archaic and overwhelming that they don’t even bother to apply. Frank fills an important void in the realm of financial aid and applying for it.
The second major hurdle, aside from where to start, is “How do I even pay for college?” Most schools have a hefty price tag. Financial aid can be the difference maker that helps a student earn a degree and secure a good-paying job and strong future prospects.
The FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) that must be filled out if you’re planning to file for financial aid is addressed to the student. However, it has 108 questions, most of which are well beyond anything that a teen is capable of filling out on their own. It requires a parent or guardian’s help, especially because it involves the parents’ financial information, tax returns, income, etc. And with complicated family structures (divorced parents, grandparents/aunts and uncles acting as guardians) the financial situation can become even more complicated. The information on the tax returns has to match exactly what is put on the FAFSA.
The FAFSA also incorporates the student’s finances and their area of interest, what they want to study. A key part of getting suitable financial aid options is centered around how much a student’s family makes and what area the student is planning to get their degree in.
On top of all this, there is an entire section devoted entirely to the schools that you’d like to apply to. Most of the time there are financial aid options/scholarships offered by the school itself that a student might be entirely unaware of.
The Decline In College Enrollment
College enrollment has been steadily declining for several years now. This could actually work in a student’s favor. It gives them a little more leverage to negotiate their financial aid opportunities because fewer kids are applying to universities and colleges. This is the best time to start negotiating. Schools are fighting over the students that are out there. The power is in the students’ hands. Make sure you ask for more money or at least make a counteroffer when the school first offers you a financial aid package. It’s a little-known fact that 20% of most schools’ financial aid budgets goes to negotiators.
Cost is one reason for the declining enrollment numbers. The students that fell into the lowest income brackets—and who would most likely be working part or full time while in enrolled in college—were only applying to one or two schools because of the cost.
The point is this: Cost is important, but financial aid packages vary from school to school. Apply to a bunch of schools. Don’t let cost be the main focus. You can negotiate for a better financial aid package. Students need to understand that Frank can help them get the best aid packages at the best schools and that they can ask for an even better package than what might initially be offered.
From Startup To Billion-Dollar Fin-tech Business
Frank was once a startup but today is a billion-dollar business and has already helped more than 500,000 students get the best financial aid packages at some of the best schools in the country. In total, they’ve helped students secure between $10 and $15 billion in financial aid. As of 2019, Frank is about halfway through its second financial-aid season and is seeing a number of returning families using the site.
Frank kept its startup pretty well-balanced, with a mix of venture capital, family offices, and entrepreneurs who decided to invest in the company. With this triple threat of capital, Frank has been able to offer students the very best services and get them the very best results. Frank earns money through its counseling sessions with students and also from the colleges that it connects students with. They typically pay Frank a fee for connecting them with the students.
One aspect that sets Frank apart is its newly-launched subscription service. A few thousand of Frank’s students get the benefit of getting their financial aid earlier than they can anywhere else. This early funding can help pay for rent, books, and any of the many expenses students face at the beginning of their college years.
To learn more about Frank or to get set up for financial aid services, check out https://withfrank.org/. To learn more about Charlie Javice, check out her Forbes profile at https://www.forbes.com/profile/charlie-javice/#4e77c3a29619.
Disclosure: The opinions expressed are those of the interviewee and not necessarily United Capital. Interviewee is not a representative of United Capital. Investing involves risk and investors should carefully consider their own investment objectives and never rely on any single chart, graph or marketing piece to make decisions. Content provided is intended for informational purposes only, is not a recommendation to buy or sell any securities, and should not be considered tax, legal, investment advice. Please contact your tax, legal, financial professional with questions about your specific needs and circumstances. The information contained herein was obtained from sources believed to be reliable, however their accuracy and completeness cannot be guaranteed. All data are driven from publicly available information and has not been independently verified by United Capital.
Steve Pomeranz: I was introduced to a video of a young lady you’re about to meet and was immediately impressed. With further research, I discovered that she has accomplished quite a lot in a relatively short period of time.
In addition to being named in Forbes 30 Under 30 list, she’s the 26-year-old founder of Frank, a New York fin-tech startup that seeks to completely overhaul the experience of applying for financial aid. Let’s meet Charlie Javice and find out how she’s changing things for the better. Welcome to the show, Charlie.
Charlie Javice: Thank you so much, Steve, for having me.
Steve Pomeranz: Of all the areas someone with your talent and drive could have chosen, why did you choose to focus on the area of education?
Charlie Javice: That is a really great question, probably goes back to my grandparents. So having grandparents who escaped the Holocaust, the one thing they’ve always taught me is that education is the one thing you can take with you. And with that, it’s also the biggest and greatest gift you could give to someone, to pay it forward. And so education has always been near and dear to me and to my family, and it’s something where I feel lucky to have the privilege to work on such a topic such as education and employment and finances of a family that really are the core need of everybody today. So it’s been a really amazing experience.
Steve Pomeranz: So the idea here is that you saw this need, this kind of nightmare scenario of trying to fill out the financial aid forms, and we’ll talk about that in a minute. And it’s an area of governmental forms that haven’t been updated to the digital age, so you thought you could do something about it. What are the biggest challenges for those who are facing, those who are entering college and seeking financial help? What are the obstructions? What challenges are they seeing?
Charlie Javice: Yeah. I think the greatest question is, “Where do I start?” And that’s really how Frank came to be. It’s, “How do I pay for college? What are the resources that are out there? And you know, I’ve had this dream of going to school, my parents told me I should go to school. What happens next?”
And so that’s really the starting point. It’s general education and awareness. And so I kind of equate this to health care, maybe 50, 60 years ago. Where, you know, doctors were the only one with the information, there was no information out there, and so you really had no idea where and who to turn to. And so in our scenario when it comes to how to pay for college, people now have Frank, where before it was, you know, college advisors, potentially parents or siblings that have gone through it before, but there really was no source of information to even think about, “How do I go about this huge investment without all the information needed?”
So that was the first thing. The second thing, when it comes to, “How do I pay for college?” is just the price tag. Schools show a very hefty price tag, you know, twenty thousand, thirty thousand, forty thousand dollars a year. But in effect, when you look at the net cost, most people only pay 60% of that price tag. So the second thing is many people don’t even apply because they think it’s too expensive.
Steve Pomeranz: You know.
Charlie Javice: When, you know, most of the time, schools discount the rate based on your income level. And the third thing that was really just so confusing when you go about this is the paperwork. So you look at FAFSA, it’s a government form, you look at your student loans and your promissory notes you’re signing, it’s a government form, it hasn’t been thought, and really, you know, looking at things on the web or even mobile, this thing was put online in 1992. The website hasn’t changed much. It’s glitchy, security concerns.
Steve Pomeranz: Yeah.
Charlie Javice: It’s a really scary process. And so that really hurts as well.
Steve Pomeranz: You mentioned FAFSA. F-A-F-S-A. Having trouble saying it, it’s a tongue twister. What does that stand for and why is that so, why is that key to this whole thing?
Charlie Javice: Yes. So it’s a free application for federal student aid. And so when you think about how to pay for school, there’s one form called the FAFSA that you must fill out. This one form is the one that will unlock all of the money you can get, both from Federal government, a lot of the time from your state, and a lot of the time from your school. And so this form includes three parts.
The first is basic information about you and your family. The second is around all of your finances, so your tax forms and banking information, and a third is around your academic interest of where you’re sending the form to, what schools you’re applying for, and so on. And so that makes up the FAFSA. It’s the starting point that you need to go through to be able to access money and unlock it from all of the right sources that can give you up to, typically, $28,000 to $30,000 a year in government aid.
Steve Pomeranz: The question of filling it out, I mean, I think there’s about 108 questions and it’s written to the student, for the student to fill out, but it’s really beyond the ability or knowledge set of most, let’s say, children coming out of high school and so on, to understand, you know, what is a net income, what is the balance sheet, what assets are considered to be exempt and non-exempt.
So take us through that a little bit. And how difficult it is. As a matter of fact, there’s this statistic that 25% of applications don’t get finished, which leaves a lot of money on the table that people are missing because maybe they get just too frustrated with trying to fill this form out.
Charlie Javice: Definitely. So when you look at the FAFSA, there’s a few complicated parts. The first is that you’re filling out a form, as you said, 108 questions, that is very, very complicated and don’t necessarily apply to you. For example, you cannot have had veteran’s benefits and served in the armed forces if you don’t have a GED or high school equivalent, yet they ask everyone all of the questions around veterans and army affairs. So the form isn’t personalized and tailored to you, which trips many, many people up.
The second thing and a tip to watch out for is around the finances. So when you look at your tax returns, you have to include kind of the federal tax returns, you have the first two pages in front of you. That being said, you also need, if you’re under the age of 24, your parents’ tax returns.
Steve Pomeranz: Yeah.
Charlie Javice: And that’s really what’s going to make the impact. So being able to have your parents prepare, coordinate with them, as well as your own, that is, you know, a huge issue. At least for me and my family, it was a big one, my parents are divorced, they don’t want to share information between each other.
Steve Pomeranz: Yeah.
Charlie Javice: And they didn’t even want to share the information with me, the student.
Steve Pomeranz: Right.
Charlie Javice: So just imagine trying to fill that out with more complicated family structures. The third thing is-
Steve Pomeranz: Well, hang on right there, one second.
Charlie Javice: Yeah.
Steve Pomeranz: Let me take that a little further.
Charlie Javice: Yeah.
Steve Pomeranz: So, families have changed. Not just through divorce, but you can have families where the grandparents are legal guardians, you can have aunts or uncles or older siblings that are being claimed, you’re being claimed on their taxes.
Charlie Javice: Yes.
Steve Pomeranz: Whether, even in a divorce case, if the parents have equal custody, you have kind of decide, well, which parent’s tax returns should I really be using here to get maximum benefits?
Charlie Javice: Oh, yeah.
Steve Pomeranz: So take us through that just a little bit.
Charlie Javice: Well, you said it well. So I guess the bigger ones are what would be called your tax returns and the number of dependents you claim needs to be the same as what you report as your family size on your FAFSA or you will be flagged for what’s called verification and the government is going to perform a financial colonoscopy on you.
Steve Pomeranz: Oh. Great.
Charlie Javice: So that is the most complicated part. So when you file for taxes, make sure that the information on your tax returns or your parents’ tax returns matches what you’re going to put on your FAFSA. For example, if your parents claim two dependents, and you have two parents, then it means that you have a family size, including yourself, of four people. You need to include yourself on FAFSA or else that’s a huge issue. So that is the really, really big one.
The other thing, when you’re looking at guardians like grandparents, be sure that the grandparents are claiming you on their taxes at least a year before, when you’re looking at, you know, potential, you’re pregnant, all of these kinds of things, the most important part and best message for me to give to you is make sure tax information matches on the FAFSA, answer the questions consistently.
Steve Pomeranz: Yeah.
Charlie Javice: That’s the most important part.
Steve Pomeranz: Sounds pretty complicated. You know, college enrollment is declining, and this seems to be that this would put more leverage in the hands of students. I guess, you know, is it possible now that students could negotiate their financial aid? How much leverage do they have today?
Charlie Javice: Yes. So now is the best time to negotiate your aid. As you mentioned, declining enrollment means that schools are fighting for you. So you are able to extract the most amount of value because they really want you. So there’s a few steps to be able to appeal your aid or negotiate your aid. Most schools, people don’t know this, but 20% of their financial aid budget goes to aid negotiations. So don’t be the idiot who doesn’t ask for more money because you probably deserve it and you should be able to negotiate and there’s definitely room for it.
Steve Pomeranz: Incredible. You’ve stated that under-matching or mismatching colleges is a real problem, and this is where school choices are driven by what students think these schools cost, and that’s a real problem. Why is that such a problem?
Charlie Javice: Yeah. So at Frank, we did some research to figure that out. So we have about 500,000 students who filed with us, and what we noticed was that students at the lowest income were only applying to one to two schools, whereas students with over $80,000 in household income were applying to eight to ten. So we started thinking, “What are the causes here?” The first is just campus proximity. Many people of lower income want to be able to, you know, go to school very close to home. It becomes more difficult when it’s not convenient.
The other thing that a lot of people forget is they think, you know, the least amount of work they put in the easiest, people work two jobs, but that really can hurt you in the long run because you don’t have all those financial aid awards. So those are kind of the two top reasons I would say why there’s such a huge disparity. But the thing to remember is definitely apply to eight to ten schools. You’re going to get more financial aid the more options you have, and you should think about affordability and value top of mind, versus potentially a sports team or major you’re interested in because these things can change.
Steve Pomeranz: Also this is one of the biggest decisions of your life, so you want to make it based upon the right factors and maybe school cost, as you’re saying, is really not the primary factor, especially when you know that there could be aid available to you and that it may, in fact, end up being affordable. Especially if you get accepted by numerous schools you can start the negotiation and play one school off the other, right?
Charlie Javice: Exactly. And so it’s really important that you let schools know that you got a better offer. Most schools will try to match that offer. Think about it like you’re applying for a job, you just got your first job offer, and you have three more interviews and you nailed it. You’re going to use those three other interviews and those job offers to negotiate the one you want most. And so that’s the way to look at it, the first offer is never the last offer.
Steve Pomeranz: My guest is Charlie Javice, and she is the CEO and founder of Frank, which is a fin-tech startup—it’s not a startup any more, really—that seeks to completely overhaul the experience of applying for financial aid. You mentioned that you’ve already served 500,000 individuals. How much money are we talking about?
Charlie Javice: That’s between 10 and 15 billion dollars in aid already.
Steve Pomeranz: Congratulations. And when did you start this business?
Charlie Javice: Thank you. About two years ago now.
Steve Pomeranz: Wow.
Charlie Javice: So we are halfway through our second financial aid season, which we’re very excited to see returning families this year.
Steve Pomeranz: So tell us a little bit about Frank. Did you get some venture capital to help get you started?
Charlie Javice: We did. So we wanted to make sure it was balanced. We have venture capital, we have family offices with a huge passion and mission around education, and we also have, you know, individuals and entrepreneurs who’ve been at it and who now are paying it forward and investing in us. So we’re very lucky to have a really strong support system.
Steve Pomeranz: So how does Frank make money? Where is the friction, so to speak, between the help that you’re giving and the fact that you’re a commercial organization?
Charlie Javice: Yeah. So it so happens that the students we help are exactly the students that most colleges in America would die to have enroll. And so what we’re doing specifically to help the lower income students is helping them match up with more cost effective and more affordable programs.
And so these programs are both giving students a discount because they’re coming through us, but also are a better option than the original choice a student chose. And these colleges pay to be able to connect and enroll students into their programs. So it’s totally mission-aligned, which is wonderful because it helps and is really focused to help the lowest of income. And helps also boost enrollment numbers, which, you know, minorities suffer most from when it comes to the enrollment process.
Steve Pomeranz: So are you saying that the colleges are paying Frank?
Charlie Javice: Yes. So think of it almost like the common app, where you know, we need to be able to connect the dots between students and the schools. And right now, schools want to connect with students, they just don’t have the right information to be able to do so.
Steve Pomeranz: Right. Gotcha. Now I read that you also have a subscription service. What is that about?
Charlie Javice: We do. So we’ve had a subscription service in pilot for a few thousand members today and that really helps with the whole financial aid process. So not only do we do scholarship support, state aid support, we also provide the money for your financial aid early because a lot of schools take up to 10 to 12 weeks to disburse funds. And we thought that that was just not fair, students need to pay for rent, students need to pay for books, you need to eat. And if you don’t have your financial aid, you’re gonna drop out.
Steve Pomeranz: Right.
Charlie Javice: And so we found a way to provide it interest-free and no-fee, so that people can get their aid early because we know they’re good for it, and the government is sending them the money.
Steve Pomeranz: Do you help with negotiating as well?
Charlie Javice: We do. So that’s also part of our package, or you can decide to do an aid negotiation on its own.
Steve Pomeranz: Very good. Well, I think we got a good sense of the company. If people are interested, how do they find out more about Frank?
Charlie Javice: Yeah, so you can go to our website, it’s withfrank.org, W-I-T-H, Frank, F-R-A-N-K, dot org, O-R-G. And so that’s how you could find us. We’re reachable by phone, email, text message, however you want help, we got you.
Steve Pomeranz: My guest Charlie Javice, Founder and CEO of Frank, as you’ve heard, this fin-tech startup which is overhauling the whole process of enrolling in school. To hear this and any interview again and if you have a question about what we’ve just discussed or you need any of the websites or information that we provided on this segment, go to stevepomeranz.com to join the conversation.
And while you’re there, sign up for our weekly update where in your inbox every single week we’ll send you the show and every link and every segment right into your inbox, as I said, every single week. That’s stevepomeranz.com. Charlie, thank you so much for joining me.
Charlie Javice: Thank you so much, Steve.