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Tuesday, April 16, 2024
The Observer

IDEA Center prepares Impact Capital Funds to begin refinancing student loans

Following Mass at St. Joseph Parish in Stuart, Florida, financial professional Craig Price asked his wife Elizabeth Abeyta-Price what she took away from the homily. The focus of the homily was the parable of talents — in which a master entrusts talents to his three servants. Two of them proceed to put their talents to work and are rewarded for it while one is punished for hiding his talent.

From the conversation over two years ago, Impact Capital Funds (ICF) — a fund to refinance student loans and provide scholarships for low-income students — was born, Abeyta-Price said.

With the help of Notre Dame’s IDEA Center, the Prices’ dream evolved into an initial fund with about $25 million already committed to it in order to refinance loans and provide scholarships to students who are at risk for potentially being burdened with debt.

“The IDEA Center has been terrific,” Abeyta-Price said. “Bryan Ritchie at the IDEA Center has been a great cheerleader, and I don’t know that we could’ve done this, actually, without him. In terms of getting some practice eyes who have been involved in startups, the IDEA Center has been critical.”

ICF has two methods that allow them to refinance student loans and fund scholarships. The first method is the Booster Portfolio Strategy. This relies on investors who are willing to lend money at lower interest rates — typically around 4% — than the average student loan rates. ICF then invests part of that money using the Booster Strategy and uses the profits from the “boost” to create scholarships. 

The other method came as a bit of a surprise to Abeyta-Price. She said she discovered many big foundations are willing to invest their money at rates lower than the average 4% rate ICF strives for. So, ICF takes the difference between the roughly 4% rate at which they refinance the loans and the foundation’s proposed rate and puts it towards creating scholarships.

“This has been unbelievably hopeful and inspiring to me,” Abeyta-Price said. “I get goosebumps. It never occurred to me that … foundations would say, ‘You’re offering us too much.’”

Making college more affordable for students is something Abeyta-Price is incredibly passionate about, she said, because she is a product of scholarships herself, having attended the University with financial assistance.

“By giving me the scholarship that they did, they changed my life,” she said. “Notre Dame has given me everything and everyone that I love most in this world, and I will spend the rest of my life paying back that debt happily.” 

A fellowship later allowed Abeyta-Price to return to Notre Dame to study developmental psychology in graduate school. She credits the lack of loans with allowing her and her husband to have more agency over their professional careers.

“Scholarships and the lack of loans has allowed our lives to be lived with choices,” she said.

Marquan Robertson, a second-year law student and member of ICF’s Board of Directors, connected deeply with ICF’s goal upon hearing the Prices’ idea. Having worked in financial aid for several years, written his senior thesis on student loans and taken out loans to help pay for college, Robertson believes the company has an opportunity to make a positive impact in an innovative way.

“The impact part of it all definitely spoke to me a lot,” he said.

After Robertson initially heard about ICF’s vision, he was wary of getting involved in refinancing loans.

“I was definitely hesitant,” he said. “Things like Sallie Mae and things like that exist, and they are predatory to an extent where they’ll charge you a 12 to 13% interest rate and you’re kind of trapped in that.”

However after multiple thorough discussions with Price, Robertson was on board.

“I sat and chatted with him maybe two or three times, and I just kind of decided that I think they’re doing a really, really good thing,” he said. “I had very, very pointed questions for Craig as he was discussing the idea for me and he convinced me.”

With the waitlist open for ICF’s first fund, the ICF Student Loan Impact Fund, chief marketing officer Alex Fishleder said he hopes this is the first of many new impactful funds from ICF. 

“I think this has a lot of legs because impact investing is very salient in the investing world and obviously student loans are not going anywhere,” he said. “I can see this working out long term.”

As the calendar nears ICF’s target date to begin refinancing loans, Fishleder stressed that what separates ICF from other refinancing organizations is its focus on making a positive impact on their borrowers.

“We want to empower our borrowers. We’re an impact investing company that’s not seeking to go public or seeking a huge valuation,” he said. “We want to have an impact on society and give people access to education.”