New NitroScore calculator takes guesswork out of college debt

NitroScore Founder Mike Brown

If there is a gap in knowledge among parents and their college-bound kids, Nitro College managing director Mike Brown said it’s related to tuition and debt.

That’s why the Wilmington-based online resource to navigate college financing recently launched NitroScore. It’s a tool that takes data intelligence like college tuition and majors, and marries it with individual funding sources like grants and scholarships to generate a student loan picture.

“There’s a question that we wanted to answer: How much can I afford to borrow and not be unreasonably burdened by student debt?” said Brown. “We want students and families to understand how picking one college or major over another can impact their ability to pay back student loans.”

Plug in your information, and the software spits out a score: More than 600, you’re on a preferred track. Under 600: take caution and consider rethinking your plan.

Critical numbers like take-home pay after loans give hopeful students their first picture of long-term college debt.

“It pulls together all of the pieces,” said Brown. “And then you can see how it impacts your take-home pay and loans.”

The search can be refined based on student loan details like estimated loan payments and interest rates and estimated salary. Users also see the percentage of their salary that goes toward their loan and estimated remaining take-home pay.

According to The Institute for College Access and Success (ICAS), seven in 10 graduating seniors had student loans in 2015.

Their average debt was $30,100 — up 4 percent compared to the Class of 2014 among public and nonprofit colleges. Almost one-fifth (19 percent) of the Class of 2015’s debt nationally was comprised of nonfederal loans, which provide fewer consumer protections and repayment options and are typically more costly than federal loans, according ICAS.

Most U.S Colleges are required to offer a net price calculator which help users move from sticker shock to calculate the cost of that particular college after scholarships grants. But according to Brown, NitroScore is the first to combine the school sticker price with a major and loan scale.

College costs and scholarship data are derived from the National Center for Education Statistics and the salary data is compiled by PayScale. The salaries are averages based on a survey of 1.4 million college graduates.

“I think there is a huge opportunity and gap in what the true cost of college is,” said Brown. “I know there are net price calculators. There are some people how focus on FAFSA and scholarships and grants, others who focus on student loans.

“We are tackling all of those,” said Brown.

When Brown wanted to test NitroScore, he took it some friends and their college-bound son. Based on their calculations, their son would be left with $800 each month after student loans to cover adult living expenses.

Their son thought it was “awesome,” chuckled Brown, who added that the tool clarified the type of discussions the family needed to have.

Since launching the NitroScore last month, Brown said that more than 100 high schools across the US are using it, and that guidance counselors report it has enhanced their dialogue with students and parents on the college process.

“People don’t think through that issue,” said Brown. “We’re saying, ‘Know what the number is that you can afford and work from there.”

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