NORTH YARMOUTH — Krissey Taplin had no idea the June 12 assembly at Bonny Eagle Middle School in Buxton would change her life.
The American Sign Language interpreter figured the gathering was about an upcoming field trip. Then one of the students for whom the young woman interprets approached her and signed, “Miss Taplin, your student loans have been paid off.”
Taplin then noticed Lizbeth Pratt, founder of the Givling online game, which is geared toward helping people pay off student loans and mortgages. Taplin, an avid player who recognized Pratt from Givling advertisements, knew the event was going to have much greater meaning for her.
“I was just astounded,” Taplin recalled in an interview at her North Yarmouth home June 14. “It was so surreal; I didn’t know what to do.”
Pratt delivered a check for the exact balance on Taplin’s loan: $21,968.
Taplin started working at Bonny Eagle a year and a half ago, about the time she first started playing Givling.
“It’s like a crowd-funded game,” she explained, noting that people with student loans and mortgages are encouraged to become involved, with an eye toward the money accumulated through player participation ultimately paying off those debts.
To play a trivia game, one can either pay 50 cents for a round, or watch an advertisement, Taplin said. Players compete in teams of three to win a monetary prize of the day.
“I’ve won twice, but I always put the money right back in the queue,” Taplin said, adding that she knew funds from that queue would go toward her loan.
She also had to take a photo of herself with a sign showing how much she owed – in her case, it was the full $21,968 she ended up receiving – and share that image on Givling’s Facebook page, trying to get as many people as possible to like and share it. Of more than 40 people to do that, Taplin said she received the 10th highest amount and responses.
She participated amid some kind-hearted skepticism.
“My dad and my boyfriend were like, ‘that’s a total scam,'” Taplin said. “I’m like, ‘I don’t know; I have a gut feeling about this,’ so I just did it anyway.”
Taplin was among about a dozen or more people in a live-funding queue. She said she received $1,500 monthly by playing, which could vary in amount depending on how many other people were participating, and if they got funding.
“That $1,500, they would just call up my student loan, and pay it themselves,” Taplin said of Givling. “I never got to touch the money; that’s their job. Which is fine with me; they’re paying off my student loans.”
She noted that Givling never had access to her bank account information, but only her student loan account number, “and it’s not like they steal money from that,” she said.
With only about $8,000 left to pay after about a year and a half, Givling opted to complete the rest immediately and present Taplin with the check.
“They gathered up that $8,000 from all the ads, and then surprised me,” she said.
Since graduating from the University of Southern Maine in 2013 with a bachelor’s degree in linguistics, Taplin had paid off about $10,000 in loans before playing the Givling app. Facing 8 percent in interest, she figured she was in the red for years to come, noting that student debt in the U.S. is a staggering $3 trillion.
“So what Givling is doing is amazing,” Taplin said.
Hers is the fourth loan the organization has so far paid off. As word of the game spread, more people have become involved – about 122,000, she said.
“The second you sign up you get a number, and that’s your queue spot,” Taplin explained.
One might see the young woman’s fortune as a bit of karma, for the work she has done enriching the education of deaf students.
Taplin said she was inspired to get into the sign language field through a classmate and fellow softball player at Greely High School who was deaf. “I picked (sign language) up from her … really quickly, so I just stuck with it,” she said. “I love everything about it.”
Givling, a for-profit corporation, gives away 90 percent of funds raised, and keeps the rest, as stated at givling.com.
Asked her response to those who say Givling is too good to be true, Pratt noted June 15 that the telephone and airplane, too, were once seen that way.
“I’m confident enough that I have invested my retirement savings into Givling,” said Pratt, who spends half the year in Jonesport, and the rest in France and Montana. “I believe that when we get through this first Queue, we will take off.
“With Krissey’s loan payoff, our servers crashed for two days – each loan we fund brings in more active users,” she added. “Krissey told me that all her friends, that she tried to get to sign up over a year ago, finally signed up for an account after we paid off her loan – even though she told them we had been making her monthly payments for over a year, they still didn’t believe her.”
In creating Givling, Pratt said, “I saw a huge problem. I like challenges. And I’m stubborn enough to believe that I could create a platform that could solve a lot of misery in a positive way.”
Krissey Taplin of North Yarmouth, a teacher at Bonny Eagle Middle School, was presented June 12 with a check that wipes clean her student loans. And all she had to do was regularly play an online trivia game.