Treasury's Mobile App Idea Contest Winner: A Tool That Helps Student Borrowers

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What's the Next Big Thing in mobile apps? A tool that helps consumers better manage their student loans just might be it. Such an app won the final round of the U.S. Treasury Department's MyMoneyAppUp Challenge contest held earlier today.

The contest, launched by Treasury in partnership with the D2D Fund and the Center for Financial Services Innovation, solicited mobile app design ideas that aimed at helping Americans gain better control of their finances. Of the more than 115 ideas submitted earlier this summer, eight finalists presented their concepts today to a team of judges, which included representatives from Google, Facebook and Harvard, in two-minute pitches. As one presenter put it: "This is like Project Runway." In total, $25,000 was awarded to the winners. The Ford Foundation, Omidyar Network, and the Citi Foundation supported the contest.

The first prize went to Centz. This app, envisioned by Nicole Kendrot, would make it simple and easy for student borrowers to manage their loans. To that end, the app hubs all student loan details together and syncs a payoff plan to a user's budget, among other features.

To drive engagement, Centz would reward its users for doing certain activities, such as completing loan-related quizzes and paying bills on time. In turn, users can cash in Centz — literally. Each Centz is worth one cent. Kendrot's vision for Centz includes partnering with financial institutions to offer the app's users targeted products and services. In an outline submitted to the contest earlier, Kendrot elaborated on that point. She wrote: "These offers will help them reduce their debt faster, save money in other areas and more easily manage their loans. Only offers that are in the best interest of the user will be chosen. Centz will NOT provide credit card offers to users."

When a judge asked her how she would avoid deteriorating user's trust with product pushing, Kendrot said she had two thoughts: One, users could unsubscribe from offers. Two, users could initially choose which offers they want to receive.

The contest's overall aim was to drive and foster fintech innovation through mobile tools.

"As we work to improve our nation's financial capability, we must look to how technology is changing personal finance," said Treasury Deputy Secretary Neal Wolin at the event. "App designs like the ones we saw today have real potential to be game changers in our efforts toward greater financial understanding and access."

Controlling impulse spending and making savings fun with gamification components s were two major themes from the eight finalists' pitches. In fact, even some of the ideas' names were fun, i.e. "Buying Happiness" and "Crazy Spending."

Beyond Centz, MyMoneyAppUp winners include:

•First Runner Up — My Next Car! Think of this idea from Richard Trask as a budgeting tool exclusive to car purchases. The idea is to help people save more toward their next automobile purchase to avoid high car loan interest rates. There's a gamification element, too, as users would receive badges for achieving certain milestones.

•Second runner up MOOLA — This app idea is geared at low-income households. The vision is to combine PFM elements with recommending related social services, public benefits and financial products to users. Pamela Chan and Eric Tyler designed the idea.

•First honorable mention — Crazy Money. This one caught my eye the most. The idea of Crazy Money, presented by Nancy Anderson, is to create a PFM tool specifically for those categories in which a consumer typically overspends, like shoes. The app would track a person's "crazy" spending area, and if the users are doing well with their finances, they'd receive offers from related retailers. In other words, a user can only access a coupon if he is staying within the budget limit. Why I like the idea? Most people know how much they spend on their utilities and rent. That's not always true of their miscellaneous discretionary category.

•Second honorable mention — Know It ALL! This app idea, presented by Robert Scott, is aimed at helping consumers know what the full price of something is before they swipe their credit card. To do that, a consumer would enter in his various credit card details into the app, including credit card interest rate and typical monthly payment, and scan items he was considering buying.

With MyMoneyAppUp ending, the competitors are now invited to enter next week's FinCapDev Competition, also sponsored by D2D and CFSI. This contest helps turn the ideas into fully functional apps.

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