Borrowing

27-Year-Old Who Beat James Holzhauer at 'Jeopardy!' Using Winnings to Pay Student Loans

Alizah Salario

Emma Boettcher, the 27-year-old librarian from Chicago who defeated “Jeopardy!” champ James Holzhauer, closed out her brief but action-packed winning streak on Thursday. Her three-day total winnings came to just over $97,000.

“Being on ‘Jeopardy!’ had to end sometime, and I’m not unhappy with the way it did,” she told The New York Times. “It was just marvelous to be there.”

Boettcher defeated Holzhauer, a professional sports gambler, on the June 3 episode, ending his 32-game run.

After her dramatic win on Monday, Boettcher walked away with $46,801 and said she intends to put her earnings toward paying off her student loans, according to the Chicago Tribune. Boettcher, who majored in English at Princeton University and earned her master's degree in information science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill 2016, also plans to give back to UNC.

"I gained so much from that experience academically, and I think this would be a nice way to bring that full circle," Boettcher told the Tribune.

Boettcher's decision to pay off her loans in one fell swoop may save her years of ongoing payments and, depending on the type of loan and the amount, the additional financial burdens of high interest rates.

More than 44 million borrowers collectively owe $1.5 trillion in student loan debt in the U.S. alone. For federal student loans, the standard repayment plan expects borrowers to pay off their debt in 10 years. For many people, however, it can take twice that long. Over half of borrowers are still paying off their loans in their 40s, according to a 2016 study from Citizens Financial Group.

Holzhauer’s massive winnings fell just $58,484 short of the show’s $2.52 million record, according to The New York Times. Holzhauer says he’ll use some of the prize money to travel and to take his family to the U.S. Open, and he has already given away a significant portion of his winnings.

The Las Vegas-Clark County Library, the Las Vegas Natural History Museum, and the Ronald McDonald House in Las Vegas all confirmed to CNBC Make It that they have received contributions from Holzhauer and his wife.

Holzhauer was dubbed a “Jeopardy!” master thanks to his strategic approach and aggressive style of play. Boettcher, who told Vulture she preferred to think of her style as “whimsical” and “data driven,” was also uniquely positioned to trounce the competition, though: She wrote her master's thesis on predicting the difficulty of trivia questions using "Jeopardy!" clues.

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