"I first learned about student loans when I met my wife," says Michael Torpey, host of TruTv's "Paid Off," a trivia game show in which three contestants compete for the chance to win enough cash to eliminate their student debt. "She was hustling, and making it work, and she would've made it there eventually, but it would've taken her 20-25 years to pay off her loans."
As a working actor, Torpey was able to give his wife the gift of a lifetime: He paid off the $40,000 she had in student debt using money he had made shooting a lucrative Hanes underwear commercial.
When they made the payments, she cried.
"There was so much more tied up with these loans than just numbers," he says. "At the same time that we were feeling relieved to be done with my wife's student loans, I was also very aware of how absurd the circumstances were that got us there."
Torpey is now helping others become debt-free as the host of "Paid Off." He tells Grow he hopes the show will raise awareness about the student debt crisis, an issue affecting 45 million American borrowers who owe a collective $1.47 trillion.
The experience of paying off his wife's loans changed the way Torpey views money and, he says, made him realize how heavy, and even unfair, the burden of loans can be. Now, as a game show host, he's taking an unconventional approach to helping others.
"There's so much luck in that situation, and there's so much luck in winning a game show, and, in the end, neither of those should be what it takes to pay for an education," says Torpey.
The show isn't and can't be a solution to the student loan crisis, of course, he says. But he hopes that shining a spotlight on a handful of newly debt-free winners will start a conversation about how to help the rest of those who are limited by student loans: "We as a country need to come up with a better solution and really address this."
Here are few good ways you can tackle your own student debt:
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