A sign language interpreter at Bonny Eagle Middle School got her student loans paid off Monday through an online app that is part trivia game, part popularity contest, part crowdfunding and part lottery.

“Yesterday was the best day ever!” said Krissey Taplin, 26. The principals at the school brought her class into the library and pretended to have a meeting about field day. Then the owner of Givling, Lizbeth Pratt, came out with an oversized check for $21,968.

Taplin said the 12-year-old student she works with turned to her and signed: “Miss Taplin, your student loans are paid off.”

“That was such a sweet, surreal moment for me,” Taplin said.

Taplin, who lives in North Yarmouth, is just the fourth player to have a student loan paid off through Givling, a Wyoming-based company founded in 2013. The company earns revenue through advertising and by having players buy 50 cent “coins” to play an online trivia game.

Currently, the site brings in about $700 in revenue a day, officials said. Every two days, Givling directs 15 percent of that revenue to small daily winners, 75 percent divided equally among 10 Givling players who earned a slot in the “Live Funding” queue and 10 percent for the private, for-profit company.

Once a player is in the funding queue, they are guaranteed to have their loans paid off.

There are three ways to get into that group: four spots are allocated for people chosen at “random,” but people can earn “queue entry points” that allow them to put their name in more often, skewing the odds in their favor. Three spots are for the “oldest” Givlings, people like Taplin who signed up early. Three more spots are for “top funders” or people who spend the most on “coins” when Givling announces a previous payoff.

Buying the coins for 50 cents – there is a 30-cent processing fee regardless of how many coins a player purchases – increases the chances of being selected, but people can also get two free plays a day as well.

Taplin said she got in the funding queue about 18 months ago, and the company took over her loan payments. The check she was given Monday was the remaining balance on her student loans.

The company, which paid off its first full student loan in June 2015, and has paid out a total of $528,108.52 in prize money.

Taplin, a contract worker for the school district, earns about $35,000 a year and had taken out $32,000 in student loans over six years while studying at the University of Southern Maine to get a Bachelor of Arts degree in linguistics.

Now free of all loans, she’s looking ahead.

“It is such a relief!” Taplin said. “I can now plan my future, just live life a little bit easier without that burden. Maybe I’ll start looking to buy a house, or buy a car, or get married.”

She’s also happy to prove skeptics wrong, including her father and her longtime boyfriend, who never quite believed this day would come. “They both said, ‘Yeah, that’s totally a scam.'”

Pratt, who lives in the Jonesport area for half the year, said she created Givling because she was disgusted by the student loan crisis and decided to do something about it.

She never had student loan debt herself, but did go through a bankruptcy and was shocked to learn that student loan debt cannot be forgiven through bankruptcy.

“I thought that was incredibly unfair,” said Pratt, a onetime options trader. “I declared bankruptcy – I took my mulligan the government gives us – and I got on with my life. I was able to go on and have an incredibly successful life.”

The loans themselves, she said, are “predatory.”

“They are this well-thought-out scheme to get these young, naive kids to buy into the American dream,” said Pratt, who went to Stanford University about 30 years ago.

As an options trader, “you could make money out of nothing,” she said. “I figured, how can I design an app so that the person burdened by this debt can make money out of nothing? I’m just trying to level the playing field.”

But it turned out the deal sounded too good to be true. No one would sign up for it, and she couldn’t get venture capital funding. She wound up dipping into her retirement money to get Givling going.

“I thought, this will be really easy. You put it out there and everyone will get it,” Pratt said. No one got it. “I paid $17,000 in Facebook ads just to get 43 people to sign up.”

Taplin was one of them, and her patience paid off. Once a person is in the “Live Funding” queue, Givling starts to pay off their debt using the 75 percent chunk of its revenue – up to $50,000 toward each player’s student loan, or $25,000 for a home mortgage payment.

Pratt said the company is seeing momentum, fueled in part by the fact that it has been able to pay off a handful of full loans. In 2015, Manhattan Christian College graduate Kevin Foster had $32,000 in student loan debt paid off by Givling, according to a Business Insider story in July 2015.

The company came out of early stage development, or “beta,” in December with about 80,000 players. Today it has 123,000 players and, partly because Givling offers incentives to play right after a loan payoff is announced, the entire system crashed Monday – “our best day ever,” Pratt said – after Taplin’s win was announced.

“What you see now is that we are finally getting the formula correct. Also, we now have enough social media cred to prove we are for real,” she said. “When we say the company pays off student debts and loans, people don’t believe it. That’s been our biggest hurdle to overcome.”

The program isn’t just for student loan debt either. Winners can get up to $25,000 in home mortgage paid off, give away their slot in the final queue to someone else, and soon will be able to auction off their slot on a Givling marketplace.

Noel K. Gallagher can be reached at 791-6387 or at:

[email protected]pressherald.com

Twitter: noelinmaine