General Student-Related FAQs

Am I eligible for a loan?

To be eligible for a loan from Zomia, the following requirements must be met:

  • You are a citizen of Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, or the Philippines;
  • You have been accepted or are enrolled in an advanced degree (bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral) program in an ASEAN member nation, India, or Hong Kong (exceptions made for graduates of the Pre-Collegiate Program in Yangon);
  • You have a passport (if studying abroad) or government-issued id (if studying in your home country);
  • You have faced barriers to higher education access (financial or otherwise);
  • The amount you need to borrow for one year is more than US $500 and less than $6,000; and
  • The requested funding will be used to cover current or future educational expenses (including living expenses while enrolled full-time).

How does lending work on zomia.org?

Visitors to zomia.org register as lenders and fund student loans using a credit card or PayPal account. Over the course of a student’s education, lenders and borrowers can interact virtually through updates and messages to each other. After graduation, a borrower’s financial situation is assessed; if appropriate, Zomia begins collecting income-based repayments, which are then distributed to lenders proportionally via their lending accounts. Lenders can then withdraw their funds or re-use them to support other students.

Why loans and not scholarships?

Zomia strives to build a sustainable and scalable finance model for higher education. Providing loans instead of scholarships allows us to reach more students in need. When students repay the cost of their education, other students who lack access to formal financing options can then pursue a degree.

Does loan funding on zomia.org go directly to students?

It depends, although often it does not. In some cases, Zomia transfers money to a student before lender support is secured online. In effect, Zomia owns such loans until an external lender funds a portion of the loan, at which point a proportional share of the loan and future repayments is transferred to the lender. Lenders who provide funds in this scenario reimburse Zomia for pre-funding the loans in a process we call “backfilling.”

In other cases, if a loan has not been fully disbursed, Zomia must secure additional lender contributions to meet a student’s total funding need. Loan funding secured on the website is effectively passed along to the student when the next advance is made. (Loans are typically disbursed twice per academic year.)

Funds provided by lenders to support student loans cannot be used to cover Zomia’s operational costs.

How can I use my Zomia loan advances?

You can use the funding lenders provide to pay for current and future school-related expenses. Such expenses include but are not limited to: tuition, books, registration and thesis fees, school uniforms, passport and visa extensions, rent, meals, fuel, public transportation, and tutoring.

Advances may not be used on the following: motorbike or automobile purchases, paying off other debts, business expenses, supporting family members or friends, and paying overdue school fees.

How is my loan amount determined?

Students complete a financial need assessment in the application to weigh the costs of tuition and living expenses against income, scholarships, and other funding. Using this information, Zomia works to balance a student’s funding need with a commitment to keep the student’s debt at a reasonable level. A loan amount is proposed to the student and discussed before an agreement is drafted. Loan amounts are established for a single academic year, with financial need re-assessed before each renewal.

Loan amounts are established for a single academic year, with financial need re-assessed before each renewal. Loan amounts are often lower than student requests. This is usually due to concern of the student borrowing more money than they can feasibly repay.

Do Zomia loans incur interest?

Technically, no. Zomia does not charge traditional interest on its loans. Instead, repayments are made as a percentage of a graduate’s income over a finite period of time. Students may repay more than they borrow, however, since repayments are collected until the contract term ends or a repayment “cap” is reached.

Repayments are capped to ensure that no student is unfairly gouged; excess payments never exceed the equivalent of 3.5% annual interest. Neither Zomia nor its lenders earn financial returns. Any excess funds generated via repayment of an individual loan enter Zomia’s Peer Support Fund, which is used to fund or offset losses incurred via other student loans.

So, I might end up repaying more than I accept in loans?

That’s right. You may end up repaying more than 100% of the original loan value, but we cap potential overpayments so no student repays an unreasonable amount. The MAP exists to protect students who repay the full value of their loans well in advance of the contract’s end. We also extend “rapid repayment waivers” to those able to pay off their loans very quickly. If you repay your loan within three years after graduation, you pay nothing extra.

But might I also end up repaying less than I accept in loans?

Yes. In exchange for our help financing your education, Zomia collects income-based repayments for a preset contract term. This period ranges from 10 to 20 years depending upon the value of your loan; higher loan values require longer repayment terms. If the contact term elapses and your loan has not been repaid in full, we still consider your contract fulfilled. You will forfeit certain incentives, however, if you fail to repay 100% of your loan.

What happens if my earnings are too low to repay my loan in full?

Zomia does not seek repayment from students after their loan contracts end. If a student borrows more than they can repay over the duration of the contract, then Zomia and Zomia lenders will absorb the student’s outstanding debt. This absolves the student of any further repayment responsibility. Students who cannot pay their loans in full, however, do not receive a number of incentives and rewards offered to Zomia students who fully repaid their loans.

Where does my money go if I have to overpay?

Any repayments over the amount borrowed are deposited in a separate fund we call the “Peer Support Fund.” This fund is used to fund or offset any losses incurred via other student loans. Neither Zomia nor lenders earn financial returns from student loans.

How long can I expect to repay?

It depends on how much you borrow, but ranges from 10 to 20 years. Notable in our model is the use of the Maximum Amount Paid (MAP) schedule. If the amount you repay in a given year reaches one of the MAP levels outlined in your contract, your repayments will stop immediately and your contract will be fulfilled. This means that if your contract is 10 years long but you finish repaying your loan in three years, we will not require you to continue making repayments until the 10th year.

What if my income is highly variable?

Zomia works with each of its students to determine an appropriate repayment schedule. For graduates with steady incomes, this is a relatively straightforward task. Yet for the self-employed or those working in jobs with highly variable income, it can be challenging. Beginning six months after graduation, we assess average monthly income and work to establish a repayment plan. We do our best to achieve repayments that are 15% of income, yet because there are no direct penalties imposed for underpayment, borrowers are not hurt if variable incomes lead to underpayment on occasion. If our estimates prove to be inaccurate, a borrower can request a repayment schedule adjustment at any time. Such requests trigger a reassessment of income and, if appropriate, adjustments to the repayment plan.

What happens if my income changes substantially?

Because repayment amounts are linked to income, Zomia takes various steps to assess and monitor a borrower’s income. In the event of a job loss or dramatic change of income, a deferment can be requested to postpone repayments. Deferments for disability, job loss, or dramatic life changes such as having children are possible—but they do not postpone repayments indefinitely. When granted, deferments shift the repayment period forward. If a graduate is out of work for six months, for example, she can obtain a deferment but effectively extends the duration of her contract by the deferment interval.

A decrease in salary due to a change in employment does not require a deferment. Instead, the graduate must request a repayment schedule adjustment, and the scheduled repayment amounts will be reduced. Similarly, a salary increase must be reported to Zomia, with repayment amounts increasing accordingly. Remember, though: it’s in your interest to pay off your loan as quickly and completely as possible. If you never repay 100% of the loan, we won’t seize your moto (!), but you will sacrifice a number of excellent rewards.

How does Zomia support itself if it doesn’t profit from its education loans?

To date, Zomia has been sustained by team members, family, and friends. Prior to launching, we decided to focus on fulfilling our social purpose before building any revenue-generating services. As we gain momentum on the peer-to-peer aspect of our model, we will shift attention to revenue generation.

How will Zomia collect repayments if I move to another country?

Zomia currently supports repayments in Myanmar, Thailand, and Cambodia, and will soon support repayment in other mainland ASEAN nations. If you move to a country outside that region, we will allow you to suggest a payment channel that works for you.

What is the MAP?

The MAP, which stands for “Maximum Amount Paid,” is the maximum amount students can repay in a given year of their contract. This is laid out clearly in the MAP schedule, which is included in every loan agreement.

If a student’s total repayments reach 100% of the original loan value within three years of graduation, the contract is fulfilled and payments cease. Beginning in year #4, the required total repayment increases each year by 5% of the original loan amount, up to a maximum of 35% in year #10 (equivalent to 3.5% annual interest).

Zomia established the MAP to increase the sustainability of its lending model while also ensuring that no students repay an unreasonable amount.

What happens if a payment is missed?

If for whatever reason an individual monthly payment is more than two weeks late or missed entirely, a late fee of 10% is assessed. Missing a payment also eliminates the possibility of earning certain incentives such as the Zomia overpayment match; such benefits are forfeited until you catch up on your payments. It is in your interest to repay consistently over time, and if you’ll have trouble making a payment, let us know in advance so we can consider adjusting your payment schedule.

What if I do not fulfill the obligations of my loan agreement?

Zomia sends notices over text, phone, e-mail, and social media to students whose payment is late. If a student misses three consecutive payments and has ignored Zomia’s efforts to communicate, the student’s loan will fall into default. In default, Zomia reserves the right to:

  • Notify a student’s family, employers, and other relevant institutions of default;
  • Publish the default in the Zomia Default List;
  • Update the student’s CRR (credit and responsibility rating) to reflect the default;
  • Add the student’s name and loan information to a national registry of borrowers in default and send information to a debt collections agency (a student’s presence on this list may impact future borrowing opportunities from banks and microfinance institutions); and/or
  • Prohibit the student from future borrowing through Zomia.

About Completing Your Loan Application

Am I eligible for a loan?

To be eligible for a loan from Zomia, the following requirements must be met:

  • You are a citizen of Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, or the Philippines;
  • You have been accepted or are enrolled in an advanced degree (bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral) program in an ASEAN member nation, India, or Hong Kong (exceptions made for graduates of the Pre-Collegiate Program in Yangon);
  • You have a passport (if studying abroad) or government-issued id (if studying in your home country);
  • You have faced barriers to higher education access (financial or otherwise);
  • The amount you need to borrow for one year is more than US $500 and less than $6,000; and
  • The requested funding will be used to cover current or future educational expenses (including living expenses while enrolled full-time).

What if I have not yet gained entrance to a university?

You must be accepted to a university to receive a Zomia loan. Your acceptance shows us that you have completed all the necessary steps to become a college student and that the only remaining steps involve financing your education. As Zomia’s programming is geared for students and their life after school, we require some assurance that you’ve reached a point where we can help you make the most of your college experience.

I don’t have a bank account – can I still apply for a loan?

Yes. But in order to receive funds, we do require a bank account in your name. This means that at some point between applying and receiving your Zomia loan, you will need to open a personal bank account. Your university may do this for you.

What do I need to apply?

  • A personal essay describing your background and goals, suitable for sharing with prospective lenders
  • A CV or résumé highlighting work and volunteer experience, positions of leadership, awards, etc.
  • Proof of acceptance to a university in an ASEAN-member nation or Hong Kong
  • Documentation of tuition fees the university in which you will enroll
  • A copy of the photo page of your passport or national ID card
  • One “portrait” and at least one “fun photo” capturing your personality or interests
  • Copies of current university transcripts (if available)
  • (Optional but recommended) Official language test score results (TOEFL, IELTS, TESOL, etc.)
  • (Optional but recommended) References, to be registered using our recommendation request page

Is there a preferred way to submit the application?

Our online application is best for us, but you will not be disqualified for submitting a paper application. In case of particularly poor internet connectivity, contact us and we will send a Microsoft Word version of the application to be completed offline. If handwritten, please do your best to write clearly.

How should I format my CV/résumé?

We do not require any standard formatting as long as you provide details about where you worked, how long you worked there, and what you did. Don’t forget about informal work experience. Consider providing details about any community service you’ve completed, leadership activities, awards, and other non-traditional work experience. These are just as valuable for us to review as paid employment.

Why does Zomia require a photo that “captures my personality”?

We want to see your personality shine through the application as much about possible. Unfortunately, as detailed as the application is, it is only paper with words. And as common as passport photos are, they are only portraits. We want to see you in your element.

If you enjoy playing a particular sport, for example, perhaps you could submit a shot of yourself in action. If you enjoy reading on your favorite chair, then head to that chair and take a picture! If you love animals, find an animal to hug and take a picture. The possibilities are endless. Our only requirement is that it represents the true you. Get creative!

Who should I ask for a recommendation letter?

This is, unfortunately, only a question you can answer. In general, you should choose someone who knows you best. We particularly value academic and professional references.

What does Zomia look for in the applications?

There is no single type of student we aim to support. In fact, we prize diversity and look for students with unique interests and goals. That said, there are several attributes shared by Zomia students. Successful applicants are driven and engaged with whatever work they undertake. They work and study hard, have strong communication skills, and are excited to make a difference in their communities. They’re usually team players who demonstrate unselfishness in their attitudes and actions.

How can I make my application shine?

  • Be yourself! The best essays demonstrate a student’s individuality, unique interests, and passions.
  • Show existing financial support. We know this isn’t easy to secure, but students who’ve prepared for the cost of a university education stand apart from those who have not. Students partially funded via family support, personal savings, income from part-time work, or scholarships face better odds of receiving a Zomia loan.
  • Proofread your application. Nearly all of our students study at international colleges where English is a prerequisite for success. Long-term, English proficiency increases career opportunities and enables rich participation in the Zomia student community. We do not expect flawless writing but we do look for effort and attention to detail.
  • Demonstrate to us that you have the potential to succeed academically at the university level. If you’re already a university student, a transcript of your grades will tell us how you’re doing in school. If you’re entering your first year of college, standardized tests are the best indicator of your abilities to succeed at school. We will use our current students’ TOEFL, IELTS, GED, or other scores as a benchmark to evaluate your application.

I was accepted for a Zomia loan – what’s next?

Congratulations! We are excited you’re joining the Zomia family. After confirming that you will accept your loan contract, wait to hear from one of our team members on what to do next. Generally, responses take less than 48 hours. If after 48 hours you still haven’t heard from us, blame Ryker!