Craig Antico went from collecting debt to founding a debt forgiveness nonprofit that’s been highlighted by comedian John Oliver and received $80 million in donations from Jeff Bezos’ ex-wife.
Now, the 61-year-old Fort Collins resident is trying to bring debt forgiveness to the for-profit sector.
But Antico isn’t going without big names. His company’s first, and so far only, customer was Josh Allen, star quarterback for the Buffalo Bills.
“We pursued him and when we connected with him he immediately decided to partner with us,” Antico said. “His idea was to forgive debt where he had a ‘debt of gratitude.’”
Antico and his son Erik are the founders of Fort Collins-based ForgiveCo, a firm set up to help individuals and companies buy and forgive various forms of consumer debt.
The company has raised a total of $325,000, according to SEC filings.
ForgiveCo customers pick the type of debt they want to forgive. They can decide to forgive specific kinds of debt like student loans or go off different parameters such as geography.
ForgiveCo then takes care of the logistics — purchasing the debt and letting debtors know the person or company that is opting to forgive it for them.
“It’s a very cautious, conservative industry and it’s taken a long time – even though I was in the industry for 30 years – it’s taken a long time to get started,” Antico said.
In Allen’s case, the quarterback chose to forgive $10 million worth of debt held by those in his California hometown, his Wyoming college town and in select areas with high concentrations of Bills fans.
The move didn’t cost Allen $10 million. Debt can be purchased well below face value because many debtors will never pay, or it takes significant effort to get them to pay.
Antico said ForgiveCo charged Allen $200,000. Just a quarter of that, $50,000, was spent on buying the debt that Allen subsequently forgave.
Antico expects to hire employees after securing more angel investors.
“It’s just the two of us right now, so we have to pay for marketing, public relations and the systems used to identify debt,” Antico said, adding 25 percent of a customer’s total cost is intended to be ForgiveCo’s profit.
Antico knows all about how much it costs to buy debt. Before joining the forgiveness game, he was a debt collector for over 20 years. He would buy debt for pennies on the dollar, and then chase after debtors to pay it off.
“About 11 years ago, instead of buying debt to collect on it, I decided to buy the debt and forgive,” Antico said. “I decided to do this because I can help more people.”
In 2014, Antico and Jerry Ashton founded New York-based nonprofit RIP Medical Debt, whose profile skyrocketed thanks to the actions of Oliver and the two donations totaling $80 million from MacKenzie Scott, who divorced Bezos in 2019.
Antico stepped down from his role at RIP Medical Debt in 2021 when the organization hired a professional nonprofit manager.
“Sometimes the founders have to step aside and let someone else grow it to the next level,” Antico said. “It’ll happen here (at ForgiveCo). You get to the point where you’re not the best person to build it to the next level.”
Antico said that, although he’s proud of RIP Medical Debt’s work, he felt locked in by restrictions due to the nonprofit status.
“It was very narrow, whom we could help,” he said. “You had to help a group of people that met your criteria. So you’re missing millions of people by being in a nonprofit.”
ForgiveCo, meanwhile, is a for-profit company set up as a public benefit corporation. Antico doesn’t feel he’s a competitor to RIP Medical Debt.
“We’re able to help a greater amount of people, and we’re able to spend more money on things we think are important,” Antico said.
Antico said ForgiveCo aims to help companies get a public relations benefit from forgiving debt.
“We want to get them (companies) earned media and marketing to these people they helped,” he said.