Consider yourself lucky if you are in your 20s or 30s with a job that pays you enough to survive and make your monthly student loan payments. According to the Federal Reserve, there are 44.2 million Americans who have $1.53 trillion in student loan debt.
Forget living the American Dream. Millennials who borrowed money to attend college are both emotionally and financially burdened by their student loan debt. This country is suffering from a trillion dollar crisis, and women are carrying more than 66% of that student loan debt on their backs.
Nearly $900 billion of the outstanding student loan debt belong to women, and Sonia Lewis, also known as The Student Loan Doctor, has dedicated her life to helping women save millions of dollars in student loan debt.
Straight out of college, Lewis was known as the self-proclaimed “Overdraft Queen.” She was knee deep in student loan and credit card debt, and she struggled with money management. Every week, she was being charged overdraft fees as if it were a normal bill. Lewis, like so many women drowning in debt, grew accustomed to being unhappy and unstable financially.
Years later, she hit rock bottom, and she decided that enough was enough. Her safety net (i.e. her grandmother) was no longer there to take care of her, and it was time for her to get out of the emotional and financial slump that was holding her back.
“I no longer had the financial support, so it was time for me to be my own support system,” she says. Sometimes it takes a life-changing event for us to realize that we have to change our own lives. So, with a résumé filled with mistakes, and an overwhelming desire to address her problem head on, Lewis learned how to be her own financial planner.
Like most people, Lewis hated dealing with her Sallie Mae loans , but she knew that in order to get on track, she needed to do the one thing that we all dread: pick up the phone and call her lender.
She could no longer live in denial. She had debt, she made mistakes, but she needed to get her life in order. So she faced her financial fears, and she went on to build her own personal student loan repayment plan.
With tons of research, practice, and years of planning, Lewis developed financial goals, a budget and she managed to pay down her debt. This exact plan has since been passed on to thousands of women, just like Lewis, who are struggling to pay their student loans.
After getting her finances and debt in order, Lewis knew that there were millions of borrowers who were not aware of their student loan options, nor did they know how to develop their own student loan repayment plan. This inspired her to help individuals at her church, as well as members of her community as she conducted private meetings at a local café.
“Student loan debt is the second highest consumer debt behind mortgages, and every year it gets higher and higher. Someone needed to educate our communities, and I decided to do it!” says Lewis.
In 2016, this passion to cultivate change in her community enabled Lewis to open the first Student Loan Repayment Company owned and operated by Black women: The Student Loan Doctor LLC.
Lewis created the company with one main goal in mind: to teach clients how to pay off their student loan debt with a plan. The team is there to help borrowers with repayment plans, loan rehabilitation, consolidation, refinancing, the home buying process, monthly budgeting, college planning, loan forgiveness, and more.
As a speaker, author, adjunct professor and soon-to-be doctoral degree recipient, Lewis and her team work with more than 500 new clients per month. On average, these women are helping their clients save an average of $300/month or $3,600/year in student loan payments. In just 2 years, the Student Loan Doctor LLC has helped thousands of borrowers, collectively, save over $4 million in student loan debt.
“Borrowing money for school influences every major decision adults make. By having too much debt, we are unable to increase our net worth by saving and investing,” says Lewis. “By being delinquent, we limit our ability to become home owners.”
There’s also a major generational wealth gap among African-Americans that she’s passionate about changing. “The average net worth of African-American women is under $5, and we have to change this,” she says. “We are not building a legacy for our families, and that has to become a focus for the Black community if we want generational wealth.”
Coming from such a low point in life, both financially and emotionally, Lewis is focused on helping clients like herself get out of debt.
“Bad credit scores and outstanding debt make women look unattractive when seeking to purchase a home. Many of our clients have a lot of debt, so it can impact their debt-to-income ratio. Or, some women are delinquent with their student loans, therefore they are unable to qualify. Borrowing for education means putting your dreams of home ownership on hold, and that shouldn’t be the case,” says Lewis.
The Student Loan Doctor LLC has made a tremendous impact by not only helping individuals get on track with their student loans, but by also helping them become financially ready to purchase a home. Strengthening her community and educating them on how to begin building wealth is one of Lewis’s truest passions.
“Our staff works, individually, with clients by helping them repair their credit, budget their money, and create a strategy to tackle their debt. How they feel at the end of our session and the progress they make is what matters most to our team,” says Lewis.
The entire staff at the Student Loan Doctor LLC is giving a tremendous amount of knowledge and resources to women looking to tackle their student loans, and most importantly, they are changing the face of the financial industry.