“If I can change a household mindset, I can impact future generations”- Sonia Lewis
Author and Speaker Sonia Lewis, is the CEO of an award-winning business, The Student Loan Doctor LLC. whose main purpose is to help clients understand how to pay off student loan debt and create a plan for repayment. With over 8 years of experience in practical higher education and financial aid, Sonia created The Student Loan Doctor, LLC to help a generation of borrowers become free of debt to promote social mobility and wealth building.
Her business has received a citation by the City of Philadelphia because of the business’s impact within the Philadelphia community. Sonia is an expert speaker across all audiences regardless of age. She has been invited to share her expertise at different platforms such as: The White House Briefing on Advancing Equity for Women and Girls of Color, Temple University, Harcum College, Montgomery County Community College, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc., Philadelphia College Prep Roundtable, contributor to Essence Magazine, The BET Network and a host of educational workshops across the nation. Sonia is also a 3-time self-published author.
Who is the Student Loan Doctor, and what was your motivation for starting this brand?
The Student Loan Doctor was birthed out of my own journey and fight with student loan debt. I am from Philadelphia, PA which is where the business is located, and this is the best accidental business that I could have created. It got started with me helping people for free after church, and I was able to use my professional and academic background to provide assistance to church members, and turn this into a six figure business in just a few years.
At times, we know we want to make a difference, but are unsure of how we will do that. How did you discover your purpose?
It was by me telling my friends at church “I can show you how to do that” or “I can help you with that”, so it was effortless for me to give someone a prescription of what they needed to do with their loans. Afterwards, so many people began to come my way and ask me for help, that I had to create a business model because, I was no longer able to service so many people casually. I implemented a scheduling system in order to service more people in need. So, it was really birthed out of what I needed most and what I would have loved to have discovered, to in turn be able to create that for others.
So, you found the gaps in your community and that is how you birthed the Student Loan Doctor?
It was really more the gaps I found as a result going through my own financial journey. I took a personal finance course but they did not provide much information regarding what you should do if you are burdened with student loan debt, so I had to figure that piece out for myself. Once I was able to get a grasp on the content, I started to share with others in the course, and they began to share me with their friends and family. The business grew from there.
What were the main challenges you faced?
The biggest challenge I had was the impostor syndrome. I did not have financial challenges. I used my 9 to 5 to fund this business and grew it by reinvesting the profit. When it comes to challenges, I had to own the idea that I built a platform as the Student Loan Doctor. Confirmation for me was when I was invited to be a part of a conversation at the White House through the Obama Administration. Being in that room confirmed that I had a purpose, and a niche that was viable, particularly to African American women. The conversation was about issues and hot topics that affect African American women and girls, and I found myself in a selective room of fifty, finding it hard to go back to my 9 to 5 the next day after being in the White House talking about my purpose and debt, if that makes sense. I had to decide what I was going to do next. It is not a challenge for me now because this is what my team and I do every day. But, in the beginning, it was the confidence that I had to build in myself that was the issue and I needed to be able to say to the world this is a problem that I am excited about championing.
Name a few of your accomplishments, and tell us which one you are most proud of.
Life has really changed for me this year; 2016 was great because I discovered my purpose. 2017 was good momentum because I left my job and hired a small team of people. But, 2018 God really blew us up! I am going to say God because things that happened do not usually happen in business. Our business has tripled because of social media. We were exposed and highlighted twice on the Shade Room, featured on BET (Black Entertainment Television), and invited to local radio stations. People embraced us all over the country even though our marketing and promotion has been free, which has been crucial to our success, because we are still a small business. Again, we do not accept capital funding for the business because I want to operate the way I want to, and serve my clients without bias. To see the successes we’ve had so far, this year has been nothing short of God’s plan. I am grateful for what this business has done for me. It takes for you to really get into your purpose for you to say now I know in what capacity I am supposed to serve. We have a responsibility as change makers, business owners, and influencers to impact lives and make change. It is not all about money, I am grateful for kind words, DMs, and messages. When you understand what God’s purpose is over your life, you are unable to operate at mediocre. For that, I am glad that I know a piece of my purpose so that I can operate daily in excellence, and have a clear plan for myself. For me, I am helping the nation with this business. But, it is also helping me because I felt like although I was number one at every job I worked at, I knew it was not my purpose.
What was your motivation for writing a children’s book?
I was inspired by volunteer work with 3rd and 4th graders because they are young enough to still have innocence but old enough to understand finances. My goal was to encourage children to apply for scholarships. So, I wrote “Who is Sallie”, and tested it amongst that age group, and it worked! I asked “What is the book saying to you? What do you think we should do?” and they responded by saying “ I have to get good grades in school, I have to get a scholarship, I can’t take out a loan”, which was the reaction I wanted to evoke, because now the child can take that conversation back to mom, and it opens up conversation for the parents to discuss why it is important to do well in school. It really opens the door for conversations that I want in particular within the African American community. I come from a generation of college graduates, but we never talk about money. It was something you were expected to learn and know how to do, and I would love to disrupt that pattern, because, if we make our children aware of good financial decisions, or empower ourselves to learn about them so we could teach our children, we will be a lot better off.
What are your favorite books, podcasts, and resources?
1) “The Student Loan Doctor”, podcast on iTunes and free webinars
2) Dave Ramsey
3) Tiffany the Budgetnista
4) “The Wakeup Call: Financial Inspiration learned from Jay Z’s 4:44 album” by Ash Cash
5) Patrice Washington: America’s Money Maven (Featured on the Steve Harvey show)
No matter where you are in the realm of financial learning, do not feel bad about it. Feel bad if you do not learn about it. It is okay if you don’t know but, now that you do know, you have to make some changes. I have noticed that in our community, we don’t talk about money enough, and if we knew better, we will do better. So, I want to be a part of that resource list of knowing better.
What advice would you give to individuals considering taking out student loans?
“Borrowing determination should equal career compensation”. If we lead with that rule of thumb, we should be okay. If we have to borrow student loans, and your degree is estimated to earn $50,000, I do not think it is okay to borrow $70,000. It is a bad return on investment. We have to be mindful when we are picking our majors, that we are not putting ourselves at a disadvantage. What does the marketplace say we need? The marketplace will tell you what needs to be done or acquired in terms of a degree to be successful in a certain discipline.
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