When You're Deep in Student Loan Debt and Need Answers Fast
Black Enterprise Magazine September/October 2018 Issue

Kicking yourself because you’ve taken on too much student loan debt? Exasperated because you can’t get answers from your loan servicer? Try contacting Student Loan Doctor L.L.C., a Philadelphia-based service that works with clients all over the country to manage their indebtedness and move on with their lives.

Sonia Lewis, founder and chief “doctor,” has developed a service borne of her “own pain,” as she told me.

“When it came time for me to start paying my student loans, I took off a day from work and called my loan servicer.” Lewis worked in higher education as an admissions and academic adviser to adult learners and felt confident in her ability to handle the call.

But it took talking to five representatives before her issues were resolved.

“I asked myself, ‘If it was this difficult for me, and I know what questions to ask, what about the person who doesn’t know what to ask?'” In that moment the idea for Student Loan Doctor was born.

The Student Loan Doctor team. Sonia Lewis, center (Courtesy of Student Loan Doctor L.L.C.)

How to Manage Your Student Loans

Lewis told me that she and her team help people to develop a plan for managing the payment of their student loans, whether they’ve started paying or not. She said they put out “fires”—those desperate, crisis situations when help is needed fast.

“We also help people whose loans have gone into default.”

Lewis’s clients, who range in age but are mainly in the 30 to 55 bracket, have an average debt of $100,000.

“Many of my clients have gone to grad school, so adding that to their undergraduate debt gives them an indebtedness of six-figures,” Lewis says. “They call because they need to buy a home and improve their credit, and this debt hinders them from making their next move.”

Tips for Borrowers

Lewis has done this work for about 10 years and opened her business two years ago. To avoid the student loan trap, she advises the following:

  • “Look at your end goal—the career you want—and at the education you need to accomplish that goal. Ask questions like, will this school be a good fit and a good use of my money?”
  • “Be very interested in your interest rate, which impacts what borrowers will repay, private or federal. Private loans can be refinanced, but not federal loans.”
  • Think long and hard before taking out private loans. “They are not dischargeable upon death or disability, except in Pennsylvania and Texas, and can garnish up to 25% of your wages.” Lewis advises her clients to take out a second life insurance policy to cover that indebtedness.

Student Loan Doctor’s goal is to empower its clients so that the “college experience doesn’t dictate the rest of their financial lives.”

Sonia Lewis teaches others how to manage student loan payments.
(Courtesy of Student Loan Doctor L.L.C.)

“Borrowing decisions that people make at 18 set up a trajectory for their lives that affects not just the immediate student loan debt but also generations that follow. It can affect retirement and legacy.”

Lewis told me there is fear and shame involved. “Clients say, ‘OMG, I have six-figure debt and I’m not even working in my field.” Lewis and her team have heard it all; still, she remains optimistic.

“We’re here to help our clients get their affairs in order so they can help the next generation.”

Visit the Student Loan Doctor website.

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