This post was created in partnership with Sofi.
Maria Renee Williamson was Ivy League and medical-school bound when, the summer after high school, she became pregnant with her boyfriend.
“Life happened,” said Williamson, today the proud mom of Ryan, 9 (her relationship ended soon after the pregnancy).
Various people — mostly men — advised her to give up her dreams and go to technical school. Instead, she enrolled in University of Southern Florida on scholarship and worked 70 hours weekly as a bartender, server and for various small businesses — all while caring for a newborn-then-toddler.
“Taking that on was a very hard decision — I’d work until midnight, then have to come home to Ryan sleeping and write a paper, or get up at 4 a.m. to get my school work done before he woke up,” she says.
Williamson graduated with a biomedical degree — with honors — and just $5,000 in student debt.
“I’ve always paid close attention to my finances,” says Williamson, 28, whose own parents are separated. “As a single mom, I never wanted to get myself into any situation I couldn’t get out of by myself — especially financially.”
Grad school was another thing all together. Instead of more non-stop years of intense study of medical school, Williamson opted to become a physician’s assistant, a 27-month program that required 22 credit hours per semester. This left zero room for a job, and required Williamson take on $145,000 in student loans — which grew to $160,000 by the time she graduated two years ago at the 7.9% interest rate.
“It was painful to take on so much debt,” she says. “It made me sick.”
For the past two years, Williamson has been a physician’s assistant in anesthesiology at St. Vincent’s Medical Center in Jacksonville, Fla., earning a high six-figure salary. Her monthly student debt payment was $2,600 per month at 7.9%.
“It’s crazy to think about,” Williamson says, when I asked about her new, big salary. “I was making way below the poverty level for years, sticking to fine budgets so tightly, and driving my old, 2002 Toyota. Now it’s completely different.”
Still budgeting and living frugally, Williamson and Ryan now drive around in a Lexus IS 250 Sport (“I chose it because of the red leather interior), and last year took a week-long Disney Cruise to the Bahamas (“The first vacation I took in my adult life.”).
As for her student debt, as uneasy as it made this frugal mom several years ago, she knows there is no way she could enjoy providing for her son as she does without making that investment — an investment made easier thanks to her recent Sofi refinance of her student debt.
“By saving $40,000 from the refinance of my student debt means I have $40,000 towards a downpayment on a home, or a vacation, or saving for Ryan’s education, so he won’t have to work so hard.”
Williamson said the student debt refinance process was quick and simple. Her credit score was not terrific, and of course her work and salary history were short. “I told the Sofi support person what terms I was comfortable with, and they were quick and flexible,” Williamson says. “They say they look at each client on an individual basis, and that is really true.”
Learn more about refinancing your student debt with Sofi here.
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