How Money Meetings Are Helping One Family Accomplish Their Financial Goals — Meet The Fergusons
When it comes to finances, the Fergusons of Baltimore, Maryland, may still be working on certain goals, such as paying down student loan debt and saving for retirement, but there’s one thing they’ve fully mastered: communicating about their financial progress and dreams.
The Fergusons—Dominique, William, and their kids Dexter, 26, and Natalie, 24 — hold bi-annual family meetings to discuss all things financial. By sharing everything from progress on paying down debt to new knowledge on upcoming expenses, they’re able to make positive strides toward their objectives. They’ve also been able to help one another. In fact, it was Dexter who told his parents, Dominique and William, about the potential to save a ton on interest by refinancing the loans they took out to pay for their children’s college with SoFi’s Parent PLUS student loans.
We chatted with Dominique, an account manager for American Express, and Dexter, a graphic designer, about how SoFi is helping them pay off the student loans they took out. We also got the skinny on just what goes down during those family meetings.
SoFi: How did your family meetings start?
Dominique: Natalie initiated them about three years ago. She works in finance, so money management is important to her. She also has student loans to pay off before she can start investing in real estate, which is something she really wants to do. But we all feel that having these meetings to discuss our goals and challenges are very helpful. William and I consolidated two Parent PLUS loans into one with SoFi. So a big challenge that we face is accelerating the repayment of that loan to pay it off sooner, so we can focus on our retirement investments. Also, I get concerned about Dexter’s student loan debt and wish we could do more to help him pay it off. Being able to discuss these things at the meetings helps.
SoFi: How do the meetings work?
Dominique: They take place in our kitchen, and Natalie joins from California via Skype. We talk about every aspect of our finances, and we hold each other accountable while also helping each other out. We also brainstorm new resources. There’s a lot of support. The meetings can last up to three hours!
SoFi: The meetings are obviously helpful, but do you enjoy them?
Dominique: I absolutely do because I’ve always liked finances. I’m also a passionate person; I love yoga and meditation, and I love to read financial books. So I’m happy to take the reigns in terms of managing my and William’s money. We’ve been married 33 years, and we discuss finances regularly so we’re aligned. William, who is a real estate agent, is the visionary in terms of our finances. He comes up with ways to improve our lives, while I do the accounting, balance the checkbook, and look at our investment portfolio. We tried swapping roles in the past, but we decided to stay with what works for both of us.
SoFi: How did you find out about SoFi, Dexter?
Dexter: For me, paying student loans is a pain, and anything I can do to help reduce that pain is worth trying. So I was researching options to refinance my own student loans when I came across SoFi through a blog I follow. SoFi intrigued me because they had the most competitive rates out there, plus they have awesome free perks like career counseling and events for their members.
SoFi: How did SoFi help you?
Dexter: I graduated from Northeastern University in 2012 with both private and federal loans. I decided to refinance just the private loans—three of them with two different companies—through SoFi. I owed $48,700 on those when I started the process with SoFi in July 2015. My initial goal was to reduce my monthly payments, but I quickly realized the only way to do that was to extend the term of my loan. So I instead refinanced to pay a little bit more per month, but less in interest over the course of the loan. So I’m going to get out of debt sooner.
My SoFi loan has a 10-year term at a 6.5% interest rate. My highest interest rate before refinancing was 8.79%, so that’s a big difference. Right now, my SoFi loan debt is $45,400, and I plan to have it all paid off within the next five to six years.
Shortly after I became a member, SoFi released its Parent PLUS loan products. My parents then got excited about the possibility of refinancing, too.
Dominique: That’s true; I was really excited when Dexter introduced us to SoFi. I saw a reputable company that would help him accelerate his debt repayment, and potentially help us handle ours. I can’t say enough great things about SoFi. I love that they are very connected to the community and invest in their members, which is something you don’t find with traditional financial institutions. I also love getting together with other members at SoFi’s local member events to network and learn.
SoFi: Obviously, education is important to you. Was it always?
Absolutely. College was extremely affordable when I attended; it’s not like that now. I’m originally from Madagascar, and I came to the United States on my own in 1978 to go to Towson University, where I graduated with a Bachelors of Art in International Business and Languages. I took out student loans, but the total was nothing like what Dexter and the kids of today struggle with.
I was also the first one in my family to go to college. My relatives all went to vocational schools, because that was the trend. Going to college was unheard of, but it’s paved my way to where I am today. I am big on education, and I made sure my kids received the best education they could. Even though I don’t really use my languages or international business skills at American Express, I love what I do and college helped me get there.
SoFi: What financial goals do you want to reach after paying off your student loan debt?
Dominique: William and I want to accelerate our retirement investments. We’re already investing some, but we’d like to increase it. I’d love to retire at 60! To that end, we’re very interested in using SoFi’s Invest services once we pay off our loan. I like the fact that SoFi offers a variety of financial instruments, and that they waive certain fees for people who are already members. We’re particularly interested in the Roth IRA and Exchange Traded Funds. ETFs have lower fees, so they’re attractive to us.
Dexter: Paying off my loans will mean being able to move out of my parents’ house and travel. With the loan debt I have now, those things are impossible to do. I’ve also always had an entrepreneurial spirit, so exploring various business ventures and creating something of my own that I’m really passionate about would be pretty exciting. I love the idea of developing a product, service, or brand. Paying off my loans would give me more job freedom in that way.
Once I’m debt free, I’d like to eventually take over my parents’ loan. This isn’t something we’ve discussed, but I know retirement is an important goal for them, and I want to help them make progress. If retirement is an important for you too, use SoFi’s retirement calculator to determine if you are on track for your goals.
SoFi: What advice do you have for parents who are saving for their kids’ college educations?
Dominique: I would recommend parents start saving for their children’s educations as early as possible. The cost of education is astronomical, so parents should invest in their kids’ education in the same way they invest in a 401(k) for their own futures.
SoFi: Dexter, what is your biggest takeaway regarding school and student loans?
Dexter: When it comes to going to college, people have to know what they’re getting into. College was a big focus in my high school — everyone went. I always had the desire to experience something new, too. So I went to Boston because I had never been there and it felt like the perfect place for me. I also knew I wanted to learn graphic design. Having said that, I didn’t look into the details of what student loans would mean for me after I graduated.
If I were to do it all again, I would reconsider where I went to school, because certain schools are more expensive than others, and paying back loans is a serious commitment. Loans are investments in yourself, but you have to weigh the pros and cons. Luckily, school has given me a really strong foundation and the technical know-how to be a good designer. It’s also made me more marketable in that competitive space. The debt is tough, but I’m a good designer. So my goal now is to earn more money through my unique skill sets.
SoFi: Dominique, what is the best financial advice you’ve given to your kids?
Dominique: Work hard to find ways to pay down your loans. For example, Dexter is an artist, so he can take side gigs to make additional money to pay down his debt. I’ve always worked — even part-time in college. I also rented rooms in other people’s homes to avoid the expense of an entire apartment. There are always ways to manage your expenses.
Dexter, what’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned from your parents?
Dexter: Be aware. It’s so easy to ignore your financial situation, but a lot happens in the background when you’re living your life — bills come in and you buy things on credit. When you know exactly what’s going on in your financial life, you can tackle issues head on.
If you’re ready to tackle your student loans, find out how SoFi can help put you on the right track.