How One Man Got Control of Student Loan Debt With Help From His Employer
Name: Joe Lakier
Locale: Brooklyn, NY
Alma Maters: Wayne State University Law School (JD); University of Florida (LLM)
By Day: Manager/Fraud Investigator at EY
SoFi Member Since: 2015
Total independence isn’t easy. But for Joe Lakier, a law school grad and solo backpacking junkie, self-sufficiency has always been essential. So when he found himself strapped with six figures worth of student loan debt, Joe sought a solution to free up his finances. See how SoFi partnered up with his company to make sure he was back in control.
Tell us something about yourself.
I was born in Johannesburg. My family emigrated to the U.S. when I was a baby and I grew up in Detroit as one of six kids. I didn’t do a lot of outdoorsy stuff when I was younger, but now I love being outside. One of my favorite things to do is go backpacking in beautiful parts of the country.
What’s been your favorite backpacking trip so far?
I did a solo, three-day camping trip in the Canadian Rockies. I spent most of each day hiking, and bears were a concern, so I had to wear this little bell that jingles when you walk. Apparently if they can hear you they’ll stay away from you, so I ended up clapping my hands and talking loudly to myself a lot because I was afraid the bell wouldn’t do the trick.
Was it lonely?
I didn’t mind being alone that long—we don’t get many opportunities to be away from other people like that, so it was a great time to reflect. When I got back to the parking lot, I had this huge sense of accomplishment. It felt good to know I could take care of myself.
Is being self-sufficient an important value for you?
Definitely. My family was never very well off, and growing up I knew that if I wanted a financially stable life I’d have to make it for myself. I went to law school because I wanted a professional career, but when I graduated in 2010 there were no jobs. I went back to school for my LLM (Master of Laws) and this time, the accounting firms were the only ones hiring. That’s how I ended up at Ernst and Young.
So it worked out from a career perspective, but you had a lot of student loans.
Exactly. I really enjoy what I do and the people I work with, so that part is great. But I had over $100,000 in federal student loans with interest rates between 6.8% and 7.8%. At the time, I couldn’t afford the standard 10-year repayment plan, so I used Pay As You Earn (PAYE) and basically assumed I’d be paying my loans for the next 20 years until the remaining balance would (hopefully) be forgiven.
I saw an ad for SoFi and was intrigued by the idea of student loan refinancing, but it wasn’t until my company offered it as an employee benefit that I looked into it more. It was important to me that my company had vetted SoFi and felt comfortable with them as a partner—it allowed me to trust the company.
As I learned more about refinancing, I realized that I could actually cut my interest rate and be able to afford the monthly payments on a shorter term loan. Doing the math was a huge awakening for me—I had been paying $6,000 or $7,000 per year in interest alone, but by refinancing I’d be putting a much larger portion of my payments toward principal, and I’d be done with my loans sooner.
Besides saving money, did refinancing your student loans have any other benefits?
Absolutely. For one thing, it kind of awakened me to being more mindful about my finances in other areas, too. For example, I’d been contributing up to the employer match in my 401(k), which is far below the federal limit for employee contributions. When I sat down and did the math, I realized that contributing more would reduce my tax liability, so it wouldn’t cost as much as I’d thought.
Also, I ended up refinancing twice—the second time I shortened my term to five years. So I’ve gone from thinking I’d be paying student loans for 20 years to just five, and my hope is to buy a home by the time I’m done with my loans. I couldn’t even consider this when I was doing PAYE—my student loan payment basically was a mortgage payment, and it wasn’t going away any time soon.
Sounds like you’re achieving your goal of a self-sufficient, financially stable life. Any more solo backpacking trips in your future?
New Zealand and Iceland are next on my travel list. Hopefully fewer bears to deal with.