Meet #WhyISoFi Winner Lauren Powell and Learn How This Hard-Working Attorney and Mom of Twins Won $150,000
In this installment of our Member Spotlight series, we profile Lauren Powell, an attorney from Madison, Wisconsin, and the $150,000 grand prize winner of our #WhyISoFi member contest. She beat out 1,500 other contestants, thanks to her personal entry and creative, relentless campaigning.
Name: Lauren Powell
Locale: Madison, Wisconsin
Alma Maters: University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign; University of Wisconsin Law School
By Day: Legal Counsel at American Family Insurance
SoFi Member Since: 2014
Approximate SoFi Loan: $146,000
When Lauren Powell sets her sights on a goal, she doesn’t hold back. For example, after finding out she was accepted into the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign for undergrad, Lauren applied for more than 30 scholarships to help fund her social sciences education.
Then, when she reached her junior year, Lauren wanted to job shadow a lawyer to help her decide whether she should go to law school after graduating. So she took out the phone book and cold called more than 50 attorneys, reaching the middle of the alphabet before one agreed to her proposal.
Now a 28-year-old attorney and mom of twins, Lauren’s go-big-or-go-home attitude has just paid off again—in a huge way: Lauren is the $150,000 grand prize winner of the #WhyISoFi contest.
To celebrate reaching 200,000 members, SoFi awarded $200,000 in cash prizes to Lauren and five runner-ups, who received $10,000 each. More than 1,500 members submitted photos and videos in which they described how SoFi changed their lives, including getting out of debt, buying their first homes, and improving their overall finances so they could start their own families. SoFi chose 25 finalists for the second round to create new videos and where the winner was selected through online voting. Lauren’s video won the most votes, thanks to her nonstop campaigning and clever outreach efforts.
We surprised Lauren at her home in mid-November to deliver the great news. And then contacted her more recently for a deeper conversation about the effort she put into the contest, her plans for her hard-earned prize money, and how refinancing her student loans affected her financial life.
SoFi: First, congratulations! Were you surprised to learn that you won?
Yes! I received an email from SoFi saying that they planned to visit the winner’s house at 4 p.m. on Nov. 16, and then Skype with the runners up. I assumed the email was sent to everyone, so I didn’t know for sure if I had won. I invited family and friends over—but just a few, in case we didn’t win.
On that day, we saw hints on Instagram about SoFi being in Madison. I was so nervous—just pacing around my kitchen with my iPad. My husband, Chad, was convinced I didn’t win, so he started eating a piece of pizza. He had a mouthful right when SoFi rang the doorbell. I want to see that on video! I was so thrilled. It really is life changing!
SoFi: Winning wasn’t easy. Your #WhyISoFi video was selected as one of 25 finalists, and then you rallied a huge amount of support to earn the most votes. What was your strategy?
LP: From the beginning, I wanted to articulate in the video that we’re normal people, that we have work stress and financial stress. I think that’s one reason why we were chosen as one of the finalists.
Once I heard I was in the top 25, I started drafting emails. I sent more than 1,200 personalized messages, asking people to vote for me. I made business cards, too, and handed out nearly 500 to people I met on the street. Then I contacted an editor at Above the Law, an online legal magazine, and he wrote my story and shared it on Facebook. That was the first breakthrough.
I also messaged 200 celebrities via social media, thinking that they have big platforms to spread the word about the contest. I’m a huge Real Housewives fan, so I sent several messages to Kandi Burruss of The Real Housewives of Atlanta. The next morning, I woke up to dozens of Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram messages. Kandi had shared my story on her Facebook page. That was huge! I definitely felt like I did everything I could do to try and win.
SoFi: You joined SoFi to refinance your student loans, which you did once in 2014 and again in 2015. What made you decide to refinance and how did it impact your financial situation?
LP: When I was pregnant with our twins, lots of moms told me to not be afraid to ask for help. My kids are now three, but that advice stuck with me, even outside my role as a mom. When I received a flier in the mail from SoFi, I took the same approach. I visited the website, and then called SoFi to ask how they could help reduce my payments and put extra money in our pockets. I was shocked at how responsive and helpful they were. Sometimes you do just have to ask for help when you need it. That gave us some much-needed breathing room in our budget.
SoFi: Did having children change your approach to your family finances?
LP: Yes, it was a huge eye opener! We knew we needed to be smarter about spending and saving. I think from the outside, people could get the impression that I graduated law school, now I’m an attorney and have it made. But I had $160,000 in student loan debt. That amounted to $1,800 a month in loan payments before I refinanced. On top of that, we were buying two of everything for the twins, paying for childcare, and keeping up with our other bills. There wasn’t much left to work with at the end of each month. Chad’s schedule is flexible, which allowed him to take a second job. He teaches EMT classes at the local technical college to give us a little extra income.
SoFi: How do you two navigate demanding jobs with a busy family life?
LP: We drink a ton of coffee! My husband is a firefighter, and after the twins were born, he would go to work and leave me outnumbered. When the kids were babies, we’d take shifts: We’d each watch them for four hours and then take a break, usually to sleep. We still take a team approach to getting everything done.
SoFi: You work as an attorney for American Family Insurance. What do you find gratifying about your work?
LP: I love the challenge and the constant learning. I never feel like I know everything I need to know—there’s always something more to learn. I work as a transactional attorney, so I’m not in a courtroom. I enjoy the collaborative effort of working with other counsel and other parts of the business to find solutions.
SoFi: Now that you’ve won, what’s next?
LP: To have extra money each month is life changing. My plan is to use everything that’s left after taxes to pay down my loan, which has a balance right now of around $132,000. I’d also like to start a college fund for my twins. That was a big stress before. We also might take a vacation. We don’t have any set plans, but anything now is a possibility.