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$81,800.28 STUDENT LOAN DEBT…

Prepare yourselves for a vulnerable & LONG full financial story of the past three years….

Three years ago from today I graduated from Indiana Wesleyan University (April 28, 2012). I attended there the full four years & I do NOT regret a day I spent there. I learned a lot about myself, others, and God. I also witnessed first hand what genuine community looked like, became challenged as a person by my own peers, invested into the lives of others as an RA & in return, was completely poured into for FOUR years mentally, physically, and more importantly spiritually. To this day, I have managed to maintain some of the deepest friendships with my college friends. These friendships and connections have allowed me to travel all over in the past 3 years re-connecting and even photographing some of their most precious moments in their lives. I really could go on & on about my college experience and just how much I LOVED college… but then there is the other side… you know, the financial side? Well, like the majority of high school students embarking on their college career comes the dreaded student loans… SOOO let’s rewind for a second…

I still remember the date. January 25th of my senior year of high school, I was at a church dinner on a Wednesday night & the lovely Patti Evans had just returned from a college visit from IWU with their son Chase. We sat down at the dinner & talked about the school & to that date I had LITERALLY NEVER heard of IWU. I knew of Ohio Wesleyan, it was practically my neighbor, but I had never heard of Indiana Wesleyan. She ranted and raved about the school, but she said,  “Katie, I could not stop thinking about you the whole visit. I know if this school is not for Chase, it is for Katie!! I even checked & they have a photography program.” Patti is one of those people that if she ‘feels’ something, you better listen to it because she is so in tune with the Holy Spirit that I felt I better at least look in to this place. I got online & looked at visiting days. Come to find out, the very next visit day was February 8th & it was the Art Day specifically (they only have 1 day the entire year set aside specifically for those interested in this field). Well, you can do the math, from the day I first heard of IWU to the college day that would speak directly to me were only weeks a part… so close together that my parents could not even get off work to take me. I called my grandpa & off to IWU we went. Immediately, I fell in LOVE! I came home & told my parents they have to go back with me. I LOVE it & I am pretty sure I am going there…

Then came the financial talk… neither of my parents attended college & I was actually the first person in my family to graduate from college. They were honest and said ‘someone told me years ago that when it was your time to go to college it would cost $100,000 to attend college & I literally laughed at them.Well, it did & it’s now my time to make a decision. I had actually planned on attending a branch of Ohio State & I’m pretty sure my entire four years were payed for. I graduated high school was a 3.98 GPA & I was basically set in their minds. I didn’t even need to worry about loans, that is until IWU came into the picture. I thought my GPA would still play a major role in scholarships, but then there is that annoying test that proves nothing called the ACT! I’m not a genius, I’m a hard worker & that’s what a GPA proves. They were not prepared for this & honestly, who is? My parent’s supported & blessed my choice to attend IWU, but also made sure I realized what I was getting myself into. They went from, my college is basically paid for to you are going to need to take out some loans. By no means were we ever in need of anything growing up. I had a VERY privileged life that many could only dream of, but paying $28k outright is something else. For those of you whose parents have blessed you by providing the finances for your college, thank them & I actually thank my parents for NOT paying for my college as well and I have a pretty good reason why…

God had BIG plans to proclaim HIS name through me. He knows I am a pretty good steward of my finances, but He also knows I like to have control of that. Obviously, I was freaked out about student loans, but I also thought everyone has them, right? Even more, I felt called to IWU. At the end of the day, despite how big the financial burden that lied ahead, I knew I was to attend this University & let go a little of the financial reign I controlled. Each year I attended IWU I earned more scholarships & became an RA for two years, which helps. Well, four years passed & I graduated April 28, 2012. Everyone has the grace period & then, October of 2012 rolled around, which meant it was time to start paying back those dreaded loans.

The Lord has been more than faithful & I firmly believe this entire situation I endured is for one reason & that is proclaim how BIG God is & that He is who He says He is. He is a provider, He is just, He is love, He is grace, and He is peace. He began preparing me for this journey in my last semester of college as I took an exiting class on Personal Family & Finances & a closer look at Dave Ramsey’s philosophy. I LOVED this class!!! I remember reading in this class a Bible verse that talks about being a slave to your debt & I made a decision then & there to completely hand over this burden to the Lord, work my butt off, remain faithful, and be a good steward of the things he has provided me with, which leads me to his provision. Before graduation, I was in contact with my part-time job back home, the good ol’ Richwood Banking Company about the possibility of coming back. I agreed to it, but still needed a flexible schedule to kick start my photography business. I still worked 40 hour weeks at the bank & begin my first year as Katie Lee Photography the spring of 2012. I had 12 weddings lined up & a number of sessions. The year 2013 rolled around, and I have 13 weddings lined up, stilled worked 40 hours at the bank and a longer list of sessions. Then 2014 rolled around & I ended the year with 14 weddings and 100 + sessions!! Each year the Lord continued to faithfully provide work & that is exactly what I have done for the 3 years is work my behind off. My days consisted of working normal business hours at the bank, leaving straight from work for a session, packing my car for a wedding on Saturday, attending church on Sunday & adding a couple more sessions that day. Oh, then there’s editing where I would stay up to get it done.

There were definitely ‘bad’ days where I would come home from work at the bank or a session & want to go crazy. At the end of the day, I had to remind myself, you are playing a role in something that is bigger than yourself & you are called to serve people well in both of your jobs & be thankful you have a job(s). I ALWAYS heard that whispered to me before I fell a sleep because it is 100% true. Today (the 28th), exactly three years to date from graduating, I submitted my FINAL student loan pay-off at exactly 8:00 a.m. totaling a JAW-DROPPING $81,800.28 & without my parents repaying a penny of it!!!!!! Yes, you read that correctly  & go ahead & re-read it because I’m telling you, It is an amazing feeling to be a part of something bigger than yourself. Sometimes the Lord brings us in to the desert to bring us out to Proclaim who He is. GUYS, I did not start paying on my student loans until October of 2012 & completely finished April of 2015!!! That is not of me, but of God through me. I do not even know where that amount came from… I never borrowed that much (gotta love interest – a lot of interest), but it was the cards in life I was dealt & I had a faithful responsibility to do something about it. I have worked a lot, remained faithful in tithing, and kept my eyes fixed on Him.

I know some of you may think, ‘well, that was kind of stupid for you to go to that school to begin with’ or, ‘I could have paid a lot of things off too if my parents would help me now.’ All of that may be true to your perspective, but not to mine. College was AMAZING & I can’t even begin to put a ‘price’ on it, for me. My parents also could not fully provide for the expense of college (nor were they ever expected to), but they have helped me pay for other day to day life bills since graduating. They would have LOVED to help me more with college, but that was not our situation so they have joyfully chosen to help me with day to day bills while I focused completely on my student loans. Some parents pay their kids’ tuition, while others pay their cell phone bill! I kept my same 1998 car until two weeks ago & yes, I still have a ‘dumb’ phone. Can you believe, I, a business owner, still have a dumb phone? Neither can my brother…. but the point is that I was very focused & yes, I could afford both of those things two years ago, but instead, I tripled my payments monthly by eliminating ‘wants’ out of my life. I run a business based off social media & managed to without a smart phone. Yes, I will be getting one, but not because I want one. Just so that’s clear (: My eyes have been opened to appreciating the ‘wants’ even more than before because they were never handed to me, the concept of hard work & staying  focused, and the bigger picture of the Kingdom that is to come.

My God is faithful & I think he even has a sense of humor tacking on that .28 on the end since I graduated on the 28th & payed my student debt off in 2.5 years on the 28th!!!

What’s your desert you feel stuck in? Dear one(s), You do not have to wander for 40 years like the Israelites did in the desert. Do your part & the Lord will remain faithful. We will all endure suffering of some sort, but there is joy to come!!

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  • Dallas Walters - Hi Katie,

    I just read your blog and really appreciated your kind words for IWU and the photo program. More importantly, it is encouraging to see how you are growing spiritually and as an adult. God is faithful and gives us the desires of our heart as we seek him. Thank you for sharing with your readers this experience. When you are planning on being back on campus, let me know and let’s try to meet and catch up on life.

    Have a great day,
    Prof. W

    ps…. congratulations!ReplyCancel

    • katieleephotography@me.com - Walters!!!!!

      Thanks so much for following along & playing a role in this journey! I’ll let ya konw when am back on IWU turf, better yet, you will probably just feel that I am on campus ! 🙂ReplyCancel

  • Allison Gordon - Hi Katie!

    I just read your story about college and student loans, and I wanted to tell you how encouraged I am by what you wrote. I am in a similar situation, having just graduated last year May 2014, and your story helped remind me of the bigger picture. God is bigger than all our loans, jobs, lives, etc. and He will take care of us, his children! Thank you for painting the bigger picture, God’s Kingdom, for those of us that read your piece. It’s easy to get caught up in daily life and forget we are apart of something so much bigger and better.. God’s plan and His kingdom! Congratulations on paying off your student loans, what an amazing way to proclaim God’s provisions and faithfulness!

    Thanks again,
    AllisonReplyCancel

    • katieleephotography@me.com - Thanks Allison & you are welcome for whatever kind of encouragement this post brought you. Embrace the peace of the Lord!!ReplyCancel

  • Monica Yanscik - Katie,

    We haven’t met in person yet as our session isn’t until June, but I have been following you for awhile. This is the best post ever! I currently am getting my masters through IWU! I’m thankful that my company is paying my tuition. Both my kids are in college and my daughter is graduating in 1 week….with loans. She’s going to be a nurse and I hope God guides and provides for her just as He did with you. Congratulations!
    MonicaReplyCancel

    • katieleephotography@me.com - WOOHOO! Team IWU!!! I am thankful your company is paying your tuition, too! What a blessing!!ReplyCancel

  • Dan - Hey,
    Saw this post through the IWU alum twitter handle. Congrats! I graduated in 2012, too, and married an IWU grad. Lots of debt there! We are a part of starting a church in Tampa and trying to pay back our loans twice as fast (5 years). I’m encouraged by your persistence and focus to get out of debt. I can’t imagine how freeing that must feel. Great job!ReplyCancel

    • katieleephotography@me.com - Thanks Dan! It is all possible. Stay focused!! The church plant sounds exciting, too!!!ReplyCancel

  • Dianna - Katie,
    This is an awesome post! Don’t feel like you need to explain to anyone about the ‘details’ (ie your parents helping with monthly bills, etc.) and how you were able to get that much money paid off in such a short period of time. God is God. That’ it. He provides. Always does and always will. Thanks for sharing this with us.ReplyCancel

    • katieleephotography@me.com - Thanks Dianna!!!!ReplyCancel

  • Kevin - Katie, congratulations on your achievements but most importantly for recognizing that God needs to be number one in our lives. I graduated from the Adult Program in 2008 as a 48 year old and count the experience as a true highlight of my life for two reasons. One, the satisfaction of obtaining a college degree after receiving my Associates in 1980 (Vincennes) and two, the re-connection I experienced with our God thru each and every class I attended. Thank you for taking the time to tell others about your experience and how you have put things in perspective in an effort to start your life with the right foundation; your faith in God. Best of luck and all the best to you in all of your future endeavors!ReplyCancel

    • katieleephotography@me.com - thank you so much Kevin for your kind words! Congrats on your degree as well 🙂ReplyCancel

  • Kim - Way to go – awesome!ReplyCancel

  • Amanda Mowry - Katie!! I remember when I 1st met you in 2014….your mission was clear. Serve the Lord and pay off your student loan! You did it! So happy for you…..! When you’re ready to start putting some of that money in an investment you know who to call!!! Way to go! We should write an article on you for our magazine….I’m gonna work on that. Blessings!ReplyCancel

    • katieleephotography@me.com - All of that sounds wonderful!!! 🙂 Thanks Amanda!!ReplyCancel

  • 2015 | DEBT-FREE. 20 WEDDINGS. 180 SESSIONS. 8 STATES. FULL-TIME BUSINESS. » My great Wordpress blog - […] in student loan debt in April. If you are really interested in that story, read my blog post HERE. Once my student loans were paid off in April, I sold my Civic, ol’ Bessie, & invested […]ReplyCancel

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