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Are you worried your child will graduate with crippling student loan debt? 

Meet the family who cracked the code to debt-free college education and transformed their kids’ futures forever! With determination and strategic planning, they embarked on a dedicated scholarship hunt. From meticulous essay-crafting sessions to scouring for scholarship opportunities, they left no stone unturned. 

And the results were staggering.

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LaWanda Hanes mentors first-time single moms in Waxahatchee, Texas, and at her church. 

“Nobody can afford college, but everyone can go,” LaWanda often says.

It’s one of her favorite phrases, and she repeats it often with the single moms she mentors, many of whom believe they can’t make college happen for themselves. 

She, of course, mentors her own kids as well. Hanes and her husband, Thomas, vowed that their two children, Jasmine and Tre, wouldn’t face the same student loan burdens that they encountered after their own graduations. 

“We decided our kids would not borrow for school,” LaWanda said emphatically. 

No ifs, ands or buts.

The dream is coming true. 

LaWanda and Thomas’ daughter, Jasmine, graduated with no debt. Jasmine went to college at University of North Texas for interior design and graduated in two and a half years. She went into the university with an associate’s degree through a dual-degree program. 

Their son, Tre, is on his way to graduating debt-free with an engineering degree through the University of Oklahoma’s merit program. He’s currently in his third year of college.

The Hanses on vacation in Italy: They're debt-free, and their kids have debt-free degrees!
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The Spark for a Debt-Free Degree

The Haneses’ desire for their children to achieve a debt-free education grew out due to their own student loans.

“Our journey with our kids started with our journey to get out of debt ourselves. We have five degrees. [Thomas] has a bachelor’s and a master’s degree and I have a bachelor’s degree and two master’s degrees,” LaWanda said. “Fast forward 10 years, and we are 30 years old, with two young kids and $110,000 in student loan debt.” 

They started with less debt, with about $75,000 to $78,000 to their names out of college. Some twists and turns required them to take deferment and unemployment, and they found themselves $110,000 in debt in no time, with both subsidized and unsubsidized loans. (The interest that built on itself didn’t help, either.)

The Payoff Day: The Very Best Christmas Present

LaWanda said her kids sacrificed just as much as she and her husband did. LaWanda said Tre and Jasmine had grown up understanding that there wasn’t a lot of money available to purchase “extra” things at the store. “They understood how hard it was for us to get out from under these student loans,” LaWanda said.

After one Christmas with few gifts, LaWanda said she and Thomas took their kids to the bank and gave each child $500. Both kids turned the money over to a loan officer. 

The whole family felt like screaming with happiness. They were finally out from under their student loan debt burden.

Immediately after, LaWanda and Thomas took them to dinner at Red Robin, where everything the kids had asked for Christmas sat under the table. The excitement bubbled over so much that they actually did need to scream. 

Their waitress heard the commotion and said, “I just want to know what’s going on here. It sounds like something amazing.” When she heard their story, the waitress almost jumped up and down alongside them — their excitement was infectious.

The Panic Moment

Early in high school, however, Jasmine worried that she wouldn’t be able to pay for college.

Turns out, Jasmine thought it was a money problem.

A worried LaWanda reassured her, but was firm. She told her daughter, “You have to go to college or have a skill set.” She added that the family had a 529 but said that the savings wouldn’t take care of everything. She informed Jasmine that the less they would have to pay out of pocket, the better.

The Haneses enjoying Italy
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Two Debt-Free Degrees: How They Did It

“We started junior year. Nobody told us we should start looking for scholarships earlier,” LaWanda said. If she knew she needed to look earlier, she would have. 

Jasmine and LaWanda had a system — they met every Sunday about the scholarship plan for the week. LaWanda paid her kids $5 for every scholarship application they completed, but they had to write the essay. LaWanda agreed to put the packages together for them. 

Jasmine put about 60 to 70 scholarships on her list, and Tre had about 30. 

Jasmine had an interest in the hobby space, danced, sang and competed in softball. She was also a cheerleader. She looked into scholarships in all those areas, as well as local sorority and fraternity chapters, local banks, mom’s clubs and the chamber of commerce. 

At a certain point, Jasmine had a system down so that all she had to do was tweak her essays to fit the scholarship. They had a color coding method on a spreadsheet — green was for anything not submitted, yellow indicated scholarships “in process” and red indicated “in danger of missing the deadline” or “denied.”

“Both of them got merit scholarships. People were just throwing things at us. Jasmine’s story was she got so much money in scholarships that the school ws sending us checks back!” LaWanda even said that the pastor of their church called Jasmine the “rich kid.” 

“A lot of wins were local wins. We didn’t get a lot of national scholarship.We kept things more local and at church, people would send us stuff and just want to help us,” said LaWanda. She added that they both received $10,000 to $12,000 every year from churches in Dallas-Fort Worth and Oklahoma., which helped make up the bulk of their awards.

Their son’s path to engineering scholarships wasn’t quite as easy, but with perseverance and a little help from diversity and inclusion programs, he secured the funds needed to take care of college.

By the time it was all said and done, Jasmine went to college for free.

Financial Discipline for a Lifetime

But it wasn’t just about scholarships. LaWanda and Thomas instilled financial discipline from a young age, teaching their kids the value of budgeting and saving. Jasmine now has a paid-for car (in cash!) and the freedom to pursue her passions without the shackles of student loans.

From prioritizing scholarship applications to leveraging local resources, the Haneses prove that it’s possible to graduate without student debt.

Now that she’s out of school, Jasmine has noticed how her peers have begun paying back their student loans and struggle to make ends meet. 

“She thanks us all the time that we helped her go to college without student loans,” LaWanda said.

So, if you’re ready to say hello to a debt-free future, join the debt-free revolution today! Get the exact steps in the College Money Tips debt-free degree checklist so your child can avoid loans.

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