I Got an Art Certificate and Student Loans I Will Never Be Able to Afford

Dear Steve,

Attended the Art Institute of Ft. Lauderdale, FL for game art/illustration from 2004 to 2006, transferred to the Art Institute of Philadelphia, PA for animation, from 2006 to 2007, transferred to the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in 2007 and graduated in 2012 with a certificate in painting.

I have a total of $114,113.50 of debt and absolutely do not have the funds to pay. I am a painter who cannot support myself on painting alone. I make on average $200.00 a month from paintings and I work 2 under the table jobs (8.00 an hour) just to make rent. I can't afford to eat so I take leftovers from my restaurant job.

My monthly minimum requirements are close to $2,700.00. I've gone into forbearance and have also tried to negotiate a lower monthly payment of $100.00 a month but Sallie Mae has refused and said that it was impossible.

I have accepted that I probably will be paying for this debt until I die and I am willing to make payments as long as I can cover my most basic living expenses. I am the child of an immigrant and one of the first in my family to complete college, so, my relatives have no advice.

I am starting to regret ever going to college because I am more in debt and poorer than any of my relatives. It just doesn't make any sense. I can't get a job being a painter because there are no jobs for that.

I can't afford painting supplies and now that I work everyday, I have no time to create paintings, which are lowering my already meager income from them. I can't go back to school because of the debt so there is no hope in getting a career established.

Is there anything I can do about this?


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Dear James,

If it's any consolation, apparently the old master painters were all starving artists during their lives.

The situation you face is tragically common in my day-to-day world. So many people wound up being sold degrees and assisted in getting student loans they would never be able to afford. I'm not saying you are a victim, just that the student loan process, from start to finish, sucks and is not geared to helping people graduate with any amount of reasonable debt.

I recently took a look at student loan cases that were dealt with in a bankruptcy adversary proceeding in 2012. One case in particular sounds very much like your situation.

2:12-ap-00039 - Opp

Plaintiff/Debtor attended The Art Institutes in Philadelphia from 2001 to 2003 and subsequently transferred to the University of the Arts ("U of A") from 2004 to 2007 where she received a degree in Bachelor of Fine Arts in Graphic Design.

Since graduating from the U of A, she has worked a variety of low paying jobs ranging from $10.00 an hour to $18.00 an hour.

Plaintiff/Debtor currently is employed as a Graphics Arts Associate earning approximately $41,000.00 and will most likely earn this approximate amount for the significant portion of her career.

Plaintiff/Debtor's present indebtedness on all of her student loans with the Defendants is approximately $185,000.00.

It is unlikely that Plaintiff/Debtor will be in a position to repay these loans during the duration of the repayment period. Although her financial position has improved in the few years since she incurred the loan obligations and based on the earning potential in her career field, it seems highly unlikely that her financial situation will improve to a level where she could afford to repay her loan obligation.

  • National Collegiate Student Loan Trust RBS Citizen student loan $45,377 - Discharged Defendant National Collegiate student loan $7,162 - Discharged

Plaintiff alleges, and National Collegiate stipulates, that repayment of the Loan would cause an undue hardship on her, the parties now stipulate:

Plaintiff's financial condition is not likely to improve.

Plaintiff has made a good faith effort to repay the Loan.

Based on the facts above, Plaintiff and National Collegiate stipulate that requiring Plaintiff to repay the Loan would impose an undue hardship on the Plaintiff, and the Loan is therefore dischargeable under 11 U.S.C. § 523(a)(8), only as to Plaintiff. -
  • Sallie Mae owed $94,140 and reduces debt to $60,000 at 3% interest payable at $284.53 for 300 months. - Source
  • RBS Citizens $37,000 is not dischargeable but will be repaid at 0% interest and at $75 per month until the $37,000 has been paid. - Source
  • One thing I know for sure, the situation you are in is mathematically impossible to sustain or meet in your current situation.

    Your choices boil down to the following logical solutions.

    1. Talk to a local bankruptcy attorney about seeking protection under the law as Opp did.

    You can click here to find a local bankruptcy attorney and talk to them for free about your specific situation. Get the facts and then you can make an informed and educated decision if bankruptcy is right for you.

    2. Stop paying and wait to be sued and then try to negotiate a payment and terms you can afford as part of that case. You can see how other people did that, here.

    3. You can stop paying, hope you make it through the statute of limitations without getting sued and then go for a full discharge of the debt in a chapter 7 bankruptcy. You'd have to find out what the statute of limitations is in your state. Talk to an attorney licensed in your state to be sure.

    4. Increase your income to meet the Sallie Mae demands and be able to live.

    Sallie Mae can huff and puff all they want but unless you are going to live rough on the streets or eat out of a dumpster this is never going to get resolved as long as you might be afraid of them and keep making payments you can't afford.

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