Minneapolis woman’s ‘bizarre and surreal’ loan dispute lasts for decades

Editor’s Note: Minnesota residents who attend college have some of the highest student debt in the countryside. This story is part of an occasional series about people whose lives have been damaged by their student loan debt. Share your story with MPR News on this link.

Kaja Robinson doesn’t forget the music on hold on her former collection agency’s phone line.

“Oh my God, this is awful,” said the 53-year-old. “I hear it all the time in my head. It’s a bit garish and weird like a sci-fi movie.

This is just one of the stress triggers Robinson developed during her decades-long dispute over loans she took as a student in the late 1980s.

She borrowed about $ 17,000 to attend the University of Minnesota and repaid $ 15,000 of the amount – according to a mine of documents, including check scans, it is kept in two large bankers boxes and shown to MPR News .

But according to the Education Department, Robinson still owes some $ 49,000. This is due to missing records of her payments and accrued interest, she said.

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Solving the confusion was a second fruitless job for Robinson. Another thing besides being the parent of his college-aged daughter, Kia, and working in health care administration.

On the days when she sets out to work on her loan debt, she said she has to mentally prepare for the task. Then she sits on the floor with all the relevant documents scattered around her, ready for eight hours on the phone and computer.

“Most of the time,” she said, “I try not to think about it because it’s so emotionally trying, stressful.”

She also tried legal action.

“I’ve worked with lawyers – two or three over the years – who have tried to work with the Department of Education,” Robinson said. “There is no recourse yet.”

Education officials told him to appeal the federal government to the courts. But he’s a non-starter for Robinson; the nearest court that would take such a case is in Chicago, two states.

Part of Robinson’s problem is the anonymous nature of lenders and debt collectors. His loans have been transferred from one business to another several times over the years. She will make headway and have someone to contact at a business, only to find the business in bankruptcy or its loan sold elsewhere the next time she calls.

“Knowing that the government thinks I owe them so much money and knowing that I don’t,” she said, “it’s weird and surreal… It looks like a big empty black hole and there’s just no way to get through. “

This isn’t the first time a business has lost track of student loans. In 2017, a student loan trust lost papers for at least $ 5 billion in student loans.

Robinson is exhausted from years of confusion and financial stress, although she has mainly paid off her loans and tried to resolve the situation by paying off the remaining debt in one go.

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Instead, she hatched a plan through her collection agency and the Department of Education to make monthly “good faith” payments of $ 5.

It helped her credit score improve so she could get a mortgage and buy a home after years of trying.

But now Robinson has said his bank’s $ 5 withdrawals have stopped. She is, once again, considered to be in default on her student loan.

The federal government could take money out of its tax refund or paycheck. The future of its loans is uncertain.

Robinson doesn’t know what to do next. But she encourages her daughter not to take out any loans.

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