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When the Department of Education seized Andrea’s tax refunds to pay for bogus student loan debt from Corinthian Colleges, there were devastating effects for her entire family.

Andrea Smith is a single mother living in Decatur, Michigan with three teenage children and a 5-month old granddaughter. She was scammed by Everest Institute, part of Corinthian Colleges, and has been working to overcome the damage the school caused ever since. This is her student loan truth.

Why did you decide to attend Everest?

Growing up, my family struggled financially. I was poor her my whole life, but I wanted things to be different for my own family and to show my children that a college degree could make a difference for a better life. Everest guaranteed job placement and a good career, so I enrolled in the medical assisting program.

What was your experience like trying to get a job after completing the Everest program?

It became clear pretty quickly that these guaranteed jobs did not exist and that they had lied to students. They promised us jobs they knew we would never get. We were overcharged and undereducated and then Everest left us high and dry.

How have the student loans from Everest impacted your life?

Here I am, 6 years later with nothing to show for my education and a lot of wasted time. My inability to pay off these loans has crippled me with terrible credit. As a single mom, you don’t have time to waste or money to spare.  To add insult to injury, they even took my tax refunds two years in a row, which was absolutely devastating. I was counting on those tax refunds, and not having them caused my world to come crashing down.

What happened when you found out the Department of Education would be taking your tax refunds to pay for your debt from Everest?

The first time my refund was taken in 2018, I had a plan to use it to leave an abusive relationship. Being financially dependent was part of the abuse. Without that $5,000 refund, I couldn’t leave. Eventually, through the help of friends and family, I was able to take my kids and move out of state, but it was an extremely stressful experience.

Then in 2019, I was unemployed and counting on the next tax refund of $9,000. I had a new grandbaby on the way and had rent to pay. But again, the Department of Education took my refund and I was back in a financial crisis. Fortunately, I was able to get assistance from a local church to help avoid eviction, but it wasn’t enough to keep us in our apartment. So I had to pack up and move back to Michigan with my family and pregnant daughter.

How did the financial stress impact your family?

My granddaughter was born seven weeks premature shortly after returning to Michigan and was hospitalized for weeks. I truly believe the financial stress on the whole family during that time was a major reason for the premature birth. There has been so much time lost and pain endured by my whole family because of this debt, and that can never be recovered.

What would you say to the Department of Education about your experience with this debt?

I wish they would remember that we are good, hardworking, people who just wanted to build a better life for ourselves and our families. These companies took advantage of us on the Department’s watch.  Changes need to be made so this situation can never happen to future generations.

Do you still believe in higher education as an opportunity for a better future?

Despite all the setbacks, I’ve always been able to get back on my feet. I’m not giving up. I have a new job (which has nothing to do with my medical assisting degree), I’m in a happy, stable relationship with my fiancé, and my granddaughter and children are healthy.  And I’m hopeful that for them, college can actually be an opportunity and not a burden.

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