My Masters in Saxophone Has Resulted in Impossible Students Loans And I Don’t Know What to Do


Dear Steve,

My name is Sean, 28, Baltimore, MD. I have a student debt crisis that I’ve successfully managed to prevent from default since 2010. I feel that my situation may be a little more unique than others which is why I’ve attached a more complete narrative of my story if you have the time to read it. I began consulting with lawyers a few years ago but I never felt that they had the right answers. Today, I am finally in a position of confusion and desperation and the ship is officially going down. I’ve tried everything and have given up a large part of my life to protect myself and my co-signer, but I can’t do this any more and need a solution because my mental and emotional health are just not good.

Long story short:

-$248,000 in student loan debt
-Most of the debt is private loans
-Most of the private loans didn’t go to school or education costs
-From 2007-2009, my 18-21 year-old self was coerced, pressured, manipulated by my father to take out loans to support his failing restaurant. I feel like this cycle of abuse started when my father fraudulently used my first credit card to purchase $700 worth of liquor inventory. He made me feel like his business was my responsibility and I was supposed find a solution.

What I’ve done:

-In the last 5 years, I’ve jumped around different fields to try to find the job/career path that will let me sustain my current debt burden.

-After finishing my masters in Saxophone Performance in 2012, I quickly realized I couldn’t start my career in music because I couldn’t take entry level positions, couldn’t grow my private teaching studio because of not owning a car and the income-earning-down-time to start with 1 or two students and cultivate a student roster, couldn’t take crucial but low paying gigs to develops my resume.

-I then spent the next 2-3 years working as a full-time restaurant server making $54,000-58,000/year with a work-schedule that ran me into the ground, took me far away from the life in the arts that I wanted, brought me back into the restaurant hell that I was trying to escape and never fully wanted to be a part of. Even though I felt like I was making good money, loans were catching up, coming out of deferment, entering 100% payment etc and I needed to be making more money.

-An opportunity came from an old college professor to become a full-time elementary music teacher in a severely under-served area in South East Washington D.C. I thought this would be the move that might get me closer to living a life in the arts, doing good in the world, and help set me on a better financial course. I was making $60,000 plus good health benefits. I was wrong because after taxes I was making less than I was when I was a server. The school’s administration and executive board changed 3 times in one year. Things I was promised originally like the school’s moral and financial support to get my Teacher’s Certification disappeared and I was forced to realize if I didn’t get certified on my own dime, I wouldn’t have my job the following year. With my loan burden getting more intense, I could no longer function knowing that I wasn’t making enough money, working one of the most difficult jobs on this planet, not able to afford the necessit ies at times, so I only lasted one school year as a teacher.

-Upon leaving teaching I went back to the restaurant business and worked as a server for two different restaurants 6-7 days a week. In order to feel like I was controlling my own destiny and trying to find a career path a little more serious, I spent 1 year studying, obsessing, and advancing in the world of wine. I became a Certified Sommelier and thought maybe I could try getting heavily involved in that career path. I thought through wine, I could start living the life I wanted and finally get out of Baltimore and see the world.

-I did some soul searching an realized I just needed to be done with the restaurant/hospitality/food/beverage industry for how much pain it caused reflecting on my past, my father, and lack of control of the life I truly wanted

My plan of action today:

I am almost 100% successful with being done with working in restaurants (I’m still “on call” at one of the best restaurants I’ve ever worked at, only working when they need me and when I can fit it into my schedule). I am trying my best to live the life I want and that is a life that first and foremost pays my soul as an artist, not the debt collectors. After not being able to sustain a career I intended to do so with a Masters in Saxophone Performance, I found my way into acting and am doing so professionally in Theatre, Film, and TV. I’ve spent this past year also driving for Lyft/Uber (this is my first car since high school and is only possible to be financed because it’s through Uber) which has been extremely crucial in trying to figure out the life I want to live. Driving for rideshare platforms, I have the potential to make just as much or more than I was making as a restaurant server or public school.

My plan of action regarding the loans:

-I can no longer sustain the debt burden. The cycle of trying to work and save two weeks for even just one $540 loan payment out of ten or so varying loan payments has gotten me into a cycle of being behind on 3 max-ed out credit cards, cell phone bill, at times rent and utilities…every bill really.

-As of this week I am both mentally and financially restructuring my priorities

1. Rent
2. Car insurance (I must prioritize my rideshare business needs because that’s how I’m making most of my money right now)
3. Car payments
4. Cell phone
5. Food
6. Utilities
7. Federal loans (HIGHLY reduced payments thanks to Income-Based Repayments)

I am no longer considering paying remaining student loans until these priorities are met and will ultimately result in default in the next few months on at least 4 loans.

A single question isn’t feasible. I just ask for your best advice after hearing my story, that’s all I can ask for.

I have been following student loan/bankruptcy news for years so I know the basics. I know types of bankruptcy, difficulty of proving undue hardship, difficulty in discharging student loans. I just need to take the next steps and finally just see how all this will play out with my unique situation. There are some questions that commonly come up in my mind however:

1) Is it premature to file bankruptcy without being in default? Should I allow default to happen first and then file? Should I wait to be sued first even after default? My credit score has turned to rubbish these past 4 months due to delinquency so I’m not attempting to preserve that in the immediate future.

2) When during the journey will there be loan rehab agreements, compromise and settlement agreements? I’ve tried getting information about this from my loan servicer but it seems like that is not their department. It seems like these agreements come about after they get passed to collection after default.

3) What would a court make of my unique situation. Would my situation be helpful in arguing for discharge or easier negotiation for settlement. For years I’ve been told I should have animosity for my father and believe me I’ve tried, but until now I couldn’t “hate him.” It’s just plain sad, everything about him, that he hasn’t picked up the pieces in 8 years and can’t get/hold a job to start helping me. However I’m over it. How do I navigate or use the element of fraud in this case. What is the statute of limitations? How would this element work in filing Ch 13 or arguing undue hardship. I never signed the check, I never deposited it (I also question how or why the bank allowed this without me or my co-signer being present….is the bank at fault for any of this) I never had access to the funds or voice in their delegation, the funds that I am paying for and in turn ruining my life.

4) How to navigate any choice in regards to my cosigner, my dear grandmother who actually helps me with this situation (my father’s mother who was largely involved with the restaurant too). What does she need to do legally and when chronologically does she need to react in relation to my legal actions/filling bankruptcy.

Thanks so much for your time,



Dear Sean,

Congratulations. This has to be one of most thought out and detailed reader questions I’ve ever received. Wow! I’m also going to include your story you attached the the question as bonus material.

You have quite a detailed story. But I think it can be distilled down to a few core issues.

Are your private student loans used for purposes other than as a Qualified Education Loan, dischargeable in bankruptcy. You mentioned you went to some bankruptcy attorneys previously who did not provide much hope.

However, this is an area that has had some additional critical thinking applied to it. See this, this, and this.

I don’t think this is a clear situation of a loan being used for a non-qualified reason at a non-accredited school.

Your case will come down to finding an attorney willing to make the argument and a judge who is willing to listen.

If you do decide to default, after finding a bankruptcy attorney who is willing to take on the challenge then you need to keep in mind your co-signers may be contacted for collections on the debt. However if you both retain an attorney first to represent you it can stop direct communications to you and your grandmother.

The worst case scenario is you and/or your grandmother could be sued over a default. However, that’s not the absolute worst situation since it often opens up the chance of settling the debt. See this and this.

Since these are private loans and if your grandmother was protected from a judgment being enforced, there would be nowhere for the private lender to go there.

The court would not make much of your unique situation since the issues at hand in the court are matters of law. However your issues surrounding identity theft may be factors in your defense.

One place to look for a knowledgeable attorney would be here.

You’ve got a path to follow but I would suggest you first get legal representation, involve your grandmother in the plan you and your attorney agree on, and then proceed with that plan.

About 90-120 days after default you may start to get proactive settlement offers from your private student loan lenders.

Sean’s Story – Bonus Material

To anyone who has the time to read, a greater expertise of the subject, and a desire to help: My name is Sean, 28, Baltimore, MD. I hold my Masters in Saxophone Performance from Peabody Institute and completed it in 2012. I have a mortgage-sized student loan debt, roughly $248,000 which is not significantly less than I claimed in 2013 when I met with several Baltimore-based bankruptcy attorneys. Nothing came from meeting with these attorneys because it seemed four years ago less ground had been covered on the student loan debt crisis: no one was challenging the Brunner test, no one was bringing their cases to court, and no one had one shred of useful advice that seemed to be tailored to my unique circumstance. However, one guy wearing a suit had one shred of useless advice… “Your father should be shot.” The result from meeting with those three bankruptcy attorneys left me with no better idea where to turn or where I stand with legal rights.

“Your father should be shot.” I still can hear that lawyer’s words echo in my head every day. It was just after I explained how 80% of my student loans weren’t actually used by me or for college. It’s taken me nearly eight years to start to comprehend, to start to advocate for myself, and to question the belief system that was instilled by my parents to finally begin to realize that maybe I am a victim. That’s why I need your help because I still don’t know what options are available, who to hold accountable, or if my story would have any benefit if it was presented in either a court of law or to local and national lawmakers.

I want to share my recollection of the 18-to-20-year-old-me and how I amassed a debt that consumes every minute of my life. I can recall on many occasions that this child (and yes I do say child with having experience teaching children of all ages whether as a saxophone clinician, private instructor or a public charter school elementary music teacher) faced a father who would say something like “Sean, you’re over 18 years old. You’re an adult and my role as your father isn’t the same as it was when you were 10. We are equals and I see you as a business partner. Everything I’m working for will be yours someday”

Today I look at my Discover Card that says “Member Since 2007.” How did this piece of plastic come into my possession? I can remember trying to be a responsible “adult” at the age of 19 and thought it was wise to start developing my credit so I applied for my first credit card which had a $1,000 limit. I remember I applied for this while I was away at Duquesne University as a Sophomore and had it mailed to my home address six hours away from me at 45 Race Street, Jim Thorpe, PA. I figured I’d wait to get it from home next time I was on break because I was in no immediate rush to start spending although I must admit I was extremely proud of being approved and taking this fledgling step in the world of adult finance. However, upon returning home the excitement wore off quickly when I discovered the envelope of my Discover Card ripped open in the office of 45 Race Street the address of my home but also the Black Bread Cafe, my father’s two-year-old restaurant in the Lehigh Valley of Pennsylvania. I was extremely bummed when I realized that I wouldn’t be the first person to open the envelope but I thought it was just an honest mistake because my parents opened a lot of mail in the effort of running a restaurant. I was eager to move on from this disappointment so I proceeded to register my Discover Card online, create an account to monitor my eventual spending, and set up my electronic profile. Upon registering, I saw something baffling…$760 of my credit had already been used. After freaking out slightly, I proceeded to investigate and found one charge for that exact amount (that I myself didn’t authorize) was made at Wine & Spirits of Whitehall, PA. At the time, my 19-year-old self felt betrayed that I wouldn’t be the first to use my very own credit card because I wanted to start taking financial responsibility. Today, my 28-year-old self feels betrayed because my father had no right using my line of credit without my permission to purchase liquor inventory for a failing business, feels ignorant for not knowing that I had every right to call Discover and claim this as a fraudulent charge, and feels helpless that this was the cycle of being manipulated into believing that my father’s business endeavor was a problem of my own.

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As any talented chef would dream, my father dreamed of having a restaurant to call his own. The result of a winter’s drive through the Poconos in 2005 my father found a location in a town which he said “looked like the village under a Christmas tree.” At times, I admit, my experience in Jim Thorpe, PA was truly a pleasure. Within months, in July 2005 my father was able to get my grandparents on board to help him finance what he believed would be a successful entrepreneurial venture that brought the family together: my mother, father, sister, the grandparents, and myself all involved with The Black Bread Cafe. For almost four years my father’s restaurant was in business and I had the privilege of being trained by him, working along-side him, and being groomed to believing that I was owner of this restaurant. I do indeed mean I had the “privilege” because there are so many fond memories of working with my father and I still believe to this day that his intentions were the best they could be. But, there was no escape. We lived above the restaurant so “going home from college” either for the weekend, long breaks between semesters or holidays meant being thrust into a duty, paying back the debt of life in which my parents birthed me, and forced into a dream that wasn’t mine. Looking back now, I feel like I never had a choice to do anything but work in the restaurant because where else where would I go? and above all else I loved and believed in my family.

By 2007, influenced thoroughly by the Great Recession, the first two years of decent business took an ugly turn. Business seemed to drop by what felt like 50% or more and my father began to struggle financially. After my father used my Discover Card without me knowing, I remember we had a series of discussions that I can’t remember verbatim, but I remember what I was convinced into believing. He made me believe that with my effort and adopted responsibility the restaurant could be successful. “You should drop out of college, what’s a Music degree good for anyway?” Those were words that pain me to this day. He made me believe that you can only trust family: “Sean, you’re my biggest asset because I know you won’t steal from me, I can trust you to make wise decisions, you’re my son and I’m proud of your work… This is OUR restaurant. Once this place is successful I can pass its profits on to you.” I felt empowered by winning my father’s trust and that was what blinded me. I never thought I had to question whether or not to trust my own father.

Conversations like this weren’t a one-time thing. They happened all the time. It became ingrained in me. At the age of 18-21 I might have been “legal” but I was still a child bound to my parents’ wishes and control. I was going into the arts so naturally I believed in humanity, hope, and creativity but had no knowledge of business or legal matters. I thought I was legally bound to respecting my parents’ wishes and felt that I had no way out of my familial responsibilities.

As 2007 passed on, finances got worse and my father became more desperate with his business endeavor and expressed that he was seeking solutions to save the business from closing. He revealed to me that he had conversations with his cousin who I don’t know very much about but what I gather had ties to illegal organizations, was federally indicted on a check cashing scheme, and was arrested with like $100,000 in cash in his home safe. He told me that he asked his cousin for financial assistance but turned away from that assistance because “even though he’s my cousin, not being able to pay back this type of loan I could wind up in a ditch somewhere.” By the end of this very emotional conversation my father concluded with a misquoted idiom I heard him say in desperate situations “By crook or crutch I will get this place to work.”

Being surrounded by the pressures of business, family, and my own education to worry about, I was thrown into a psychological state that had me feeling just as desperate as my father and equally responsible for finding a solution. About 90% of my undergraduate degree was funded with talent and academic scholarships, grants, and federal aid but there were semesters where I had to find alternative loans. In desperation I found that I could easily take out vast amounts of money through private student loans. Looking back on 2007 today, I feel like the banks were only held accountable for 1/2 of the abuse they committed only being exposed for the sub-prime mortgage bubble. The other half of their exploitation was disguised by the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act of 2005 protecting the lenders by making student loans non-dischargeable essentially giving them more reason to take advantage of the unknowing, unwise, and desperate. I was bombarded by mailings from private student loan lenders. I called up to investigate because I needed to cover the remaining balance of my tuition and hopefully find enough to cover the last two years of my education. Within minutes, I gave only a few pieces of information and then was asked by the operator, “Now, what institution are you attending” and I responded with “Duquesne University.” “One moment while I look up your school” and 30 seconds later the operator said some words of praise along the lines of “Well congratulations, I can see that Duquesne is a very prestigious school. Based on the tuition I see here, I can offer you a maximum of $40,000 a year.”

…40,000 a year. That simple? The operator informed me that I would need a co-signer and within minutes the final application was sent in the mail. These loans were never certified by my school and my school was never informed these loans were being taken out. I don’t even remember being required by the banks to submit proof of enrollment at Duquesne University. It was like free money: Specify your school. Request what you need from the capped amount. A fresh cut check arrives at your home address.

By this time my father told me the Black Bread Cafe probably wouldn’t last more than a year in its current situation. How could I go back to college if knew my family would be destroyed by the closing of the restaurant? Even worse, since we lived in the restaurant how could I carry on if my family was homeless? How would I register for classes if my home address was in limbo and if my family had to move in with my New Jersey relatives, how could I afford losing $20,000+ of Pennsylvania in-state grants?

Although my father’s aforementioned use of my Discover Card ticked me off at first, our discussions after left me with a renewed sense of ownership and the heroic feeling of saving the family. Months later, when I first started applying for these seemingly overflowing student loans, I thought this was my ticket to finance the rest of my education and use what was left over to save my family. I couldn’t justify going to school and leaving my family in such chaos: My mother, my elementary-aged sister, and who I believed was the hardest working man in the world, my father. I told my grandparents that I couldn’t go back to school knowing that the eventual downfall of the Black Bread Cafe was near and they in turn agreed to become co-signers on my loans. Reviewing the many mailings from the private student loan lenders, the money from the loans could be used for a vast amount of college costs including housing. I told myself that this loan money would be necessary in continuing my education and since I was forced to believing I “owned” the Black Bread Cafe along with my family’s above I believed I could justify this as a “housing expense.” There forward, after being prodded by my father, I took out huge sums of loans to remain financially and mentally stable: I had a roof over our heads, my father wouldn’t have to wind up in a ditch in asking his cousin for money, I could justify going back to school while showing I wasn’t deserting my family, and maybe even have my father stop asking me to drop out of school to work for him full time. After the first loan was taken out there was the anticipation of receiving the money. Weeks after the money was dispersed, I found out that since I had to used my permanent address to apply, the loan check was sent to 45 Race Street while I was six hours away at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh. First and foremost, I needed to cover the remaining balance of my tuition. The money was supposed to be mine or my co-signer’s responsibility to delegate and just like my Discover card, I ultimately was robbed of that privilege. The loan check was written out to my cosigners, my grandparents, so they were going to have to handle this. I remember there being a big debacle because since the check was delivered to my parents at the restaurant in Pennsylvania and my grandparents were in New Jersey the argument between them became how the $40,000 check was going to be deposited, mind you, all of this was done without me knowing. I don’t remember if my grandparents were also jointly involved with my parents’ business bank account but what happened was my father and my mother signed my grandmother’s signature and deposited it in the business account, essentially doing what he had done with my Discover card: acted without permission, made my grandma feel impotent, then resolved it as “this was where the money was going to end up anyway.” I mean yes and no. When I found all this out weeks later, most of the money had been spent on the restaurant and upon requesting my money for tuition from my father I guess I was convinced that all the money was needed for the restaurant. I then had to apply for a smaller student loan but with higher interest through none other but Discover to cover my actual student needs. Without a doubt, the first loan I applied for was effective in fueling the business for the rest of the year. However, it was a breath of fresh air for something that should have just died, I just didn’t know it at the time. The restaurant’s survival was a big deal for the 19-year-old me because I didn’t know any other way of life. I came home for four months for summer and was totally immersed with running what seemed like a busy and revitalized restaurant, however the perceived busy-ness was amplified by the fact that there was no escape especially when you live a flight of stairs above it.

I go back to college and a few months after the peak season of the highly seasonal and touristed village of Jim Thorpe, the downward cycle begins again. This time instead of thinking that my efforts to save the failing restaurant were out of my choice, my father calls me and says “I’m going to need you to see if you can do the loan again.” The cycle of guilt and misdirection begins all over again, and somehow I’m able to procure another economic boost to the Black Bread Cafe.

After it was all said and done, I took out three large loans that went to my father’s use for the Black Bread Cafe that totaled about $98,000 in principle value. In the end, none of it helped. I never thought it was possible to lose everything…The 21-year-old version of me thought the restaurant could be sold and at the time I didn’t know that money that went to mortgage was essentially equal to paying off a loan…even if you’re close to paying off the mortgage, if you fail to do so you still don’t own anything. So the restaurant closed and my family crumbled and eight years later everyone is still in the rubble, no pieces picked up.

So what have I done regarding this in the last eight years to keep my head above water?

Even upon graduating Duquesne University I know I had to buy myself time. The restaurant closed when I was in my senior year of college so I had to figure out what to do now that I didn’t have a place to go, my family didn’t have a home, my parents separated, and were dispersed to different relatives to live. My father promised that he would set things straight and pay back the massive amount of money that was loaned under my name. The most immediate solution I could figure out was to go to graduate school and so I did to defer the loans for another two years. Simply put it, I went to grad school to delay the inevitable. The by-product of getting a degree and furthering my musical expertise was just an opiate to the truth, something I realize now as a part of the cycle of manipulation and abuse I suffered when handing over $98,000 in loans to my father.

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Simply enough: I can’t do this anymore. The amount of worry and anxiety I’ve amassed these past 5 years out of college has become debilitating. The burden of being taken advantage of my parents and strapped to $248,000 of student loans has made me waste some of my prime years and I can’t get that time back. My work ethic fueled by fear and guilt from the debt collectors of has left me at a dead end with nowhere to go. Miraculously, I’ve yet to go into default but I’m only weeks or months away from that because no matter how hard I work, the payments are completely out of control. The growth of my career is stunted because I’ve had to design my life around one function and that is to generate income to pay student loans exclusively, not to invest in my talents that could ultimately have me generate many times more than what I’m making and to live the life I want. Upon graduating I never had the opportunity to take small-paying but crucial entry level jobs because right out of the gate I’ve had to funnel tens of thousands of dollars into a debt that shouldn’t be mine. Reflecting on my optimism and ability to be happy in even the worst cases, I am shocked that I’ve gotten this far. Four years ago, I reached the point of desperation to seek out legal advice from bankruptcy attorneys because I thought the end was near. I thought I couldn’t sustain my bills and everything was going to default. Like I said, the result of the conversations with the lawyers was fruitless, but my personal assessment enabled me to buy myself more time by dedicating my life to keeping my head above water by working tirelessly but ultimately seeing no fruit of my labor because just like that the money is burned in this endless pit of debt.

I’ve done everything I can. With the nature of being so close to the restaurant business growing up, I’ve never been able to escape it and now I can finally say that every time I step foot in a restaurant to work, a part of the wound reopens. I haven’t relied on my parents for anything really since the age of 19. Outside of working at my family’s restaurant I began working at Duquesne University’s restaurant my Junior year of undergrad. My primary source of income since 2010, the year I view as being completely ‘on my own’ paying for my own off-campus apartment and every other aspect of life, has been from restaurant work. During grad school I worked at two restaurants. In the two years after finishing my master’s in Saxophone Performance, against my will I abandoned my desired career path in the arts and became a full-time server because like I mentioned above, I had to seek work in the only field that I know I could generate that amount of income instantaneously without having to start at an entry level. I was making $58,000 a year as a server and was keeping my head above water with the loans but that was because the several were on graduated payment plans and a large one was still on deferment. I wanted every day to be done with the restaurant business and regain control of my life. An opportunity arose from an old college professor when he gave me a chance to become a full-time elementary music teacher in a high needs, high risk, low-income charter school in Anacostia, Washington D.C. It was a full-time job with a salary of $60,000 plus healthcare and a ten-month teacher’s schedule. I thought this would be the ticket to getting back on my desired path of life in music, education, and the arts. $60,000 looks a lot better on paper. After taxes, I was making far less than what I was as a server. I truly wanted to continue what seemed like a real career path, however I couldn’t sustain myself working as an elementary school teacher for the following reasons:

-I had no financial means to relocate to D.C. after being suggested to by my school’s administration

-I had no financial means to pay for or take time off from earning income to get my teacher’s certificate. I wouldn’t be allowed to teach the following year if I didn’t take steps to do that. When I was interviewed and hired, my principal said “we’ll make sure we get you certified,” however, two administration changes later at this charter school struggling to get its own act together, my principal laughed at me when I brought it up at the contract renewal season and said “No no no, we never said that, your education is your responsibility to pay for.”

-I don’t think 100% percent of my loans have EVER been in FULL repayment. I’ve always had one or the other deferred, in modified payments, etc. Mentally I couldn’t return to this job knowing that such economic hardships were awaiting me. Every ounce of my life’s effort went to maintaining this job for a year and the extra strain of knowing that a year or two down the road my financial world would come crashing down made me believe that I be a disservice to this children. Teaching an extremely urban elementary school located in what I later found out what teachers call a “Warzone” was the hardest thing I’ve done in my life. Period. Responsibility for 165 children. The extreme hours. Waking up at 4:40 am every day to catch my train to D.C. and not getting home until 8 p.m. 5 days a week, 185 days a year. Maybe if I could have actually used my income to better my life, mental health, be able to recharge I could have sustained it, but I couldn’t justify this work knowing that 80% of what I was making was going to student loans or the “catch up game” from paying past debts.

A Note About Health Insurance

I hadn’t had health insurance since I was 17. My family couldn’t afford insuring me so I never went to the doctor when I was in college. My family was able to qualify for Medicaid so they had themselves covered. I made “too much money” because I was no longer being claimed as a dependent and doing my part to generate my own income.

The year of excellent health insurance I had the privilege of having while teaching was a blessing. I was able to catch up on immunizations, treat conditions I’ve always needed help with, stay healthy, and learn about and maintain mental health while visiting with a therapist. However, as things with my health both mentally and physically seemed to be on good track, the progress has been left in limbo since I no longer have coverage.

After I left teaching, I allowed to stay on its COBRA plan for another year but the premium was $420 a month. I was only able to stay on for 6 months because certain loans came back into repayment after being deferred for public service. I couldn’t afford it because most of my money was going to paying loans.

To this day, I cannot afford health insurance due to my student loan burden and on top of that, I’ve been subject to the Affordable Care Act’s penalty.

I know I benefitted greatly when I sought mental help from a therapist and was on track to seeking more psychiatric help but can no longer afford it. My anxiety and depression continue to worsen and are at times debilitating, hence why this essay came about. There are times where I need to stop dead in my tracks, go home and sleep, cry, or sulk and the idea of finally putting this on paper and editing it has been an its own therapy for the last 3 months.

Where do I stand today?

After I left teaching, I came right back to square one working two restaurant jobs 6-7 days a week. Even though my dreams and burning need to excel in some aspect of work that fuels my soul has been stifled by my debt, I still was able to dream and stay focused on trying to do something excellent even being confined by such limitation. Restaurant work is not where I want to be. Like I said, every time I step into my role as a server, wounds reopen from my past. However, I’m extremely good at it. In order try to get to the top of my game and try strive to get out of my financial nightmare, I’ve done two things in the last two years to try to further my life/career/dreams.

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1) I knew I had to do something with my life other than being a server. I took 12 months to study intensely, obsess, and master the world of wine. In under a year I advanced two levels in the Court of Master Sommelier’s program and am currently a Certified Sommelier. I found this dedication because I wanted to get out of the restaurant business, travel the world, and find a career path that I could be proud of. If I was working in a restaurant it was a good use of my time to work on something laterally outside of serving. ***** This was a great for the time being. A desperate attempt to try to reclaim my life, but ultimately I had to soul search and realize I need to be done with Food, Wine, and Restaurants for good. Which bring me to what I am currently doing with my life right now.

2) Six months after working at one amazing restaurant and one dismal restaurant, I began every effort to remove myself from the restaurant business even as I was studying to be a Sommelier. I found Uber and Lyft and I found that I could follow my dreams while making the same money as a server and teacher. I was able to lease a car through Uber with no money down and no strings attached. I am finding out now that it is easy to make $1000/week driving for these rideshare companies in conjunction with following my artistic passions professionally. Although I haven’t discussed this yet, I have found my true calling as an actor: Over the last 4 years I’ve fallen in love with acting. Theatre, TV, Film, you name it. I don’t see it as a departure from anything I’ve worked on these 10 years out of high school. I have found that working in this field is a truer expression of where my top passions meet my best aptitudes. I have used all I’ve learned with my music background, continued a life-long pursuit of knowledge, honing, and supplement of what I don’t know in the acting world, and figured out what experiences are best to sustain me as a full-time actor.

I’ve worked in many fields striving for excellence and attempting to perform at the highest level: Music, Hospitality, Wine, Teaching. I feel like I have distilled pieces of the formula for excellence but I’m still working on the proper syntax to reach a level that I would deem as success. The last 4 years have been a test to that formula and to patience in playing the “long-game.” To begin acting, I entered the theatre as an outsider, but never striving for anything less than consummate professional in my practice and rehearsal habits. In order to do so, I’ve taken a lot of roles that are of little or no pay, but never failed to have a strategy or justification for the large commitments of time and time away from earning income many roles have required.

The little bits have paid off. In the last 12 months, I have had more work as an actor than I could have ever dreamed in such little time: Work on three TV shows, two plays, one musical, commercials, U.S. Army training video, two shorts, and indie film, all of which has helped me get representation by my agent.


The last few paragraphs sum up the dilemma of the last five years of my life: I’m fighting to have my life back. I know I can be excellent in a lot of realms. I didn’t go to school for theatre but in four years I’ve found myself getting paid as an actor after jumping into the field with no experience. I recently got cast as the lead of a play in a professional theatre company in essence “beating” dozens actors for this role some of which have graduated from the area’s best theatre degree programs. I know that following my dreams and doing what I want to do with my life can be viable if I just had the chance to financially start over. I see that currently I’m in spin-cycle that I can’t get out of. I would LOVE to pay back all of the debt in my name, however that debt itself is disabling from advancing my career and getting on proper footing. This is why I seek your counsel because I am trying to get my life back on track after the years of being taken advantage of and after the years of finally figuring out how to start advocating for myself. Thanks for listening.

Damon Day - Pro Debt Coach

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Steve Rhode is the Get Out of Debt Guy and has been helping good people with bad debt problems since 1994. You can learn more about Steve, here.
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