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Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Barnes Business College
The (non)Education That Keeps on Giving.

Over 20 years ago I made several major mistakes.

One was getting into trouble with the law, a mistake I am paying for to this day because so many potential employers slam the door in your face if you have ever had a felony conviction.

Another was signing up to attend Barnes Business College which is now defunct. Ironic, a business college that went bankrupt. I don't even bother to tell most people I ever went there out of sheer embarrassment.

Anyway, when I signed up for Barnes I was given many sweet-sounding promises. Full accreditation that would be transferrable to higher schools. To sum it up, a pack of salesman lies. I was just out of high school and was very naive. I started classes okay, but then I met a young lady with whom I ended up in serious legal trouble.

About half way through my training at Barnes, I was arrested and held in jail for almost six months. When I was released on probation, I was told by my probation officer that I would not be allowed out of my house past nine at night for the first six months of my probation unless it was for work. No sleep-overs at a friends, no nightclubs or concerts, and no night school until after the six months was over.

I finished the six months of intensive supervision totally without incident. The day after it was over and I was finally on regular probation, I contacted Barnes Business College to get back into classes as soon as possible. That was when I was given the bad news.

Because I had been out of classes for more than six months, Barnes Business College had closed out my contract with them, supposedly giving a refund of the unused tuition back to the bank. The problem with that was they also claimed I owed them close to $1,000 that I would have to pay before they would even talk about me getting back into classes. In addition, I would have to pay the new tuition rates that had increased by 20-25% just days before I called them.

So, here I was, unemployed and unable to complete my education to get a decent paying job in the first place. Over the years, my student loan with the bank sat collecting interest because of my inability to pay.

Finally last year the bank turned the loan over to the Department of Education and I began receiving collection calls, first from a company called Windham. I tried repeatedly to explain that by this time I was on total disability and was receiving only SSI as income. They kept insisting that I would have to pay at least 20% of the loan before we could even talk about rehabilitating the loan. By that time, 20% was like $2,000. No way in hell I had that kind of money and being on SSI there wasn't any bank that would lend me the money. After about two months, they finally took some information from me about my disability and told me I would hear from the Department of Education shortly about possibly getting the loan discharged due to my disability. That was like nine months ago.

Finally, I get a call from a new collection agency called Progressive starting the whole collection process over again last week. This time they started claiming they could seize my SSI payments if I didn't start paying at least 1/6th of my income to them immediately. Understand that on SSI the payment is currently $623 a month. 1/6th of that would be equal to half my food budget for the month. Because of my income and assumed expenses, food stamps would only give me $32 a month, even with me paying over $100 a month on my student loan. I went round and round with the collector for almost a half-hour over the phone about this, trying to get him to see reason to no avail. He insisted that I would have to make such payments for at least 9 months before I could even apply for a hardship consideration. Reluctantly I told him, before hanging up, that I would see what I could do.

Then I called the Department of Education.

I was informed that I would have to fill out a form to request discharge of the loan based on total and permanent disability and was told it would be 10 to 14 days before the form would arrive. Once the form was in (after being signed by my doctor) then it would be reviewed by them for approval. Never mind the fact I have been receiving SSI for the past four years after going through hell to prove I was disabled in the first place, they want confirmation from my doctor. Even then, it would only be a tenative discharge. The final discharge could take up to three years to finally be approved, during which time, as I understand it, they would monitor my disability to see if I improved enough to go back to work.

In the meantime, any tax returns I might be eligible to receive would be confiscated by them. Fine, let 'em. Maybe they will get an idea of how little I have been earning each year for the past twenty years because of this. Hard to pay $80-100 a month when you are earning minimum wage because you have a half-finished, worthless education.

Anyway, to top it all off, I discover that they can not take my SSI payments. Seems the Department of Education representatives and collectors need a lesson in Federal law. According to 31 CFR 285.4(2)(b), SSI payments are exempt from seizure. Section 285.4 is entitled 'Offset of Federal benefit payments to collect past-due, legally enforceable nontax debt' and describes various provisions and definitions that regulate what Federal benefits departments like the Department of Education can seize to pay things like defaulted student loans. The relevant portion reads:
Covered benefit payment means a Federal benefit payment payable to an individual under the Social Security Act (other than SSI payments), part B of the Black Lung Benefits Act, or any law administered by the Railroad Retirement Board (other than payments that such Board determines to be tier 2 benefits). The amount of the covered benefit payment payable to a debtor for purposes of this section will be the amount after reduction or deduction required under the laws authorizing the program. Reductions to recover benefit overpayments are excluded from the covered benefit payment when calculating amounts available for offset.

There are two interesting points here. One is that SSI payments are not included in the definition of a seizable Federal benefit payment. The second is, even if it were, then the limitation requirement would come into play. Guess what. SSI payments are less than the limitation amount in the first place and would thus not be touchable anyway.

Federal bureaucrats would do well to educate themselves on what the laws that apply to their activities actually say. Perhaps it would make them look less like heartless bastards.


Anonymous said...

since barnes business college went bankrupt what do we do now to continue are education

shelly said...

I too attend Barnes and have my taxes taken for money that I supposedly owe them. I had loans that went to Barnes, why should I have to pay them back? I didn't even get the education that the loans went to. Can anyone help?