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August 20, 2006

The collection agency wears Prada: Taking a student loan debt to small claims court

By Jane Stillwater

When my daughter's fashion college said I still owed them money for a whole year even though she dropped out after only one quarter, my credit rating was in danger so I took the school to small claims court -- and won! Maybe I can get a make-over in lieu of Satisfaction of Judgment? I'm devishly good in court -- but still not all that stylish. "The Devil Wears Good Will"


"I want to be a fashion designer, Mommie," said my little girl. It's every little girl's dream. Then my little girl grew up -- and guess what? She STILL wanted to be a fashion designer. So we sent her off to FIDM, the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising. Happily we signed their student loan form and indebted ourselves for big bucks. After all, my daughter was destined to become a star in the fashion world and SHE would pay it all back. No problem. Yeah right.

Then reality struck. My daughter lost interest and dropped out after ONE QUARTER. So much for her becoming the next Dolce & Gabanna. No future Donna Karan in our family. And no wearing Prada.

The Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising was very nice about it. Not. "You co-signed an agreement with us. Whether your daughter attended FIDM or not, you owe us for one whole year. Pay up within a month or we'll sic our collection agency on you."

FIDM was telling me that, after they had already been paid $13,000 in FAFSA student loans and grants to cover that first unhappy quarter, I still owed them $7,393.98 more? What!

Can they do that? Apparently they could. There goes my credit.

In desperation, I re-read my contract. "For services rendered...." Hey! They didn't render me no stinking services! Or my daughter either. So I took FIDM to small claims court. I love small claims court. On the day of my trial, there was a dispute between a landlord and a tenant. And a despute between a car mechanic and a customer. It was just like Judge Judy! I loved it.

And then it got even better. I got my own day in court. And I won!

I won the right to not have to pay FIDM for the part of the school year that my daughter didn't get any services rendered for. "The contract between the parties is satisfied and terminated." Plus they have to give me back the $1,500 I already gave them as a down payment on what they claimed I owed them and pay me $40 in court costs too. I feel all devilishly proud of myself. I've struck a blow for unfairly-indebted college students everywhere!

But I'm still not very stylish. Despite my fabulous judicial triumph on her behalf, my ungrateful daughter has still not re-vamped my wardrobe. I'm still in sartorial hell. "The Devil Wears Goodwill." Maybe FIDM will offer to give me a make-over in lieu of Satisfaction of Judgment?

Authors Bio:
Stillwater is a freelance writer who hates injustice and corruption in any form but especially injustice and corruption paid for by American taxpayers. She has recently published a book entitled, "Bring Your Own Flak Jacket: Helpful Tips For Touring Today's Middle East". According to Ms. Stillwater, "It's a fabulous and entertaining book. I loved writing it. And I hope that you will love reading it too." It's available at or you can special order it at any independent bookstore.