The article from Reuters I’ve excerpted below is a cautionary tale to students and parents. When it comes to college loans, you must borrow wisely.

Student loan borrowers, herded into default, face a relentless collector: the U.S.

Lakisha Johnson figured all she needed was her 2016 tax refund to get her and her daughter out of a homeless shelter and back into a place of their own.

The U.S. Department of Education had other plans.

Johnson, a home health aide, and 12-year-old Aijiah were forced to move out of their West Philadelphia apartment just before Thanksgiving last year, after the landlord jacked up the rent from $675 to $875. Soon, they were living on a bunk bed in the shelter a few blocks from Aijiah’s school. The girl was petrified that a classmate would see her using the secured entrance of the crowded, noisy shelter.

With the $13 an hour she earns caring for her elderly charges, Johnson planned to stay at the shelter — or with anyone who would let the two sleep on a floor, a couch or a spare mattress — until April. In past years, that’s when she received her federal Earned Income Credit tax refund.

The check never came.

On the phone, an Internal Revenue Service agent told her the Department of Education (DOE) was “holding back” the $8,220 refund to recoup some of her student loan debt. It would probably do the same next year, the agent told her, to recover the rest of the nearly $17,000 she owed.

Johnson was confused. The two student loans she took out in 2006 in hopes of becoming a medical assistant amounted to only $6,625. Whenever she fell behind on her payments, she would be enrolled in one of the forbearance plans promoted in a continuous stream of emails she received from Navient Corp, the largest loan servicer working under contract for the DOE. An Oct. 4, 2011, email, for example, stated: “You may be able to qualify for a deferment or forbearance, which can postpone your loan payments and keep your loan from going into default.”