(NYTIMES) — The debt collectors call so often that Amarilis Madera knows them by name. For years, they have threatened to take her possessions and drain her bank account. In February, her $5,000 tax refund was seized.

“I needed that money to live,” Ms. Madera, 49, a mother of three, said recently through a translator. “I almost lost my apartment.”

Her financial burden was caused not by reckless spending, but by a decision she made more than 17 years ago and deeply regrets: enrolling at the Jon Louis School of Beauty in the Bronx.

The school promised a steady career and a way out from the factories where she had worked since arriving from the Dominican Republic.

But it was a sham.

  • Text smaller
  • Text bigger
Note: Read our discussion guidelines before commenting.