It would be a nightmare scenario for any of us: Finding yourself stuck in a financial hole, unable to climb out.
You know, rationally, that this is crazy, that there is no hole. And the more you struggle, the longer you fight, the deeper the hole gets.
That's essentially the situation in which a Minneapolis woman, Kaja Robinson, found herself.
Her story was told recently in a so-unbelievable-it-must-be-true report from Minnesota Public Radio, titled "Woman’s 'bizarre and surreal' decades-long student loan dispute."
Here's the gist: In the late '80s, Robinson borrowed about $17,000 to attend the University of Minnesota. In subsequent years, she says she paid off about $15,000 of the amount, and has large boxes of paperwork to prove it.
The U.S. Department of Education's math works out a bit differently: The federal agency says Robinson still owes about $49,000; the two parties have been in a frustrating stalemate for decades.
According to the MPR story, the problem is in missing records of her payments and accrued interest. Robinson said that her student loans have been passed from one lender to another over the years. Her debt has been sold to companies time and again. With each new debt collector, with each passing day, more and more valuable paper trail is lost.
Robinson's case may be the extreme, but all student loan debt has the potential to be crippling.
A Forbes.com story earlier this year called student loan debt a "$1.5 Trillion Crisis."
"There are 45 million borrowers who collectively owe more than $1.5 trillion in student loan debt in the U.S.," Zack Friedman wrote for Forbes. "Student loan debt is now the second highest consumer debt category -- behind only mortgage debt -- and higher than both credit cards and auto loans.
"Borrowers in the Class of 2017, on average, owe $28,650, according to the Institute for College Access and Success."
In Minnesota, more than two-thirds of bachelor's degree recipients in 2017 took out loans to pay for school, according to Minnesota Office of Higher Education cited in a May MinnPost.com story. The median debt for that group is $25,500.
Of Minnesota's public colleges and universities, bachelor's candidates at Minnesota State University Moorhead, St. Cloud University and Winona State have the highest median debt: $27,000, according to the higher ed office.
As the state's high school seniors begin to apply to colleges for the 2020-21 school year (All Minnesota state colleges and universities are waiving their application fee Oct. 28-Nov. 1, with most waiving fees the entire month), what can students and parents do to avoid falling into a pit of debt?
There are several different "how to pay off debt" suggestions, but the rules of common sense apply.
Get -- and stay -- on a budget. Pay a bit more than the minimum payment. Apply "found" money -- raises, refunds -- to your debt. Pay off the primary debt, not the interest.
It goes without saying that a borrower should keep his or her contact information current, keep up with their loan company, and keep all of their records.
At the very least, like Kaja Robinson, you will have a tall stack of information that might help you climb out of that hole someday.