That's likely in part because federal laws don't allow student loans to be discharged in bankruptcy unless the borrower can prove that the debt poses an "undue hardship." That term may sound relatively benign, but legally it's a high bar to meet: Borrowers often must exhibit a "certainty of hopelessness."
A recent development has made Sparks feel a little less hopeless.
She discovered, thanks to a post in a Facebook group, Student Loan Justice, that the Education Department was requesting public feedback on whether it's too difficult for Americans to erase their student debt in bankruptcy, signaling it may consider making the process easier.
Comments from student loan borrowers poured in.
"My sadness stems from a hopeless circumstance of federal student loan debt that I have been living with for two decades," wrote John Koch. "The principal balance has quintupled from what it originally was and is now about $450,000 and still growing."
The request for public comment prompted some advocates and experts who've been following the issue to do a double take.
"I was frankly surprised," said John Rao, a lawyer with the National Consumer Law Center. "This administration has not been very consumer friendly."
Indeed, the Trump administration has taken moves that advocates describe as favoring the student loan industry over its borrowers.
Yet a change in bankruptcy rules could be in the interest of the student loan industry as well, said Ed Boltz, vice president of the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys.
That's because the Education Department often requires that servicers of federal student loans like Navient oppose petitions for bankruptcy by student loan borrowers — even if the prospects of recovering that debt are dim, Boltz said.