CAN'T PAY! WON'T PAY!
Updated April 11, 2022. This text will continually be updated as the situation develops.
UPDATE: The Debt Collective, in coalition with other organizations, held an action at the Department of Education on April 4. Two days later the Biden administration announced they were extending the payment pause again. We have momentum and we are winning. Now we need to grow the strike to make sure that they never restart payments and cancel student debt instead!
The Biden administration is threatening to restart student loan payments during a pandemic on August 31, 2022. Are you ready to strike your student debt? Curious about striking? This is the place to start! Learn more about what the Debt Collective means by a “student debt strike” and the multiple ways you can get safely to nonpayment.
What does it mean to strike your student debt?
We should be clear about what a debt strike is not: the Debt Collective has never advocated that people default on their student loans because of the severe consequences of default. Instead, we are advocating that everyone who can should get to $0 a month payments safely. The Debt Collective wants to help you get to $0 monthly payments, or as close as you can to $0 payments, as safely as possible. There are many options to do this which we outline below.
The Debt Collective defines a student debt striker as anyone who is paying $0 a month for a combination of economic and political reasons—because they can't pay and know they shouldn't have to pay—and who is committed to joining the fight for broad-based cancellation. A student debt strike is about politicizing nonpayment collectively. Instead of doing things as individuals, we are doing them together as a united front.
This action is not for everyone, and that is okay. Just like other direct actions, the risks do not fall equally on everyone. If you are not able to get to $0 monthly payments safely, it is okay to do what you have to to protect yourself. Because there are can be a range of serious consequences to default (trashed credit score, garnished wages and social security checks, harder to rent an apartment or get a job, increased interest rates on other forms of debt, loss of professional licenses in some states, etc.) we recommend avoiding default if you can by getting to $0 monthly payments in a way that gives you the most protection. There are several ways to do that.
What can I do?
At the Debt Collective we believe that debt strikes are a central tactic in the arsenal of debtors’ unions. However, different debt types require different understandings of a strike. In a student debt strike, the main target is the federal government. The federal government is a unique target because we don't actually hurt the government financially when we don’t pay our federal student loans. In fact, millions of people don’t pay their federal student loans every year! Since March 2020, most student debtors have paid nothing because of the payment pause! Even before the pandemic most people (about 55%) were paying $0 a month in one form or another. Right now 89% of student loan borrowers with full-time jobs say they cannot afford to pay their student loans. This proves the government doesn’t need our money and can easily cancel the debt. So a student debt strike doesn’t produce financial leverage over the target in the way some other debt strikes do. But that doesn’t mean it’s not a worthwhile tactic as part of a broader strategy to win debt abolition. A student debt strike keeps money in our pockets, puts money in the broader economy, and it shows the illegitimacy of forcing people into debt for what should be a public good. It also shows that we know the truth: The government doesn’t need our money, but they are counting on our cooperation in our own exploitation. A debt strike says we will not cooperate.
To be clear, a strike is a collective act. We can only build power by organizing together.
What if I’m already in default?
You are already on strike! People who have already defaulted have already been forced to deal with the consequences. By declaring yourself on strike (instead of merely in default) you are politicizing and reframing your situation: this is not a matter of personal failure, it is about collective resistance. We do not yet know the details about what the Biden administration plans to do with accounts that are in default if they turn payments back on but there is an expectation that there will be some kind of “fresh start” that will pull these accounts out of default.
What if none of these options work for me?
It is not always possible to safely get to $0 monthly payments. Just like other direct actions and civil disobedience, the risks do not fall equally on everyone. If you are not able to get to $0 monthly payments safely, it is okay to do what you have to to protect yourself. Some of these options might not get you all the way to $0 a month but could dramatically lower your monthly payment, and that might add a measure of protection for you and your family. There are other ways to organize and build pressure to win student debt cancellation.
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Debt Strike Manifesto
Check out our manifesto Can’t Pay, Won’t Pay: The Case for Economic Disobedience and Debt Abolition