FAQ

Frequently Asked Questions

Are you encouraging debtors to stop paying back their loans right now?
If pledgers default, won’t it ruin their credit scores?
What are the origins of this campaign?
Are these principles a thinly veiled set of demands?
What are the consequences of the campaign for U.S. higher education?
Can the U.S. afford free higher education?
Aren’t “the most indebted generation” just entitled youth who do not deserve to be bailed out?
Who is to blame?
What about the example of those who work hard to avoid debt?
What happens when the number of signatories reaches one million?

Are you encouraging debtors to stop paying back their loans right now?

No. The pledge is a nonbinding promise to withhold loan payments after a critical mass of refusers has signed on. In effect, pledgers are participating in a debt strike threat. A public action like this is a way of calling attention to the intolerable plight of debtors, putting pressure on lawmakers, and generating change.

If pledgers default, won’t it ruin their credit scores?

Mass default is already occurring, with or without this initiative. Because debtors simply cannot pay, default rates are rising rapidly, boosting the exorbitant profit margins of lenders. Rather than suffering the consequences in personal isolation and without recourse, this initiative gives debtors a way to publicly express their predicament, and to collectively contest the outcome.

What are the origins of this campaign?

Since the first days of the Occupy movement, the agony of student debt load has been a constant refrain, and we have all heard harrowing personal testimony about its consequences. In response, we decided to base this campaign on some beliefs about access to higher education that we heard around Zuccotti Park, in our universities, in the public media, and even in the halls of Congress. From what we can gather, these beliefs are widely accepted, far beyond the movement itself.

Are these principles a thinly veiled set of demands?

Like others in the Occupy movement, we don’t think that an adequate response to our demands is likely within the current political system, not while it is under the baleful influence of corporate dollars. By contrast, we believe that action is empowering, and so that is why this campaign is presented as an action initiative–to give debtors a chance to act, collectively, in an area of their lives where they have been rendered entirely powerless.

What are the consequences of the campaign for U.S. higher education?

Colleges and universities are increasingly and ruinously dependent on the debt bondage of the people they are supposed to serve. Despite the public concern about the erosion of public funding and the surge in tuition costs, we are only just beginning to recognize the human costs of funding higher education through debt loading. This kind of dependency is corrupt and unsustainable.

Can the U.S. afford free higher education?

Yes. We used to be able to do so. Over the last three decades, public education has been pushed further and further down the scale of national priorities. A sustained assault on public goods and services has facilitated the upward redistribution of wealth. Many other countries, less affluent than the U.S., maintain a tuition-free public university system. It would not cost much for the U.S. to join that list.

Aren’t “the most indebted generation” just entitled youth who do not deserve to be bailed out?

Most student loan debtors are no longer students. Many of them have gray hair. In any case, entitlement is a loaded slogan (as in the current neoliberal parlance of “entitlement programs”) that is used to castigate and erode the provision of public goods and services. It is an equally inappropriate way of describing young people whose future has been foreclosed.

Who is to blame?

Financial speculators have wasted the jobs economy, leaving graduates unemployed and in hock for decades to come. These same financial speculators have profited handsomely from the student lending racket. Over the years, the federal government has been complicit in enabling these rapacious profits. Despite recent reforms–all federal loans now originate with the government–the unfair lending terms and lack of protections for the borrower have not altered appreciably. Universities that shield their fiscal affairs are unaccountable in how they utilize debt-financed revenue.

What about the example of those who work hard to avoid debt?

Many students do take on multiple jobs in order to avoid racking up debt. Their studies suffer as a result, often catastrophically, and colleges are now addicted to their availability as a cheap labor force. Just as lenders exploit the fresh desire of 18 year-olds to pursue the education of their dreams, universities are fiscally structured to exploit them as a low-wage workforce.

What happens when the number of signatories reaches one million?

We believe that a million-strong debtor strike would have a significant impact on the public and political conversation about the debt-financing of higher education.

 

***Disclaimer. Occupy Student Debt is a social justice campaign, designed to offer debtors a collective alternative to suffering the consequences of debt and default on their own. To sign this nonbinding pledge of refusal, which is not a call to immediate default, you must be 18 or older. Student loan debtors should know the odds are stacked against them by laws and rules that are clearly unjust. Under these reprehensible laws, which this campaign aims to change, defaulting on debt obligations may risk your (and co-signor’s) credit rating and history, and may cause your assets to be seized. Before making any ultimate decision not to meet debt obligations–at the time when the number of signatories reaches one million–please consider seeking independent advice.