What do Debt Collective members want?
We are debtors and supporters who are fighting for FULL student debt cancellation as well as free public college. In summer 2019, two bills were introduced in Congress that would do just that. For more information about those bills, go here
What do you say to the charge that cancelling all student loans would be a big giveaway to the upper middle class, in other words that it would be "regressive"?
Cancelling all student debt would actually benefit low income borrowers the most. Check out this DEMOS report. The truth is there is a deep class bias in how we finance higher education. Even though some middle class and wealthier people have lots of student debt, lower-income borrowers, especially black and brown people, have higher balances and are more likely to leave school because they can't afford to pay. Cancelling all student debt would restore our commitment to education as a right while disproportionately benefitting the people who most need it.
One reason more and more of us are having a hard time paying down our debt is because the cost of college has gone up, but our pay hasn’t. Instead, the labor market has "credentialized". This means that, over the last few decades, people needed to take on more debt to get more degrees just to get the same jobs earning the same wages as people in previous generations. As one analysis shows, a result of this credentialization is that more and more people have defaulted on their loans and more defaulters are low-income people and racial minorities, the same people who sought college credentials to try to get a pay raise that never materialized. If college led to a higher paying job, then cancelling the debts of college graduates would be regressive. But since most people, especially working class people, take on debt for degrees that DON’T lead to better jobs, cancelling student debt is NOT regressive. Want to learn more? We refer you to economist Marshall Steinbaum on this question.
Why not just target relief to those carrying the biggest burden?
When a policy is intended to help some people and not others, it is harder to pass (because the people who don’t benefit are less likely to support it). In addition, targeted (or what some call “means-tested”) relief would not treat education as a right. As we explained above, if education is a right then everyone should have access to it. For decades, college was free or low cost. Making people take out loans shifted the burden of paying for college onto the backs of students and families. If the policies that led us to this crisis were bad, then we should correct them once and for all. It’s true that full student debt cancellation will benefit some relatively well-off borrowers. That’s fine by us because most of the people who benefit will be regular working-class people who are struggling to get by and, again, education is a right.
What about the cost of college going forward? If we cancel all debt now, what about future borrowers who would be left out?
A student debt jubilee must go hand in hand with making public college tuition free. Future generations should not be burdened with student debt. It is time to end it.
Students who took out loans knew what they were getting into. Why should they be let out of their responsibilities?
The rise in college debt has nothing to do with borrowers being “irresponsible.” This is not a matter of individual behavior but of public policy. No one should have ever had to go into debt for education. It is awful and historically tragic that people were forced to take out loans to study and for the right to prepare for a career. Our government should stop harming people for simply wanting to go to college. We must return education to the status of a public good.
What do we do about the people who have already paid back all of their student loans? Won’t mass debt relief be unfair to them?
It is unfair for anyone to have been forced into debt for a basic right like education. This is not a good reason to keep inflicting injustice on future generations. There was a time when the US did not provide free public high school, and at the time that free high school came into existence there were those who had just turned 18 and missed out. The fact that anyone over 18 had already missed out would not have been a good reason to refuse to provide public K-12 education to everyone else. It is irrational to continue with a bad policy simply because people have already suffered under it. It is time to make college free, cancel student debt, and liberate people to pursue their dreams.
What do you say to people who say things like, "Well, I am fortunate to pay back my student loans. But I do it and so should everyone else."
We are sorry you feel that way. You too should have your debts wiped out. Education is a human right and should be free.
Wouldn’t cancelling student debt require people who didn’t go to college to pay the tuition bills of people who did?
This is a common talking point coming from some elected officials and politicians who want to continue with our current debt-financed education system. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, for example, says she opposes College for All for this reason. The truth is that cancelling student debt and freeing people to study without fear of debt would actually be good for us all. If more funds are needed to pay for universal access to college, we have a simple solution: TAX THE RICH. If poor, working and middle class people are paying for others to attend school, then our elected officials are failing us. Politicians should get the money from Jeff Bezos. They should go after Wall Street banks. They could go after the endowment funds being hoarded by rich, private universities. There is plenty of money to pay for what we want; it’s just in the wrong hands. Our answer to this question is: Stop fleecing working people while denying us our public goods. In fact, maybe the reason billionaire Betsy DeVos and company actually oppose College for All is because they don’t want their taxes to go up.
What impact will cancelling student debt have on the economy?
Academic research shows that eliminating student debt for everyone would provide a significant boost to the economy. Specifically, a debt jubilee would boost the economy by approximately $100 billion a year for at least 10 years, yielding lower unemployment rates, increased spending, and more. The study also shows that full cancellation would have only a moderate effect on the federal budget deficit. Read the full report here.
OK, but how do we pay for it?
The good news is that it doesn’t cost very much to get rid of all student debt. A study by economists estimated that eliminating all $1.5 trillion in student debt would grow the economy by $86 billion to $108 billion every year and create over a million jobs a year. In total the deficit-to-GDP ratio would likely increase by significantly less than 1%. We find it curious, though, that the “how will you pay for it” question is never asked when politicians want to do things like send American troops into other countries or cut taxes on the rich. In 2018, for example, Congress passed a huge tax cut for millionaires and billionaires, one of the largest in history. Did anyone bother to explain how it would be paid for? The truth is that Congress has the ability to authorize spending when it regards that expenditure as important for the public. It’s time that they used that power for millions of people drowning in student debt.
Does Congress Have to Approve Debt Relief?
No. As Astra Taylor described in the Guardian and as Luke Herrine wrote in a law journal, Congress has already given administrative agencies the power to cancel debts. This power is called “Compromise and Settlement” authority. Just as the Securities and Exchange Commission can cut low-dollar deals with banks that break the law, for example, the Secretary of Education
can settle with debtors for a fraction of what they owe or suspend the collection of
student debt altogether. When it was first given the power to issue and collect student loans in 1958, the US Department of Education also received the power to “compromise, waive, or release any right” to collect on them. And when the Higher Education Act of 1965 made student
loan authorities permanent, it solidified their power to compromise. We believe it is time
that the Department use its authority to stop collections on student loans. Nothing in the
law prevents the Secretary from doing so. Congressional authority is not needed. A President who wanted to see student debt cancelled could simply direct his or her Department of Education to cancel the debt.
What is education for?
Education should be free but it should also give us more liberty. Most of the time, we are told that education is key to finding employment and the only path out of poverty. In reality, our country’s economic problems can’t be solved by education alone—producing more college graduates won’t make more meaningful well-paying jobs magically appear! Nevertheless, that is the message that we hear all the time. The implication is that education is nothing but career training, and that if we don’t go to college, we don’t deserve to make a living wage or work in a field we enjoy. We oppose this kind of thinking as much as we oppose student debt. The desire to study and learn is part of what makes us human. Cancelling student debt and making college free would not end inequality or solve other social problems. Free education means the freedom to decide what to do with our lives. We want to learn in ways that we choose. We don’t want to be “human capital.” We want schools organized in our interest, not in the interest of lenders or employers. We know that college can be free and freeing. And we are ready to fight for it.
How can I protect myself while on a debt strike?
Thank you for asking! We do not recommend that anyone stop paying their student loans without protecting yourself from the consequences. Fortunately, there are ways to keep creditors and collectors at bay while you take this important stand. For more info on those options, please visit our forums: