The Student Loan Crisis Led to a Debt Strike. Experts Have Other Ideas.

Laveta Brigham

Starting in 2015, a small number of Americans started a strike: They stopped making payments on their student loans to protest the crisis in student debt. Borrowers in the U.S. collectively owe more than $1.5 trillion. “For a lot of us, this student debt should have never existed in the […]

Starting in 2015, a small number of Americans started a strike: They stopped making payments on their student loans to protest the crisis in student debt. Borrowers in the U.S. collectively owe more than $1.5 trillion.

“For a lot of us, this student debt should have never existed in the first place. It’s about seeing education as a public good,” says Thomas Gokey, an organizer with the Debt Collective, a union of student debt strikers, who lives in Canton, N.Y.

Now 41, Mr. Gokey studied art in undergraduate and graduate school. He hasn’t made a payment on his $37,000 of student debt since 2015; his loans are currently in deferment.

The Debt Collective has 1,600 active strikers who believe “mass civil financial disobedience” is the way to extend a pandemic-related relief period currently in place and eventually to cancel all student debt. Their members use deferment, forbearance or income-driven repayment—which are ways to halt payments during financial hardship—to make no monthly payments.

Debt striking is an extreme measure. Skipping payments altogether is an approach personal-finance experts strongly discourage because of its lasting negative impact on a person’s credit score.

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