Meet the student loan borrowers who refuse to pay their debt

Sanders Fabares felt that something was not working.

Even after years of paying $ 1,000 a month for his and his wife’s student loans, his balance hadn’t dropped much. They still owed about $ 80,000, down from the $ 90,000 they had originally borrowed.

“I started trying to understand what we were doing wrong,” Fabares, 41, said.

His research quickly moved away from his own loan statements and into the broader system of student debt. The Lakeside, California, resident read about the millions of delinquent borrowers, and how many people’s monthly payments were only going to interest on their debt, meaning their balances weren’t falling either.

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“I remember thinking, it is unsustainable,” Fabares said. “We need to rethink this system and try something else.”

Fabares has now joined the Biden Jubilee 100, a group of 100 student loan borrowers who have defaulted on their debt. The Debt Collective, which calls itself “a syndicate of debtors,” has organized the strike, hoping to pressure President Joe Biden to cancel the entire outstanding balance of the nation’s $ 1.7 trillion student loans.

“We’re going to win what we’re organizing for,” said Thomas Gokey, co-founder of The Debt Collective.

Fabares sanders

Source: Sanders Faberes

On the campaign trail, Biden said he supported $ 10,000 in student loan forgiveness, but is under increasing pressure from members of his own party, advocates, and borrowers to go the extra mile and write off $ 50,000 per person and make it through. of an executive action.

Although Biden has in the past expressed doubts about canceling student debt without Congress, White House press secretary Jen Psaki suggested this month that the administration had not ruled out the possibility. On his first day in office, Biden extended a payment hiatus for federal student loan borrowers that has been in effect from March until next September.

Critics of student loan forgiveness argue that it would not significantly stimulate the economy since college graduates tend to have higher incomes and would likely redirect their monthly payments to savings rather than additional expenses. Others say it would be unfair to those who have already paid off their student debts or never borrowed, and would send the message that it is okay for people to get rid of their debts.

Student loan borrowers are held to an unfair and punishing standard, Fabares said.

“Businesses run out of debt due to bankruptcies and bailouts,” he said. “But we are trapped in our debts.” (Student loans are difficult, if not impossible, to pay off in bankruptcy.)

An education shouldn’t cost a quarter of a million dollars.

Rebekah Valorn

student loan striker

Advocates say borrowers were already struggling before the public health crisis, with more than 1 in 4 borrowers delinquent or delinquent, and that after nearly a year of record unemployment levels, that pain has only worsened.

The vast majority, or about 90%, of federal student loan borrowers have taken advantage of the government’s option to pause their monthly payments during the coronavirus pandemic, data shows. And in a recent Pew survey, 6 out of 10 borrowers said it would be difficult for them to start paying off their student loans again in the next month.

Advocates also point out that it is people of color who bear the brunt of the student loan crisis, and it is also African Americans and Latinos who have suffered the most from the coronavirus pandemic. An aide to Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Massachusetts, said canceling student debt would be the biggest step toward narrowing the racial wealth gap since the civil rights movement.

Jenny Lezan of Naperville, Ill., Said she’s tired of people describing student loan borrowers, and those who ask for forgiveness, as lazy or irresponsible.

“We are hardworking people who just didn’t have the intergenerational wealth that allowed us to go to college without debt,” said Lezan, 35, who also joined the strike.

She was raised on the West Side of Chicago by a single mother who worked as a housekeeper. She never knew her father. “My mother believed that going to college would break the cycle of trauma and poverty that we were in,” Lezan said.

Jenny Lezan

Source: Jenny Lezan

Lezan ended up attending Benedictine University and the Illinois Art Institute – Chicago, one of the for-profit schools that has been criticized for misleading students about programs and career outcomes. She owes more than $ 170,000 in student loans.

It has been difficult to find a high paying job. Last year, working as a freelance and adjunct teacher, she made $ 28,000. “As a Hispanic and a woman, I face additional obstacles,” she said.

Many are skeptical that a group of people who refuse to pay their loans will cause big social changes.

“This is not the first time that student loan borrowers say they are going to go on a student debt strike, demanding the forgiveness of student loans,” said higher education expert Mark Kantrowitz. “Nothing changed then, and nothing will change now.”

Critics also point out that borrowers who default on their student loans face long-lasting financial consequences.

“It can be difficult for them to rent an apartment or qualify for new debt, including credit cards, auto loans and mortgages,” Kantrowitz said. “It can be difficult for them to get a job that requires a security clearance or background check.”

But Rebekah Valorn, another forward who lives in Salem, Oregon, said her student loans already made these moves impossible.

“I had to accept that buying a property will not be an option,” said Valorn, 35. “I had to put aside a lot of my hopes for the future.”

When he heard about the strikers, he felt that the movement could be an opportunity for change.

Shortly after Valorn graduated with her law degree from the University of Oregon in 2014, her mother was diagnosed with terminal breast cancer. Valorn returned to Minnesota to care for her. During that time, he was unable to focus on studying for the bar exam. He took all the jobs he could find.

Meanwhile, Valorn made payments on his student loans when he could, but he still owes about $ 274,000 today, at least $ 40,000 of which is interest.

Whatever happens in the end, joining the strike has made her feel less alone, she said.

“It’s been transformative being in this group and knowing that we have nothing to be ashamed of,” Valorn said. “An education shouldn’t cost a quarter of a million dollars.”


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