Student loan borrowers gather near The White House to tell President Biden to cancel student debt, all of it with no means-testing on May 12, 2020 in Washington, DC.

The Debt Collective announced a group of student-loan borrowers over age 50 who will strike if payments resume.
Known as the “Fifty Over Fifty,” the group intends to make $0 payments if the pause expires after August 31.
Education Sec. Miguel Cardona said borrowers will know “soon” if the pause will be extended.

Millions of people with student debt are one paycheck away from resuming payments — but a group of older student-loan borrowers have decided they won’t be a part of it.

On Thursday, the Debt Collective — a debtor’s union fighting for student-debt cancellation — launched the “Fifty Over Fifty,” a group of 50 student-loan borrowers aged 50 and older that have committed to go on strike if President Joe Biden restarts payments after August 31.

According to the press release, these borrowers are striking to highlight “the destructive impact of student debt on older Americans,” and they are part of a broader action organized by the Debt Collective that would help borrowers who are willing and able to strike get their payments down to $0 by enrolling in an income-driven repayment plan that would allow for $0 monthly payments, taking advantage of targeted loan forgiveness programs, or staying in school and deferring loans during that time. 

“I’m going on strike because I simply cannot pay off my student loans,” Fifty Over Fifty striker Dawn Wills said in the press release.

“I have been paying for over 20 years and the interest just keeps adding up and the amount has ballooned from $50K to over $100K,” Wills added. “I tried several times to get relief by working in non-profit organizations to get the public service cancellations but was unsuccessful. I feel that I am in a trap with no escape. I can’t spend my life worrying about this insurmountable debt, so I simply am not going to pay it. I’m tired.”

The 50 strikers collectively hold nearly $6 million in student debt, per the Debt Collective, with several of them having balances exceeding $400,000. The organization noted that it is “not encouraging student debtors to intentionally default on their student loans given the harmful financial consequences that the federal government wrongfully administers,” like wage garnishment and seizure of federal benefits.

Insider previously spoke to older borrowers who have no hope of paying off their debt balances before they die. Linda Navarrom, for example, is 70 years old, and she originally borrowed $20,000 when she attended college in 1990, but still owes $145,000 due to accumulating interest. She said it’s like being “on a hamster wheel, and you will not get off.”

“There’s a real fear in dying in this,” Navarro said. “And the best part is that my family has to prove that I died so the loan will die as well.” 

The payment pause is set to expire in under two weeks, and this is the closest federal borrowers have ever been to restarting payments without an update from Biden. Prior extensions of the payment pause have been announced with close to a month’s notice at least, and while Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said borrowers will know “soon” whether the August 31 expiration date will be pushed back, it still leaves very little time to financially account for those changes.

Additionally, Biden has confirmed he will make a decision on broad student-loan forgiveness before August 31, reportedly considering $10,000 in relief for borrowers making under $150,000 a year. But many advocates have been pushing for at least $50,000 in relief without any income caps, to ensure any debt cancellation is as expansive as possible. 

“We strongly urge your administration not to threaten the financial security of people with student debt as a tactic to fight inflation,” 180 organizations wrote to Biden in June. “Instead our organizations urge you to enact robust student debt cancellation that is not means tested and does not require an opt-in for participation and to fully implement this policy before any student-loan bill comes due.”

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