Collaborating / Finance

Collaborative Debt Forgiveness

Debt Slave Vector Illustration, by

Last week I came across an article about Rolling Jubilee that caught my attention. It’s about debt forgiveness. I made a note to investigate it further. This morning I spent 45 minutes soaking up more and more. It’s a fascinating concept.

When I tell folks that I do financial social work, they often raise an eyebrow. I then proceed to tell them that I approach it from the perspective of justice: I provide tax return preparation services for free to low- and moderate-income clients so they A) don’t have to pay huge sums to a paid preparer, B) can seriously explore the possibility of putting away money in savings or C) can get connected with the social services needed to help make ends meet if they are struggling financially – particularly if they are going to owe the IRS. During the off season, I also do one-on-one financial coaching and teach financial education.

All of this work is important because it helps equip the individual with knowledge and skills needed to take control of his or her financial well-being. However, alone it is insufficient. There are incredibly powerful social and institutional structures that affect us and without addressing these, there will be severe limits on how financially secure an individual can become. The debt industry is one such structure that is wreaking havoc on far too many people. Medical debt, student loan debt, and credit card debt are destroying people’s lives. To blame individuals for getting sick, for wanting to learn a trade but then being unable to find a job, is to ignore the fact that despite the desire to live better and to provide for the family, there is an industry profiting off their misfortune.

Rolling Jubilee is about pooling together financial resources, buying debt for cheap, and then abolishing it. (Most others who buy debt then send debt collectors to hound people for the money.) It is a spin-off from the Occupy Wall Street movement’s Strike Debt! coalition and is a collaborative approach to debt forgiveness. It depends upon the donations of the common person who feels called by a sense of justice to begin addressing our debt crisis. The federal government gave bailouts to big banks and corporations, but not to the individual in need. When existent institutions fail to address issues affecting people, conditions are ripe for new institutions to be established. The Rolling Jubilee movement is one such example that’s worth keeping an eye on. Here’s your start:

**UPDATE 12/6/2012**

While the concept is still an important one, there are elements of Strike Debt!’s work and recommendations which are duplicitous and/or illegal. See here. So, please use good judgement and ethical considerations when determining what activities to engage in or recommend to others. I won’t recommend anything illegal… but I do recommend advocacy for laws that make for more just and equitable financial environments. – JC

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