Occupy Wall Street buys $15m of Americans' personal debt in Rolling Jubilee scheme

Individual debts collectively worth millions are abolished for just $400,000

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The Independent US

A group of Occupy Wall Street activists have freed Americans from $15million of personal debt over the last year.

The Rolling Jubilee scheme is a project aimed at helping people repay outstanding credit.

Established by the Occupy’s Strike Debt movement, it sees the group buy personal debt from banks for a low price, before ‘abolishing it’ and freeing the individual from the debt.

To date, they have spent just $400,000 freeing people from $14,734,569.87 of personal debt, most of which was amassed from medical costs.

The group say their project aims to highlight "the injustice of having to go into debt for basic needs that should be publicly provided, like education and healthcare".

"It is our view that this debt never should have existed in the first place," Thomas Gokey, one of the Strike Debt organisers told The Independent. "The main question that Strike Debt wants people to ask is: what are our true debts to one another?

"When we launched the project a year ago we made a public promise to abolish at least $20 for every $1 raised. We have already surpassed that promise. We will continue to spend the remaining money to abolish even more debt in the future.

"We acquired the debt the same way that a debt collector does, by purchasing it for pennies on the dollar. Instead of collecting the debt we abolished it."

He added that 62 per cent of personal bankruptcies in America are related to medical costs.

In total, the group have abolished debts of 2,683 people who live across 45 states in America and Puerto Rico, which “ranged from $50 to over $200,000, including several accounts over $100,000”.

On their blog, the group say individuals who are now debt free have been notified by letter. "These individuals will no longer be hounded into paying this debt", they said. 

Rolling Jubilee manages to purchase debt so cheaply due to 'secondary debt market', where the debts of borrowers who repeatedly default on or do not pay their bills are usually sold to another company. The creditor company therefore makes a profit by selling their debt as a commodity in the market.

Mr Gokey acknowledged the Rolling Jubilee is not a solution to the debt crisis, but argued that it "illuminates how debt works", and "the way that a piece of someone's life is bought and sold as a commodity, all to enrich investors".

He said: "The end goal is to build a debtors movement that is capable of resisting this extraction of wealth through creative non-violent resistance."