Two years after leaving school, students default on their federal loans at a rate of 9.1%, according to a 2013 report by the New York Federal Reserve. That figure jumps to 13.4% at the three-year mark.
Pulitzer Prize-nominated author Lee Siegel wrote an op-ed article in The New York Times on Saturday in which he advised people to default on their student loans rather than remain stuck with crippling debt.
But what actually happens when you default?
VICE recently talked to Heather Jarvis, a self-proclaimed student loan expert who graduated from Duke Law School with $125,000 of debt and has been an advocate for borrowers ever since.
According to Jarvis, if you decide one day to stop paying your federal student loans, after 270 days the loan will default, at which point the government will start garnishing your wages, seizing tax refunds, and intercepting government benefits (like social security) without a court order. The government may also sue if they think it will give them access to your assets.
“They can and do — literally do — pursue debtors to their graves,” Jarvis said.
Jarvis says defaulting on your student loans can also affect your credit and hurt your chances of qualifying for mortgages and loans down the road. She does note that the government cannot put you in jail for owing debt.
The internet is littered with stories of what happens when you can’t pay your student loans, but not nearly as many about what to do after you have already defaulted.
Anna Moreno penned an article for Billfold.com in 2013 about what she did to climb out of debt after years of neglecting her student loans. She says that after two years of having the government garnish her wages, she decided to consolidate her loans, a process which she explains as “making voluntary on-time payments based on income vs. expenses for two to four consecutive months.”