The Rolling Jubilee

Jan 15, 2014 by

Strike Debt! logoRemember Occupy Wall Street? If you think the movement has fizzled, you’re mistaken. Rather Occupy Wall Street has sort of splintered into many and more tightly focused mini-movements. One such movement is The Rolling Jubilee, a project of Strike Debt!, which is “a nationwide movement of debt resistors fighting for economic justice and democratic freedom.”

What’s The Rolling Jubilee?

The folks behind The Rolling Jubilee (RJ) believe that debt is used by the wealthy and powerful to keep the rest of us in financial chains. Well, that’s my interpretation. Here’s the organization’s explanation from its website and a video.

The Rolling Jubilee

Americans’ Debt Statistics

The Rolling Jubilee’s website depicts some startling—even to me—debt statistics about Americans:

Americans debt statistics

Can You Ask The Rolling Jubilee to Abolish Your Debt?

The batches of past due debt that The Rolling Jubilee buys are owed by debtors who are anonymous to RJ at the time of debt purchase. You can’t make a plea to RJ for help with your debt.

How The Rolling Jubilee Operates

The people behind RJ are particularly incensed by medical debt. As shown in the statistics above, a big majority of U.S. personal bankruptcies are tied to medical debt.

(I agree with RJ that medical debt is especially odious. If I can get on my soapbox for a moment: a system in which 1) people do not qualify for or can’t afford health insurance, 2) get ill or injured and can’t pay for treatment, then 3) have their credit ruined as their medical debt becomes past due, is totally unconscionable. And many more who don’t have health insurance—or their insurance company refuses to pay—avoid bankruptcy only by consuming the family retirement fund in a good faith effort to repay medical debt, dooming themselves to poverty for the remainder of their lives, only because they got ill or injured. Again, the whole system is unconscionable, in my opinion. Okay, stepping off the soapbox now…)

Past due debt is eventually charged off by the original party—a hospital, Capital One, Sears—and sold in batches on a secondary market, typically to debt collection firms. The Rolling Jubilee buys ANONYMOUS batches of past due medical debt. But instead of seeking to collect the debt, RJ “abolishes” it, making “a tax-free gift to the people whose debt it is abolishing.”

How Much Debt Has The Rolling Jubilee Abolished?

Beginning with a roughly $100,000 “debt buy” in November 2011, The Rolling Jubilee has abolished nearly $15,000,000 of medical debt through four debt buys. The most recent debt buy—in May 2013—was by far the largest, erasing 1,919 individual debts. The stats on that buy are below. (This is a screenshot, so the links aren’t clickable. Go here to see the real thing.)

rolling jubilee debt buy

Volunteer Managed

Volunteers manage The Rolling Jubilee, and its website says “100% of the money raised goes to the process of buying and abolishing debt (a process that includes some associated costs such as paperwork, accounting, and legal fees)”. In other words, a $100 donation to RJ doesn’t translate to $100 in abolished debt. I searched a bit on RJ’s website to learn the ratio of debt abolished to money raised but couldn’t find it. I and I’m sure Money Counselor’s readers would be interested to know this ratio if anyone from RJ would like to make a comment below.

What Do You Think?

Are you supportive of The Rolling Jubilee’s work? Would you consider a donation? (Just a question, not a solicitation.)

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  • I’ve heard from Strike Debt! with this additional info:

    – First, as reported in my post, The Rolling Jubilee DOES NOT consider requests for abolishing debt. It buys batches of anonymous debt. So please don’t make a plea to RJ asking for help with your debt. That’s not how it operates.

    – RJ says its cost for each $1.00 of debt it abolishes is $0.03. Yep–three cents per dollar.

    – RJ says its administrative costs are around 6%, which it characterizes as “very low” for a non-profit. Most of its costs are for hiring a third-party CPA to do an independent audit.

    – You can find a full audit of RJ’s finances here:

    Thanks for the input Rolling Jubilee!

  • Just found this comment hung up in Money Counselor’s spam filter. Now you’ve got the full story! Thanks Rolling Jubilee.

  • It looks like an interesting cause that I might be interested in supporting. As they say on their website, “Health care should NOT be for profit.” I totally agree.

    • Thanks Bryce. Evidently you (and I) hold minority viewpoints on this issue among Americans collectively.

    • Hey Bryce, just wanted to chime in on your comment. While it might sound bad that the health care system is for profit, what would you suggest? I mean doctors go through A LOT, they go through years of schooling (which costs a significant amount) then they dedicate a huge chunk of their lives to the medical field. Why shouldn’t they be compensated for it?

  • Wow, how interesting. It is so sad that so many bankruptcies are caused by medical debt. It’s not surprising though. As a Canadian I do find the stories quite shocking, but we have our own debt problem here and don’t have to pay for healthcare so we have no excuse.

    • I wonder if the growth in Canadians’ personal debt is due mainly to an explosion in house values–and thus mortgage debt–in a few major cities?

  • Seems like a great cause, I definitely believe debt is hold back a tremendous amount of individuals from living their lives they way they want. However, it is my belief that all individuals should take responsibility for their own actions. Nobody is forced to purchase something with credit, I think the main thing we need to target are the marketing companies who make us think we need things that we don’t…. expensive cars, mcmansions, clothes, etc.

    • Hi Marvin, glad you’re back ‘in action’!

      I don’t know for sure, but I think so far Rolling Jubilee has focused on medical debt. No doubt some people–a small minority, I’d guess–have medical debt because they did something irresponsible, but I’d bet the overwhelming majority of medical debt is due to bad luck, ‘acts of god,’ and an unaffordable (for many) health insurance system.

      Maybe the commenter from Rolling Jubilee will come back and give input on the point you raise.

      • Ahhh, that makes sense. I misread and did not make the connection that it was medical debt that they were attacking. I will be taking my foot out of my mouth now 😉

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