After a pause of over three years, federal student loan payments are set to resume this fall. As a result, there is a growing movement among borrowers to boycott or strike the payments.

In August, surveyed 1,000 federal student loan borrowers to find out how many would participate in a boycott, and how the issue of loan forgiveness affects who they vote for.

Key findings:

  • 62% of borrowers say they are likely to boycott loan payments
  • Half believe boycott could lead to total debt forgiveness
  • 71% have or will take on extra work in preparation for payments resuming
  • 49% are doubtful they will be able to afford their loan payments
  • 8 in 10 likely voters say candidate’s student loan beliefs influence their vote

Nearly Half Believe Boycott May Lead to All Student Debt Being Forgiven

Overall, respondents were split down the middle on if they had heard about the boycott before taking the survey. Forty-nine percent said they were aware of the movement while 51% were unaware.

Regardless of their previous level of awareness, 62% of respondents say they are ‘somewhat’ (36%) or ‘highly likely’ (26%) to participate in a boycott, while 38% are ‘somewhat’ (26%) or ‘highly unlikely’ (12%) to boycott.

Rikin Shah, former Head of Business Operations at the student loan refinancing company Earnest, has this to say:

“Boycotting student loan payments can lead to severe financial consequences for borrowers including damaged credit scores, garnished wages, seized tax refunds, and ballooning loan balances from accumulating interest.

“The federal government has extraordinary powers to collect on defaulted student loans, like wage garnishment without a court order and withholding of Social Security benefits, so avoiding payments is very difficult.

“There needs to be mass participation to pressure policymakers, but most borrowers should continue making payments responsibly.”

When respondents were asked what they believe a boycott could accomplish, if anything, 45% say they believe it is ‘somewhat’ (27%) or ‘highly likely’ (18%) to lead to all federal student debt being forgiven.

Three in four respondents also say a boycott would be ‘somewhat’ (45%) or ‘highly likely’ (31%) to help elect politicians in favor of loan forgiveness.

Reasons Borrowers Are For or Against a Payment Boycott

We asked borrowers why they are likely or unlikely to participate in a boycott in an open-ended question.

Among borrowers who say they are unlikely to participate in a boycott, write-in responses included:

  • “I would need to know more about the boycott before considering it.”
  • “Because boycotting doesn’t make them go away, it only puts one in arrears and hurts your credit.”
  • “I’m worried about what would happen if I did not pay.”
  • “I’m not going to risk losing my livelihood. The next batch of politicians could be a whole lot worse.”
  • “I do not think it will make a difference. I do not think the government ever had the intention of loan forgiveness, it was just a campaign promise. I doubt protests will be effective because the government doesn’t care about us.”

Write-in responses for those likely to participate in a boycott included:

  • “I simply do not have the money.”
  • “We have not been paying for so long, so why not just do away with the student loans?”
  • “Because I think some of the loans are predatory and unfair.”
  • “I can’t afford to pay, for one thing, and I agree with the boycott.”
  • “Me and my friends were not able to receive federal student aid as we normally do. Some of us aren’t able to attend school anymore because we simply can’t pay for a tuition that is only $1,200.”

The vast majority of likely boycotters are aware of the potential consequences this could bring. Eighty-two percent say they are ‘somewhat’ (41%) or ‘highly concerned’ (41%) about what could happen if they don’t pay their loans.

3 in 4 Borrowers Taking on Extra Work in Preparation for Payments Resuming

Despite many saying they will likely boycott payments, 71% of all respondents say they are or will take on more paid work to prepare for payments resuming.

Fifty percent say they have or plan to start a side hustle, 34% have or will take on more hours at their current job, and 20% have or will get an additional job.

49% Say They Won’t Be Able to Afford Loan Payments

Nearly half of respondents feel they ‘probably won’t’ (31%) or ‘definitely won’t’ be able to make payments (18%) in October.

Additionally, 23% of respondents say the highest level of education they have completed is high school, indicating they took out loans but did not finish earning their degree.

Forty-six percent of respondents say they have already or plan to enroll in an income-based repayment program, and 35% estimate they will need to pay more than $200 per month. Concerningly, 1 in 5 say they don’t know yet what their payments will be.

81% of Likely Voters Say Candidate’s Loan Forgiveness Policies Influence Their Vote

Ninety-one percent of respondents say they are ‘somewhat’ (20%) or ‘highly likely’ (71%) to vote in the 2024 presidential election. Of this group, 81% say a candidate’s student loan beliefs ‘somewhat’ (45%) or ‘strongly influence’ (36%) their decision to vote for them.

6 in 10 Independent Voters Will Not Vote for a Republican Presidential Candidate

Among independent voters surveyed, 40% say they are most likely to vote for the Republican nominee in the presidential election, 32% say they are most likely to vote for Biden, and 28% are most likely to vote for another candidate.

Seventy-one percent of independents who don’t plan to vote Republican say the party’s beliefs against loan forgiveness ‘somewhat’ (34%) or ‘strongly influence’ (37%) their decision.

Of independent voters likely to vote for Biden, 75% say his position on canceling student debt ‘somewhat’ (41%) or ‘strongly influences’ (34%) their decision.

“Legally, the federal government does not have to forgive loans due to a payment strike,” says Shah. “Loans can only be discharged through existing forgiveness programs or changes to the law.

“Borrowers should continue making payments while advocating for policy reforms. Avoiding payments leads to financial harm without moving the needle,” Shah finishes.

Debt Affects Student Learning and Career Growth

Professor and Higher Education Advisor, Diane Gayeski, explains how the threat of debt can affect students and their career prospects while they are still in school. “For most students, debt is a reality. However, how they perceive their financial situation in general has a critical impact on how it affects their lives, choices, and progress in college,” she explains.

Research has found that students perceive debt quite differently – and a lot of it depends on the financial literacy they’ve developed through conversations with their parents or other influential sources. Many students who try to avoid loans struggle to try to work their way through college, and therefore may get less out of the experience.

“They may have less time to study, and therefore, learn less, or can’t qualify for scholarships or further postgraduate education. They may not be able to take on internships that would expand their confidence and connections or they don’t join clubs which also provide leadership opportunities and expanded knowledge of matters such as budgeting. Sadly, research shows that some students may skip meals or exercise or live in situations where they can’t study well.

“What’s fascinating is that most people have no problem with taking on debt to buy a house or car – it’s expected that few people can pay cash for these big purchases. However, college debt is somehow considered much more surprising and troubling. When families are familiar with taking on debt or even growing their wealth by being highly leveraged, taking on college debt is seen as a positive investment and something that should and will be paid off.

“Smart families encourage students to take on debt but then maximize every possible opportunity during college—do internships, study abroad, join clubs and athletic teams – and yes, even party (because that’s how you make connections). The students who engage fully in the college experience DO tend to do better afterwards.

“In my almost 50 years of college teaching, I’ve witnessed the growth that comes from students who amplify their classroom learning with experiential opportunities outside the classroom.  Over half of the internships lead directly or indirectly to jobs.

“In industries like mine (communications) students will be entering a world where they get “gigs” rather than jobs; for instance film directors or cinematographers are hired to work on a film or commercial and then they must look for their next gig. It’s connections rather than resumes and interviews that gets them those gigs – often from their classmates with whom they’ve worked on projects or engaged in club activities and who know their talents and work ethics.

“Much of what is very confusing for students and their families is trying to predict how much money they will actually need from semester to semester, and wondering if the state or national government is going to forgive their loans. This uncertainty adds to the stress which is the most compromising aspect of this whole situation,” Gayeski finishes.


This survey was commissioned by and conducted online by the survey platform Pollfish. It was launched on August 9, 2023. 1,000 respondents completed the full survey.

To qualify for the survey all participants had to have a high school education or above, and were screened to ensure they currently have federal student loans. The age of respondents was balanced to reflect the demographics of student loan borrowers.

To avoid bias Pollfish employs Random Device Engagement (RDE) to ensure both random and organic surveying. Learn more about Pollfish’s survey methodology or contact [email protected] for more information.