Americans have more debt than ever before. As of March 31st of this year, American households collectively held $12.73 trillion in debt, surpassing the record $12.68 trillion reached in 2008.
Some have argued that borrowers should band together and refuse to repay this mounting debt. In 2015 New York Times opinion piece titled "Why I Defaulted on My Student Loans," writer Lee Siegel explained that he does not plan on paying off his student loans and imagined a world in which borrowers collectively do the same.
He writes, "If people groaning under the weight of student loans simply said, "Enough," then all the pieties about debt that have become absorbed into all the pieties about higher education might be brought into alignment with reality. Instead of guaranteeing loans, the government would have to guarantee a college education."
But the realities of failing to pay off debt can be grim. Last year, a Texas man named Paul Aker was arrested by U.S. Marshalls for refusing to pay a $1,500 federal student loan he took out 30 years ago and refusing to appear for his court hearing.
And one of the biggest challenges for borrowers is that the rules that govern debt and its repayment can change. Debt can also change hands, meaning a borrower may find themselves dealing unexpectedly with a new and more aggressive collections agent.
So the question remains: To pay or not to pay? Here's a guide to what can happen if you fall behind on the most common types of debt.