Did you know that if you live in Texas and you default on your student loans, you can lose your job?
Just ask Tabitha McArdle, who lives in Houston and attended the University of Houston to earn her teaching degree several years ago. She became certified to teach in Texas in September 2013, but later that year she ended up defaulting on her $800 monthly student loan payment.
That was when McArdle found out she would lose her certification and wouldn’t be able to renew it until she was got back on track with paying off her loan balance.
“My friend called me and told me I should find out if I can even get certified,” McArdle said. “She had defaulted herself and found out that she couldn’t, so she called to warn me.”
When McArdle called the Texas Education Agency, she discovered that she wouldn’t be able to get recertified for the job she needed to pay off the student loans — the job that she’d taken the loans out to be hired for in the first place.
“It just seems so backward,” McArdle said. “If they want me to pay the loans back, what’s the good in not letting me go back to work? It doesn’t make sense.”
McArdle’s not alone either. According to a list that the Texas Education Agency provided to Free Press Houston, nearly 400 teachers in Texas have defaulted on student loans since 2012 and are ineligible to renew their certification.
A spokesperson for the agency wrote in an email to FPH that the Office of the Texas Attorney General keeps it informed of anyone who’s defaulted on a loan issued by the state, and the agency itself checks for defaulters four times a year with Trellis Company, a nonprofit corporation that manages loan repayment for teachers.
A recent New York Times article that looked into the issue highlighted the fact that it’s not just Texas where student loan defaulters can lose their license to work, and it’s not just teachers. In 19 states, if you default on a student loan you can lose your license to work as a barber, a funeral home director, or a speech pathologist — just to name a few.
Peter Abernathy, chief aid and compliance officer for the Tennessee Student Assistance Corporation in Tennessee, where more than 5,400 people were reported to professional licensing agencies because of student loan defaults between 2012 and 2017, told the Times that the practice exists to get the attention of loan defaulters.
“They made a promise to the federal government that they would repay these funds,” Abernathy told the Times. “This is the last resort to get them back into payment.”
Except it doesn’t always work. McArdle never got recertified because she never got back into payment, and now she said doesn’t have much hope of ever paying off her loans. She used to make $48,000 a year as a certified teacher. These days she’s making “less than that,” she told FPH. But she’s glad she’s still teaching, at least.
McArdle is currently working at a private school where a teacher certification wasn’t required. The job takes her mind off how much money she owes in loans, she said, but when a parent asks why she’s not certified, it’s a hard reminder.
“I have to explain that I couldn’t get certified because I couldn’t keep up with the loan payments,” she said. “Usually people are surprised — why would the state take your license to work away? Don’t they want to get their money back?”