Defaulting on nursing student loan payments can cause major headaches

I recently received a letter from a reader who said she had inadvertently defaulted on her nursing student loan because she did not notify the agency to let them know her new debit card number. This RN received a notice from the agency that if she didn’t pay the amount due by a certain date, her license would be suspended.

She immediately paid the amount due on her nursing student loan and was told all was “taken care of.” However, shortly thereafter, her manager informed her that her nursing license was suspended. She was unable to finish her shift and was sent home.

The RN contacted the agency and determined that the agency had made a clerical error with her payment. Her license was reinstated and is now listed as “active” with her state nursing board.

However, additional problems existed for this nurse. Although her suspension was the result of an error on the part of the agency receiving the RN’s payments, the suspension continued to follow her from the time it was posted on the board’s website.

Because the nurse works in a state in which expunging or erasing disciplinary records by the state board of nursing is not allowed, the suspension remains posted.

The situation this nurse found herself in raises many questions for you to consider if you ever have a discipline imposed by your state board of nursing due to nonpayment of your student loan.

Inform your state board of any changes

First, whenever your address changes, it is important for you to notify your state board of nursing and any agencies to which you pay back your student loan. If either cannot contact you, a suspension of your license might occur without your knowledge.

The same advice applies to changing your name after you’ve taken out a loan and before it is fully repaid. If you marry and change your name to your spouse’s, you need to notify all applicable entities. Likewise, if you obtain a divorce and return to using your maiden name, notification is also necessary.

Any of these notifications require you to obtain proof your statement was received by all the appropriate agencies and boards. The easiest way to ensure this is to use a mail service that requires a signature and date as to when the notification was received.

A second issue for this RN, and for you if your state board disciplines you, is that of expungement of the discipline kept by the state board of nursing and its elimination of the discipline from its website (if disciplines are listed there). This nurse works in a state that does not allow expungement of disciplinary records by the state board of nursing.

Public record problems sometimes can persist

As a result, if the state board of nursing lists disciplinary actions on their website, even though the suspension was rectified, it can remain as a public record on the board’s website. A discipline remaining on a board’s website can have implications for obtaining a new job or deciding to move to a new state and obtaining a license in that state.

The nurse who submitted the letter had to face this very issue when she interviewed for a job in another state. She was forthright and honest with what had occurred with the suspension of her license in her initial state, providing documents and all information requested. Even so, she is concerned she may not be granted a license in the state where she now wants to work, and also wonders if obtaining a new license will take longer because of the past erroneous suspension.

The RN has done the right thing in being transparent about the suspension. Not doing so could lead to a clear denial of licensure. However long the licensing takes, it is important for this RN (and you) to know governmental processes and procedures can take time.

The time it takes for a board to make such a decision may not be due to the issue before them but rather to the cumbersome stages the entity must adhere to in coming to a decision. In such a situation, patience is a virtue.

You need to know what your state nurse practice act states about non-payment of student loans for whatever reason. States that allow a suspension of a license or a certificate for nonpayment of student loan debts include California, Illinois, Kentucky, North Dakota, Virginia and Alaska.

Also, find out if your state allows an expungement of your discipline from the board website. Although you must always be truthful about any prior disciplinary actions taken against you, the ability to expunge it from the website might initially lessen the burden of obtaining licensure in another state.

Do keep in mind that even if your state allows for expungement of a board discipline, a discipline may have been shared with other national data banks and entities. One example is the National Council of State Boards of Nursing, which is used to verify licensure, discipline and practice privileges of nurses.

Don’t place yourself in the same situation with the same ramifications that this nurse experienced. Pay off those student loans and be certain you have proof that you did so.

Editor’s note: Nancy Brent’s posts are designed for educational purposes only and are not to be taken as specific legal or other advice. Individuals who need advice on a specific incident or work situation should contact a nurse attorney or attorney in their state. Visit The American Association of Nurse Attorneys website to search its attorney referral database by state.

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