Falling behind on student loans? You could lose your license. Elizabeth Warren and Marco Rubio are trying to change that.

The two senators have teamed up to introduce a bill to end the practice, which is allowed in 20 states.

FILE-- Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), who has long been an advocate for debtors, during a hearing of the Senate Banking, Housing, And Urban Affairs Committee on Capitol Hill, in Washington, Jan. 23, 2018. In 2018, Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Warren are planning to offer legislation that would end a practice that critics say robs debtors of the means to pay what they owe. (Eric Thayer/The New York Times)
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who has long been an advocate for debtors, during a hearing of the Senate Banking, Housing, And Urban Affairs Committee this past January on Capitol Hill. –Eric Thayer / The New York Times

Sens. Marco Rubio and Elizabeth Warren planned to introduce a bill Thursday that would prevent states from suspending residents’ driver’s and professional licenses over unpaid federal student loans. Critics have called the practice a self-defeating approach that denies borrowers the means to pay their debts.

The bipartisan proposal comes after a November report by The New York Times revealed that 20 states had laws allowing government agencies to seize licenses from residents who had defaulted on their education debts. Records requests turned up 8,700 cases in which borrowers had lost their credentials in recent years, although that figure most likely understated the true tally.


“It makes no sense to revoke a professional license from someone who is trying to pay their student loans,” Rubio, R-Fla., said in a statement. Warren, D-Mass., called the policies “wrong and counterproductive.”

A bipartisan bill sponsored by Sens. Marco Rubio and Elizabeth Warren in 2018 would prevent states from withholding or revoking the driver’s licenses or professional credentials of debtors because they defaulted on education loans. —Jim Wilson / The New York Times

Under the bill, states would no longer be permitted to deny, suspend or revoke the driver’s and professional licenses of those who have defaulted on federal student loans. States will have two years to comply if the law is enacted.

The bill represents an unusual instance of collaboration during a politically tense year. But despite being in opposing parties, Rubio and Warren teamed up to put forward legislation helping student-loan debtors.

Rubio is personally familiar with the pain of education loans — he revealed in 2012 that he had only recently paid off the roughly $150,000 in debt he had after graduating from law school. Warren has long been an advocate for debtors, and has pressed for more accountability for loan servicers and debt collectors.

States had been using license revocation as a tool to strong-arm debtors into restarting payments on their loans. Proponents argued that it was a legitimate strategy to recoup loans that had been funded with taxpayer dollars. Tennessee took a particularly aggressive approach by reporting more than 5,400 people to professional licensing agencies from 2012 to 2017. Many of them lost their credentials.


Critics said the tactic merely stripped borrowers of important licenses they needed to earn money and pay the government back.