Can credit cards help you go back to college and change careers?

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If you’re like most people, there comes a time when you want to change careers. A Fast Company survey in 2021 found that 52% of American workers are considering changing jobs and 44% have taken steps to make it happen.

But it’s one thing to make major life changes when you’re young and have few responsibilities. It’s another when you’re older, have a mortgage, people depend on you for care, or are already retired.

To find out if such a change is right for you, think about what you need to prepare for the next step, as well as the associated costs. This may require additional training or a higher degree to qualify for your next position, or a good start-up credit card if you’re ready to go it alone. If you don’t have the money to pay for the programs, you might even consider charging for what you can’t afford right now.

Why change jobs?

There are plenty of reasons why you might want to leave an established profession, says AJ Vollmoeller, a Key West, Fla.-based career coach and author of “How to Not Get Hired.” Chief among them:

  • Boredom: You’re just tired of doing the same thing every day. It is no longer difficult.
  • No room for growth: You wanted to climb the corporate ladder, but in the end, there is no place to go.
  • Your work is unsatisfactory: Maybe you went to school to be an accountant because that was expected of you, but it never made you happy.
  • Your business is failing: Feel layoffs on the horizon? This could be your trigger to go out on purpose, before you have no choice.
  • The industry is changing: If the industry you work in is getting anachronistic, you might want to train for the next best thing.
  • You don’t earn enough: Where you are now may be fine, but the salary is too low.
  • Your work-life balance is out of balance: If you spend too much time working and not enough enjoying life, you may be considering a career that requires fewer hours or is less stressful.

“People used to go to work and stay, love it or hate it,” Vollmoeller says. “It’s okay to explore more opportunities now, at any age. But you need to be sure that changing professions is what you want to do.

“Everyone has a bad day at work and starts thinking about it,” he says. “It’s when you start having these thoughts constantly that you have to take this desire seriously.”

Understand the new career and identify education gaps

Resist the urge to quit before you know exactly what your desired profession requires and what day-to-day tasks really look like, says Vollmoeller. Talk to as many people as you can who are in this industry. Participate in informational interviews (informal meetings with hiring managers) to find out what the job is really about.

If you find you want to make the switch, review not only your own resume, but also those of people in that profession. This way you can find out if you have skills and training that you can highlight and need to acquire.

For example, maybe you have twenty years of experience in marketing, but you are called to social services. You may have a proven track record of working with people and influencing them, so you can highlight that on your resume. What you don’t have is a master’s degree in social work, which many states require. With this information, you can start planning your return to school and consider ways to manage the associated costs.

“Changing careers always requires a plan,” says Vollmoeller. “You know you want to transition, but your mind is spinning.”

Slow down and do your research. Go online and type “certifications and training” for the job you want in the search bar. Next, look at other people’s resumes, which are often available on LinkedIn, and identify patterns around degrees, certifications, and licenses. Learn what others have that you don’t.

Evaluate the cost of education and try to reduce it

Once you know what you need for the job, you’ll need to figure out how to pay for it – and if the price and time are worth it.

For example, if your dream is to become a university professor, you should know that reality usually requires a doctorate. The Education Data Institute reports that the average doctorate costs $98,800 and takes four to eight years to complete. Only you know if it’s worth it.

Other professions do not require such expensive and time-consuming advanced degrees, but do require professional courses and certifications. If it’s not too far from your field, find out if your current employer will cover the cost.

So did Beth Pinsker, personal finance writer and certified financial planner from Brooklyn, New York. The savings can be substantial. According to the American College of Financial Services, the total CFP tuition costs $4,675.

Do your due diligence when it comes to certification programs, however, warns Vollmoeller. You don’t want to spend money on a program that’s unnecessary or not above board. Credential Engine, a nonprofit organization dedicated to transparency in career training, discovered that there are thousands of credential programs in the United States, many of which grew when people changed careers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Use loans and credit cards strategically

Once you’re convinced you want to move on, you have the time to get the training, and you know it’s right for you, think about how to pay for it. If your employer isn’t footing the bill and you don’t have cash available, you may want to borrow some money.

Student loans are available for tuition and materials, and are worth pursuing in many circumstances. Federal loans have low, fixed interest rates and you can delay payments until you graduate. Since these loans are generally not dischargeable in bankruptcy, you are usually stuck with them until you pay them in full. Private student loans can also help, but their rates are higher than federal loans.

Credit cards can also be used for your studies. If you use a rewards card to cover costs, you can earn points or cash, which will reduce costs. But be careful.

“You will want to make sure that whatever you put [credit cards] you can repay as soon as possible,” says Pinsker. “Interest rates are rising, so you will have to be very careful with your debts. Instead of using credit cards for tuition, use low interest loans. Charge your living expenses to your credit cards and pay the bill.

Another option to consider is 0% APR cards. Some of the best 0% interest credit cards offer extra-long introductory periods. The Wells Fargo Reflect℠ card gives you 21 months of interest-free financing, for example, and the US Bank Visa® Platinum card gives you 20 months. If your certification program meets these time constraints and you pay off the debt before the regular account rate kicks in, you can save a lot of money.

And if your next career step is to start your own business, the right accounts will be instrumental in building up your business credit, which will help you maintain and grow your business.

The bottom line

To change course later in life, including if you’re retired and going back to work, consider all the pros and cons. “Not retiring” can affect your Social Security benefits, so understand the impact and plan ahead. If you want to start with a part-time job to test the waters, this is another option.

And if you’re going to make the leap from one profession to another, commit to taking the leap. “Do it 100%,” says Vollmoeller. “Be focused with a defined path and action plan where you know what the first steps will be. This is your life. Everyone once had a job they knew nothing about. You did it then and you can do it again.

If that means borrowing money, do it wisely. Along with loans, credit cards can be a tool that helps you build the next step in your profession. Take the time to find the right card for your next chapter.

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