Key takeaways

  • Credit cards can be used to help fund your education and switch careers, but it's important to be prudent.
  • By using a rewards credit card to cover costs, you can earn points or cash back, which will lower the cost.
  • It can also make sense to consider a 0 percent intro APR credit card to pay for college classes, which will cut out the interest charges temporarily.

There may come a point when you want to switch careers. In fact, many people reach this milestone at one point or another in their working lives. According to a 2021 Fast Company survey, 52 percent of U.S. workers were considering changing their jobs, and 44 percent took action to make it happen.

But while switching career tracks may be tempting, it can also be a bit challenging. After all, it’s one thing to make major life changes like this when you’re young and have fewer responsibilities. It’s another when you’re older, have a mortgage and people are depending on you for their care.

So how can you decide whether it’s time to make a career change? To determine whether it’s the right move for you, it makes sense to start by considering what you need to prepare for the next stage, as well as any associated costs. A career change may require additional training or an advanced degree, or if you’re trying to launch a new business, you may need a good credit card for start-ups. But if you don’t have the money to pay for the programs, you may even consider charging what you can’t afford now.

Why change careers?

There are many reasons you might want to leave an established profession behind, says A.J. Vollmoeller, a Key West, Florida-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’s not challenging anymore.
  • No room for growth: You wanted to work your way up the company ladder, but in the end, there’s no place to go.
  • Your job is not fulfilling: Maybe you went to school to be an accountant because that was expected of you, but it never made you happy.
  • Your company is failing: Sensing layoffs on the horizon? This could be your trigger for getting out voluntarily, before you have no choice.
  • The industry is changing: If the industry you are in is becoming anachronistic, you may want to get trained for the next best thing.
  • You’re not earning enough: Where you are now may be fine, but the salary is too low.
  • Your work-life balance is off: If you’re spending too much time working and not enough enjoying life, you may be exploring a career that requires fewer hours or is less stressful.

“People used to go into a job and stay, whether they loved or hated it,” says Vollmoeller. “It’s acceptable to explore more opportunities now, at any age. But you have 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’re starting to have those thoughts constantly that you need to take that 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 the day-to-day tasks are really like, says Vollmoeller. Talk to as many people as you can who are in that industry. Go on informational interviews (informal meetings with hiring managers) to learn what the job really entails.

If you find that you do want to make the switch, review not only your own resume but those of people who are in that profession. This way you can find out if you have any skills and education you can highlight and which you need to obtain.

For example, maybe you have a twenty-year history working in marketing, but are called to social services. You may have a proven background in working with and influencing people, so you can emphasize that on your resume. What you don’t have is a master’s degree in social work, which many states require. With that information, you can begin to plan for how you will 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 trainings” for the job you want into the search bar. Then look at other people’s resumes, which are often available on LinkedIn, and identify the constants regarding degrees, certifications and licensing. Learn what others have that you don’t.

Weigh the cost of education and try to lower it

Once you know what you need for the job, you’ll have to figure out how to pay for it — and if the price and time is worth the effort.

For example, if your dream is to become a college professor, you should know the reality typically requires a doctorate degree. The Education Data Institute reports the average PhD costs $106,860 and takes four to eight years to accomplish. Only you know if it’s worth it.

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

That’s what Beth Pinsker, a personal finance writer and certified financial planner from Brooklyn, New York, did. The savings can be substantial; according to the American College of Financial Services, the total CFP coursework tuition costs $4,850.

Do your due diligence regarding certification programs, though, warns Vollmoeller. You don’t want to spend money on an unnecessary program or one that’s not above board. Credential Engine, a nonprofit organization dedicated to occupational training transparency, found there are thousands of credential programs in the U.S., many developed as people switched careers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Use loans and credit cards strategically

Once you’re convinced you want to move on, have the time to obtain the training and know it’s right for you, consider how to pay for it. If your employer won’t pick up the tab and you don’t have the cash available, you may want to borrow the money.

Student loans are available for college tuition and materials, and worth pursuing in many circumstances. Federal loans have low, fixed interest rates, and you can delay payments until after you’ve graduated. Because such loans are generally not dischargeable in bankruptcy, you’re usually stuck with them until you pay in full. Private student loans can help, too, but their rates are often higher than federal loans.

Credit cards can also be used for your education. If you use a rewards card to cover costs, you can earn points or cash which will lower the cost. But be prudent.

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

Another option to consider is 0 percent APR cards. The Wells Fargo Reflect® Card gives you 21 months of interest-free financing through a 0 percent intro APR for 21 months from account opening on purchases and qualifying balance transfers (variable APR of 18.24 percent, 24.74 percent or 29.99 percent applies after the introductory period; balance transfers must be completed within 120 days of account opening to qualify and fees apply).The Capital One SavorOne Cash Rewards Credit Card, which offers a 0 percent intro APR on new purchases for 15 months (followed by a variable APR between 19.99 percent and 29.99 percent), is also worth a look. If your certification program fits those time constraints, and you pay the debt off before the account’s regular rate goes into effect, you can save a lot of money.

You may also qualify for a student credit card after returning to college. While you can use a student card to go back to college, you may benefit from considering one with a 0 percent APR or a robust rewards program to help cut down on the costs.

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

The bottom line

To change course later in life, including if you’re retired and will go back to work, examine all the pros and cons. “Unretiring” 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, that’s another option.

And if you’re going to make the leap from one occupation to the next, be committed to the jump. “Do it 100 percent,” says Vollmoeller. “Be focused with a set path and an action plan where you know what the first few 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. In addition to loans, credit cards can be a tool that helps you construct the next stage of your profession. Take some time to find the right card for your next chapter.