I racked up $20,000 in personal charges on my company credit card

A reader writes:

The short version of the story is that I genuinely misunderstood the way my corporate credit card was to be used. I have been using it over the last few years regularly for personal reasons, including medical, car payments (a car is required for my job, but not covered under expenses), and general personal shopping. My girlfriend did not have income for two years, and I used the card to cover expenses beyond my paycheck.

I can use PayPal to get cash out of the card and into my bank account, so what I have been doing is waiting until the bill is due (a new billing cycle) and taking out that amount with PayPal, then using the cash to pay it off, plus adding in my own money to try and reduce the balance a little. This just means I get charged PayPal fees for the cash advance, and it means nothing more is due until the next billing cycle. This results in the next month having that balance plus charges, minus any and all money I can put toward it out of my pay (generally $2,000 a month).

Somehow I have managed to rack up a rolling balance of $20,000 on this card and I can’t ever pay it all off in one go. I had a bankruptcy a few years ago and cannot qualify for a loan to cover the full amount.

I am scared to bring it up with my manager because it might mean I will lose my job once they realize what’s been happening, and if I lose my job I will no longer be able to contribute the $2,000 each month toward paying the balance off. Some people even have suggested I might be up for serious legal problems, and I just feel so stressed out every single day about the situation.

I wrote back to this letter-writer and asked: “Just so I really get the whole situation, did you really think was allowed? Or were you hoping you could do it and pay it back before it was noticed?”

The response:

Well, there’s a bit more to it. My main job fuction changed dramatically. After working for the company for two years on-site at a client office, I was informed that the client had canceled the contract, so I would need to do another function, which would require driving all over town instead of being based in an office.

My manager said point-blank that if I did not get a car within the week, there was nothing he could do for me. He stated clearly and explicitly that the company card could not be used for personal expenses, but he also mentioned that it would not be checked up on if it got paid in full each month. So, with that information I made the decision to go forward. I truly thought that all would be ok as long as I did whatever it takes to pay the balance in full each month, and it seems to have held true so far. But at the same time, I am aware that the company policy states no personal expenses.

The orginal plan was to use the money for a deposit on a car, and once the car was paid off, I would then have the car as an asset, which I could use as security on a loan, which I could use to pay off the card. All was going to plan, but the car got written off due to the engine totally breaking down after a month, so I then had to get another deposit on a second car. That was also ok until one day while at a red light a semi-truck smashed it up , and that second car was nearly paid off but then it got writen off as well. Luckily, for the second car I did have insurance, but the insurance company only agreed to pay out the remaining balance on that car loan and so I was again carless. Third car deposit, and four years later I am feeling trapped in this cycle where I am getting about $600 in PayPal fees every month.

I am starting to get unwell from the constant stress and thought that HR might see it as theft and I could be sent to jail, lose my job, and lose my reputation and ablity to get another job. Basically, I am terrified that I have ruined my life completely through an act which was made at a time of high stress and was short sighted, but done with the intention of saving my job. I don’t know if it is relevant but I have ADD, so impulse control, particularly when under stress, has always been an issue for me, and the whole thing was really traumatic with changing roles and several other factors. My mental state was definatly not clear at the time I started doing this.

Ooooh.

Okay, yeah, this isn’t good, but you know that so I’m not going to dwell on that.

The right thing to do: Tell your manager what happened. Come clean and accept the consequences. There is a good chance that you will lose your job over it, but if you’re an otherwise good employee and you’re genuinely contrite, they may be willing to work out a payment plan with you and not take legal action. Legal action is possible, but it’s generally no one’s first choice, so if you show that you’re horrified at what happened and that you’re genuinely committed to aggressively paying it off, they may prefer to just let that happen.

The other option: I suppose that you could keep paying it off as aggressively as you can and hope that you have it paid off before anyone notices. I’m surprised that no one has noticed yet, and the fact that they haven’t might mean you could actually get it paid off before they do — but if they do notice, the fact that you didn’t proactively come clean won’t be good. On the other hand, I suppose you could plead ignorance and point to the fact that you’ve been aggressively working to pay it down to show that you had no intent of trying to get the company to shoulder the charges.

I think you should do the right thing and come clean — and I think that if you don’t, the guilt alone is likely to cause problems — but the right thing does come with a price, and while it’s easy to say from the sidelines that you should be willing to pay that price, you’ve got to make that choice for yourself.

Does anyone else have advice for this letter-writer, something that might help him clear this up faster? (And please be kind. He screwed up, but he clearly knows that.)

Updated to add: Please talk to a lawyer, as many commenters have pointed out. You want someone on your side who can advise you legally.

{ 921 comments… read them below }

  1. TCO

    OP, I’d also enccourage you to seek financial counseling. A qualified individual could really help you straighten out your budget and cash management, and might have access to resources you don’t know about. Your office’s Employee Assistance Program, if you have one, should provide free and confidential help. Otherwise, seek out a reputable financial-counseling nonprofit service in your area.

    Hiding this is only making it worse. Seeking outside help will really, really relieve some of your stress and isolation. Good luck.

    1. Kelly O

      I agree with this. There are people out there who can help you, and if you really want to stop this pattern of behavior, it’s important to not only deal with the financial issues, but the personal things that cause you to continue down this path.

      It’s a vicious cycle, and it is so easy to get completely upside-down. It may not bode well for your continued employment, but at this point honestly that would be the least worry. (Which sounds weird, I know. Especially coming from someone in my current position, desperately needing my spouse to find a job.)

      Focus on being honest with yourself and others, and do the work necessary to repay and keep yourself from getting in this kind of mess again. And know you are not the only one who has made bad decisions, even bad decisions that cost more than just the amount of cash involved.

      1. dawbs

        Yes this–but I’d also add to be careful where you go for counseling. A lot of ‘credit counseling’ places are incredibly scammy.

        That said, a few years ago, my husband and I found ourselves in a bad place with $ (lots of reasons, but, regardless, bad), went where we were recommended to go (greenpath, FWIW), and talked about possibilities. Our discussion w/ the guy there got me to get on the phone w/ my credit-card company (which we did instead of going with his plan) . After a little back and forth (“well, you’re up to date on payments, so we can’t help you–no no, really, quit paying us for a while, then I can have you talk to someone in the hardship dept. Fine, my manager says she’ll note the account and next week you can talk to the hardship dept”.), I talked to people who make arrangements (apparently at Citi, this was the ‘hardship’ dept? or something like that) when you’re stuck.

        They closed our account, took the balance, and split it into 3 years of auto-deducting, interest free, payments. No interest. At all.
        They made it clear if we wonked this up, we’d be in deep, and they made it clear this was a one-time thing…but, honestly, that probably saved us from a bankruptcy.

        And? it is all paid off now.

        I know, OP, that this isn’t at all the same thing, because company cards, etc. But reaching out to the CC co and other places isn’t going to hurt.

        1. Jake

          I don’t know if this is possible, but I understand that in the US (where I think the OP seems to be) sometimes you can get a credit card that you can use to pay off the balance of another credit card? I don’t live in the US, so I don’t completely understand this, but I’m sure I’ve heard of it.

          If the OP were to do that it wouldn’t solve their debt problem, but at least it would solve the debt-being-on-company-card problem.

          And then they could go to a financial counselling agency and get help paying off their own, personal credit card debt that would no longer involve the company.

          1. Sospeso

            Good suggestion! My only concern with this is that because of the OP’s financial history, his credit score may not be high enough for him to qualify for a good balance transfer credit card. But – with the help of a financial counselor – it could be worth exploring.

          2. Natalie

            The potential hiccup with balance transfers is that usually the interest rate is very high. Back in the day there were often grace periods (6-18 months), but then a crippling rate kicked in. No idea if that’s still offered since the recession.

            1. TL -

              Mine – through my bank – was 0% intro and then 12% after – I think. I’ve only gotten charged interest once, and to be honest, I don’t really remember. But I get offers in that range quite consistently.

              1. Natalie

                Is your credit good? From what I saw, people with bad credit and high debt loads were targeted for those high interest balance transfer cards specifically because their history made it likely they wouldn’t pay the transfer off during the grace period, becoming a healthy source of interest revenue. (But as I mentioned, this was all pre-recession so it’s entirely possible banks have reigned themselves in since then.)

              2. Koko

                It can vary a lot. I have a couple of cards at 5-12%. I also have one that I was 2 days late on a single payment in 2008 (forgot I hadn’t scheduled it), which bumped me up to the “default” rate. Every other payment since 2006 has been on time and it still charges me 25% APR. I could probably get them to lower it if I called but I mostly just never carry a balance on it because that’s easier than making a phone call and I was always kind of curious if it would ever go down for good behavior.

            2. Melissa

              I got a card through my credit union that offered no interest on balance transfers for 18 months. If OP is able to put down $2,000 a month, then they might get this paid off faster than that.

            1. Lori

              That’s probably not true. I went through bankruptcy in 2003 and was able to have credit cards, no problem. But he probably wouldn’t be able to get one with that large of a credit limit – the largest credit limit I have to this day is $3000 (that’s by choice, now).

              1. BetsyTacy

                A Bankruptcy generally drops off your credit report after 7 years.

                Prior to 2007-2008, it was normal for individuals who had shown some kind of re-establishment of finances to get another credit within 3 years of a Bankruptcy; however, now you will likely only qualify for a secured credit card.

                I used to approve credit cards and for someone who was looking for a $20k credit card, we would be expecting them to have 10+ years of stable credit, an income of $100k+ annually, a stable job, and less than $10k of other credit card debt (note: this was for a major US CC company in 2009-12 ish).

              2. Jerry Vandesic

                I worked for a large US credit card company, and we often issued cards to people who were only 12 months out of bankruptcy. Since you are precluded from filing bankruptcy again for eight years, the risk is mitigated.

          3. JJ

            I thought about this possibility as well. However, because the OP declared bankruptcy, I think getting another personal card for this purpose (or any purpose) is not possible right now.

            OP, FWIW, I knew someone who took money from work that didn’t belong to them (they had bills they couldn’t pay and continue to struggle with mental illness to this day). They got the hint that the company was going to find out soon. They came clean before that happened, and the company did terminate her but agreed to not press charges because she came forward. I’m sure a payment plan must have been arranged. So, yes, please talk to your manager.

            1. AnonaMoose

              I personally had to let someone go because I found personal items on her company card and she lied. Had she come to me and said ‘oh oops, total brainfart but I accidentally put my load of groceries on this card instead of my own…’ we could have overlooked it. But she lied. Worse, she tampered with the receipts so that they didn’t show the items of question (us expense reviewers aren’t as stupid as we look!). She made an entire shitstorm out of something that could have been handled by a quick ‘oops’ conversation.

              OP, speak up. It will get so much worse if you don’t.

              1. AnonaMoose

                Oh and we didnt press charges either. She was otherwise an excellent employee — just with poor judgement when in the wrong, sadly. She has landed on her feet (and I hope she no longer has financial responsibilities in her new role but that’s no longer my burden to worry about).

                1. Coach Devie

                  Groceries seem much more tame than 20k in cash advances for car down-payments. That is REALLY bold of the OP. I hope things work out for him. I’d be terrified and stressed too. What a bad pickle to be in.

          4. Beezus

            You can usually transfer the balance of one credit card to another credit card if you have the available credit to do so. In the OP’s case, though, he likely does not have the personal credit to get a credit card on his own. If he does, the available credit on it would almost positively not be $20,000.

            Credit cards are unsecured debt – the debt that is not tied to an asset that the lending institution can seize if the debt is not paid. Debt like a car loan or a home mortgage is secured debt, which means that the lender can take the car or the house if the debtor doesn’t keep up with payments. Unsecured debt has a higher risk of loss and is less likely to be available to people with poor credit histories. Lending institutions report on loans and payment histories to several credit reporting agencies across the country; those agencies compile that information into an individual’s credit record, which other lending institutions can use to make lending decisions.

          5. Jessa

            Yeh but I’m not sure how you transfer a balance on a card that is not yours? The card would only technically be in the OPs name?

            1. Bea W

              Corporate cards are weird like that. They are in your name and attached to your credit history, and you are responsible for that debt, but they’re also attached to your employment and your employer gets statements and whatever and often pays the balance directly, but usually only if you’ve submitted an expense report to request the payment. If there’s anything on it that does not get reimbursed by the company directly to the card balance, you make the payment yourself.

        2. YandO

          I think the OP might run into an issue with the card being a corporate car. He may not have the authority to make any requests.

          1. Apollo Warbucks

            I don’t think it will be a problem, when I did a balance transfer I just needed the card number of my old card and the new comapny just sent the money across. The card is being paid off so I can’t see any reason there would be any hassle for the OP doing that.

        3. Credit counselor

          What did the Greenpath counselor suggest for you? I’m a credit counselor and they seem to be accredited by the major boards so I’m curious about what seemed scammy.

          1. dawbs

            Sorry, that was unclear. Distracted writing.

            We went somewhere else first–somewhere that my husband found, and they seemed REALLY scammy. I can’t put my finger on all of it, but there was at least one “well, if you declared bankruptcy, we’d have to declare any assets that fell into these ranges, but you won’t have any to declare, right? *nudge nudge, wink wink*” Very bad taste–I’m fairly sure my husband just opened the phone book and called the first one he saw

            Then we asked some questions, talked to some people (a cousin who is a loan officer) and got a recommendation to see the greenpath people and they were awesome and not scammy at all.
            They gave us an excellent plan that would have worked great (except citbank working with us at 0% interest was slightly better than their plan –since 0% is less than whatever low percentage they had–as long as we were disciplined enough to follow it–and we were and it’s all better and paid off now. That letter saying so has giant smiley faces on the envelope and is in the file drawer to give me warm fuzzies on bad budget days.)

        4. Not So NewReader

          Chiming into say that I also had a friend who had way too much credit card debt. She called the CC company and they worked out a similar plan. She agreed not to use the card any more, they agreed to no interest/fees and she got three years to pay off the principle.

          To say she was relieved does not fully describe.

        5. Jazzybella

          I’m a financial counselor. Two main things a counselor will do. Review your full budget ( living expenses, debt, and income) and discuss general changes that would help balance your budget. If your are falling short $2000 a month you may have to consider making lifestyle changes (moving into cheaper housing, getting a second job, etc) to first get to the point where you no longer need to use the card and can focus on making payments. It is very unlikely that you will get this card paid off if you keep using it.

          Credit counseling agencies offer debt management programs (DMP) that can reduce the interest rates so that with minimal payments the accounts can get paid off in 5 years or less. However with the DMP many credit card companies will not provide adjustments (lower payments and rates) on a business card. Some do but many don’t so you will definitely need to find out from the counselor if your credit card company does. Also we have to have authorization to set up the program from the owner of the account which would be tricky in this case because I assume you are an authorized user on the account and the owner of the account is actually your company. I personally have not counseled someone in this exact position. Normally when I’ve worked with a client about a business card it was a self employed person who was the owner of the card so I don’t know if an program could be set up the counselor would probably have to call the credit card company to find out. If a DMP can be set up the account will be closed.

          You can call the credit card company directly and ask about internal programs. Again not sure if you will have the authority to initiate changes to the terms of the account if you are not the owner but it’s worth a try. Hope this helps. If you want to find an accrediated non profit credit counseling agency go to the website for the National Foundation of Credit Counseling. They will have a list of agencies. Counseling is free but if you set up a debt management program there will be fees.

        6. ilovejoshlyman

          If the OP belongs to USAA, they have free financial counseling that is really helpful. I don’t really have any financial problems, but I used it and it was incredibly helpful to just kind of make a plan. I realize not everyone has access to USAA because of the military requirements, but anyone who has a family member who was military (as long as they were honorably discharged) is now eligible.

    2. Allison Mary

      Agree with the financial counseling idea. This OP kinda sounds to me like he/she’s caught in a cycle of trying to win at life through as many different kinds of debt as possible. I bet the OP will be a great deal happier and more financially stable if he/she can break that cycle.

      OP, one option is that you could start listening to the Dave Ramsey Show podcast, for some motivation and/or inspiration. He’s definitely ultra-conservative, and I don’t agree with him 100%, but his “wake-up call” approach to removing dependence on debt, might be helpful for this situation. I also enjoy this other (more moderate) personal finance blog called 20somethingfinance.com – but when I’m really struggling with some kind of financial habit I can’t break, I find that Dave Ramsey’s smack-you-upside-the-head approach can really help snap me out of my self-rationalizing.

      (I hope it’s ok for me to mention these here? Alison, please feel free to delete my comment if not!)

      1. Engineer Girl

        I agree with the Dave Ramsey advice. It’s important to get as hard-nosed as possible in saving money so you can get ahead. No cable, no eating out, take public transportation. All of this is more time consuming but ultimately worth it. When you do get out of debt this is a great way to accumulate savings too. It seems stupid at the time, but you’ll notice it in your 40’s, 50’s and 60’s.
        I used to like getrichslowly.org (note the org part) because they had lots of little bits to get you ahead. They’ve changed ownership and the advice isn’t as good as it used to be, but the archives are worth looking at. This is just like someone losing 100 pounds of fat – you do it one pound at a time and it takes a lonnnnng time to get there. It’s only possible if you make a permanent lifestyle change.
        One of the most important things you can do is use tools track your spending and progress. It not only gives you the tools for saving, but it also is the encouragement you need to keep on going. One year from now you can look at it and say “I’m still $15k in debt! Ahhh!” or you can look back across the year and say “I’m $5k less in debt than I was last year and eventually I’ll be out!”

        1. TL -

          One of my favorite things to do is add up my student loan debt! (And then to see how much less I’m paying in interest. Just gives me the warm fuzzies to see it go down and down and down.)

        2. Kate M

          I’d also suggest getting on a budget ASAP. IMO, Dave Ramsey’s practical advice isn’t as good on budgeting, but my personal favorite budgeting software is YNAB, which I think could really help.

          Obviously, get out of this mess if at all possible first. I would also suggest coming clean. But then, take a serious look at your finances to make sure you don’t end up in a terrible financial situation for a third time. The thing that really stood out to me was that you used the card for “expenses beyond your paycheck.” If you have expenses you can’t afford, then you can’t afford them. Either cut expenses, or increase income (through a second job if you have to). I know it’s not that straightforward for everyone, but in this case, you need to do whatever you can to live within your means, even if it means going without sometimes.

          1. Cordelia Naismith

            I’m seconding the YNAB recommendation. It seriously changed my life. I’m still digging myself out of the hold of credit card debt I had gotten myself into, but I haven’t added any new debt since I started YNAB, and I’ve managed to pay off 25% of the original debt. It will take me a couple of years to pay off the rest at the rate I’m going — but I know now for certain that I will be able to pay it off, and, what’s better, that I won’t ever get myself in that situation ever again.

            YNAB lets you see exactly how much money you have and where it’s all going. It gives you the ability to really take control of what your money is doing. And the phone app has really helped me curb my impulse spending.

            YNAB is a little pricey compared to some other budgeting software, but it is more than worth it. You get to try the full version for free for a little over a month, too. If you do decide to use it, I suggest attending their free webinars — they pick one attendee to win a free copy of the software at the end of each webinar. Keep attending different webinars; you might get lucky.

        3. Oryx

          I stopped reading getrichslowly.org for the same reason. It was great a few years ago, though, and sometimes there is still some gems

          1. Tinker

            Yeah, I’ve noticed that much like all country songs eventually become about the life struggles of a traveling musician, with time and friction most personal finance blogs slid into “discussions of how to make money blogging” and thence often into “sold it to a content farm”.

            1. Emmy

              Yeah, I used to love GRS but got pretty tired of hearing advice geared toward freelance writers. Finding really good writing on the internet that is not about the life of a writer is, perhaps not surprisingly, hard to find. Hence my love for AAM!

            2. virago

              It’s only a matter of time before somebody writes a country song about the travails of life on a content farm …

              P.S. Tinker: I’m happy when I see your name in an AAM discussion, because I know that comments from you are always pertinent and often funny.

          2. AJS

            When they were sold and the founder moved on they list his unique voice and most of their soul.

        4. AJS

          I don’t know if you ever saw her TV show, but Canadian financial counselor Gail Vaz-Oxlade has written several books full of excellent financial advice. She’s more realistic and more humane than Dave Ramsey (she recognizes human nature and urges that budgets contain a little something for entertainment). There are occasional Canadian-isms that need translation–mostly terminology–but overall she can really point the way toward financial sense. Plus, she has a great, sarcastic sense of humor, which is so much better than Dave Ramsey’s right-wing Puritan piffle.

      2. Green

        OP needs to STOP using the card. No more cash advances from it. Stop messing with Paypal.
        OP needs to pay off the card as aggressively as possible. That means eating Ramen or rice and beans every day, not buying coffee or booze or going to restaurants. OP should not buy anything that is not *literally* a requirement to live.

        The right thing to do is to tell the employer, but that is NOT going to end well for OP with a balance that’s still at $20k, and OP will be left with no income to pay it. So I’d go with Option B and pay that sucker down with a quickness. If OP stops adding to the debt, and starts paying more to the balance, then it will be gone in 6-8 months.

        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          The problem, though, is that if the OP stops paying the balance in full every month (using PayPal to do it), the company is (supposedly) going to notice at that point.

            1. Kelly L.

              He’s paying it with a Paypal cash advance from the same card, robbing Peter to pay…Peter.

            2. Pennalynn Lott

              I’m with Nom d’Pixel. “Paying the balance in full each month” means… paying the balance. Which right now is $20K. Does the OP mean “paying the minimum amount due each month”?

              1. Oryx

                No, he’s getting a cash advance off the credit card from PayPal. So, as an example, balance is $300. He gets a cash advance of $300 *from the credit card* to pay the current $300 he owes. Only PP charges fees plus that was only an advance, he still owes that money back, so now his new balance is $320. So, next month he gets a cash advance of $320, but with the fees suddenly he now owes $340.

                It’s a cycle so he’s continually owing PLUS the fees

                1. Jerry Vandesic

                  As OP says in their email, cash advance fees are $600/month, or $7200/year. That’s more than 35% interest on 20K. That’s a lot of pain.

              2. LBK

                He’s basically using the credit card to pay off the credit card – re-charging the full balance to it each month as a cash advance once the new billing cycle starts so that cash advance rolls to the next bill, which is subsequently paid off with another cash advance, etc.

                Moreover than the employer not noticing, I’m actually pretty surprised the credit card company hasn’t noticed. That seems like the kind of thing that would definitely be a violation of the terms of the card and would set off red flags in their system.

                1. Pennalynn Lott

                  Thanks! I get it now. And hoo-boy, this reminds of when my mom got fired right before the big Savings & Loan Scandal blew up in America back in the 80’s. She was an EVP at a major bank, in the Commercial Loans division. She refused to sign off on a loan for one of their existing customers that he was then going to use to pay off the interest on another loan, so he wouldn’t be in default on Loan #1.

                  Mom rightfully pointed out that loaning someone money to cover the interest on a loan they already were having trouble paying wasn’t a sound business practice. The head of the bank told her that she just needed to go home and take care of her children, since she obviously didn’t understand how “the real business of grown men” was run, and fired her on the spot.

                  She later got called as an expert witness for the government in the prosecution of her former bosses.

                2. Jessa

                  Yeh I’d be seriously worried about the accounting at the company, I mean are they not reconciling all their bills? Are they so big that a 20k revolving account is never audited?

                  And I always thought there was a rule in accounting that “whoever makes the bill never pays the bill.” ie that the one who is responsible for the charge, or writes out an invoice or purchase order is never the person who signs the cheque for that charge or invoice and is never the one who disburses the money for the PO or the cash advance for that trip.

                  This was in order to prevent exactly these kinds of things from happening – not from OP who made a mistake and seems to be an honest person about it, but from someone who genuinely with malice aforethought wants to steal. This company is LUCKY that it’s the OP who genuinely wants to pay them back and is sorry about it.

          1. nonegiven

            He is also still making charges on it.

            “This results in the next month having that balance plus charges, minus any and all money I can put toward it out of my pay (generally $2,000 a month).”

              1. Natalie

                If they are paying it in full every billing cycle, there shouldn’t be any interest. The new charges would be the PayPal fees and any purchases.

                1. NoPantsFridays

                  They’re paying it in full using a cash advance. So there’s the balance + cash advance charges.

          2. AMT

            This brings up an interesting point: how is he continuing to get $20k cash advances? Does PayPal just hand those out?

        2. JB (not in Houston)

          ” If OP stops adding to the debt, and starts paying more to the balance, then it will be gone in 6-8 months.”

          That’s making a lot of assumptions about the OP’s disposable income. I know a lot of people who, even eating ramen and beans not “buying coffee or booze or going to restaurants,” could not pay off that much money in 6-8 months, and not every person with debt got that way because of an extravagant lifestyle.

          1. TL -

            Well, the OP is putting $2000/mo towards the balance right now, so presumably with the right structure it could be paid off relatively quickly.

              1. Natalie

                It sounds like the OP is actually putting $2K towards the balance, on top of revolving the full balance through Paypal. But as someone pointed out downthread, even with the Paypal fees the balance should be going down. (Unless they are continuing to use the card.)

                1. TL -

                  Right, which looking back it seems like maybe the OP is still charging new things to the card – which, if so OP – stop charging new things to the card! Cut it up or leave it locked in a safe if you have to.

      3. Brandy

        Anyone heard of Larry Winget, had a show on A & E a while back. I love his “its your own damn fault” style.

    3. Beebs

      This. Some of the first few things that will come up with a financial adviser with eliminating debt are how can you reduce your current expenses and how can you get more income. I personally just made a major move to a very expensive big city for a low paying job. At home I do not have internet/cable, etc. a very reasonable phone plan, and I am very frugal with groceries. I also just picked up a pt job as well. Can you do any of this?

      You also noted supporting your partner, can they contribute to these expenses and also possible get a second job until the debt is under control. It may seem insurmountable right now, but you can absolutely get through this and get your finances back on track, but you need to be very disciplined and strict with your spending.

      1. AnonaMoose

        The extra job is actually a good idea. A couple of shifts waiting tables or bartending could clear part of this up in about a year if they’re diligent about saving money elsewhere.

      2. puddin

        True. YOu only have two variables at play – money in and money out. You have to increase the first (everybody works two jobs – including the GF) and reduce the second in every way possible.

        Moving in with the ‘rents is a generally loathsome thing to do after a certain age. But perhaps it is time to consider that as well so the rent money can go towards paying the CC down.

        Working out of debt, even normal debt, can be very overwhelming. It take time and money that you don’t seem to have otherwise you would not have gotten into debt right? Well, when it happened to me I had to put my wants last and put the debt first – for a change. Once I got used to the new way the stress reduction was such a relief. I lived very humbly for a time, but the weight off my shoulders was so worth it.

        Good luck to ya Beebs (not in debt I know, but best wishes in the new city all the same) and OP!

        1. Beebs

          Thanks! This was after a long period of unemployment, so my financial situation has not been ideal or even stable for some time. You have to do what you have to do in order to get by.

    4. KJones

      +1
      There are so many free resources available online too — LearnVest, The Simple Dollar, etc. Be careful & best of luck.

    5. Natalie

      + a million to financial counseling. To be a bit blunt but hopefully not rude: this should be a wake up call. You already have one bankruptcy under your belt. This could easily lead to a second, and it sounds like at least some of the credit card spending was not strictly necessary.

      You can change this pattern and come out the other side more secure, less stressed, and happier.

    6. Bea W

      Totally. 20k on the corporate card is just a symptom of a bigger problem. Getting someone to help with finances and give the OP some practical tools to get their financial house is the best way to approach it beyond coming clean at work.

      OP – it may or may not be compounded by ADD, but there are many people without ADD who end up in the same boat. Managing Finances 101 isn’t taught at school, but I think it really should be! It seems we all have to learn by trial and error, and it’s too easy to make some pretty bad errors. The good news is money management and spending habits can be taught. They are not some inborn talent only a few people have.

      In the future, just stick to following corporate policy. It’s easier and safer. I know people who have lost a job due to even accidental use of the corporate card for personal expenses. This is one of those areas where no one may really check much but when they do, it’s never good news when they find something.

      1. Bea W

        OP – if you are also still stresses out and rattled by everything I also suggest trying short term personal counseling to help get your head in a clearer place and pick up some good coping skills.

    7. Kiwi

      Does the OP have any family who might be able to lend them the money to pay off the credit card? Borrowing from family/friends is usually an awful idea, but not when potential crime/time is involved.

      Accept your current circumstances and live within them. Spending money on going out and “things” might make you feel richer, but won’t make it so. As Suze Orman would say, “Stand in your truth”.

      Leading on from that last point, it sounds like you cannot afford a “stay at home wife”. Unless the girlfriend is extremely special and has a truly magical reason for being without income for two years (such as dying or is literally confined to a bed), make her support herself or drop her. You just. cannot. afford. to support another person.

      1. qkate

        I would’ve put it differently, but I agree OP cannot be supporting a second, job-less person right now except for extenuating circumstances (like health issues).

  2. weasel007

    Stop the paypal juggling. That is why it has gotten so big. It is like taking a payday loan to cover a payday loan. You just keep digging a hole and it gets bigger and bigger.

    You have to cut this card up. Have the company close the account (after coming clean) and work out a plan to pay it off. Unless you have a way to come up with 20k, it might be in the business’s best interest to pay it off and come up with an agreement to pay them. Otherwise the interest will just keep building. I’m sorry to say you will probably lose your job over this.

    Just as a comparison, my company (huge) will fire someone for accidently using your corporate card for a personal charge, even if it was an accident. You are constantly warned to be very very careful with it. I keep it in my safe at home and don’t even have it out unless I need it. Not worth it.

    Best of luck to you. Please keep us posted.

    1. Steve G

      I’m totally picturing Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead, with how Christina Applegate’s siblings stole all of the petty cash:-) OK that aside…

      I choked on the interest fee per month. During my most aggressive debt-paying years, when I was making a lot, I still only managed $700. You can’t keep up with that. Also, I think the stories about the cars definitely give to OP sympathy points. Also, at my longest job in medium-sized corporate America, they had a MO of NOT firing people over things if they apologized/cleaned up the mess etc. You had to mess up multiple things to get fired. Also, this will be found out now or in the future, even if it is 10 years from now, so…..better tell them now and get it off your chest. So I am all for coming clean.

      Does PAypal allow balance transfers? I did one from MasterCard to Chase Slate Card in 2013 and got 0% interest for the first year. Not sure if they OP would qualify with bad credit (my score is around 860) but they definitely were trying to grab customers…

      1. Anonygoose

        I work with cars and insurance on a daily basis, and–well–that portion of the post just isn’t adding up to me. (I also notice that he said he got insurance for the _second_ car. OP, please, please always make sure that you’re driving with at least liability insurance. If you were to injure someone, not only would you be personally liable, but they may not be able to get the medical care they need as a result.) I think there are still portions of the rationalization that aren’t being looked at truthfully.

        People get into really bad situations because they’re desperate and they don’t see any other way out. It’s not my place to judge another person’s desperation. However, to get out of this situation, you have to be honest with yourself; otherwise, you’re going to fall back into the same problems that made you desperate in the first place. Own to yourself that you made a mistake, and that you could have _not_ made it. Don’t beat yourself up for having made it, but acknowledge that you could have _not_. That way, when you’re dealing with similar issues, similar temptations, in the future, you already know that you don’t _have_ to go down that path, that you can avoid it if you want.

        1. Green

          +1 for OP needing to be brutally honest with themselves about how this is happening or it’s not going to get better (and agree with your assessment that OP still isn’t being honest with himself).

          1. Spooky

            Agreed. There’s something about the tone of these messages that seems like OP is continuing to make excuses, and not accept blame for his errors, face the consequences, and make better decisions in the future. You don’t “genuinely misunderstand” how a company card works to the tune of $20K that involves paying for a gf’s expenses – I’m not trying to attack OP, but he needs to come clean to his managers, and that can’t be the excuse he gives. I think it’s pretty likely that that line will just make his superiors mad and ring as false, while a true apology might at least mean that the company will work with him.

            1. Pretend Scientist

              Agreed. Using a company card for daily expenses because his girlfriend wasn’t working and his salary couldn’t support both of them? Not an excuse I think that OP should present to management. That’s not a transportation crisis, that’s repeated, willful misconduct.

            2. AMT

              Yes, I thought at first that OP was just super, super naïve and didn’t know that a company card shouldn’t be used for personal expenses. The second letter clarified that, okay, he DID know that it wasn’t supposed to be used that way (his manager said “clearly and explicitly” that it wasn’t allowed), but he thought he could get away with that. So, basically, OP’s claim that he “genuinely misunderstood” was false. I really hope he changes his tone and takes ownership of the problem when he talks to his boss. I would have a hard time not firing someone who did this AND didn’t acknowledge his responsibility.

        2. Not So NewReader

          “People get into really bad situations because they’re desperate and they don’t see any other way out. ”

          OP, the raw truth is that NONE of us were born with a money-management gene. We all missed it. Some of us make out better because of sheer luck or fear (scared to spend a dime) or someone taught us at some point.

          We have several regular readers here who discuss money issues at length. You can tell that they read and read and read. Why. They missed the money-management gene,also.

          I know this comment is kind of buried here, but I’d like to encourage you that by learning some new stuff it will be easier to break the cycle.

          1. AMT

            Agreed. I think Reddit’s personal finance community would be a good place to start. (Not sure if the comments allow links, but just Google “Reddit personal finance.”) They have a lot of excellent advice about how to get out of debt and control your spending.

      2. Nom d' Pixel

        Normally I am all for coming clean. It is part of confronting a problem head-on. However, we are talking about embezzling $20k. That is a felony. His boss will recognize that this is too big of a mistake to keep in the department and will immediately notify HR as well as higher up the food chain. OP will be fired, and possible arrested.

        1. IfYouDoTheCrime

          Embezzling is stealing. It doesnt matter what his intentions were, he stole a crapton of money.

          Come clean. There will be consequences, but you knew what you were doing. Children hide things, adults should’ve learned to own up to their screw ups.

          1. Jerry Vandesic

            Not sure there’s any embezzling going on here. All the corporate cards I have had in the past said I was personally responsible for any charges on the card. It might very well be the case the the OP’s employer is not on the hook for the charges, which probably means there is/was no embezzling. That being said, the OP will likely be responsible for the charges, even if they are no longer working for their current employer.

    2. QAT Contractor

      I totally agree with the PayPal comment. Any sort of payday loan or cash advancement has huge penalties associated to it and using one of these to pay off another one will never get you ahead or even caught up.

      Credit counseling is the best thing you can do to get this in order and I would suggest that you start there, even before talking to your manager/boss. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t tell your manager/boss or put it off for a long time. I’m saying get in contact with the credit counseling [i]TODAY[/i] and talk to your manager asap after that meeting.

      I can’t speak to whether you will still have a job after all of this, but having the information about what the circumstances were that got you here (probably leaving the girlfriend out of that), what you have been trying to do to pay it off and that you are now working with a credit counselor may help slightly.

      Good luck, and it sucks to have such a bad run of bad luck. As others have said, worse things have happened and people can bounce back but it can take a lot of sacrifice and time to do so.

    3. cheeky

      I completely agree with this. The PayPal thing is really bad. It’s robbing Peter to pay Paul. Come clean, be totally honest, be contrite. Nothing good will come from continuing to hide this and continuing the PayPal scheme.

    4. Bea W

      My friend’s employer has done that, even for small accidents. I do the same thing you do. It’s easy to pull out the wrong card at the cash register. BTDT (lucky not with my corporate card because I leave it at home).

      1. LUCYVP

        I have a neon pink sticker on the front of my corporate card. I’ve accidentally swiped it at the coffee shop or grocery store way too often because it is from the same bank as my personal bank so my personal debit card is a differen design but the EXACT same color.

        The neon sticker is an extra reminder so I don’t have to go through the drama of fessing up to accounting and then writing them a check to cover the expense.

        1. Bea W

          Great idea! My corporate card is not the same bank as any of my cards, but it’s a color that could get mixed up with the others if I have to carry it in my wallet, like on a business trip.

  3. anon for this

    Ok. What’s done is done. Can you get a 2nd job? I think some of this is getting control over your life. It’s not the actual question you are asking but off the top of my head:
    1. Keep car insurance, and not just liability.
    2. Get health insurance.
    3. Get an eval for ADD meds.
    4. It may be better for your health to come clean, take the consequences, and start over. Even if you are waiting tables, the stress release may be worth it. I have made–and seen others make–HUGE mistakes. You can bounce back. I know what I am talking about. I am a recovering acoholic. We don’t get sober without some significant consequences. I have seen people devastate their lives and go on to be even more successful than ever before. I can say the same for myself. If we can do that, you can do this. Let us know how it goes.

    1. Manders

      Yes, I was wondering whether the OP was getting proper treatment for the ADD. My friends with ADD have told me that they can have trouble breaking big problems like this down into manageable steps, especially when they’re under stress. Everyone struggles with this issue to some extent, and I am not a psychic doctor who can diagnose strangers over the internet, but it’s worth looking into.

      1. TL -

        My roommate and my brother just started ADD meds/treatment within the last few years and it’s made a huge difference in how they approach their lives. Definitely look into that, OP, if you haven’t already. Neither of them function well off their meds.

      2. nona

        It is. It’s also worth looking into therapy or some kind of support to learn to work with it without medication or to complement medication.

        I have an ADHD diagnosis and I have to say that medication’s great for a lot of people, but it didn’t work out for me. There are other options if you need them OP.

        1. nona

          I was just thinking about this post again and wanted to add something that might relate to OP (might not). One of the reasons that medication didn’t work for me was that, well, I’m pretty impulsive. Medication intensified that.

      3. Kathryn T.

        I have ADD and “trouble breaking big problems like this down into manageable steps” is definitely a hallmark of the condition. OP, one thing that helps me when faced with something like this is to do my list-making backwards: I start by defining what I want my end state to be, then I ask myself “what will be the last step I take before this is done? OK, and what will need to be done to make that possible?” and then work backwards along the dependency chain from there. I’m not sure why that’s so much easier for me, but it is; it’s like moving a box of rocks by taking individual rocks out rather than trying to carry the whole dang box.

        It also has the advantage of making sure that you define success before you start out. Frequently my anxiety is because I DON’T have a solid picture in my head of what I’m working towards and I’m just hoping things will magically work out. Getting clear on what success looks like collapses all those probability insecurities and sometimes makes the subtasks much more clear.

        1. Ellie H

          This is a great comment! So helpful for anyone, especially people with any kind of issues regarding tasks, stress, focus, etc. I definitely try to break tasks down into small steps but starting backwards is an absolutely fantastic idea I am going to start employing immediately.

        2. Bea W

          I totally do this as well. I find it easier to work backwards, thinking of the end result and then breaking it down piece by piece. I does really help to have that end goal in your mind. It’s too easy to get off task when you’re not clear what you are working for. It’s like walking into a supermarket without a written list, and just some notion of the things you want to buy. You end up wandering around and take twice as long as you need.

        3. virago

          ADD here (inattentive type, compounded by anxiety and depression), and I am *so* printing out this remark and making it a poster to hang up both at home and at work!

      4. Bea W

        Stress really exacerbates ADD. When I’m totally stressed out with life there’s just not enough meds I can take to fix the short circuit in my brain. I need someone to help me break it down into small enough bites. Lowering my stress, getting enough sleep, and such make a huge difference in how well I can function even though I also take medication. (And without meds I’m a hot mess).

    2. anon for this

      And don’t metally/emotionally focus on your screw-up. You expend tyoo much energy that can be used to fix this and take car of yourself. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t acknowledge ad try to rectify, but focus on what you can do versus what’s been done.

    3. pinky

      thank you for sharing such a personal story – OP needs all the encouragement he can get!

  4. Kelly L.

    Yeah, and it definitely sounds like the manager did a “wink, wink” in an attempt to help OP get the car. And then a million things went wrong.

    I don’t have any great advice except yeah, talk to the manager and see if there’s anything that can be done.

    1. fposte

      I think it depends whether those two statements were adjacent from the manager–the OP’s phrasing isn’t clear on that. It’s not impossible, I suppose, but I’d be really stunned if a manager did a wink-wink about charging a car purchase on a company credit card; I would interpret the comment to mean more like an extra lunch.

      1. Kelly L.

        Ah, yeah, I was definitely reading them as the same conversation. Manager says “You need a car NOW,” OP says “I can’t afford it,” Manager says “Well, you’re not supposed to use the credit card for personal expenses, but nobody will check if xyz” and that it was meant as a lifeline to not get fired over the lack of car. But i could be misreading.

        1. fposte

          Yeah, I read it that way first and then questioned it the second. I don’t think we can know from here.

        2. sunny-dee

          Yeah, but I took it as a comment for *the deposit* not for the entire car. I could see the manager trying to be nice and saying, like, use $1500 for the deposit …. but the OP used it for the ENTIRE CAR. At 21% interest. That’s enough of a difference in degree to be a difference in kind.

          1. Kelly L.

            Oh, absolutely, I don’t think the manager meant the OP to rack up as much as she did. I think there may have been a wink-wink about using it for personal expenses as a general thing. It wouldn’t surprise me if the manager has taken advantage of this a time or two as well.

          2. Three Thousand

            Yeah, even if you have the world’s worst credit, you can almost certainly do better than 21% on a car.

            1. Parcae

              Hmm, I wouldn’t assume that. There are a lot of subprime car loans out there at 20+%. And that’s assuming you even qualify!

            2. Pill Helmet

              Yup. I have horribly low credit (student loans that defaulted…boo) and can’t get approved for really anything. I got a car loan at 12%, high for a car but low compared to that. I also got it through a credit union when regular banks were offering me a loan at 18%, which would still be better than OPs situation.

        3. Connie-Lynne

          I’ve noticed that the LW doesn’t seem to have a clear understanding what “paid in full each month” means, either. The manager said things would be fine as long as the card was paid in full, but the LW seems to have interpreted this not as “the full amount” but as “the minimum payment.” Later on the LW states that she has been paying the card in full each month, but it’s clear she means “the minimum balance” and not the full balance.

          That’s an important difference, and it’s part of how the LW managed to rack up such huge debt.

          The LW should still talk to her manager, but should be aware that her manager probably meant “pay in full” not “pay the minimum balance.”

          1. Natalie

            Not quite – the OP is charging the full balance to Paypal so they can get it in cash, and then using the cash to “pay” the same credit card they just charged. Interest doesn’t accrue and the card appears to be paid according to their company, but Paypal fees keep adding up.

            1. Melissa

              Thanks for this clarification – I totally did not understand this part of the post. I thought that the OP was taking out the minimum balance through PayPal and then paying that + $2,000 each month, and I wasn’t quite sure what the point of that was.

            2. Chloe

              Thanks for explaining this- I wasn’t understanding the PayPal thing. I actually think I’m still a little confused about how that works. If the OP were charging the credit card for the amount that was already owed on it (so doubling it?), and then paying back that amount, wouldn’t the original amount still be there? I’m sure I’m being really dense here.

              1. Natalie

                Yes, but they’re taking advantage of the grace period to both prevent interest from accruing and make it look like the card is getting paid off every month.

                Most credit cards have a grace period, a period of time after the billing cycle but before any interest will be charged (often, but not always, 21 days). So, I have a credit card with no balance on it. One June 4th I charge $50. My billing cycle ends June 5th and they send me a statement. Now they won’t charge me any interest until July 1st, so if I pay that balance off before then, it’s an interest free loan.

                In the OP’s case, they get that statement on June 5th. They then process a charge to their own Paypal account on June 6th for $55. $5 goes to Paypal as a fee and $50 goes to their Paypal account, which they can remove as cash and use to pay the credit card. When their next billing cycle ends on July 5th, the original $50 charge has been paid but they have a “new” $55 charge to Paypal. Wash, rinse, repeat and the Paypal fees really add up.

                1. Chloe

                  OHHHHH. Okay, I got it. I missed the part about new billing cycle. Thanks for explaining this for me!!

                2. Natalie

                  @ nonegiven, yes, I was obviously using a small number for illustration purposes.

                3. Saturn9

                  There’s no grace on cash advances. Cash advances are billed at a higher interest rate than purchases and the interest is billed regardless of how quickly the advance is paid off.

                  The OP’s entire situation is awful because I’m sure the employer’s “pay in full” rule is meant to avoid having interest billed on any of their cards and also to avoid getting into situations where employees are carrying massive balances to a point they’ll never be able to it pay off.

                4. Natalie

                  @ Saturn9, good to know, although it sounds like the credit card is not counting this as a cash advance, but rather a purchase from Paypal.

        4. HB

          I’d imagine the manager is going to deny ever possibly wink-winking this so it may be best for OP not to even pursue this as “I thought you said X” but rather straight-up humble contrition.

          1. Jill

            Yep! I don’t want to beat up on OP, but I do feel the need to beat up on the manager. Who gives employees company credit cards with no oversight? And wouldn’t there be some secretary or clerk that processes the bills? Don’t they notice that many of the charges don’t seem legit?

            I mean, OP made his choices, but I think management shares some of the blame here for not providing proper oversight. (Not that OP should use this as his defense if he gets into trouble for this, but still).

            1. HB

              This has been mentioned a few times and while I definitely agree that this company has some extremely lenient policies regarding their credit cards to not have noticed this over four years (!), I don’t think it’s the company’s “responsibility” to make sure OP didn’t use the card improperly. In their best interest? Sure. But I can’t really see passing the blame to them. Perhaps as a more theoretical exercise in discussing proper employee reimbursement procedures, but that line of thinking just isn’t going to help OP and is unlikely to make the company any more sympathetic.

              “Well, in a way, you let this happen by not monitoring me”
              “Uh, ok?”

              1. HB

                Sorry, I see you said that the OP shouldn’t use that as an excuse when coming clean. However, I still don’t think the company really should be responsible for overseeing employee credit card usage. I don’t see it as their job to provide oversight.

                Again, it would totally be in their best interest and I’d imagine policies at this place will change post-confession but I really can’t shift any blame to the company. I think it’s odd that they still haven’t noticed the issue, but I don’t think they are at fault for assuming OP would not put personal expenses on their card.

                1. Jessa

                  Um, they do bear some responsibility. The card belongs to the company good business practices mean you know what your assets and liabilities are. If it’s a big company things might fall through cracks, but as it gets smaller, if for instance the company is carrying that line of credit on their balance sheet as an asset having no idea that it is now a 20k liability, I’d think an audit could get them in a lot of trouble. Credit usage is a factor in getting more credit down the line. The smaller the company the more I’d flip out.

                  Besides the OP is at least an honest person as far as it goes with intent to pay who got in over their head. The op could have been an outright thief and any company even a two person one should have in place some basic anti theft policies.

                  Plus if the boss is wink wink nudge nudge say no more (understandings about payment and possibly scope of amount, notwithstanding,) the OP is probably not the only person using the card outside of official policy. This company is asking for financial trouble down the road.

                2. HB

                  Jessa, I do agree that the company should have better policies in place regarding reviewing what people put on their cards. I suppose my only hitch is with the idea that they share blame for the OP’s actions.

                  Honestly, I think I agree with what you and anon to protect the company are saying (“While that doesn’t excuse the LW’s behavior, the company dropped the ball in a big way.” from anon and you saying that they need to know their balance sheet better). I think the company SHOULD review credit card charges and am completely shocked that the situation got to this point – four years of no review! – but while I think they need better policies, the responsibility for getting into the situation lies with OP.

                  I think I’m just niggling over the word responsibility. Sorry, not trying to get too off-track!

                3. Something Professional

                  The company’s financial policies might be poorly designed or even downright stupid, but that doesn’t mean they bear any responsibility for the OP’s actions. I agree that the company should exercise better oversight for its own sake. That said, it was the OP who decided to use the card for personal expenses and continue the financial sleight of hand to cover it up. The company’s lack of oversight isn’t responsible for the
                  OP making those choices. This wasn’t entrapment.

                  Tiffany’s should have locked security guards at the door. If they don’t, and I steal a diamond necklace, that’s not on them. That’s on me.

              2. Anon to protect company

                No, this absolutely IS the company’s responsibility. Checking each and every one of the charges on the corporate credit cards should be standard practice (even at the big company with 300 employees I work at, each charge is verified at the end of each month). In general, companies have a responsibility audit areas of risk regularly.

                While that doesn’t excuse the LW’s behavior, the company dropped the ball in a big way.

            2. Laurel Gray

              The OP did not specify the company size, location or industry but there are way more people to beat up than the manager (unless the manager is also the owner). There is a whole accounting system in place that is flawed. Decision makers attached to accounting and finance should bear some responsibility. Not because the OP did this, but because the OP could do this. Where is the CFO? Accounting Manager? Controller? Staff Accountant? Even if the OP gets the statements to their house and tracks everything online, the company should still be reviewing and reconciling the expenses attached to this card regularly. Where are the auditors? How would the shareholders feel if they knew how easy it was for an employee to live off company credit like this?

              1. HB

                “Not because the OP did this, but because the OP could do this.”

                OK, this I agree with. Looking at it more as a “fix the loopholes that allow this to continue unnoticed for four years” rather than “the company is required to provide oversight to protect people from themselves” sits a little better with me.

                I’m sorry if I was unclear above.

                1. Laurel Gray

                  HB, you were clear above and for the most part I do agree with you. I think the attitude of putting a huge chunk of the blame on bosses almost eliminates individuals for being morally/ethically responsible and creates the need for managers to have to micromanage. My opinions on the accounting controls that should have been in place stem from the fact that once a company’s finances spiral out of control, things can get worse before they get better.

                  People have made comments alluding to $20k possibly not being a big deal. Tell that to the admin that was denied the 5% pay increase at review time, or the tea pot coordinator doing the job of someone who should be making $10k more. My attitude about others who should have known is more about all the people who can possibly be affected by what the OP did or anyone similar. What if after this comes to light the company gets rid of ALL company cards and people have to use personal cards and be reimbursed? What if there is someone with a similar credit issue as the OP who has always managed to be responsible with her company card? Now she is penalized.

            3. doreen

              I’m wondering exactly what kind of a corporate card this is. The first one I had was a little strange – the corporate part was that I didn’t have to pay the fee, and I don’t think my credit was checked, but the bill was sent directly to me and I was ultimately responsible for paying the bill. I suppose if I didn’t pay on time my employer might have gotten a bill, but as long as I paid on time they had no idea what my balance was or what was charged to it. Which resulted in a whole lot of “wink-winking” – people used them for personal expenses all the time even though it was against policy.

      2. Green

        I think OP doesn’t know what “paying the balance in full every month” means and thinks paying the minimum payment is “the balance”?

        1. KT

          This stood out to me too. If you were truly paying the balance in full-there would be no interest charges! It sounds like he just paid the minimum and is now shocked that so much has accrued.

            1. cheeky

              So..he’s getting cash advances from the card and using those advances to pay the card off?

              1. A Bug!

                I think so? It sounds like OP’s basically just “refreshing” the balance. The 20k that’s on the card is about to hit the end of its first billing cycle, so OP gets a 20k cash advance and pumps it back into the card. This pays off the earlier 20k and replaces it with a 20k that’s not going to earn interest until the next billing cycle. Instead of actually paying the balance off in full each month, it’s just shuffling the balance from one billing cycle to the next at the cost of exorbitant cash advance fees.

                Aside from the novel method, it’s pretty much the textbook payday loan trap. :(

                1. Tinker

                  I have this sinking horrible feeling that the source of the debt at this point is divided up something like:

                  — Car deposits #1-3: $8000
                  — Miscellaneous personal expenses: $2000
                  — Accumulated Paypal advance fees: $10,000

            2. Davey1983

              While I get the distinction, it feels more like a tomato, toh-mato kind of thing.

              Either way, he is paying money for the ability to spend money on the credit card. All he is doing is shifting who he is paying the interest to (well, and avoiding having a balance on the card so his employer won’t notice).

              I’m curious, he mentions that his girlfriend being out of a job for a couple of years contributed to how much he owes. Can she help pay down what he owes? I have a suspicion that the answer is no, or he gave the money to her without any discussion to pay him back.

              Even when loaning money to your family/girlfriend/guy you would trust your life with/etc. ALWAYS get a contract spelling out the repayment terms.

      3. Nom d' Pixel

        Some companies can be really draconian about using a company card for personal things such as accidentally pulling out the wrong card to pay for gas. I suspect the manager was referring to that sort of thing, not saying to go ahead and put a car on the card.

    2. Rose

      Ya, I would go to that guy first, because he seemed to be fine with this so long as nothing got f-ed up. Well, something did, but at least he’ll know why you thought it was ok to try.

      1. sunny-dee

        Honestly, that’s not the best approach to take. The manager well may have thought he was offering the guy a couple thousand bucks to let him keep his job and that’s ENTIRELY different than having thousands of dollars of revolving debt so he can spend money on his girlfriend.

        It’s way better to ‘fess up without trying to push anything back to the manager.

        1. Kelly L.

          I think we mean fess up to this manager, not blame it on the manager.

          I definitely don’t think OP should go to the manager like “Well, you implied it would be OK.” I mean more that this manager might be a softer place to land with the confession than, say, someone else in the company.

          1. sunny-dee

            Oh, sorry. I (mis)interpreted “at least he’ll know why you thought it was ok” as a way of pushing a little of the blame back to the manager, which I could see ending poorly.

            Merely confessing to the manager because he may be sympathetic — that may work.

            1. Kelly L.

              Or could get scared that he might get blamed, and scurry to cover his ass. But I don’t really know.

            2. Something Professional

              I think this depends on how much authority the manager has. If he’s fairly high up in the company, he might be authorized to deal with situations like this personally. If not, he’s going to have to report the matter to his superiors regardless of how sympathetic he feels. I’ve never worked in a place where dealing with major financial misconduct fell within the scope of a line manager’s authority.

  5. Kvaren

    I feel like if you do confess to your manager, maybe do what you can to have a significant amount of $ ready to put in as your first pay-off payment? (I’m thinking over 1k to show commitment and initiative.) I’m not sure how that’s possible, as you are obviously financially stretched beyond your limits in this situation.

    You mentioned that some of the charges were due to your gf being unemployed for 2 years. Are you still with her? Can she help and pay back the favor, even if it’s just a little for that first payment?

    1. kac

      I think this is really good advice–both getting the money to put a “big payment” down when you do tell your company and getting your gf to help.

    2. sunny-dee

      +1

      OP, if you have *anyone* who has any money they can lend you — a parent, a friend, a sibling — pay off as much as you can before or when you go to your manager. Even more than $1000 — that’s only 5% of the debt. If you can get more, or if your girlfriend can get a personal loan to cover it or your parents have some money, try to get $10,000 or more.

      1. Christy

        I would suspect that OP isn’t in the position to have people help him financially. Otherwise, I suspect that they would have helped him purchase a car without using the corporate card.

        And I imagine that the help from others would have to be thought of as a gift, not a loan, and $1000 is a big gift from anyone. (I say this because I probably wouldn’t count on OP to pay the money back if he were my friend/relative.)

        1. sunny-dee

          The reason I say this — and it’s not to add any more pressure — but he is legitimately at risk of going to jail. This isn’t like he forgot to forward a TPS report or missed a customer deadline or cussed out a coworker. Depending on the state, he’s looking at charges for embezzlement or grand larceny and wire fraud. That is very much an emergency — this is the kind of thing that he needs to squeeze money out of whatever he can and pay it off yesterday.

          A relative or friend may not be able to much more than $1000 for a “regular” emergency, but to avoid prison, they may be able to pool more resources.

            1. fposte

              That’s going to be probably over a year, though, and if he’s found out in the meantime without coming clean, that makes the chance of a bad outcome much higher.

              It’s not an easy call.

              1. Green

                Owing $15,000 is better than $20,000 and owing $10,000 is better than $15,000 though… Also, OP could likely pay more off if he went into financial lockdown.

                1. fposte

                  Financially, sure. But owing $20k and coming clean before they catch you is worth more than owing $15k when they catch you.

          1. Jerry Vandesic

            There’s nothing in the OPs posting that their employer is responsible for this debt, which means no embezzling has taken place. While it likely depends on the specifics of the cardholder agreement that the OP signed, in all of the cases where I have had a corporate card I was personally responsible for all charges. The company might owe nothing.

            1. sunny-dee

              If the OP doesn’t pay the balance (which he hasn’t), then the company is responsible to pay off the card. It’s called individual pay / corporate liability. Just like the card is taken out on the company’s credit, not the individual’s credit.

              I honestly don’t know if this would fall under embezzlement or theft.

    3. The IT Manager

      all money I can put toward it out of my pay (generally $2,000 a month).

      It sounds like he’s paying off every month by borrowing using PayPal from the next cycle and is already adding about $2000 /month to pay it down, but the PayPal fees hurt him and he’s unable to catch up.

      But I came here to say that the girlfriend should be helping solve this problem since LW covering her living expenses contributed to the debt. If he hiding this from her, it is time to stop and time to ask her for her help.

      1. fposte

        I was trying to dig but couldn’t find enough about PayPal fees. Is the the balance basically all PayPal fees at this point, and do they incur interest?

        1. Natalie

          I think the Paypal fees are charged directly to the credit card, so every month OP has to take out an additional $X to cover the Paypal fee from the previous month.

  6. Former Diet Coke Addict

    I would urge you to come clean–but don’t attribute it to stress, ADD, changing roles, etc. Own your mistake (even though it will be painful) and it will earn you more respect in the long run. If they ask you to explain what happened, then you can go into detail regarding the car stuff, but try to avoid “blaming” circumstances.

    Good luck.

    1. Mike C.

      Those are certainly huge factors in how someone would make those decisions in that type of situation. You aren’t “owning” the mistake any less.

      1. TL -

        It’s helpful in “I’ve been diagnosed with ADD and am now in therapy/on meds to manage it better” and “I was really stressed out, plus the new role changes, and made bad choices about handling money – I’ve got a solid plan I’ve made with a financial counselor that will enable me to pay back the debt and manage things better going forward.”

        But, frankly, the OP is an adult and if they have ADD, they need to manage it. If they have financial difficulties, they need to manage it. They don’t work as reasons – just factors that need to be addressed going forward.

        1. Zillah

          They don’t work as reasons – just factors that need to be addressed going forward.

          Why can’t they be both?

          1. TL -

            Because they come off as excuses. If the OP has ADD and is doing nothing to manage it, the reason that they’re having problems isn’t because they have ADD, it’s because they’re not taking appropriate steps to manage it.

            If the OP knows they have financial problems and struggle with managing money, but hasn’t taken steps to get better at it, the reason for their problems isn’t because they’re bad at finances but because they aren’t seeking help to get better finances.

            They’re not reasons or excuses. They’re factors that the OP is responsible for mitigating/working around. Everyone’s got them of some sort or another and learning how to deal with them appropriately is part of being an adult.

          2. Zillah

            But… like, ADHD being a contributing reason for the mess doesn’t mean the OP doesn’t have to figure out a way to deal with it regardless. ADHD doesn’t relieve you of consequences for your actions, but it can impact the way you act, and it’s an important consideration in how you address the issue. Tbh, your insistence that if the OP would just take appropriate steps to manage it, this wouldn’t be an issue at all kind of indicates to me that you aren’t necessarily aware of what the disorder is. It’s not that simple – you can struggle even when you’re taking “appropriate steps to manage it.” I do.

            The OP obviously needs to find better coping mechanisms in the future, and ADHD is absolutely not an excuse. The OP is still responsible for their actions and still needs to find a way to fix this, and I absolutely wouldn’t bring ADHD up in an official discussion about the issue. But the OP doesn’t seem inclined to do that – it was only mentioned it as an afterthought in their second letter.

        2. Anonsie

          I don’t see how any of that means the context for a mistake (however large) should be omitted from the discussion, though. Including it isn’t necessarily a last ditch plea to get off the hook. If I were the LW’s manager, I would want to know what in the hell lead to this even if it wasn’t going to change my recourse.

          1. TL -

            Frankly, I wouldn’t care. I would only care what the OP was doing to ensure that would never happen again. So, saying “I have ADD” would do nothing for me. Saying, “I have ADD and am seeking therapy/treatment” would have me considering whether or not the OP seems like someone who can straighten out the mess they’ve made via the steps they’ve given.

            1. Zillah

              And you don’t have to care. But enough posters here think that it’s important context at the very least that maybe you shouldn’t be quite so dismissive of it.

              1. TL -

                I’m not being dismissive – I would be much more kindly inclined if the OP was like “Woah, I just found out that I have ADD and that definitely contributed; I’m seeking treatment” or “I also have ADD and am struggling to manage it correctly” or something.
                My roommate is going through that and I have nothing but respect and sympathy for her – getting the right/appropriate treatment is hard (and sometimes impossible, though my understanding is that it’s rare the ADD/ADHD can’t be managed). Because she never uses her ADD as an excuse – it’s always like, “Oh, this is how ADD makes my life more difficult and these are the steps I’m taking to mitigate.” If she makes a bad decision, she owns it and looks for ADD-specific strategies to help her manage it, but (since she’s been diagnosed) it’s never been the ADD’s fault.

                I could be wrong, but I don’t get that impression at all from the OP. Whatever your burden is, you have to find and implement strategies to work with it to manage your life. That doesn’t mean the OP should be able to do it with the same tools as everyone else; it just means the OP is responsible for seeking the tools that can help them since they know what their struggles are.

                1. Zillah

                  But… I mean, the OP barely mentioned the ADHD. I feel like you’re reading more into it than is really there. All the OP said about ADHD came at the very end of the second letter:

                  I don’t know if it is relevant but I have ADD, so impulse control, particularly when under stress, has always been an issue for me, and the whole thing was really traumatic with changing roles and several other factors. My mental state was definitely not clear at the time I started doing this.

                  I don’t see a lot of the ducking personal responsibility in there that you do. Maybe you’re getting that impression from the letter as a whole, but I don’t see the OP really making ADHD a big part of that.

                  As far as managing ADHD goes – the thing is, it’s not a black-and-white proposition. There are degrees of managing it, just like there are degrees of managing any other condition. If you mean that it’s rare that literally nothing works to help manage it at all, you’re absolutely right. But IME, it’s also virtually impossible to find any combination of treatments that make you function like a NT person who doesn’t have ADHD – that’s just not really how it works.

                  That’s not necessarily a bad thing – there are many aspects of ADHD that can actually be an asset in the right environment – but it does mean that that generally, for advice about something directly related to the ADHD (which impulse control and avoidance often are) to be useful to someone with ADHD, the ADHD should be taken into account.

                2. TL -

                  Right, but the op isn’t going to the manager for advice. So the ADD is not relevant unless there’s a strategy in place to mitigate it that affects their future performance.
                  If the op is going to his manager and saying I have ADD and impulse control problems and that contributed to me racking up massive debt but does not include a strategy to prevent this in the future, what is the manager supposed to do with the information – how does it change the situation?

                3. Lady H

                  This is a huge lightbulb moment for me. I appreciate how you’re explaining this and it helped me see what about the OP’s phrasing was giving me pause. You articulated something that I find very useful in setting boundaries with people who make excuses without giving any indication they are seeking tools to overcome whatever hardship is causing destructive behavior. Thanks for the food for thought!

                4. Zillah

                  It’s not relevant in going to the manager, no. However, it is relevant in seeking advice from AAM & the commenters – people include information in letters all the time that they wouldn’t when speaking to their managers/coworkers/whatever.

                  And, moreover, you haven’t just been talking about how the OP should address the problem with their manager. You’ve come across to me, at least, as judging the OP for not having this under control from your first comment in this thread:

                  But, frankly, the OP is an adult and if they have ADD, they need to manage it. If they have financial difficulties, they need to manage it. They don’t work as reasons – just factors that need to be addressed going forward.

                  The utter lack of sympathy and the fact that you don’t seem to think that ADHD is remotely relevant in seeking advice on a huge problem that has roots in traits that are hugely common in people with ADHD is deeply problematic, and I feel like you’re extrapolating a lack of personal responsibility in the letter as a whole – which I also picked up on, incidentally – and have focused in on ADHD when that’s not the core issue.

                  A reason is, literally, a cause or explanation for something. I’m really not understanding how you can argue that ADHD could not have possibly been one of the reasons this happened, nor do I understand why you are equating “contributing reason” with “excuse to not address it.”

  7. fposte

    Ugh, OP, this one is tough. Just to be clear, you’re no longer taking the PayPal advances or using the card in any personal way–you’re completely repaying now? What’s the interest rate? I’m trying to figure out how long before you could get it paid off. And how long does that compare to the time you’ve been using the card?

    IMHO, it would also be good to avoid the “genuinely misunderstood” approach–your second letter, which details this instead as a panicked hope that this would slide by, seems a lot more plausible and therefore a lot more sympathetic.

    1. Helka

      IMHO, it would also be good to avoid the “genuinely misunderstood” approach–your second letter, which details this instead as a panicked hope that this would slide by, seems a lot more plausible and therefore a lot more sympathetic.

      Agreed. I think it’s pretty clear that you didn’t misunderstand, OP — and even if you did, it sounds disingenuous to phrase it like that. It sounds like you’re making excuses for yourself or trying to avoid admitting actual wrongdoing.

    2. HB

      Agreed. I don’t know that “genuinely misunderstood” will fly when the second letter indicates he knew that the card wasn’t to be used for personal expenses. I think honest contrition will be better.

    3. ms-starfish

      Agree x 1000.

      OP: “I am terrified that I have ruined my life completely through an act which was made at a time of high stress and was short sighted, but done with the intention of saving my job.”

      If it were just the car deposit (or purchase? unclear) then that’s one thing. (Still bad, but at the time it was to keep the job.) But the first letter says clearly that it was used for ‘general personal shopping’ and to ‘cover expenses beyond my paycheck’. That is totally different – the reason the OP thinks HR might see it as theft is because it is.

    4. Anonathon

      +2. I can see justifying some expenses in your mind as tangentially work-related. (Lunch near the office, work clothes maybe, plus the car situation.) But personal expenses when your girlfriend was unemployed? I don’t think they’ll believe that was just a misunderstanding. Full-on coming clean actually could be more sympathetic.

      1. Jessa

        And also I hate to say this and you will take a helluva tax hit but if you have a 401k now is the time to yank money from it. Seriously. You can take loans depending on what you have in, but “keep me out of jail,” and I’ll deal with retirement later since staying out of jail will LET me retire, is a damned good reason to go touching that money.

    5. Noelle

      It sounds like he’s putting $2,000 of his own money towards the balance each month, minus the $600 or so interest charge from PayPal for the advance of the total $20,000. So basically he should be paying down about $1,400 a month, meaning it would take a little over 14 months to pay off (assuming he is not using it for any other expenses).

  8. Carrie in Scotland

    Does your partner know this? Could she help in any way at all?

    I like TCO’s suggestion of financial counselling. Maybe you could do this first and then have a plan of action when you meet with your manager?

    You have my sympathies, OP and I truly hope that things work out the best they can for you and that you come back in time to update us with how things are.

  9. Amber Rose

    Oh LW, what a hard situation to be in. You made some mistakes but not nearly as many as you think so try not to beat yourself up too much. At any rate, making yourself sick from stress isn’t going to make the situation better. Be nice to yourself ok? You’re only human.

    Is there anyone who could co-sign a loan for you? Is there anything you could sell to try and pay off some of it? A second job, maybe?

    If you go to your manager not just contrite, but with a concrete plan and the argument that you can’t pay them back without a job, you may be able to avoid a legal mess/not get fired.

    1. Paul

      “the argument that you can’t pay them back without a job”

      While there’s some logic in this, it’s way out of line to actually say it. The OP has obviously created a big problem for the company; the last thing he wants to do is hold the company responsible for cleaning it up by having them keep an employee whom they know to be a liability. OP might get to keep his job, but certainly not after saying that.

      1. Helka

        Yeah. I think the closest the OP would get would be trying to hammer out a deal (after being VERY apologetic and taking full responsibility) where in exchange for keeping his job, he takes a cut in pay with the difference going toward the balance on the card until it’s paid off.

        1. AG

          There may be some payroll laws that prevent expenses from being deducted directly from his paycheck. I know there are laws in my state that require payment for time worked (salary or wages) in full, by some date after the payroll period ends. For that reason, companies I’ve worked for have been unwilling to deduct expenses (e.g., you use the office postage machine, but charge it to a personal account number), and instead prefer to be reimbursed by check after pay day.

          You might suggest (if you are 100% committed to pay this off) that they pay the amount to prevent interest accrual, and then file a lien for the total to show you are committed to the repayments. You’d have to check the applicable laws in your state for payroll liens/garnishments. This would set them up to take you to court pretty quickly if you don’t repay in full and on schedule, though. So don’t do it if you can’t follow through.

          1. AG

            I should also add that speaking to a lawyer would be helpful. There are several pro bono legal aid programs out there. I’d say look for a bankruptcy and/or employment specialist.

          2. Dana

            My ex worked at a car dealership changing oil and stuff. He misjudged a tight turn in the bay when he was new and scratched the crap out of a customer’s car. He didn’t have the means to just fork over $X even though it was his fault, so his company fixed it and then he had a set amount taken out of his paychecks until the company was paid back. I would assume they did this legally, but I have no way of knowing. So maybe OP could work with something like that–the employer pays the credit card off (and revokes it) and then garnishes part of OP’s wages until the debt is paid back to them?

            1. Natalie

              Laws obviously vary by state, but as far as I can tell there’s always some mechanism for an employee to authorize deductions to pay back debt owed to the employer.

            2. Ineloquent

              Honestly, I’m not sure that’s legal (your ex’s situation), since that’s a cost/risk of doing business that the company should be assuming. I would hope it would be covered by some type of insurance, but making an employee cover something out of pocket that the company would be liable for seems shady.

              1. AnonAnalyst

                Yeah, agreed. If he took the customer’s car for a joyride or something I could maybe see it, but scratching it while moving into the bay, presumably as part of his job? Sounds like a cost of doing business expense to me.

                1. Jessa

                  Yeh but it never works that way (see waitstaff being required to pay on dine and dash, etc.) and most people in those jobs are just not in a position to say “you can’t do that,” because they’ll be right, but lose the job.

                  Also people in those sorts of jobs don’t always have the social/legal knowledge that it ISN’T all right for bosses to do that. Also there might be a contract (something they signed,) that says that losses due to improper behaviour (not having a lookout if you’re supposed to, being impaired, being especially careless,) are on the employee.

                  I know for instance that the local cable company contract with their Techs gives them x dollars a year in “I lost the tool, the tool got broken due to negligence, as opposed to the customer got annoyed and tossed my framistat out their window and broke it” money and after that they pay by deduction to replace.

                  My understanding is that for an average, reasonably careful technician they never owe anything because the occasional left behind screwdriver was bought by the company at pennies on the dollar and they’re mostly careful with their equipment. But some careless people are probably prompted to take more care of things, if leaving a 250 buck framistat means they’re gonna have to pay for it.

      2. Amber Rose

        I didn’t mean he should actually say it, just that it’s going to be something that hopefully his boss will be thinking.

        My bad for being vague/misleading. LW, definitely don’t actually mention this! I meant it more as something that will hopefully be in your favor.

  10. Laura

    Is your credit OK enough to get a personal card and transfer the balance to the personal card? Or 2-3 new personal cards?

    1. fposte

      I was thinking about a balance transfer but wasn’t sure if that was possible to do if he’s not the account-holder on the previous card. Does anybody know more about that?

      1. Nobody Here By That Name

        Having been there (see below) I can say that sometimes for the balance transfer what they’ll do is send you a few blank checks to fill out. So if the bills are coming to him he could use those checks to pay it and put the debt in his name regardless of who the official card holder is.

      2. my two cents

        if he’s responsible for making direct payments – any balance transfers i’ve ever done you get a check cut out to the credit card company directly. his name is presumably on the card. but, he filed for bankruptcy not too long ago so this might not even be an option.

          1. Sans

            That’s what I’m thinking. Does she have a job? Can she transfer at least some of this onto her card (heck, some of it was spent on her) and together, they can pay it off of her card as fast as possible? Of course, this would take trust on her part that he wouldn’t leave her with the debt.

          2. cheeky

            It’s terrible advice to recommend pushing your debt onto someone else. He could destroy his girlfriend’s or relatives’ credit.

      1. Alma

        I’m also wondering what OP meant about the cars being “written off.” Does that mean that when they were totaled, and insurance only paid part of what was owed, that OP stopped paying the balance on the loan and the car lot “wrote off” the loan? That means OP has uncollectible debt on their credit report. This will definitely compound problems in securing any type of funding in the future.

        And getting someone to co-sign a loan? OP would not have to do the work to make this right, and to learn how to manage income, expenses, and savings. At the very least seek out a legit credit counselor. Credit Unions often have programs to help manage debt and begin to save.

    2. grasshopper

      NO! Don’t split any remaining balance across other cards. This is how the problem started in the first place, borrowing from one high-interest provider to pay off another high-interest provider. That might solve the OPs problems with his employer, but the root cause remains and will only spiral for him personally.

      Get counselling and set your plan and budgets no matter what.

      In an ideal world, his employer might let him pay back the money that he owes directly to them by garnishing his wages. Another way might be to find a debt consolidator (as previously mentioned, financial counsellors can help you find these) so that you have one debt payment and a lower interest rate that is manageable. This will require a ‘hard’ solution involving work in the OP’s part since the ‘easy’ solutions are what led to the problem in the first place. Credit card companies (or PayPal) aren’t your friend; they are in the business of making money from interest.

      1. sunny-dee

        Well, it’s how it started, but the primary thing isn’t actually cleaning up his financial habits. That’s step 2. Step 1 is only paying off the corporate card, however that happens, because until that’s done he’s at risk of being fired or arrested for embezzlement. Once the debt is gone, he can truly start fixing his financial situation.

        1. fposte

          Right. Avoiding prosecution is 1; keeping job is 2; eradicating debt is 3. If you don’t tend to 1, 3 is going to become a lot tougher anyway.

        2. AnonAnalyst

          Yeah, if this were his personal credit card that would be the correct approach. But since it’s a corporate card it opens up a host of other issues, including the very real concern of criminal prosecution. He still risks being fired if he pays it off, but finding a way to pay everything back will probably lower his risk of being charged with embezzlement.

      2. The IT Manager

        Unless I misunderstand, LW is still borrowing from this card every month (via PayPal) to pay last month’s balance. In this situation, paying off his company card and being forced to but the balance on a personal card* would be an advantage. Right now LW is stuck I the cycle of sill charging to his company card every month.

        * not an option for the LW unfortunately

      3. Jessa

        Splitting the balance is awful if it’s your debt and you’re trying to pay it down. Splitting the balance to keep your job and stay potentially out of jail? Deal with the split balances AFTER you pay off that company card. A lot of normal good financial advice is not useful in this situation because getting into personal debt is a lesser problem than retaining the debt to the company.

  11. Nobody Here By That Name

    THIS IS IN NO WAY IDEAL but speaking as someone who, while not having actually done the “use Paypal to get the cash to pay the same card the cash is from” thing but was at a point once in life where I was so poor and in debt I seriously contemplated it, a third option might be to take advantage of some other credit card’s balance transfer option to at least take the debt off of the company card and put it on a personal one.

    Again, NOT ideal, I’m not claiming that it is, I’m not saying this is a responsible way to handle one’s finances or credit rating. But at least it addresses the issue of racking up debt in the company’s name. OP would still have to find a way to pay that debt down, and there’s nothing saying that their job won’t find out what happened and fire them for the poor judgement this displayed. But it’s a tiny band-aid that could give OP some room to breathe and make further plans.

    And my sympathies to OP. I’ve been there. Not with a company credit card, admittedly, but in that financial situation of getting myself into huge debt using my credit cards for things like a down payment for a car so I could get to work, food, bills, and other living expenses. I can at least offer some hope that you can get out of it and someday be debt free. Not without a LOT of hard work and time, but it can happen.

    1. Sadsack

      I also have made messes with credit cards in the past. I have really good credit now. OP, you can work through this. As others have suggested, go to credit counseling and stop using the card altogether, including stopping the paypal stuff. Since this is a business credit card, I am not sure if the following will be possible, but you could try calling the credit card company to negotiate a reduced rate. I had to make these calls many years ago. The credit card reps were very sympathetic. They put me on a payment plan and reduced my rate to 1%. You can dig yourself out of this over time. I think if you are straightforward with your employer immediately, you will feel a great sense of relief from that alone. At least you will not be carrying around this secret any longer.

    2. fposte

      I don’t get why the PayPal thing is better than just paying what you can, though–can you explain? Is it because the minimum payment is so high that you can’t pay it just with the money devoted to repayment?

      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        In the OP’s case, I think it’s because he needs to pay off the balance in full every month (not just the amount due) in order to avoid the company noticing.

        1. Green

          Allison, I think OP should really talk to a lawyer before “accepting the consequences.” Depending on the circumstances, this could end very, very poorly for OP.

        2. The IT Manager

          Yes, that’s my impression. I actually applaud the LW’s ingenuity for figuring out a way to do this, but he failed to realize that he could not avoid the long term consequences which are that he’s now stuck in a cycle and unable to get out.

          Given that there’s this PayPal loophole, it’s really bad auditing practice for the company to only care/investigate if the card not paid off each month. And this is the loophole that the LW’s manager specifically mentioned to the LW, but I think we can all agree that the LW’s manager did not intend/expect that this would go on for two years to the tune of $20,000.

          1. AnonAnalyst

            Agree with your second paragraph. I don’t really understand how the company will never find out if the OP eventually pays it off. I mean, I get that they’re not seeing that a balance is owed on the account each month, but does the accounting/finance group never look through the transaction and billing history for those cards, even as part of a year-end audit?

            I have to believe that at some point, someone will discover what happened, even if the OP has paid off the balance by that point, so I think it’s in the OP’s best interest to come clean about the situation (although I do agree with others that have mentioned consulting a lawyer, and paying off as much of the balance as possible, first).

          2. pie ninja

            Also, at some point LW’s company’s credit card provider may notice what’s going on. Our company card program was cancelled after someone put $2K in personal expenses on the card and stopped paying entirely — once that happened, the card company cut off card access to everyone with questionable credit, with zero warning, which stranded several of my coworkers out of state with no way to pay for their hotels that evening. (I had better credit, so my corporate card still worked until my company cancelled the program overall.)

            Or either Pay Pal or the corporate card may suddenly not allow the OP to do this balance transfer thing.

            I assume OP doesn’t have a 401(k), but if they do… this is where I would 100% be cashing that sucker in.

    3. Koko

      I fell into the credit juggling trap. I just moved some debt around, always moving it to a new 0% card when the 0% offer expired, and basically just paying 2% annually because of the 2% transfer fee once a year. Worked great for a year or two until I accidentally made a purchase on the card I was carrying a balance on – this was before the credit reform laws, so this $25 purchase began accruing like, 15% interest and my payments would only be applied to the balance with the 0% interest. I tried to transfer it to another card I rarely used and had no balance on, but forgot to set up automatic payments on the account and missed a payment by 2 days before I figured it out. The balance jumped up to 25% interest and I had no more balance transfers I could use, so the debt I’d been juggling at 2% for a couple of years suddenly came down on me with full force. It was only a few thousand at the time, but my income was pretty tight (hence why I’d been going to such lengths to avoid interest on a few thousand), I couldn’t afford to make much progress on it, and I had a hard time figuring out how to make a budget while in debt. What things I couldn’t afford were OK to buy and what things weren’t. It ended up being nearly $20,000 a couple years later when things just got out of control. I barely treaded water and was basically managing to pay off about $1,000 a year for a few years…although it was almost $1,000 each month there were always a few big household/medical purchases I had to make every year that pushed it back up. Finally last year I got a significant raise, didn’t change my spending habits at all, and paid off the last $13,000 in a single year…I have been debt-free for a couple of months now, 6 years after that original mistake I made that triggered the interest kicking in.

      The seductive thing about this sort of thing is that there’s technically a way to do it to your advantage. You think as long as you do everything right you’re outsmarting the credit companies by manipulating their offers. But there’s a reason they can make those offers. It’s hard to do everything right and a small slip-up costs a lot, and if you’re like most people (which you probably are), you’ll slip up at some point.

  12. Elkay

    I’m totally baffled as to how the juggling is working, can anyone help me out with an explanation please?

    Debt councilling sounds like a really good idea and if you can get that in place before going to your manager it may help your position to say “I’ve made an error and here’s how I’m going to fix it”.

    Also, it doesn’t sound like you did misunderstand the policy just that you took advantage of a loop hole so I’d leave that out of your explanation.

    1. LisaLee

      I think that what is happening is the OP is using PayPal to take cash out of the card, and using the cash to pay off last cycle’s balance on the card. Which works, but is also earning fees from PayPal.

      1. Nobody Here By That Name

        Yeah, basically what you’re doing is addressing the monthly minimum on the bill to keep from getting in trouble with the credit card company. So if you have a credit limit of, say, $2000 and you owe $1000, your minimum bill payment for the month could just be $20. So you take that $20 out of the card as cash and use that to pay the bill.

        The problem is that obviously this isn’t actually paying the debt and you’re getting dinged with all kinds of fees for the cash, the debt, and of course whatever service you use to get the cash.

        Credit card companies don’t care, though, because you’re just dollar signs to them. They can put HUGE interest fees on you, and your debt can make them lots of money. At one point – and this was without the cash advances but still doing various tricks and dances to stay one step ahead of my credit card debt – I had interest rates upwards of 30%. CC companies LOVED me.

        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          I think the OP is actually taking a PayPal advance for the full balance, not just the amount due.

          So the card has a balance of 20K. The OP takes a cash advance for $18,000, adds $2,000 of his own money, and pays the balance in full. But the next month, that $18K is of course on the bill, plus PayPal’s fees for the cash advance.

          1. Nobody Here By That Name

            Ooooh. So that’s why work hasn’t twigged to the ongoing debt. Gotcha.

          2. Katie Pi

            The rolling balance makes sense to me, but as an accountant I’m really having trouble believing that no one in their accounting department has ever noticed what was going on. Our bookkeeper enters every single charge on corporate cards and codes them to the correct expense. What kind of company issues an employee a company card and never looks at the statement? This is crazy.

            I have no helpful advice for OP, just for OP’s company: fire your whole accounting department.

            1. Natalie

              Especially a single charge to Paypal. That’s like, a Soviet parade worth of red flags.

              And here I couldn’t use my FSA’s credit card to buy contacts because my eye clinic runs their purchases through Amazon.

              1. the_scientist

                I know this really eclipses the severity of this situation but I am really laughing about “Soviet parade worth of red flags”. That being said, yes…..the entire accounting department needs to go. When I had to reconcile corporate purchasing cards at my old job, we had to enter each charge and code it AND provide an original receipt. A single, large denomination charge to PayPal would have the entire department in my office demanding explanation.

            2. LBK

              Totally agreed – how on earth has this gone unnoticed? We’ve gotten letters here from people getting hunted down by accounting for a $2 charge for aspirin.

            3. Ethyl

              It sounds like this is the type of corporate card you get through work but that you are responsible for paying each month, not the kind that the company pays for you where you never see the statements. The way it worked when I had one was that you got a card in your name with the company name on it, you put your travel expenses on the card, then you submitted for reimbursement, the company gives you a check, and you use that to pay the credit card. You got the statements, you were responsible for it, but you also had a bigger limit than you would get in an ordinary credit card.

              1. The IT Manager

                My govt travel card works this way (I get the statement/I am responsible for paying the bill each month) except the govt also sees my statements, and they will come after me for any unauthorized use.

                1. The IT Manager

                  Let me add, though, someone misusing the card is not stealing from the government or committing fraud since card holder is responsible for paying off the bill each month. The government doesn’t swoop in and pay ever (as far as I know). A person misusing the card is violating the rules that the card can only be used for certain travel expenses and can be punished/fired for that rules violation.

            4. Thinking out loud

              This was my thought too. I’m not an accountant, but I have a company credit card, and I have to fill out expense reports to document every charge that ever goes on my card and then my manager reviews them (pretty carefully). It’s baffling to imagine this could have gotten so out of hand without someone seeing it.

            5. baseballfan

              My former company, where everyone had a corporate card, did not look at statements. They had access and could look at any time (and sometimes did, because I actually know someone who got fired for doing pretty much exactly what the OP has described). But I charged my expenses as needed, I submitted for reimbursement, and I paid the bill when it arrived. The company did not code the expenses – I did when I submitted my expense report.

              Technically we were not supposed to put personal expenses on the card but I did on occasion, such as when my main Mastercard was hacked and I had to wait a few days for a new card. That was not the sort of thing anyone worried about though.

              And I think the above is pretty common. It doesn’t make sense to have accounting or someone who doesn’t know anything about the charges going over a bill in detail and trying to code everything. I worked for an accounting firm with thousands of clients. Who but the employee him/herself knows where the charges are supposed to go?

            6. Anon Accountant

              +1000000 on something seems amiss in the accounting department. I’m in public accounting and when doing bookkeeping would have questioned (okay hounded) the client for answers on this. For proper recording purposes only.

              But yeah. Sounds like somebody in accounting is asleep at the wheel.

            7. Laurel Gray

              +1 billion. From the finance/accounting side I am absolutely baffled.

              If you can charge $20k on the company card for personal expenses, it is hard for me to believe there isn’t a way to steal actual cash from this place. I wouldn’t be surprised if the person who handles cash receipts also does the bank reconciliations at the OP’s employer.

          3. HumbleOnion

            Wow. I’m really surprised the company hasn’t noticed these huge charges every month.

          4. AnotherAlison

            I did not get this at first, either, but that makes sense. Holy cow. No wonder he is stressed.

          5. Kate M

            But if the OP was doing that, the balance would still be going down and there wouldn’t really be a problem, right?

            The card has a balance of 20k. The OP takes a cash advance of $18k, adds his own $2k, and pays the balance. Even with the $600 Paypal fees each month, the next month the balance would be $18,600. Doing the same thing that month, (getting a cash advance of $16,600, adding his own $2k), the balance the next month should be $17,200. It should be going down every month.

            The only way this doesn’t work is if the OP is still using it for spending money and racking up charges on it.

            1. Noelle

              Yeah, that was my question too. I was going on the assumption that he was taking the full $20K out on PayPal and then adding $2K on top of it, which, minus the $600 PayPal fee is still a payment of $1,400. In theory if he’s not using the card at all the balance should be going down (although it would still take upwards of a year to pay it all off).

          6. Jessa

            I’m surprised the banks haven’t looked at this, isn’t there a reporting requirement at 10K? or is that just for bank deposits and not credit card payments? I mean the bank sees 20k on and off every month and might start looking at RICO, ie is this money laundering? I’m really really shocked that PayPal hasn’t checked into this already. Ongoing transfers like that for two years? That should already have set flags off.

            1. Loose Seal

              It’s cash deposited or withdrawn from banks in an amount greater than $10K or buying cashier’s checks, traveler’s checks, and/or money orders in amounts over $3K. It’s part of the Bank Secrecy Act (but not really a secret).

              Also, under that act, if someone tries to make a large transaction but terminates it after being told there has to be a report to the IRS, the bank fills out a form reporting that person to the IRS for attempting to structure their accounts. This is much worse for that individual than going ahead and continuing the transaction as it shows the person might have a reason they don’t want people knowing where their money came from or is going to.

              However, it doesn’t apply in this case because the OP is moving electronic funds. Any cash involved has already been accounted for in the bank accounts of PayPal and the credit card company.

          7. HOW PAYPAL WORKS...

            I still don’t get this. PayPal doesn’t do “cash advances” from credit cards. What he is doing is paying an invoice to paypal with his credit card. There is a fee. It doesn’t “add up” in paypal, its taken out of the amount of money that is paid on the invoice, directly to Paypal.

            It’s like 3% give or take. So if he is paying,every month a 20k invoice, paypal is taking a fee of $600 give or take, so he is only getting about $19,400 in payment. So when he withdraws that cash (I’m assuming he does an ACH transfer to his bank account, and then pays the credit card co) he is short the amount he really needs, so then he is adding personal cash to that.

            There is no “debt” hanging around in paypal, paypal doesn’t work that way, unless he has taken advantage of some of paypals new financing programs.

            He’s basically doing a revolving payday loan. But I was really confused with the way everyone was describing this as the “cash advance” thing doesn’t make sense in regards to paypal to me. But if what I described is what he is doing it makes sense, its CRAZY BOLD and well thought out and no way he can claim to me he didn’t know any better, as that is pretty elaborate.

            I feel sorry for him, but I also feel like he is making a lot of excuses and that there was some entitlement and very poor decision making happening. I can’t imagine the amount of stress looming over him and I really hope he figures something out soon.

    2. Kelly L.

      I think it’s something like this. Numbers made up. Balance is $500. OP gets a $500 cash advance from Paypal to “pay it off,” but the money is really coming from the same card, so that doesn’t really put it off for long. At the end of that month, the balance is let’s say $525–the amount of the Paypal advance plus a fee. So then the OP gets a $525 cash advance from Paypal…

      1. Elkay

        So PayPal is taking the money from the credit card? I’m mainly confused because I’ve never heard of an individual being responsible for paying off a company card.

        1. HB

          I think he’s responsible because he’s been using it for personal purposes. I’m sure the “company expense” part is handled through a company reimbursement policy of some sort. (well, I’m not “sure” but that’s what I’m guessing – the big problem is from the personal expenses part).

          1. Elkay

            When I had a company credit card I didn’t have anything to do with paying it off, I just had to submit my expenses to explain what was on the card.

            Similarly when I did admin for a small company with credit cards I was given everyone’s receipts and told to check them off against the statements. The accountant then arranged for it to be paid.

            This sounds like a totally bizarre (to me) situation where everyone is given a card which the company has nothing to do with paying off, despite it being in their name, the company then gives everyone the cash to pay the card off which seems like a recipe for disaster even if it isn’t on the scale of the OP. If that’s how it works I wouldn’t be surprised if they hadn’t encountered problems like this before so may have a plan to deal with the issue.

            1. HB

              Yeah, it’s definitely outside the scope of any card I ever had were we had to import all expenses into the system, but I think the issue is that he can’t submit these expenses as they are personal.

              1. Boboccio

                How it works here- one uses a company credit card (for business expenses only is the plan), and then submits the receipts for those expenses to the company. The company reimburses you the money, and then you use that money to pay off the credit card bill, before the balance is due.

                The company card has an especially high limit, and an especially long time before the balance is due / interest accumulates (120 days I think).

            2. sunny-dee

              It’s not necessarily like that. I have a corporate card; I use it for work expenses, and I am responsible for actually paying the bill.

              I submit an expense report (and I can import line items automatically from my card statement into my expense report), my company cuts me a check, I pay the card off. They don’t monitor my spending.

              1. Andrea

                Just curious what kind of system your company uses that lets you import directly into their expense system from the credit card statement? That sounds awesome.

                1. Judy

                  My last company used Concur for travel and expenses. The charges from the credit card showed up as “unassigned” expenses in the website. You just dragged the expense to the appropriate report, and coded it if it didn’t come in coded. That company moved from employee reimbursed and paid company cards to employer paid company cards when they moved to Concur. I can’t remember who issued the credit card.

                2. periwinkle

                  My company uses Concur, too. We have corporate cards through Citibank and all charges go directly into Concur. We have to attach images of the big-ticket receipts (like airfare) and sometimes charges have to be manually classified, but otherwise it’s almost painless to do expenses. Now if only Concur’s travel function didn’t keep trying to route me through DFW with a 35-minute layover…

                3. Mrs. Badcrumble

                  My company does this too, using some sort of internal system that coordinates with AmEx. It’s not perfect, but it’s pretty good.

            3. KB

              I have worked in a place where this could have happened – and it was a very large institution with lots of card holders.

              The card was in the employee’s name, and the statement came to the employee (typically at the work address). The employee was then responsible for submitting receipts and an expense report, and a check was mailed to the card provider.

              As far as I know, the provider did not care where the checks were coming from. And, though they could have, there was not regular monitoring of card activity by any administrators. So you could conceivably take the statement and pay it yourself.

              If you were using it inappropriately and had a balance, you’d be caught as soon as you tried to submit for a legit business expense, and accounting saw that the statement amount and the expense report amount did not match.

        2. LisaLee

          This set up is sort of bizarre, isn’t it? I only had a company card for a hot second so I’m no expert, but all the bills went to the accounting department, not to me personally.

          1. HigherEd Admin

            Depends. I’ve had it both ways:

            a) the bill gets sent to the company, company pays it off. I submit an expense report that details all the charges, company sends me any questions they might have about those charges.

            b) the bill gets sent to me, I pay it off. I submit an expense report that details all the charges, company sends me a check to reimburse me.

            B is annoying because then I’m fronting the bill, but that’s actually been the more common process I’ve experienced.

            1. Xay

              I’ve experienced Option A and I currently have a version of b) – although the bill gets sent to me, a list of the charges are sent to the company and I have to account for all charges as business expenses, personal expenses and in some cases, a percentage of each. The company pays any business expenses directly and I am responsible for personal expenses, but I am still held responsible overall for any unpaid charges on the card (motivation to complete expenses on time!).

              1. LisaLee

                I’ve heard of that too, but it just seems so odd to me that apparently no one at the OP’s company is checking up on these cards on a regular basis at all, or having the information on the cards sent to someone at the company.

                1. Xay

                  That is the shocking part to me – the company must not be receiving/reviewing statements OR they have some very questionable financial practices.

      2. ElCee

        Yes, like this, but with a large revolving balance. I don’t think OP is paying off the card each month so the balance is growing along with the minimum due. It’s like reverse amortization on a student loan, which also sucks terribly.

      3. Natalie

        It’s probably not actually paying it off at all – there are fees for paypal and cash advances, plus the interest, so the debt could be getting higher every time OP does this. But it keeps the CC company from sending a notice about late payments to OP’s job, which was probably the point.

        1. LisaLee

          Well, I don’t *think* he’s getting hit with interest, since technically he’s paying the balance off each cycle. But this is still unsustainable.

          1. Natalie

            Ah, I missed that detail. But yes, unsustainable regardless, especially if the CC considers those Paypal charges to be a cash advance.

            1. Jessa

              Yeh, I have never had any type of card, where a cash advance as opposed to a purchase did not have an interest item or a fee attached. Cash advance was always treated differently.

      4. HOW PAYPAL WORKS...

        But paypal doesn’t have a fee balance. They don’t do cash advances. They take the fee from the amount paid into the account, before you are given the balance. If you invoice someone for $500, and they pay you $500 paypal takes out about $15 give or take, so you only receive $485.

        I’m a little confused about OP’s situation because of this.

        1. TL -

          The OP is probably figuring out the fee and taking it out as well – if it’s a 6% fee, they’re taking out $106 to pay a $100 credit card bill.

  13. Steph

    Oh man. Viscous cycle. Like others have said you have to stop this. I would recommend being *more* proactive when you come clean. Get a 2nd job, delivering pizzas is great (read Dave Ramsey for insight). If you come clean with a clear plan (2nd job to make more to pay more), I think you’ll have a better shot at keeping your job.

    Plus, if you do get fired, at least you’ll have a lifeline.

    Also, your first post mentioned a GF? She needs to step up for you, now, like you did for her. I hope she does this – whether your together or not

    Finally, you need to find a support group. This is a deeply rooted issue, that requires some in-going behavior change.
    You’ve taken an important first step to get help. Congratulations! Don’t stop. Positive action = Positive Outcome

    1. TL -

      If they’re not together, I don’t think the OP can ask his ex for money. :( But if you are together, she should definitely be trying to help out!

    2. Laura2

      “Also, your first post mentioned a GF? She needs to step up for you, now, like you did for her. I hope she does this – whether your together or not”

      This makes me wonder – did she know what the OP was doing?

      1. some1

        Sadly, I know plenty of couples where one has got into debt like this and the other had no clue. Either because the person spending was hiding it or the other person never looked into it.

    3. diet ginger ale

      I second the Dave Ramsey idea. I listen to his show for about three hours every night on the radio. That time used to be the prime time for me to sit at home and get antsy and decide that I ‘needed’ to go shopping. I wasn’t in debt when I was doing that but I did have a lot of weird grocery store purchases which just didn’t make sense. Dave Ramsey is a Christian conservative and I am decidedly not so I just ignore certain parts of his advice but the other 90% works for me. If you would like to explore other ideas about financial planning and debt reduction, just go to your local public library and look up Dave Ramsey as an author name in their catalog and go to that section and pull out all the books in that section to look over. Pick the top three that interest you the most and check them out. Your tax money has paid for these books for your community to use so go out there and use them.

      Also, you need a second part time job for two reasons – 1. to earn extra money so you can get out of debt more quickly 2. to build up an emergency fund so when these emergencies happen, they won’t wipe you out.

      1. diet ginger ale

        Also, Dave Ramsey has a system of classes across the country. Just google Financial Peace University and you can find a listing if you need a regular class to get you going instead of a book or a one on one meeting with a financial counselor.

        Good luck – I wish you every success in overcoming this.

    4. Colette

      I wouldn’t necessarily say the girlfriend needs to step up – that really depends on how involved she was in making these financial decisions.

      1. Natalie

        I’m torn. On the one hand, if she really didn’t know what was going on it seems unfair to hold her at all responsible for this debt-churn-plan the OP came up with. But on the other hand, she was unemployed and it sounds like the OP was supporting her completely so I feel like it’s not ridiculous to expect her to help pay back that portion of the principle.

        1. Colette

          There are circumstances where I’d agree she should help the OP, and others where I wouldn’t. It depends how much she depended on the OP to support her (as opposed to the OP offering to pay when she said she could t afford to do something).

        2. Melissa

          Not if she didn’t know. Supporting your partner is, for some couples, just part of the deal. Unless you’re arranged it ahead of time, or made it clear that you were going into debt to support her, I think it’s unfair to expect to repay that support.

          1. Natalie

            But if supporting one’s partner is just part of the deal, why does OP not merit that same support now that they are the one in trouble?

        3. TL -

          If the OP supported her, and they’re in a committed long-term relationship, then I’m all about the “She-needs-to-pitch-into-the-household” (I’m making a number of assumptions here because OP was supporting her.)

          If they’ve broken up, or if it was more like OP was paying for excursions/meals out that the GF couldn’t afford, then I think the GF doesn’t have any obligations. Unless she accepted money that was specifically detailed as a loan; then the OP should try and call that in.

  14. Anon for this

    Oh man, LW, this sucks, I’m so sorry. I support coming clean and seeking some financial counseling, but wanted to offer another, really crappy, possible solution. Do you have a 401(k) or IRA that you could cash out and put towards this balance? This is a terrible solution to a big, big problem! Do not do this if you have ANY other options! There are tax consequences and it’s your retirement we’re talking about! But, it could be a way to get a big chunk paid down all at once. I have a friend who got into a similar situation, also with the company card, and did this. It was the least bad solution at the time, but it was not one I would recommend if you have ANY other options. Seriously don’t do this if you have any other way out.

    1. Dasha

      Ohh yeah, the 401K is def a last resort but this may be a last resort kind of situation =/ best of luck to you, OP

        1. Green

          This is indeed the time to break into the piggy bank if there’s retirement anywhere. But I doubt there is.

    2. LBK

      You’re unlikely to be able to cash out a 401(k) while still employed unless you’re of retirement age, and any withdrawal from a qualified account is going to come with tax consequences. That’s not necessarily going to put the OP in a better spot overall – maybe kill the company credit card debt, but then you’re still possibly looking at $1000s owed in taxes next April.

      1. Green

        You set aside a reserve for the taxes. Here, the tax consequences are (1) probably better than $600 a month in PayPal fees and (2) way better than losing your job and potentially going to jail.

        1. LBK

          Oh for sure, just saying that that’s not a free and clear option. I worked in retirement plan education for a few years; you’d be amazed at how many people think their 401(k) is like a checking account.

      2. some1

        Depends on the balance of the 401(k). I had a friend who had to cash out one that was only 2 years old so the tax hit wasn’t that bad.

        1. LBK

          Right, the taxes are relative to the balance, but they’re still a consequence people often don’t think about when it comes to 401(k) withdrawals.

      3. Kara

        Some 401(k) programs will let you take out as much as 50% of your vested balance in a personal loan. There are no tax penalties and you pay it back out of payroll contributions. If OP has this option available to him, it would be a good choice.

          1. Kara

            It’s a secured loan against the funds in your 401(k). If the OP gets terminated, then the funds are simply taken from the 401(k) before it’s release. Of course at that point you owe penalties and taxes on it, which is still better than the possible alternatives.
            And if pulling from a 401(k) can pay off everything right now and stop the flood of extra charges and interest, it would be worth it to do it.

            1. HB

              Yeah, I’m definitely on team “eat the tax consequences to avoid jail”. I’d NEVERRR recommend taking from retirement otherwise. I should have been more clear in my first response to you – I’ve just seen people not realize that any remaining loan amount becomes income (with tax penalties!) on their tax return for the year if they leave before it’s all paid back.

      4. Jessa

        You can take a loan from a 401k that is not a disbursement. You pay it back by payroll deduction (depending on the amount of the loan they give you x amount of time to pay it back, so the payback depends on how long you have,) I know this because I have done it. IF you leave the company, they will take 100% of the remainder owed before transferring the money to you to move somewhere else, however.

    3. Nicole

      No no no, do NOT do this for any reason! You’d be better off declaring bankruptcy than screwing up your future. Bankruptcy can’t touch your retirement funds. Please keep that in mind.

      1. Natalie

        The OP has apparently declared bankruptcy once already. They might not be allowed to declare again for a few more years.

        1. Pennalynn Lott

          Not to mention how screwed up their future will be if they go to jail for theft.

          1. Jerry Vandesic

            I don’t see any theft, but they certainly could be fired for violating company policy.

            1. Jessa

              Um, if they cannot come up with the 20k right away, the company could have them charged with embezzlement, which could put them in jail. They might not, they might make a payment plan and hold it over their head if they violate the plan, but they could.

              1. Jerry Vandesic

                It all depends on whether the debt is his or his company’s. With every corporate card I have had, the debt was my personal debt. If I defaulted it was my problem. If that’s the case with the OP, he might have a civil problem with the credit card company, but not a criminal problem. We need more info about the nature of the credit card agreement before we would know enough to say that this is a criminal act.

        2. Lyssa

          Plus the fact that declaring bankruptcy could be the least of his worries. Screwing up his retirement might be worse than bankruptcy, but it’s definitely not worse than jail + joblessness + bankruptcy.

        1. Jerry Vandesic

          I don’t see much risk of prosecution. Unless the company has explicitly declared their responsibility for these card purchases, the OP is the one responsible for the charges. The OP might have violated company policy or terms of the credit line, but without more info I don’t see a crime.

          1. Jessa

            I cannot imagine a credit card company issuing a card with more than 20k on it to a recently post bankruptcy person without some kind of cover. And that cover would highly likely be a corporate guarantee of the balance. The card may have the person’s name on it, but the account accrues to the company.

          2. fposte

            That’s good news, if so. If it’s just a civil matter about the balance guarantee, they’re a lot less likely to pursue it.

      2. Observer

        The issue is not emptying retirement accounts vs a first bankruptcy. It’s about no retirement funds vs losing his job AND impairing his ability to find another job AND risking criminal charges. Those three items will decimate his future far more surely than emptying his retirement account.

    4. LMW

      I was in a similar debt scenario when I was younger (car and tax related, paycheck-to-paycheck payments, unexpectedly high fees — mine were from a scammy “protection plan” that charged $1 per $100 for a service that couldn’t actually be used), except mine was on my own cards. I was able to borrow money from one of my parents’ retirement savings account and paid them back with direct deposit at 1% higher interest than what they were making from the bank (took 4 years, but was a win-win for both of us), and paid the rest by cashing out my miniscule pension plan when I switched jobs. I had to start over again with retirement savings, but it helped me get on even ground, which is somewhere I’d never been before since I graduated and started working at a low salary with a pile of debt. Almost 10 years later, I can say it was worth it to take the hit — I can save more to retirement now to catch up because I’m not paying huge amounts of debt each month (but of course, having better pay and not living paycheck to paycheck is a huge factor in that).

  15. Meg

    I’m confused. How are you paying the balance “in full” each month so as not to get detected? It sounds like you are still using the Paypal account to withdraw enough money to cover the entire balance each month, resulting in the addition of extra fees. It doesn’t seem like you have stopped digging the hole deeper.

    Putting on my “former law enforcement officer hat.” You need to stop now. Although Allison says, “And please be kind. He screwed up, but he clearly knows that.” I’m not sure that you recognize that you are doing something that is both wrong and illegal. This is fraud. Your letters to Allison are an admission of guilty. Although financial counseling is probably something you need (based on both your behavior with this credit card, your previous bankruptcy, and your inability to get a legal loan), you need a lawyer.

    1. fposte

      I think, based on the PayPal discussion, he was paying the total amount but doing it with the cash advance from PayPal. Which isn’t actually paying anything, of course, but making the hole bigger; however it may have psychologically seemed that way.

      The lawyer is a decent point, and I too wasn’t sure if he’d stopped or not. Even if he’s not using the card for personal stuff, the PayPal churn is a bad idea both as an unauthorized use and as something that’s adding to the problem rather than being a solution.

          1. Jerry Vandesic

            Kiting checks is subtly different. Check kiting relies on the time delay in processing a check. That’s not the case here. X is owed on the card. X is received via cash advance, increasing the card balance to 2X. OP pays X on the card, lowering the balance to X. Repeat.

            1. Jessa

              Yeh kiting is writing a cheque on Wednesday, knowing your payroll hits on 12:01 Friday morning and that the person holding the cheque does not bank at the same bank as you. So you know darned well the cheque will not hit til after your direct deposit (no I never did that, nope never, especially back when it really did take days and not hours to post cheques. Nope not me.)

              Honestly kiting is mostly gone now. You really can’t do it with electronic processing. You go to a supermarket, write a cheque and they send it electronic just like a debit card charge.

    2. Buffay the Vampire Layer

      Yes this. OP you don’t appear to appreciate the gravity of your situation. You have engaged in serious felony conduct. To give you some perspective, here in CA felony theft starts at $500. You’re at $20,000. You could be looking at prison time.

      My advice for you is to work on your story. You show remorse, yes, but not acceptance of responsibility. You have a great sob story about the cars but why were you driving without insurance? And I for one don’t buy that you and your supervisor had some sort of tacit understanding that you would put the down payment for a car on the company card. Not to mention the fact that you’ve got all sorts of other personal expenses on there as well. Owning up to what you did without excuses is your one shot at getting out of this with the least amount of damages and you’re not there yet.

      1. Not So NewReader

        I know of one similar type of story and the person believed they could use the card for their own purchases. This was because they had to fill out an app and have a credit check just as you would expect a private individual to do. If it was not this person’s card, then why the CC app and check? Additionally, the person was told that no one would notice if a few extra purchases were on the card as long as they were paid off promptly, wink, wink.

        It sounds very much what OP said here, but what I am talking about here happened a long time ago. The person in my story resigned and agreed to a payment plan and apparently had no trouble finding a new job.

        1. NoPantsFridays

          FWIW this is how our cards work too, they’re in our name, on our credit (our credit history and score are affected and they determine interest rate and limit etc.) and we are solely responsible for the balance. The company just reimburses us for expenses the same way they do for employees who don’t have company cards. Regardless, we are fronting the expense and regardless, it’s our own credit affected if we don’t pay. If this is OP’s situation it’s not theft or anything, it’s just like any other CC debt with the exception of violating company policy.

    3. The IT Manager

      Is it fraud> Is it a felony? Is it a crime?

      He is using his company card for personal use, but he never mentioned having his company pay down the bill at all. Who is he defrauding? Who is he stealing from?

      As I understand it he’s breaking his company rules which say this card is only supposed to be used for work authorized expenses, but unless he’s having them pay it off he’s has not defrauded the company or anyone else.

      His biggest consequence could be being fired from his job which would then put him a worse financial situation. He could stop paying off the bill every month thus stop incurring new PayPal fees each month, but then he’d be hit with interest fees for the amount carried over each month, and he’d be unemployed.

        1. Jerry Vandesic

          The debt is his. There’s nothing to indicate that the company is on the hook if he defaults.

          1. Graciosa

            The company is typically on the hook for such defaults. Oddly, this is part of the reason they are usually very clear that it will impact the individual’s credit and that the individual is responsible – the company wants to minimize defaults because it if really gets down to it, the company would have to pay.

      1. Xay

        This is why OP needs to talk to a lawyer so they know exactly what they have gotten themselves into. None of us know because none of us have all of the information (credit card agreement, company handbook, local laws, etc).

      2. Meg

        This depends largely on the law and the facts of this case. We don’t know the details or the state law at issue. However, under federal law, it is highly likely that it is wire fraud, especially with the Paypal kiting.

        As another note, if the credit card company and/or employer can prove intentional illegal conduct, the OP may not be able to discharge the debt in a future bankruptcy. The OP NEEDS to talk to a lawyer.

      3. Kara

        Credit card kiting is a different legal issue from check kiting. In a lot of states credit card kiting isn’t actually illegal and persecution is highly dependent on “intent to deceive”.
        However, as I was looking thru PayPal earlier today, I found that what the OP is doing is a violation of PayPal’s terms of service, and he could wind up losing his PayPal account if they catch on. Which would essentially bring the whole thing crashing down.

        1. Jerry Vandesic

          Exactly. While what he is doing violates policies (company, credit card, paypal), those things are not usually crimes.

        2. Not So NewReader

          OP’s intent to deceive is in a limited way, as he is trying to pay it back with his own money.

  16. CAinUK

    OP, I’m sorry you’re going through this, it stressed me out just reading it!

    I second getting financial advice. You can’t operate without more info, and you can’t solve a problem if you don’t know all the solutions! So just focus on that ONE step. For example: maybe as Laura suggests, you take the balance and split it across personal cards. Or it might be better to actually file for personal bankruptcy again if it means not have the $20k following you. Or another alternative – we don’t know, but a financial adviser will!

    I would prioritize getting that info BEFORE you decide how to approach this with your employer – if you don’t know your options, you can’t be as prepared for that (likely very uncomfortable) meeting. And since your employer might spot this soon rather than later, it means you should find a financial adviser ASAP.

  17. Helka

    Ohh, OP, you do have my sympathy. You made some poor decisions, but the cycle of debt is a real b*tch to break even under the best of circumstances, and when you’re trying to support two people on one small income, it’s almost impossible. I can understand why you would feel driven to double down on this.

    Alison is right; you do need to come clean. Your company doesn’t appear to be very savvy on corporate credit cards (the fact that your cash advance -> payment -> no funds due scheme worked, plus your ability to use the corporate card for unapproved charges at all, tells me this) but sooner or later it’s going to get blown wide open, and there’s a very decent chance it’s going to read as embezzling (or money-laundering — I’m a little surprised that the monthly cash advances going right back to the card haven’t tripped an AML flag somewhere). After all, if I read your question correctly, you’re actually using the card (ie, the company’s own money) to make the payments on the card, and only occasionally augmenting with your own income.

    Throw yourself on your boss’s mercy. Be incredibly remorseful, don’t make excuses, and express your commitment to making things right.

    1. Observer

      Actually, I think the advice to speak to a lawyer first, if a better idea. In most cities there are free legal aid resources. There can be long wait times, so do this ASAP. Like today.

    2. Buffay the Vampire Layer

      There should be AML alarm bells going off all over the place. If I’m understanding this right, he’s taking out over 10k in cash every month. So there should be monthly currency transaction reports being generated. Unless credit card companies aren’t covered by those regs? That I don’t know.

      1. Loose Seal

        I would imagine the cash advance that OP is taking out isn’t actually in cash. If the OP is just moving around electronic funds, it won’t fall under the reporting guidelines of the Bank Secrecy Act.

  18. spek

    I am sure you have already exhausted all the other options to come up with the money to pay it off…even cashing out a 401(k) and eating the penalties and tax would be better for you in this case. What you should probably do is really examine the situation and determine the probablility that you can pay this thing off in a year doing what you are doing now, or at least pare it down to a much more manageable level. If you are not 90% sure you can do this, time to bite the bullet and come clean. If you continue like this, eventually something will shake loose, you won’t be able to make the payment, and you will get caught. Also, without knowing too many of your specifics, I wouldn’t blame this on ADD; this wasn’t an isolated instance of poor impulse control, this was a systematic, ongoing, knowing circumvention of company rules that got compounded. You were in a bind, saw the opportunity, evaluated the risks and took a jump. A long time ago, in my 20’s I had a similar problem with a Corporate credit card that I ended up maxing out the cash advance $500 limit every week and using the $2k to make the monthly payment. The stress was incredible. I was almost relieved when I got laid off and left my badge, credit card and company pager on my boss’ desk. Incredibly, it never came up again. Either someone assumed the charges were for company expenses and I was gone so no expense report got filed, or the company just shrugged and paid it. Lucky.

  19. Kay

    Hey OP. Before talking to your manager (which you definitely should do! Even if you pay the card off, they can still see the charges that were made and this will not reflect well on you) I would go to a financial counselor who can help you get a plan together. I’ve found that people react much more favorably if you have a plan in place and they feel like they can trust you to resolve this issue.

    I do think that you need to start planning for contingencies. The company might allow you to resign from the position without a recommendation which will help in terms of leaving with your reputation. I think the main thing is to have plans. I hope things work out for you!

    1. Jessa

      Yes, I would not go into the manager without a plan already in place (even if they decide they hate your plan, it shows you really do get that you did something wrong and want to fix it.)

  20. Bee Eye LL

    The last sentence from the post is concerning to me. A lot of bosses and/or employers are going to see this for what it really is – embezzling. The OP is stressing because they could be facing jail time. Using ADD and mental health as an excuse seems like they are already prepping for their legal defense.

    That being said, they should definitely come clean ASAP. Better to admit guilt than get found out. Work out some kind of payment structure or something. If the employer is smart they’d rather try to get their money back then spend the time prosecuting and never see another dime.

    1. DC Anon

      Yeah, I think this is exactly right. I mean, I don’t think there’s any way the LW gets out of this while still keeping his job, but by coming clean he might manage to dodge the criminal charges/lawsuit that he is pretty clearly liable for.

      I am less sympathetic to the LW than Alison seems to be because a lot of this letter looks like minimizing/making excuses to me, but I will be nice and just say that he also really needs to get financial counseling and ADD treatment ASAP.

      1. Bee Eye LL

        At my old church, we had two secretaries who started embezzling by borrowing money to pay their house notes and stuff like that. Of course, they TOTALLY intended to pay it back but kept falling behind. They were fired but no charges got filed.

        It’s a tough situation for the employer because while they would want to get their money back, they clearly can’t trust this person.

        I bet you they will change their credit card policy after this!

      2. Ask a Manager Post author

        I got more sympathetic after the second letter.

        But it’s not that I don’t think the OP has done something horribly wrong here; I do. It’s that he clearly knows that and isn’t going to benefit from being berated about that; in fact, berating him will likely add to an already bad situation.

        1. fposte

          And making an already desperate person feel more desperate makes a resolution harder, not easier.

        2. Meg

          The second letter made me even less sympathetic. The OP took out money to buy a car, not once, but three times without paying back the debt the OP already owed. The OP didn’t have adequate insurance coverage on the second car. Beyond the car, the OP has also used this credit card for various other personal expenses. This is embezzlement and fraud. The OP is worried about getting fired and going to jail, and honestly, the OP should be. I honestly think the best case scenario for OP is just getting fired.

          1. KT

            THIS. The OP is in a bad situation because he DID commit embezzlement. Jail is a very serious possibility.

            He needs to consult a lawyer ASAP to figure out options and before he talks to his employer. The lawyer may recommend talking to the employer and setting up a payment plan, or the lawyer may recommend he declare bankruptcy again. But there are larger issues here than money with some serious consequences.

            1. Jerry Vandesic

              This is not embezzling unless the employer is on the hook for the debt. But that’s not how corporate cards usually work. Unless the OP tells us otherwise, he is on the hook for the debt, not his employer.

          2. IndieGir

            The only thing I disagree with is that the OP didn’t have adequate coverage on the second car. He probably was in the bucket on the car — it was worth less than he paid into it, and he was lucky that he had the loan protection to cover the excess loan. This happens all the time — your car is totaled and you aren’t even left with enough for a new down payment after you’ve paid off all that is owed on it.

            1. fposte

              Yeah, my car got totaled and I couldn’t have bought anything decent for the payout. I’ve never been offered a policy that would cover a new car, just the value of the old one. I think some people go to small claims for the difference, but that can take time and organization.

              1. Meg

                The OP says that the 2nd car was nearly paid off (which means this has been going on for years). If the car was nearly paid off, then the OP should have had some positive equity that should have been covered by insurance. Something isn’t adding up here.

                1. Pennalynn Lott

                  My boyfriend totaled his truck after only 1.5 years of a 5-year loan. The insurance payout covered the remainder of the loan plus enough for a healthy down payment on another truck.

                  I agree that something isn’t adding up here.

                2. AnonyGoose

                  Exactly. Let’s say, as a hypothetical, the new car was $10,000, and by “almost paid off”, OP meant 75% paid.

                  The car at the time of the accident, due to depreciation and the high mileage OP probably put on it as part of his job, might be worth, say, 5,000, which is what the insurance company would pay. The lienholder would get paid first–in this case, the remaining balance on the loan of 2500–and OP would get the rest, which is also 2500.

                  It would be very, very unusual for a vehicle to depreciate by over 75% in the course of a couple of years–much less 80 or 90% (which may be closer to what OP meant when he said “almost paid off”).

                3. fposte

                  My car was 100% paid for when it got totaled. I still couldn’t have bought a new car with the settlement.

                4. Jessa

                  Not to mention, unless this was a private sale, there is no lienholder on a car loan that does not demand insurance enough to cover their interest.

                  Every car I ever bought (used or new) I had to provide proof of insurance and the insurance company would send them paper. And I’d get a call from the lienholder if the insurance didn’t send the renewal info. So I’d have to call my broker and throw a fit about them not telling the car company that I was still insured and had renewed the policy. There is some system car sellers have where they have access to the insurance companies and this information and they will yell loudly if they think you’re not insured. I also had to inform the insurance company of the lienholder info on the title.

                5. Pennalynn Lott

                  fposte – For me the difference is that the my boyfriend was still carrying a note on his vehicle when he totaled it*. So the insurance pretty much put him right back where he was (down payment plus loan for the balance). In other words, it made him “whole” (minus a bit of depreciation; but like only a couple hundred dollars worth).

                  I have no idea how that works with a car that is 100% paid off. All of my cars that were/are 100% paid off have depreciated so much that the payout certainly wouldn’t get me in a new one. It might get me 85% of the way to one of equal [depreciated] value, though.

                  *(Not just one totaled truck, mind you, but three. THREE. In under 10 years. And each time the money from insurance was enough to get him right back to where he was, finance-wise, before the accident, minus one or two hundred dollars.)

          3. Pretend Scientist

            I agree. This is not a misunderstanding–there are two vastly different issues here. The car was a crisis situation, and it appears that there was a sense that it would be ok if the deposit taken out on the card was paid quickly. The subsequent car breakdowns may have needed to be handled immediately, and I get that as well. However, the rationale falls apart when the OP acknowledges using the card for day-to-day expenses. That feels quite different to me, and I’d presume it would to OPs boss, because it’s a conscious, repeated misuse of the card. Buying groceries and paying everyday bills because your girlfriend was not working for two years does not inspire sympathy. For all the posters who have suggested that the OP get a 2nd or 3rd job to bring in extra income, why exactly wasn’t the OP letting his girlfriend know that she needed to do something, anything, so that using the card for non-car-related issues could stop?

            Alison, is there additional detail about the non-car-expense rationale that wasn’t posted? I think that would be helpful to know.

            1. Not So NewReader

              This is where the debt counseling comes in. It is all in how we perceive money and how we assess risks.
              I assume the non-car items were an act of total desperation. He just ran out of money before he ran out of month. (Assuming a monthly paycheck, here.)

          4. SnowWhite

            All of which the OP has taken on board. Is it really helpful to pile onto a situation the OP already knows is bad – he contacted the site asking for advice on how to handle and fix, not judgement.

        3. DC Anon

          I guess what I’m getting at is that if I were the employer, and OP was coming clean to me, I would be a lot more likely to be sympathetic and a lot less likely to react punitively if he came forward without trying to minimize his behavior or make excuses. It’s a crappy situation and we all make stupid mistakes, sometimes huge ones, but how we admit to them and try to make up for them says a lot about our character.

    2. Anonathon

      Agreed, but just to offer some possible reassurance to the OP, I think prosecution is unlikely. OP isn’t a corporate executive embezzling tens of millions. It’s $20,000 and some (albeit not most) of the charges probably are work-related. As far as the letter suggests, he wasn’t providing false documentation or anything. And it’s not like he has the resources right now to pay the money back. The company would probably spend more money taking him to court than they’d ever see on the other side, were they to go that route. Again, the OP absolutely made a huge mistake, but I think the company will just want to get this repaid the fastest way possible — rather than dragging it all out via the legal system.

      1. MsM

        We don’t know how big the business is, though. $20k could be a significant chunk of their bottom line. Admittedly, I don’t know how they’d have overlooked it for this long if that were true, but I think the OP’s still better served by having a legal consultation before he has the conversation with the employer just in case. (And not using the credit card to pay for it.)

        1. Anonathon

          Oh totally agree! I just think, before the OP gets overwhelmed by the possibility of prosecution, it’s worth thinking bout whether the company has all that much to gain from that. Assuming the OP comes clean, offers to pay back everything, and doesn’t vanish off the face of the earth (that one is key!), it’s likely much more convenient for the company to handle this on their own. (And it’s not like he’s going to try this again.)

      2. DC Anon

        That’s sort of the scary thing for OP, though. It probably wouldn’t be worth it for the company to sue him- then they have to pay their own legal fees. But it doesn’t cost them anything to press charges for embezzlement. Then the state pays the legal fees to prosecute. And I have seen embezzlement prosecutions over much, much smaller amounts than $20,000. In my state anything over $200 is a felony.

      3. Not So NewReader

        I wonder if the company has insurance on OP, as an employee, that would cover such things.

        1. Saturn9

          Employee Misuse Protection through Visa/Mastercard/AmEx is standard on business credit card accounts. Because contrary to what a lot of posters are saying, the company is liable for any and all charges on business credit card accounts. If the company doesn’t pay, the guarantor (usually the business owner) is liable. At no point in the cardholder agreement from the card issuer will it ever state that the individual cardholder is ever liable; that is enforced by the company’s agreement with the cardholder and has nothing to do with the card issuer’s agreement with the company.

          However. In order to claim employee misuse, the company has to provide proof of termination of the employee to the card issuer. A lot of times the way this is handled is based on whether the company believes the employee can/will pay the money back and whether the company is willing to take the time and expense of enforcing whatever agreement they have with their employee in court if they don’t pay it off once the timeframe for filing an employee misuse claim is over (60 days if I’m remembering right).

          Firing the employee and filing a claim is the safest way for the company to handle it; then the card issuer will press charges against the card holder (based on the employer saying the charges were “unauthorized”) to recover whatever funds they can.

    3. Chloe

      I don’t think he’s necessarily using it as an excuse- just explaining why he was able to convince himself at the time that this was a doable option. He isn’t saying he isn’t responsible, but clarifying how he could make a decision that is so out of the question. I have ADD and am very lucky to be on great medication for it, but without my meds, it is next to impossible to think clearly. Now, I’m not saying I would have done the same thing, but I could certainly see how someone could make a bad decision like this in a really desperate moment. From what I gathered, he clearly knows he was wrong here.

      1. Anx

        I would imagine that if he’s in a financial hole, he may not have access to treatment.

        ADHD doen’t make you a criminal or untrustworthy, but ADHD (diagnosed and undiagnosed) make up a larger percent of the prison population than general population. I think it also explains why he was so desperate to keep that particular job even if it met incurring debt.

  21. MattRest

    A DBA deleted a thousand+ records in our customer’s system last week, but he immediately raised the issue with management. It’s causing a whole lot of angst with the program manager and middle-to-upper management/Quality Assurance, but the DBA himself isn’t at risk of losing his job as far as I know (and I’m in finance so I would be the 2nd to find out after HR). I think you should come clean. It’s easier when you alert management before they find out from other sources.

    1. Apollo Warbucks

      Select twice, delete once is my mantra. After junking 500,000 lines of data.

  22. TL -

    OP, I certainly don’t know what happened with bankruptcy or with the GF needing support, but I am seconding the financial planner because it seems like you have a really solid pattern of being in financial trouble – whether it’s a struggle with living within your means, a lack of a solid back-up plan, or just plain bad luck or a combination of the three, it seems like handling finances is something you’ve been struggling with for a long time.

    Talk to them – get strategies for dealing with this mess, and then walk them through all the other times in your life when you’ve struggled with money. The important thing is to get some strategies in place so you never have to be here again. Be realistic with yourself – this is something you struggle with, but luckily, there are people out there who can really help you to be better going forward. Seek them out!

  23. Malissa

    Go to your manager, ask if the company will pay off the balance and take payments straight from your paycheck until everything is paid off. If you can, offer up the $2000 a month your are spending on this anyway. This would allow things to be cleared up with-in a year. Also be ready to never ever have access to a company credit card.
    Once you get this cleared up look for ways to rebuild your credit. Part of that is letting time pass from the bankruptcy. Part of it could be putting a deposit down for a secured credit card and not using it.
    In the mean time look for ways to earn extra money. If for no other reason than to build up a balance in the bank so that when you need another car (or any other unplanned expense) you’ll be able to buy it with cash or at least a good sized down payment.

    1. Emmie

      I second this as a way to reduce the payments. Also, this is a know your employer and yourself kind of situation. Are you concerned about coming forward because you’re embarrassed and cannot pay, or because you’re afraid they will fire you? The truth always comes out. You have a choice now of telling them what’s going on and managing the consequences, or waiting until you’ve discovered which will further diminish your credibility and perhaps lead to more detrimental consequences. If you are concerned that they will terminate you, you could find a new job now before your reference is tarnished, but you will need to come clean before you leave. I also wonder if this is part of a larger pattern in your life of withholding info, or living beyond your means. I do not intend to be harsh. If it is – and we’ve all been there – it’s time to make broader life changes. There is no perfect answer here, only a path with less consequences that can help you minimize the impact this has on your reputation and credibility.
      As a side note, someone recommended contacting your EAP. I’d ask first about the circumstances in which they must breech confidentiality so you can determine if this is something you can share with them. Also, this is an on fire situation. You need to make drastic financial changes – including things you’re uncomfortable with- to clear this up. But, it will be worth it once the stress of carrying this burden is lifted.

      1. Not So NewReader

        I believe there was a ruling a while back that courts can demand records from EAP counseling sessions.

        1. Emmie

          Wow. Well, then it’s best to use other counseling services like a licensed social worker, or psychologist. I’d be interested in reading more about that, and to see whether the demand was granted!

    2. Helka

      Not using the secured card won’t do much for the OP’s credit. He needs to use it for something small every month and then pay it off immediately; inactive credit doesn’t do nearly as much for your score as active credit that is consistently paid. Buy one tank of gas on the card, one grocery trip, something you’d have to buy anyway but normally use your bank account for, then immediately pay it off.

      1. Dana

        +1 The one my boyfriend got also had a $3 a month fee even if he didn’t use it so you absolutely can’t just get it and forget about it.

  24. Shawn

    What sort of company credit card gets paid/managed by the employee? That seems to defeat the point of having a company-provided line of credit. The OP obviously screwed up but the company fully allowed the situation to happen since they offered no oversight or quality control. As I was reading this letter all I kept thinking about was how could this possibly happen?

    1. Nobody Here By That Name

      It’s like that at my company. In fact it’s not so much a company card as a card in your name that you get through HR. The employee is responsible for the bills and any interest payments for not paying the bill in full each month, and they submit their expenses to get reimbursed.

      The only advantages are for those employees who may not have enough cash or credit of their own to pay for things like travel expenses.

      That being said it’s a @#$% system and I would never hold my company up as a paragon of any examples to follow. But it is out there.

      1. Shawn

        That makes a little more sense but still seems to be ripe for disaster (such as something like this situation). In that case who’s card/line of credit/responsibility is it really? Do you get the bills at home? If so, and if it’s all your responsibility, can you actually get in trouble (with your company) for racking up personal charges?

        My company issues credit cards in employee’s names but the statements and payments are all reviewed/controlled by our Accounting team. If an employee charged something they couldn’t provide a legitimate business reason for then it would be their responsibility (and/or get fired) but it would only happen once. Not over and over.

          1. Graciosa

            I knew that company actually does have to pay the debt, but I think a previous post did a better job outlining the requirements for the company to avoid it by providing proof that they employee was fired for making unauthorized charges.

            Which means that yes, you can actually “get in trouble” with your company for racking up personal charges.

        1. sunny-dee

          For my corporate card, the statements are sent to my home address. In theory, the company can review my usage, but they don’t as a rule.

          However, using the corporate card for personal use can be punished by immediate termination. As can not paying it off in full every month.

        2. The IT Manager

          can you actually get in trouble (with your company) for racking up personal charges?

          You can since you’re violating the rule that the card is supposed to only be for company authorized expenses. But as I mentioned in another comment, I don’t believe this fraud, embezzlement, or a crime. It’s a rules violation.

          1. sunny-dee

            It’s not fraud, because most states have laws that fraud comes from unlawfully possessing a card, not from misusing a card you lawfully possess.

            However, since the company is ultimately liable for the debt, it could well be theft or embezzlement if they wanted to prosecute.

            Fun fact, when I was googling this — even if the company were to pay off the debt, it would all count as wages and the OP is responsible to report all of the money he took and pay taxes on it.

      2. stellanor

        I think our company cards work the same way, the only benefit is that things you charge on it get automatically entered into our expense reporting stuff so you don’t have to fill that crap out yourself. But you are responsible for paying it once you get reimbursed.

        I just use my personal card when I can and enter expenses so I can get the delicious rewards points.

        1. Shawn

          I am stunned to learn that this is such a common practice. Opening a line of credit for an employee, one that is essentially theirs do whatever with, seems like a terrible idea. If an employee needs to regularly pay for company expenses give them a COMPANY credit card. If an employee needs to infrequently incur company expenses and doesn’t have/can’t get the personal credit to do so then they don’t need to be having an unsupervised credit card in their name. Give them a cash advance or figure something else out. I really can’t believe that any company would view this as a good idea.

          1. sunny-dee

            That doesn’t make any sense for large companies. My place of work have over 6000 employees. It’s ridiculous to make it a rule to preapprove cash advances or to assume that out of thousands of people, we all have the *same* credit card companies with the same credit limits to be able to do business.

            It simplifies managing expenses. We all have a card from the same issuer, and that company card is associated with out expense system, so we can automatically fill in expense reports. Any abuse of the card is cause for termination.

            1. Ethyl

              Yeah at the place I had one, we had offices all over the world, in a field where people routinely travel weeks to months at a time (some field staff don’t even have apartments/houses, for example).

          2. Colette

            I’ve had this at a few large companies. The cards are AMEX and typically don’t let you carry a balance, which reduces the companies liability somewhat (although the OP has apparently found a way around that.)

          3. stellanor

            It isn’t mine to do whatever with, though. It is monitored and if I misuse it I could be fired. In my case, the card is ONLY to be used on reimbursable travel expenses.

            My employer is a giant multinational corporation so I suspect they’ve considered their options.

    2. some1

      This is exactly what I was thinking. It doesn’t excuse the LW, but I can’t believe 1) he is authorized to do any kind of cash advance on this card and 2) that this hasn’t been detected by someone in AP or QA.

    3. YandO

      my old company corporate credit cards were managed/paid/and maintained by the employees. The company would not even care if it had debt on it. They are not liable.

      1. NoPantsFridays

        Same at my company. Corporate card literally offers no advantage over just using my personal card, so long as the expenses aren’t so high I can’t front it (so far I haven’t incurred anything nearly that large, and they usually reimburse within 2 weeks but I can cover it if they don’t — I don’t carry a balance). Some of my coworkers were offered corporate cards and actually declined because it’s still their credit on the line and they are still liable for the debt. One employee in another department was offered a corporate card, but (somewhat embarrassingly) wasn’t approved because his credit score was too low. It’s basically a personal card the company has access to, i.e. the worst of both worlds.

    4. Happy Lurker

      I agree. Our cards only have a limit for a reasonable amount and the bills go to corporate. Admin has a $500 limit while people who travel have a $5K limit. We had one guy use his for gas and cigarettes twice (once one week and once the second). He was let go the second time.

      1. LadyLep

        I handle our company’s travel card program – they’re set up so that they are the employee’s card, with us as the requester. The employee is reimbursed for travel and they pay off the debt incurred. The bills go directly to the employee. The only caveat is that I regularly monitor employee’s purchases. The card is intended for travel use only. If I see what might be personal charges I ask about them. If they are personal they get a warning. If they continue with the personal use, we can cancel the card. We will also cancel if the employee has multiple late payments. The employee also has to sign a form stating that they’ve read our policy, which includes the notation that they are not to use the card for personal use.

    5. AndersonDarling

      If this is the corporate card system in this organization, then I wonder if other employees are doing the same thing the LW is doing. Once the LW comes clean, finance may review all the cards and find other employees with questionable activity.

    6. Anonathon

      I was wondering that too! I have a corporate card and the bill goes right to our business manager — I never even see it unless something looks funky. A couple years ago, I was going to the same city in the same month, once for work and one for fun. I accidentally put the hotel for the fun trip on my corporate card. It was a silly mistake and they didn’t especially care, but someone noticed right away and I paid them back. The OP’s company’s system sounds so risky for them! (And clearly is.)

    7. Bend & Snap

      I *can* make payments on mine. Personal use is actively discouraged but sometimes I’ll pay a business hotel charge with it and then make a payment to the card for something personal within that charge, like dry cleaning, and that is OK. I think I’ve only done that one time though.

      Overall it’s just so risky to misuse a corporate card. I wonder if the OP could do a balance transfer to an existing personal card to wipe out the charges?

      1. Natalie

        Our policy is similar. Personal use is discouraged but not 100% forbidden. You just have to code personal usage to the right account on the expense report and they take it out of your paycheck or something.

  25. 42

    Ah, OP…..

    I know the desperation you were feeling then, and the intrusive stress that you’re feeling now, and I’m so sorry you’re in this situation. As others have said, the actions you need to take will not be necessarily pleasant, but once you actually begin taking those first steps you WILL start to feel better. I promise.

    If it were me, I would first try to beg or borrow from anyone I could–family, friends, etc. Not the best solution, but something to try. After that, I would definitely run this by a lawyer; a “The-More-You-Know…” -type of thing. I feel better when I have a heads up on all possible scenarios so I can mentally prepare ahead of time.

    I wish you to best, OP. Please keep us posted.

    1. Not So NewReader

      The idea of borrowing from family crossed my mind, also. People take out loans against their inheritances. It can be done. But, this only solves half the problem and should be combined with counseling.

  26. an attorney

    OP, you need to talk to a lawyer, now. Taking money from your employer when you weren’t authorized to do so, even through a credit card that you’re trying to pay off, is theft in my state and I would imagine most others. I don’t think you should tell your employer before you’ve gone through this story with an attorney and know what your options & potential consequences are. $20,000 is enough money that any charges could be serious, if your employer decides to go that route once they figure it out. And I do think they probably will.

    You should probably also stop talking to friends/family/the internet about this until you’ve talked to an attorney, too.

    1. LCL

      That’s what I was going to say, and I am not a lawyer. I know you want to take care of obligations, but you need legal advice before you start.

    2. Buffay the Vampire Layer

      Good point. Lawyer up and your attorney can communicate with your employer on your behalf.

      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        I agree the OP should talk to a lawyer but having the lawyer handle communicating with the employer will probably kill any chances of getting this resolved reasonably amicably. It’s an adversarial move.

        1. Green

          I think you should edit your response to talk to tell OP to talk to a lawyer. While the lawyer shouldn’t communicate with the employer, the lawyer may say the best option to avoid jail time is to pay this back as fast as humanly possible.

        2. Katie the Fed

          I don’t know if I agree with that. Lawyer wouldn’t seem so adversarial if she shows up proposing a solution, particularly a win/win one.

        3. Buffay the Vampire Layer

          OP needs to be worried about not going to prison. Having a lawyer handle everything is his best shot at doing so. If he goes to his employer with all the excuses he listed here they’ll be much more likely to refer the case for prosecution than they would if he has a lawyer come up with a solution and present that instead.

    3. Also a lawyer

      +1

      You need to talk to a lawyer before you talk to anyone else. With all due respect to Alison and all the commenters here who have been very sympathetic and wise in their responses, you need to talk to a lawyer who can tell you what actual consequences you could be facing. Their responses can be steps 2 through 10, but step 1 has to be talking to a lawyer.

      1. Ben Around

        I hope the OP heeds the advice of several people to speak to a lawyer before doing anything else. I think that’s crucial.

    4. not an attorney

      Seconding this. Not to alarm you, but people have absolutely gone to prison for this kind of thing, so it would be best to keep this story to yourself for now, talk to an attorney, and find out what your next move should be. I know putting money toward getting an attorney is the last thing you want to do, but if it helps you avoid more serious legal trouble (for example, the felon label, which makes finding employment extremely difficult), it will help your financial future in the long run.

    5. WhatWhatWhat

      I agree completely, and agree that a lawyer will probably not want you putting any of this information out in the public eye for all to see.

    6. Another Attorney

      Yesyesyes. I was frantically reading these comments to see if anyone said this. I’m getting hives thinking about one of my clients talking to the internet and boss before talking to me about something like this.

      OP, you know this is very very serious. Please see a lawyer first. Like, stop reading this website and call a lawyer with criminal experience right now.

  27. GIS Julie

    You need to get a 2nd job and maybe a third. Cleaning toilets at night, flipping burgers. This is all hands on deck moment.

      1. fposte

        I think flophouses and SROs are pretty rare these days, though, especially outside the biggest cities. That’s been an aspect of the homelessness discussion–the entry point for housing has gotten considerably higher.

        1. some1

          And roommates aren’t exactly practical for everyone. What if the LW lives in a one-bedroom?

          1. Green

            Then you get bunk beds. Or you sleep on the couch and rent your room. You don’t get to be choosy about practicability when you’re potentially going to the pokey. Better have a roommate now instead of in the pokey.

            1. some1

              But what incentive is there for the person you’d be renting to? Either they are sharing a room (and a bunk bed, which I guess you think are free?) or can’t go into the living area at all during the night. I get the point but it’s not going to happen.

              1. Green

                Have you ever been on Craigslist? There is a whole rooms/share category, and a good chunk of those are shared rooms (particularly in big cities). It happens all the time. It’s sketchy and undesirable, but people do it because it’s cheap and the OP would do it because they need money more than they need to be comfortable.

                1. some1

                  Just because you have seen those ads doesn’t mean you know there are people answering them and moving in.

                2. Green

                  The point is that OP should try everything possible to reduce their living expenses and save more of their income. Whether means cutting people’s yards on the weekends or eating beans and rice (WHAT IF OP IS ALLERGIC TO BEANS?) is up to OP and people have offered lots of good suggestions. Not sure how helpful it is to come up with random “what ifs?” that may make any particular suggesting not work for the OP, but I’d bet that most of those “roadblocks” are really “rationalizations” rather than true roadblocks.

        2. Green

          The gist is you reduce expenses to the absolute minimum or actually below whatever OP thinks the minimum is. You go into survival mode here and you don’t have the luxury of being comfortable. (But Salon has an article about how SROs/flophouses are coming back into the picture and how efforts to improve housing quality via regulations and increase value have also led to barriers for what we be considered excellent housing in many places around the world.)

            1. Green

              Yes. Because the OP’s standard for what is “bare minimum” is probably higher than what the people on FatWallet and other finance boards would consider to be the bare minimum in this situation. If you are good at sorting out wants and needs, you don’t find yourself with $20,000 in miscellaneous shopping and living expenses on your employer’s credit card.

              1. Buffay the Vampire Layer

                Especially if he can muster up $2,000 per month for payments on this card.

              2. Mike C.

                I think it’s rather presumptive to tell someone who needs more that they’re simply wasting what they already have.

                1. Green

                  I don’t think it’s at all presumptive to tell someone who writes in to an advice blog because they have ALREADY gone through one BK, promptly racked up $20k on their employer’s credit card in miscellaneous shopping and living expenses, but can find $2,000 in disposable income each month to pay down the card, that they are (1) probably living above their means, and (2) need to cut expenses. There are two ways to reduce debt: earn more, spend less (or both).

                  Plenty of people in America live on less than this dude has available to put towards his consumer debt. I am 100% sure that this person has plenty of fluff still to cut in their expenses.

        3. Amanda

          I work directly with homelessness in NYC. SROs are pretty rare these days, and many of them are designated for particular populations (largely people that are already in the shelter system, that qualify for subsidized programs, that qualify for mental health programs, etc.). Finding affordable housing, especially in large cities, is a damn near impossibility. At least in NYC, the current vacancy rate is hovering around 1.5%.

  28. some1

    I *think* I get how this worked:

    Balance: $100
    LW transfers $100 to his Paypal account
    LW pays balance ($100) of the card.
    Paypal deducts payment + fee (say $10) from LW’s bank account.

    but I don’t get where the 20k balance is from if he was paying the balance in full every month? I guess I’m an idiot.

    1. Shawn

      Because the $100 withdrawn from Paypal was charged to the card. So in your scenario the new balance would be $110 after making the payment. The card never gets paid off when doing this. The OP kept doing that a bunch of times while charging new things to the card.

  29. Anoners

    My Sister’s Sister in law stole 50,000 from her employer for a gambling addiction. When they found out they were super supportive and not only let her pay it back in installments, but let her keep her job. So there is hope for you OP that this will not turn out terribly for you.

  30. Joey

    Come clean, propose a payment plan and expect to be fired. Honestly Id be thrilled with any consequence that didn’t include prosecution. Because while companies don’t like to prosecute it’s really hard not to think of a $20k credit card bill an employee racked up for personal stuff as grand theft or embezzlement.

    1. AndersonDarling

      Agreed. The LW is just torturing themselves by letting this continue. The faster they come clean, the faster the solution will be presented and life can resume.

    2. Laurel Gray

      “Honestly Id be thrilled with any consequence that didn’t include prosecution.”

      I really think this is the best hope to have in this situation.

    3. Graciosa

      Another possible issue may be presented by the OP’s line of work.

      I’m assuming he’s not in finance, but there are other positions within a company which require you to be trusted with a company’s assets in ways that will cause an employer to disqualify anyone from the role who has have this type of incident in his history (for example, procurement, certain IT jobs, etc.).

  31. Dr. Johnny Fever

    Please, OP, do not continue to hide this just because you haven’t gotten caught yet. It’s possible that you could pay it off eventually and no one notices, but a later audit might catch you after the fact. The consequences for you would be much worse and completely unexpected. You’re feeling out of control in this situation but you own how you handle it from here. Recognizing where you are is a powerful step.

    I think it would be best to come clean and own the activity, as noted above, and propose a wage garnishment or other payment plan to pay for the card balance. This cannot continue, and you may gain some stress relief simply from confessing and proposing a solution. This also puts the company in a position to consider keeping you in your current position since you proactively came to them. If you can, work with a financial counselor or run your own budget numbers to see how much you would propose for regular payment.

    Please consider asking your doctor or your EAP for a referral to see a mental health specialist who can help you release the stress, guilt, and shame, and help identify patterns that might have led you here. This can happen for ADD people with poor impulse control but you can help learn what triggers those patterns and reshape them.

    In the worst case scenario that you lose your job, I hope your partner will support you (and I hope you have been honest with your partner. If you haven’t, tell her now). Take it one day at a time as you form your plan. You will get through this – don’t get lost in the what-ifs. Focus on what you directly control.

    Good luck and kind thoughts your way.

    1. Natalie

      I wonder if the OP can stay in their current job, though. It sounds like a credit card is a necessity, and they don’t seem to be able to handle one right now.

  32. grasshopper

    I’m confused by all the comments recommending that the OP get one or more other credit cards and transfer the debt there. This is how the problem started in the first place: borrowing from one high-interest provider to pay off another high-interest provider. That might solve the OPs problems with his employer, but the debt remains unmanageable and will only continue to increase.

    I realize that sometimes credit cards might seem like the only option, but the ‘easy’ credit offered by credit card companies comes with these ‘hard’ consequences. Credit card companies (and payday loan companies which are particularly predatory) aren’t your friend; they are in the business of making money from interest. Finding other solutions won’t be as easy, but will be better in the long run.

    Get thee to a financial counselor ASAP to find other solutions.

    1. YandO

      personal credit card debt is lot less problematic than business debt. You don’t get fired over it.

      Credit cards are not evil. They are tools, it’s up to us to use them properly. My credit cards pay me to use them.

      1. Kara Ayako

        Yes, and I agree. By switching this to personal debt, the OP doesn’t have the ADDED stress of doing something likely illegal and I’m sure will feel much better. It seems that a good part of the problem is the compounding anxiety and how the OP is dealing with it, and not having to worry as much about the employer piece of it would take a huge burden off the OP.

        That said, it sounds like the OP is unable to go this route because of the bankruptcy.

      2. stellanor

        And a personal credit card is where this debt should have been all along. Moving the debt to a personal card turns this from a work problem into a personal problem.

        I think the other facet of that advice is that many credit cards have an initial period of 0 interest for balance transfers, so OP would have some time to pay down the balance without accruing interest.

        1. TL -

          Yes, if the OP can pay $2000/mo on a $20,000 debt, in 10 months, it’ll be paid off. That’s before most credit card’s grace periods end.

          1. Natalie

            You do have to factor in CC interest, once they are no longer doing their Paypal trick, but even at a high rate they can still get this paid off in a year if they can make the same payment.

              1. Natalie

                That would be awesome. If they can’t get that, though, the CC calculator I ran suggested 13 months if the interest rate is 25%.

      3. Green

        It’s a bad option, yes (and one not available to OP here), but holy cow it is a lot better than going to jail, losing your job, and trying to find a new job as a felon.

    2. fposte

      Because if it worked it could preserve the OP’s job and help stave off the likelihood of prosecution. Personal debt is definitely a problem here, but in a situation like this it’s not the most pressing.

    3. BuildMeUp

      I’ve seen a lot of credit cards that have an intro offer related to balance transfers where they won’t charge you interest for X months on the transfer, which might be what people are referring to.

    4. K.

      Also some cards offer 0% on balance transfers for a time. About five years ago I had a CC with a punitively high APR (deserved; I was unemployed at the time, missed a payment, and the APR ballooned). I stopped using that card but it already had a balance, which kept growing due to the aforementioned crazy high interest rate. When I got a new job I was able to transfer the balance on that card to one with 0% APR for a year. I paid it off within the year (much faster than I would have been able to do otherwise) and I was able to negotiate lower APRs on both the balance transfer card and the card from which I had transferred the balance. I still have both cards and both have reasonable APRs – and no balances.

      So if the OP’s credit was good I’d advise him to do something like this (if he could be sure he could pay it off within that 0% APR period), but it’s been said upthread that due to the previous bankruptcy he can’t get credit cards.

    5. Tinker

      This is generally good advice. However, in this specific scenario the OP has managed to find something worse than “unpayable cascade of debts that were legitimately (if unwisely) entered into” — he owes substantial amounts of money that he was never supposed to have borrowed in the first place. Owing the debt legitimately — even if it is a complete disaster, personal finance wise — would actually be a step up from the current situation as it stands.

      Although I guess here the worst case outcome might involve a roof over one’s head and reliable access to something resembling food, so at least there’s that? But seriously, “solving the OP’s problems with his employer” is not at all to be sneezed at here.

  33. YandO

    You need to get a second job and cut out EVERYTHING from your current life. I mean no cable, no eating out, no fancy food, not fun for at least 6 months. You commit to 6 months of no life. You and your GF too.

    That may not be enough to pay off debt, but it will be a lot more manageable.

    1. tango

      I agree. Move to a cheaper place and get rid of things you can live without. Both you and girlfriend take a second job and all money earned from those jobs goes straight on the company card balance. I’m sorry but your girlfriend didn’t work for two years and you helped finance her life/fun or whatever on top of your own expenses to the point you made some very rash rash decisions. I think she should help you pay it back. I find it hard to believe she never knew or wasn’t even curious enough to ask how bills were getting paid or notice you were pulling out the company credit card to pay for things.
      And if “but I need ____, I need cable, I need the most expensive cell phone plan, dinners at the steak restaurant, new shoes, etc” comes out of your mouth (or from your girlfriend), realize you won’t have those things when/if you’re in jail or homeless because of bad credit, a bad reference from your job after being fired and a possible record for theft.

      1. Engineer Girl

        The “I need” is an interesting point. They actually found that people in debt “need” more things than people that have big savings. In short, the “want” gets equated with “need”. The justifications for “need” are many, but really are a cover up for “want”.
        There’s lots of articles on the internet addressing this, and it’s worth looking at them to find true needs. Getting rid of the wants makes a huge difference – one dollar at a time.

        1. Melissa

          I think people in big debt probably do have more actual needs than people with big savings, though, because people with large debt and low credit tend to be disproportionately low income and have few friends and family members they can rely on for assistance or borrowing.

          1. fposte

            That’s what I’ve been thinking. This isn’t just about some bad decisions, it’s about having no margin for error in factor after factor, and that’s not a personal failing but a really common problem. If you can’t get employment without a car and have no one to borrow money from, you’re screwed. If you barely got the money for a car and somebody hits it, and the payout isn’t enough to buy another car and you have no financial cushion, you’re screwed. What the OP did was wrong, but the desperation is pretty common and understandable.

            1. Katie the Fed

              all of this. And sadly so common. It’s REALLY hard to get out of a paycheck-to-paycheck situation (or debt) in modern America. The rise of predatory payday loan operations tells you all you need to know on that.

            2. JMegan

              There’s also a growing body of research into the effects of poverty on the brain. I haven’t read a lot of it, but my understanding is that poverty (or a prolonged paycheque-to-paycheque situation) can have a significant impact on your problem-solving and decision-making skills. Which does not excuse the behaviour, but might provide some insight into how it happens. It’s a tough situation, with not a lot of easy answers.

              1. Anx

                Anecdata: yes!

                I have always had difficulty concentration and a level of brain fog, but my sleep issues and fogginess ballooned once I became broke. My diet sucked, I was stressed all of the time, and I was dedicating so much brain space to bargain shopping. My mood would sour for hours at every little thing: making an unnecessary trip (gas $), cat threw up on a blanket (utility $), burned or otherwise ruined dinner (food $). I was obsessing over dollar and pennies and it made it so much more difficult to concentrate on anything else.

                I cannot begin to tell you how much easier life was with just a little bit more breathing room. I feel like I was taking brain boosters my first semester with an actual income.

                1. Anx

                  Also, you make ‘bad choices’ because the situation calls for it. You become desperate and maybe a little over optimistic. So you’ll charge an interview suit or gas money for a job search, but you don’t get a job until you’ve worn out/outgrew the items. Or you buy toilet paper one roll at a time because that’s all you can afford. Or you buy convenience items because you need to eat outside of the home or don’t have access to a fridge or microwave, that sort of thing.

                  You don’t cut the cable because between the cancellation fees and the surge to your internet, you aren’t really saving any money.

                2. Anx

                  Oh wow! That cracked article does seem to nail it!

                  I actually grew up very much not poor, but my obligatory post-grad broke phase is lasting years long.

                  Thanks for the link!

          2. Kelly L.

            And to have needs they put off for a long time. Someone in financial trouble could need a better car and a trip to the doctor and to fix the roof, etc., and all those needs can hang around for a long time before the person is able to tackle them.

            1. Engineer Girl

              That’s a true statement. You also need money to save money. One example – when I was at university there was a sale on tires. I knew I would need new tires but couldn’t afford them at the time. A few months later, when I could afford them, the tires were no longer on sale.
              So there is the opportunism that comes from a savings account

            2. AnonAnalyst

              Yes, and then, if not addressed, they can balloon into much bigger (and more expensive problems). Like that small car repair you’ve been putting off turns into a problem that subsequently affects other parts and you end up with a repair that costs 3x as much, or putting off that doctor’s visit for a minor annoyance turns into a trip to the ER. It can be an impossible cycle to break out of.

    2. Beebs

      Yes absolutely, and get more income. Second jobs, sell things, etc. What you think you “need” and what you really need are very different. It might not be what you are used to, but it’s not so bad I promise. The library is an underrated source of free entertainment. Do everything you can to get this situation under control, then slowly rebuild your life, work with a financial adviser, and track every single thing you spend money on.

    3. Beebs

      Yes absolutely, and get more income. Second jobs, sell things off, etc. What you think you “need” and what you really need are very different. It might not be what you are used to, but it’s not so bad I promise. The library is an underrated source of free entertainment. Do everything you can to get this situation under control, then slowly rebuild your life, work with an adviser, and track every single thing you spend money on.

  34. Wacky Teapots

    Please get an attorney now. There are alot of poor attorneys now since there are too many. Just find one in the yellow pages. Ask their fees. Go for the folks that are a one man office. Bring a copy of your employee handbook and your credit card form you signed to get a card for the company. Please don’t wait. Dealing with issues head on is better than hiding them. It’s always the cover up that breaks people in the end. I am truly praying for you.

    1. TCO

      I think starting with a reputable, free financial counselor would be the better option. A lawyer’s help might be needed at some point, but why rack up legal fees until an expert has told you that you need a lawyer?

      1. Natalie

        I’m not sure I’d trust a financial counselor to determine if I needed a lawyer. They’re not, after all, generally legal experts.

      2. Mike C.

        The first consultation is free, and it’s rather difficult to pay restitution from jail.

      3. Green

        Definitely no. The lawyer is the expert at telling you if you need a lawyer, not a “free financial counselor.”

      4. Credit counselor

        Credit counselors are prohibited from giving legal advice and would simply refer anyone with legal questions to an attorney.

      5. Another Attorney

        Agree with the others who say no. Anything you tell your lawyer is privileged and cannot be discovered later. This is not true for a financial counselor, so if the company sues OP or the police pursue the matter, they can find out what OP said and gave to the financial counselor. A lawyer can help find a financial counselor after coming up with a plan for how to handle and exactly how much information to disclose to the various parties involved.

    2. LK

      Seconding this. OP, I’ve seen some suggestions to get a lawyer with experience in bankruptcy filings, and while that might be useful later, you definitely need an attorney with experience in criminal defense. You made mistakes in high-stress situations that have compounded mightily, and what they’ve compounded to amount to felony charges in many jurisdictions in the US.
      I don’t want to be mean, OP, but when your soon-to-be former-employer learns that you’ve misappropriated $20,000 of company funds, they’re not going to think of it as a “misunderstanding” or a “mistake”–they’re going to think of it as embezzlement or larceny by an employee, and you need to be prepared for that. The harsh truth is that they were willing to fire you for not having a car. Not having a car was a firing offense in your current role; stealing thousands of dollars of company funds is not going to be seen as less serious than not owning a reliable vehicle. The best possible outcome I see for your situation is that you lose your job and the company garnishes your future wages, but you don’t go to prison.

      First, you need to consult with an attorney and get your ducks in a row as far as “here is how I’m going to pay restitution to my former employer,” whether that payment comes in the form of money your family loans you, or wage garnishment, or downsizing wherever possible and using that money to aggressively pay them back–it needs to NOT involve PayPal advances, because they’re only making things worse. Then, you need to see a medical professional and get your ADD under better control, because it is obviously causing you extreme hardship and distress. You need to see a reputable financial counselor and follow their instructions to the letter to help get your financial house in order. You might also want to come clean to your loved ones, to prepare them for the coming fallout and to enlist them as potential sources of emotional support during the hard times headed your way.

      This isn’t the end of the world, OP. These were extremely serious mistakes, and you made a succession of incredibly bad choices, but the sky won’t fall because of them no matter how bad it seems right now. The only way out is through, though, so you need to start “getting your poop in a group” and preparing for the consequences.

  35. Jenn

    I’m so sorry you’re going through this OP. This is a very tough predicament to be in. Three years ago I had to file for bankruptcy because I was unemployed for about 2 years and I had tons of medical bills. Since then I was able to get a few credit cards and some loans. I started out with a secured credit card from Capital One and soon thereafter started receiving tons of regular credit card offers. Just because you filed for bankruptcy doesn’t automatically prevent you from getting a loan. I work for a financial institution right now and many of them will lend to people who’ve filed for bankruptcy because they’re not allowed to file again for at least 7 years so they’re stuck paying the loan or will be taken to court if the loan was charged off. I would go to your local community bank or credit union and sit down and talk with someone about getting a personal loan for about 20k. Don’t tell them what you’re using it for because what you did is illegal. If you find a really good financial representative they will try their best to help you or point you in the right direction. You may need a co-signer so maybe your girlfriend, close friend, or family member may be willing to do that for you. If you have no luck there maybe try a high interest loan place for help. You may also need to get a second job to help pay this off.

    If none of this works for you, your only other option is to come clean. I don’t know if your employer has an EAP program but maybe they can help you with talking to your employer about this situation. I wish you the best of luck!

    1. Yoshi

      I was coming to also recommend a credit union- the one I use opens accounts for as little as $1. I’ve never looked into their loans or credit cards, but I’d assume they’d be the best place for someone to go to rebuild their credit.

  36. JMegan

    Oh, OP – you’ve got a lot on your plate right now. You must be so stressed.

    I don’t have any advice beyond what’s already been offered, but I wanted to send you sympathy and best wishes for getting it all sorted out. Please send us an update when you can.

    1. Green

      I am literally stressed out for OP, so I can’t imagine how stressed out OP must be for OP.

      1. Jennifer

        Me too. I already had a friend canned for this sort of thing except on a much smaller scale (not that I approve of that either), so I’m scared for them.

        It does especially screw you when you don’t have credit. I was an idiot and didn’t get a credit card in college (I thought I was so smart for not sinking myself in debt) and I have pretty much screwed myself for life for getting credit so late. If I had to buy a giant purchase and “get reimbursed” by work, I’d be screwed.

  37. MsChanandlerBong

    Take the advice of the above commenters. Contact a financial counselor and come up with a plan; then come clean with your boss. I also have ADD, which went undiagnosed for a long time (my parents are big believers in the “ADD doesn’t exist; you’re just lazy/disorganized/slovenly” argument”). As a result, I had a lot of financial and legal troubles when I was in my early 20s. Many of the bad decisions I made came from desperation (e.g. I needed to pay rent, I’d lost my job, and I had no money, so I wrote them a check thinking the bank would pay it and I’d just owe the bank; no, the bank didn’t pay it, and the landlords took me to *criminal* court for passing a bad check).

    I used to try to avoid issues by not opening mail or burying my head in the sand, but the stress of doing so is just awful. It’s better to know that you are in a load of crap and have an end in sight than to constantly worry about when the other shoe will drop. Good luck to you. You messed up, but you have options, and your entire life doesn’t have to crumble forever because of it.

  38. Cari

    OP – do I understand this correctly:

    You transfer money from the company card, through PayPal, into your account to pay off last month’s balance, adding that to next month’s charges + PayPal fees + any charges you’ve accrued that month – any money of your own going spare?

    Yikes. I can see why you did that, due to the condition of paying the balance in full each month, but that is not going to help clear the debt (which you already know).

    I would say seek financial advice or counselling before you go to your boss. If you are able to say “I have a problem, this is what I’m doing to make sure it doesn’t happen again,” it may make them more inclined to work out a repayment plan over firing you and suing the pants off you. Or at least, may make them less inclined to sue, since they’ll actually be able to recover the money if they let you pay it back.

    As for cars, I know someone who buys cars cheap, they last a year or so, and instead of paying more than its worth to fix the car, this person scraps them and pretty much makes their money back from scrapping it, which then goes towards or totally pays for their next old banger. It sounds like new cars have been a large chunk of this debt, and it didn’t help you got screwed on your insurance (seriously, it does not sound right they valued the car at what you had left to pay and not what it was actually worth??) :/ perhaps consider getting any cheap old thing just to travel for work, and then trade it in or scrap it, for a similarly priced cheap car when it needs costly repairs?

    1. TCO

      Cheaper cars (and I’m assuming OP already went pretty cheap) are not always a good answer long-term. It would be rare to scrap a car for enough money that it allows OP to buy another decent-quality car. Plus, it’s easy to spend a lot of money fixing necessary “little issues” before The Big Problem comes up and merits getting rid of the car. Really cheap cars aren’t usually a great deal for people unless they have the know-how to do repairs themselves. I understand that people need to buy cheap cars sometimes, but I wouldn’t encourage OP to downgrade unless they could get a different reliable, decent inexpensive car for significantly less than what their current car is worth at this moment.

    2. Mike C.

      One of the early problems the OP had was buying cheap cars that would get totaled by insurance.

      There was a story a while back about a family on food stamps where they had a ten year old Mercedes and everyone on the internet flipped their shit over it. What folks don’t realize* is that you need reliable transportation and having a car you know has been well maintained is a huge benefit. Not to mention the fact that the used car market is kind of a mess.

      *They also didn’t realize that it was a really low end model to begin with, and had a resale value of maybe $5k.

      1. Natalie

        Really cheap cars are complete money/time sinks, too. My boyfriend’s truck (nearly 300K miles) needs about $30 of coolant and oil weekly just to keep going.

        1. Melissa

          Honestly, the advice to buy cheap cars and drive them until you save enough for a better car is one of the reasons I am skeptical of Dave Ramsay (and surprised by how many people recommend him here). Ramsay advocates buying cheap old cars in cash and then putting aside the money you would’ve paid in a car loan every month, then purchasing a new car with that cash in a year, and so forth, until you get a better car. First of all, the assumption is that you can amass enough cash to buy a car in cash. Beyond that, though – as someone who grew up working class, I’ve had my fair share of experience with beat-up old cars bought in cash. The fantasy of putting money aside every month for the new car-in-cash and never touching it is exactly that: a fantasy. Something always goes wrong. And then when the car finally does give out (particularly if that happens earlier than you expected it to, which is always a hazard with really old cars), you’re scrambling around trying to figure out how to get work and school and errands until you can invest the money in a new old beater car.

          It’s one of the reasons that the first thing I did when I got a full-time job was purchase an affordable, but newer, car. When you grow up watching people stress out about when their car is going to break (not if) and how they’re going to do life without it until they can afford a new one…you just don’t want that kind of stress in your life. I don’t have to worry about my transmission falling out on the interstate.

          1. TL -

            I have a 8 yr old, bought new but cheap car that’s still going strong. I tend to go that route (buy a dependable car new and drive it until it goes no more.)

          2. Observer

            It depends on the car. Our second car was a used car that we paid cash for. And, for the first two years we had it, we COULD have put away a few dollars for a new car – it really didn’t need that much maintenance. Same for out next car – that one was low maintenance till the day it got totaled.

            The thing with cars is that they lose resale value very quickly. So, it’s possible to be a two year old car that’s still in decent condition at a fraction of the cost of decent new car.

            1. Mike C.

              This isn’t all that true with brands that have a reputation for “high reliability”. Hondas and Toyotas in particular, at least in my area. Given the amount of information a new car buyer can come into a dealership with, the difference between a new car and a used car just a few years old can be just a few hundred.

              1. Observer

                It depends where and how you buy. We bought the second used car at an auction – coming of a lease. We paid thousands less than we would have paid for the car, new. The mechanic we hired to look at the car before signing on it told us that it was in excellent condition and should last us at least 3 years if we did the basic maintenance. Of course, a lot depends on the specifics of each situation. So, it’s going to be a piece of advice that works for everyone. But it’s also not a piece of advice that makes no sense at all.

          3. Natalie

            Total gut feeling, but Dave Ramsey always struck me as speaking to the strapped middle class rather than the straight-up poor. There’s a huge difference between a 5 year old car that’s $10K less than a new car, and a 20+ year old car your friends parents’ sold you for $50 since it was easier than getting it to the junkyard.*

            *Actual car my college boyfriend owned. It had a full tank of gas so he always said he got it for $35.

            1. Anx

              I totally agree. He makes a lot of assumptions in his advice. For example, he suggests getting a job delivering pizza, which assumes you have a good car and haven’t already been trying to get those pizza delivery jobs. It’s hard to get jobs cleaning houses or mowing lawns when most of your neighbors are in similar straights and aren’t outsourcing their labor.

              The impression I get is that his target audience makes a living wage but is going into debt on the extras in life.

              Which I guess just means that when your poor, it’s not due to mismanagement. It’s mostly an issue of just not having enough.

              1. Kat M

                I always got that idea from him. He does seem to address the folks who buy new cars, a bigger house that’s a bit of a stretch for them, who have student loan debt, and really could be in a good place if they would just focus. Very different from living hand to mouth.

          4. Juli G.

            This is exactly why I’m skeptical of Ramsey too!

            He’s regarded as this savant in my small hometown so it’s hard to find others that share my opinion. I’m just very excited to not be so alone! :)

          5. Mike C.

            Bingo. Both my father and my two brothers are very, very experienced at fixing cars because of having to deal with the old ones we used growing up.

            Also, I really detest folks who completely ignore systemic issues. Personal choices of course have a huge effect, but you can’t “lifehack” your way to pay for cancer treatment out of pocket or whatever.

            1. Ruffingit

              AMEN! Seriously, the best thing I’ve read in awhile Mike is “Personal choices of course have a huge effect, but you can’t “lifehack” your way to pay for cancer treatment out of pocket or whatever.” So much truth there. So many people assume you’re just not being responsible with money, but the truth is many people are being crushed by massive medical bills or a car gone bad and so on. I’ve also heard in these types of discussions “Well, why didn’t you have an emergency fund?” Hmmm…well, maybe it’s because I make less than $30,000 a year at my job and I’m supporting my elderly mother who can no longer live alone because of health issues and she’s got no money otherwise she wouldn’t be here. Or maybe it’s because I had a health scare and my horrible health insurance paid only 20 percent of bills that totaled over $20,000.

              My point being that there are a lot of scenarios that may make it near impossible to save up and move forward. I’ve been there and I know many others who have as well. No matter what anyone thinks about how well they’re doing, we’re all one divorce, one medical crisis, one accident away from homelessness in a lot of cases. I try to keep that in mind when people start leveling judgment at those who are in financial crisis.

              That is

          6. AnonAnalyst

            I totally agree. I guess I would say that if you’re totally overwhelmed and don’t know where to start, he can offer some tactics so that you’re doing SOMETHING, but some of his advice just makes me look askance at whatever medium I’m seeing it in.

          7. FD

            IME it depends. What I’ve done, and people close to me have done, is to get an old, but reliable beater. My fiancee, for example, drives a tank of a Ford Taurus from the 90s, which she paid less than $1,500 for.

            It’s ugly as sin, but it is reliable, and allowed her to avoid a car payment so she could save for other things.

            On the other hand, one of my long term savings goals is to be able to buy a new Honda, because I figure I’ll get the most use out of it that way.

            1. fposte

              I’m nine years along on a Civic I bought when it was three years old. My goal is to amortize the total expense to below $1k per year :-).

              1. FD

                Hondas are the best, I love them. I absolutely adore my 2004 Accord–I want to buy a new or close to new one next. I figure it’s still a fairly affordable car even new, and considering my ’04 is still in great shape at 11, I figure I’d be able to get at least 10-15 years out of a new car. Resale value isn’t bad either.

              2. LD

                I’ve had Honda cars for years. If you get a good one and keep up with maintenance, it will last for years. I kept the first one for 17 years and then donated it to our church. The church sold it and I think they got $800 for it. It was an awesome car.

      2. Stephanie

        And depending where OP lives, a crappy car won’t cut it, especially if he lives in a sprawly area (or has a long commute). Somewhere with really extreme winters or summers (there are tire treads everywhere on the freeways this time of year in Phoenix), cars don’t last.

    3. yep

      Depending on the age of the car, the balance on the loan might have been a whole lot more than the value of the car. If that is the case, OP is very fortunate.

  39. TootsNYC

    OP, I just want to say this:

    There is an “out the other side” of this screw-up.

    No one will die. You will be able to get work again even if you-do- get fired. This is not the end of the line, the end of everything.

    It might get hard. You might feel like crap. Welcome to the world where people aren’t perfect, and some of us are way less perfect than others.

    Forgiveness is a real thing. I hope you can find some for yourself. Other people will have some for you as well. In my faith, forgiveness is God’s goal.

    There *is* a time ahead where this will be in the past.

    Hang in there. Do the thing that will be most valuable -then-, in that time period of the future. Facing up to your screw-ups may be that “most valuable in the future” thing. Hiding from our flaws and mistakes often won’t let you build something stronger.

    But you will *be* stronger. Just hold on–don’t let go. The future will come, and it will be better.

    1. fposte

      Thanks, Toots. Well said. People survive worse screwups than this, and everybody involved is still hale and hearty.

    2. Ellie H

      This is what I wanted to say too – and you put it really well, that there is an “other side” that will be reached eventually.

    3. Thank You.

      This was so beautifully said. Please, OP – remember that this difficult chapter is not the end of your story. The resounding advice to come clean and own up to the consequences is very good…the truth does set you free.

    4. LBK

      This is such a great point and such helpful advice. Time will continue to move forward and you will continue to be alive after all of this happens and is dealt with – I think that’s oddly hard to remember sometimes when faced with an insurmountable task. I’ve taken to using the Kimmy Schmidt method: can you make it through the next 10 seconds? Yes? Great, get through those 10 seconds and then start another 10 seconds. Get through those ok? Alright, on to the next 10. You’ll survive.

    5. Allison

      So much this! Lots of people make bad decisions with credit cards, I myself have realized that my Amex balance is too damn high and I’m working on whittling it down. But people get into debt all the time, and they get out of debt and get on with their lives. Take a deep breath, take this one step at a time, and remember that things are hard now but they won’t be bad forever.

    6. Mimi

      Thanks for posting this. I’ve been in a similarly disastrous situation before, and I started feeling hopeless and having very dark thoughts. It’s really not good, but it’s not the end of the world.

    7. LeighTX

      This is lovely, and so true. My family had to go through credit counseling about ten years ago because we were in debt way over our heads–I was thinking just this morning of how I used to have to tell my husband he couldn’t buy gas until he got paid–and now we’re doing so very, very much better. As you said so nicely, this is just *part* of the OP’s story and definitely not the end.

    8. Andrea

      Thanks for posting this. It’s a good reminder.

      When I was so depressed and overwhelmed and convinced that my mistakes had ruined my life forever, a close friend used to remind me that, even though it didn’t always feel like it, it really was within my power to ensure that one day, it would all be a learning experience. She was right.

    9. Jennifer

      And to add to this, my friend that I mentioned who got canned for this sort of thing has found other employment at two businesses since then (even though she’s unemployed again, it’s not for those reasons). Though you might need to avoid applying for jobs that involve money management/handling.

  40. MsMollyD

    For future reference, when someone says “pay the balance off monthly” that does not mean paying just the minimum payment, which is what it sounds like you’re doing. It means paying the entire amount on the card down to zero each month. If you had been doing that from the start you wouldn’t have gotten into this mess.

    1. Kelly L.

      No, I think OP is paying off the balance, but is using Paypal maneuvering to do it. If the balance weren’t “getting paid off” every month, the employer would know by now.

    2. LBK

      I think the issue was that he wasn’t able to pay off the monthly balance from the start and was using the card to float the cost of buying a car. Otherwise he probably would’ve just bought in case/financed on his own to begin with.

    3. The IT Manager

      I think you misunderstood what the LW wrote, and he is using “pay the balance off monthly” to mean exactly what you said it means.

  41. BRR

    I’m sorry you’re going through this. Some things to think about in no particular order:

    -It sounds like you need to see a lawyer. I’m guessing you signed an agreement for the card and that’s going to be huge. I’m throwing a little blame towards your boss for what he said (and he was smart by not putting that in writing).
    -I’m doubting you misunderstood. I think the correct statement is your boss put you slightly on the wrong path and it snowballed.
    -You’re veering towards excuses which is not going to go well. If you can’t somehow pay it all off soon, I would practice telling the story without “I didn’t understand” or “it was ADD.”
    -You should probably check out National Foundation for Credit Counseling, Association of Independent Consumer Credit Counseling Agencies, and possibly Debtors Anonymous. Go through these organizations for debt counseling.
    -I also have ADD and impulse control , especially with money, is a big issue. What you need to think about is not that you’re spending money but why you’re spending money. Paying off the card is not going to do anything because I imagine your finances aren’t that healthy. You will still have the same behavior.

    1. Grace

      I will second Debtors Anonymous. There are meetings in most major cities, as well as phone-in meetings, and Skype meetings. So you can get help 7-days a week.

      www dot debtorsanonymous dot org

      You will find lots of help from people who have gotten themselves out of all kinds of terrible financial situations, have a spending plan, pressure relief groups, etc.

  42. Accounting person

    We just had this happen in our company, I run the finance department and one of our executives racked up a similar amount on his company credit card (he was responsible for paying off each month, but wasn’t doing that diligently enough). It was because he wasn’t paying it off each month that it became an issue (our bank was going to take negative action against our company since we were the guarantor on the card), so it’s great you are making sure to pay this off each month. I support the coming clean, even if the finance department doesn’t know yet it wouldn’t take much for them to figure it out and then sh** hits the fan. It could lead to termination, but agree that if you are contrite and propose a payment plan then you might be able to keep your job.

    If it’s helpful, our CFO (my boss) went a bit bonkers when he found out about this unpaid card balance and was talking termination, etc. But he calmed down and I talked him down, the end result is that the company paid the card balance off, had the executive sign a promissory note and now money is being deducted from his paycheck in accordance with the promissory note.

    1. JB (not in Houston)

      Oh, that’s an idea. He could (after talking to a lawyer) propose a payment plan to the company and have them take it directly out of his paycheck. And if he works with a financial counselor first, they could help him come up with how much he could afford for that.

    2. Laurel Gray

      Out of curiosity, would your CFO been open to a similar form of action if it were someone in a non-executive/high management role who did the same thing?

      1. Accounting person

        Our CFO was actually more angry because it was an executive doing this as he felt like he should be setting an example. If it wasn’t an executive and the card was being paid in full each month, I think he would have been less upset.

  43. HigherEd Admin

    OP, I have (and still do) struggled with credit card debt related to a period of unemployment several years ago. I used a nonprofit that I’m happy to recommend that closed out my credit card, significantly reduced my interest rate, and set me up with a payment plan. Aside from my monthly credit card payment, it cost me $10 a month to use the service. I’m happy to say that I paid off my debt this month.

    I’m not sure that you can utilize this kind of service for a corporate card, but it’s worth looking into. Let me know if you’d like to name of the organization.

    1. Book Person

      Congratulations on paying off your debt, HigherEd Admin! That must be a wonderful feeling.

      1. HigherEd Admin

        Looks like my original comment got stuck in moderation because I included a link. The name is Debt Reduction Services.

    2. Vanishing Girl

      I did the same thing years ago, and they were awesome! I am betting we used the same service, as mine was $10/month or whatever you could afford. I still have the letter from them saying I had paid everything off. I’m also happy to recommend the service I used.

  44. Ambrose

    I’m actually really surprised this is even possible. In my last job with a corporate credit card, I was required to sign a contract directly with the credit card company that held me personally liable for any charges not pre-approved by my employer. We were told not to use the card for personal expenses, but that if we did, Visa would be coming after me, not them. (And the company definitely knew if there were personal charges on there that they weren’t authorizing.) That seems like a much better solution for businesses than the risk of what happened here (not blaming you OP, I feel for you! This could have been prevented through better planning and internal controls by your employer!)

    I completely agree with Kay above, though. Coming to your employer with a feasible plan for how you plan to address this will make it much more likely that you won’t be immediately fired.

    1. Katie the Fed

      I think that’s a standard agreement though. And even though they come after you – the company still bears some liability so they do have a vested interest in what you can/can’t use that card for. Where I work, if I don’t pay my bill for 30/60 days – I get a nastygram and a potential hit on my credit, and I also get hauled into the boss’s office to explain why I haven’t paid my bill on my company card. It’s not something to mess around with.

  45. BritCred

    Coming from an accounting background I’m frankly surprised this hasn’t been noticed by the Accounts department already. Whilst none of the balance is overdue they must be noticing that the balance on OPs card compared to the rest is rather large.

    Unless OP is balancing it that when it hits the statement date its nearly $0 and the transactions happen mid statement month.

    The amounts of the cash advances are sooner or later going to reach the eyeballs of someone if they haven;t already and they will start looking at what they think you are doing and it won’t be pretty.

    Certainly I’d be looking at fessing up – whether you want to consider financial advice to come up with a solution to pay it off asap and legal advice to help you once you talk to them is up to you. However – its time it was sorted because sooner or later they will ask questions and you will lose any points you get for honesty of fessing up…

    1. Apollo Warbucks

      The firm has some very reale weaknesses in their fraud prevention checks and balances.

      My thoughts are that the statements are not looked at each month but only the balance so this revolving use of credit isnt noticed and when the expense report is filed it matches the recipts that are handed in.

      Sooner or later someone will see it.

  46. Oldblue

    The fact that you’ve declared bankruptcy before tells me that you might have a problem. I think that you need to seek a larger intervention than just financial counseling. You may need serious help for your spending habits, such as a real therapist.

    1. Mike C.

      Most bankruptcies are due to medical issues, followed by things like living through he largest recession in a generation, and 40 years of stagnant wage growth.

      1. KT

        I typically agree with you, but in the OP’s case, it’s clearly not from cancer treatments, but from extraneous spending and poor money management.

        1. some1

          It’s not clear to me. The LW can be a poor decision-maker now AND have crap luck with medical emergencies in the past. It’s not mutually exclusive.

        2. LBK

          Where is that clear? The only thing we have evidence of the OP buying was a car that was required for work. There’s no other info here about what kinds of purchases he’s been making, before or after he had to declare bankruptcy.

          1. KT

            He clearly said he used it for car payment, personal purchases, and to cover his girlfriend’s living expenses while unemployed

            1. LBK

              That doesn’t mean it’s “extraneous spending”…food and shelter are personal purchases.

            2. Katie the Fed

              The letter clearly states:

              “I have been using it over the last few years regularly for personal reasons, including medical, car payments (a car is required for my job, but not covered under expenses), and general personal shopping.”

              1. Dana

                If I’m understanding correctly, the bankruptcy was before all the company credit card stuff. If OP hadn’t already had a bankruptcy, they could have had their own credit cards to rack up debt on. I think that’s where part of this went so south, is that they couldn’t use any personal credit and the company card is all they had.

      2. Oldblue

        This is why I said “may” and “might”. I don’t want to suggest therapy based on such little info about the OP. But it’s a possibility. And yes, my parents went into debt due to my medical bills as a child so that is certainly a possibility. But then I believe everyone should be in therapy for something, so perhaps I’m slightly biased.

        1. AnonAnalyst

          I don’t think this is totally off base. It’s not clear in the letter what the cause of the bankruptcy was, but the follow-up explanation about how the credit card debt accumulated read as oddly distant to me. It didn’t exactly sound like an excuse, but it sounded kind of like the OP had no responsibility and was a victim of circumstance, like there was no other possible choice to make. Maybe it just read oddly to me because those would not be the next logical steps for me, but if financial counseling doesn’t give the OP enough tools to hopefully make better choices in the future, other counseling might help the OP recognize some of those thought patterns and potentially redirect them to more productive solutions.

          (That said, I recognize that for people who have low incomes where they’re barely making a living wage that this is a different problem. For whatever reason, the original letter gave me the impression that this wasn’t the OP’s case so I’m basing my reading off of that, but obviously there’s a lot we don’t know!)

  47. Anonymusketeer

    I’m stressed out just reading this.

    OP needs to talk to a lawyer first (like, today) and a debt counselor second. They’ll have the best advice about when/how to break this news to the boss and help him create a strategy to pay it off.

    If the OP has money in a 401(k), that might be a way to pay off a chunk of what he owes. It sucks to jeopardize your retirement like that, but right now the OP’s freedom and his job are at stake. When I was laid off and my husband was working fast food to (not really) make ends meet, his retirement savings was just enough to pay our existing bills and move back home with his parents (this was early in our careers; it wasn’t really that much money).

    If I’m ever caught in a moment of weakness and tempted to do something like this, having read this post will help me be strong and do the right thing. Maybe it will help someone else make the right call too.

    Finally, I am stunned that this company isn’t carefully reading every monthly statement for its company cards. If the company is liable for the charges, they’re taking an insane risk.

    1. Katie the Fed

      “I’m stressed out just reading this.”

      My too! I know someone who lied – big – on his resume and got caught. Equally terrible. He was desperate to get his foot in the door. Desperation makes people do crazy things.

  48. Book Person

    OP, I think you need to confess, and I think you need to be entirely honest both to yourself and to your company. There is something of a dramatic shift from the first letter to the second — “genuinely misunderstood” to knowing how the card was meant to be used but hoping to escape notice; mentions of “personal shopping” and covering for a girlfriend to details only about the cars…. It’s human nature to try to frame our stories in a way that casts us in the best possible light, but your employer won’t appreciate revisions to the narrative under questioning like you’ve had here.

    If you can do what a commenter above suggested and pare down all your expenses (no cable, no internet, no dining out, no Starbucks $5 lattes) and save as much as you can as fast as you can to demonstrate to your employer that you’re serious about paying off this debt, you might be ok. Also, you mention your girlfriend and don’t qualify that with “ex”: is she now employed? Is she in a position to help you out? You don’t want to borrow debt as a long-term strategy, but if she can put money from her own credit card to supplement your monthly payments, you’ll get out from under this $20,000, interest-accumulating weight faster.

    1. Book Person

      (to clarify: the above not to suggest that you’re frivolously spending money on $5 lattes; I have no idea what your current expenses are, but if there are extraneous things like those you can cut out, it would be good to do so).

      1. Green

        There are almost always extraneous things that someone with consumer debt can cut out to decrease expenses, so it’s a fair point.

  49. MH

    Can you sell off or return any of the items you bought? I know with selling you don’t get much back, but it’s something.

  50. Retail Lifer

    A company I used to work for fired someone for theft. However, they chose not to prosecute. They got a payment plan in writing and agreed not to press charges if the payment plan was adhered to. The OP might be able to make a similar deal. As some other comments have pointed out, companies often don’t want to deal with prosecution when there’s an easier way for them to reclaim what was lost.

  51. KT

    I have to say, I’m pretty shocked at how sympathetic people are being. This guy STOLE and embezzled from his company, and he gets prayers and well-wishes? Hard-working, honest people are out of work, and this guy has a decent job and he stole from it. He also seems not to be sorry for what he did, but sorry for the impending consequences.

    I would have expected some harsher truths from posters here. There’s a lot of gray-area letters that get posted–this isn’t one of them.

    1. That Lady

      Well, most Americans are in some amount of debt (I believe the average is about $7,000), and it seems like this guy didn’t do it maliciously, just stupidly. And yelling at him probably isn’t going to help.

      1. KT

        Most Americans have personal debt. This guy stole from a company. Huge difference. One faces lots of debt payments, the other faces jail time.

        And I’m not yelling–just trying to point out that the OP has some very serious consequences ahead of him–firing at the least and jail time at the worst–and pretending this is all just a misunderstanding isn’t going to help anything.

        He needs a lawyer. And a very benevolent company.

        1. Sadsack

          I have to agree with you. I do wish OP the best because at least he is trying to figure out how to end this. However, I did read his letter as filled with a lot of excuses. I think OP should not try to offer those same excuses to his employer when he confesses.

    2. Ally

      Alison kindly asked not to pile on, and so people didn’t.

      This was rather harsh! The guy made a mistake, it happens. He’s asking how to make it right.

      1. KT

        There’s mistakes, like forgetting an email, then there’s crime, like embezzlement. That doesn’t just “happen”.

        1. MsM

          No, but it’s already done. I agree that the OP needs to treat this as serious and not expect leniency from the employer – up to and including the possibility of legal consequences – but he knows that. Knowing that is probably part of why he’s made these desperate moves to cover it up. He needs a game plan that will put an end to that, not further incentive to hide.

          1. Agreed

            it is already done, as you say, but it’s still also right in the middle of still happening. This is current situation and won’t stop until the OP is caught, confesses, or it resolves financially.

            1. Melissa

              And that’s what pretty much every else in this post has said. No one has suggested that he disappear and move to Mexico or something like that. No one has even approached saying what he did isn’t wrong.

        2. fposte

          It’s a moot point when we’re guests and have been asked not to be harsh by the host.

      2. Apollo Warbucks

        I don’t think this comment is harsh at all, KT hasn’t been rude or abusive to the OP and her assessment of the situation is a fairly logical and reasonable one even if you disagree with it.

        I was pretty shocked by the letter when I read it and had to think it over before rushing to judgement. In my profession this would be so outragous it would cost you’re job, reputation, professional accreditation, in addition to becoming a criminal matter and finishing your career. So to me the basic facts are very damming you can’t help yourself to $20k even with the best of intentions and I don’t doubt the OP means no harm but they’ve done the wrong thing so I’ve got little sympathy.

        1. Loose Seal

          You can be sympathetic toward the person without being in support of their choices.

    3. Jessie

      I had an employee steal while he was in a position of trust working for me. His actions caused a lot of damage (mainly because some of what he did put suspicion on innocent people in my office). I agree. This is criminal. I think the OP’s best bet is to come clean and hope that losing his job is the worst that happens.

    4. Mike C.

      Save your two minutes hate for folks who convince people to buy snake oil over actual medicine, screwed over the world economy, build football pitches with the blood of migrant workers or “recruit” child soldiers.

      People screw up. I’m not a religious person, but the idea that “but for the grace of God go I” is something we should all take a moment to remember.

      1. Anon369

        But someone bears the cost of these screw-ups, and it’s often the victim. I’ve been personally embezzled from by someone in a position of trust, and the feeling of violation is akin to your examples.

        1. Natalie

          The OP isn’t hiding out in Mexico. All of the advice given has included the OP paying the company back, so they would bear the financial cost of their mistake.

            1. TL -

              He could, I think, if he could get on a different payment plan – he’s putting $2000/month towards it.

              So the OP just needs to change the situation and he would, theoretically, be able to pay it back relatively quickly, even with interest.

        2. Mike C.

          and the feeling of violation is akin to your examples

          Being kidnapped and forced to become a child soldier or dying in the sweltering heat to manufacture a football pitch that will only be used a handful of times is really not akin to having money stolen from you.

          1. Amanda

            Yeah, Anon 369, that was an outlandish, offensive, and way out of line statement.

            Having money stolen from you is undoubtedly terrible. It’s happened to me. But that comes nowhere even close to being one of the projected 4000 people that will die working in slave conditions in the deserts of Qatar building soccer fields, or sex trafficking, or any number of other atrocities. Please dial it back.

            1. Mike C.

              Be careful with the 4000 figure that’s been going around – it for all building in the area from nowish to the 2022 World Cup. There are still hundreds who have and most likely will die from the stadiums alone.

      2. Katie the Fed

        “People screw up. I’m not a religious person, but the idea that “but for the grace of God go I” is something we should all take a moment to remember.”

        WORD.

    5. Agreed

      yeeeah, I agree. I understand why no piling-on, but I’m glad someone said it. This situation is the culmination of a series of bad decisions and at each point there was a person standing there and then moving forward. A person, not an abstraction. Someone who has had at least as many chances as I have to learn the consequences of stuf like this. I wish this person…the best?

    6. Melissa

      Part of that is because Alison explicitly says that this guy is already stressed out enough and doesn’t need to be told again how wrong he is. But even then – what use is telling him how bad he is? It won’t help him repay the debt, and it certainly won’t help any of those hard-working, honest people looking for jobs get jobs. It’ll just stress everyone out.

      Moreover, it’s not so black and white. This guy initially started the fraud because he needed a car to keep his job. I’m sympathetic to that. I know what it’s like to be limited in what kinds of jobs you can take because you don’t have reliable transportation. Sounds like a lot of people here at least understand that. Sure, he did something wrong, but he’s trying to fix it. People are offering him advice to try to help him fix it. What else should they be doing?

    7. Oldblue

      The fact is, the letter stated that this person knows what they did wrong and is trying to correct it. We don’t know if they are sorry or just sorry about the possibility of getting caught. We don’t know a lot of things about the situation, so all we can do is offer to help. In my profession, we work with a lot of people we might not personally care for, but we should help if they ask for it. Also, as someone pointed out, Allison asked us not to turn this into a hate thread. Therefore, the only thing we can do is try to help.

      It’s kind of like scolding a child. Abusive tactics do not work when disciplining a child. Positive intervention techniques do (as in giving them information on how to correct the behavior).

    8. Juli G.

      A lot of people (myself included) think the best he can hope for is losing his job.

      That really sucks and yes, he’s absolutely responsible but I certainly feel for him.

    9. Laurel Gray

      I understand your shock KT. I think there is a place that exists where a poster may not be sympathetic or in agreement with what an OP does and is also not piling on. If 100 posters want the OP to come clean and wishes them the best it isn’t piling on. But if 50 people tell the OP what they did was bad bad bad it is piling on. For what it’s worth, I haven’t seen any piling on in the comments, some just less sympathetic than others.

    10. EmilyG

      Okay, maybe I’m not understanding the cascade of transactions right but I don’t think he’s stolen yet. He’s used the company’s credit, instead of his own, to rack up some debt. That’s bad, but if he pays it off himself, I’m not seeing how the company is out any money. That’s why owning up to it is important, to show that he is trying to fix it rather than planning to steal it.

      Good luck, OP.

      1. NoPantsFridays

        You’re right, he hasn’t stolen a dime, and is in fact attempting NOT to steal by paying it off (to the tune of $2000/mo)… People on this blog just have an odd definition of “theft” apparently. Someone upthread framed all credit card use as “theft” — wow, better let AmEx know because apparently in the last 13 years they haven’t figured out that I’m “stealing” from them by using my card…

    11. Not So NewReader

      He asked for advice on how to handle the situation. Let’s think about that for a second….

      If we “shoot” people who ask how to fix a wrong, everyone will stop asking for help. I believe we see countries like this in the news on a regular basis- only they are extreme because they use actual bullets.

      Words can be like bullets. We have a choice. We can use our words like bullets or we can use our words like helping hands. We have a choice in how we pick our words.

      We can lift others up or we can put them down. There is no such thing as lifting people up BY pulling them down. Think about abusers and this becomes very clear.

      In this particular example, OP has his work cut out for him regardless of how nice we are or how short we are with him. Most of the comments here have indicated this, “Hey, this is a lot of work, you need to do A, B, C and D. But it IS doable, you will get it and you WILL come out the other side of it.” And silently we all know that any big event in life changes us. Likewise, this big event in OP’s life will change him. Most of the changes will be for the better. But first he must crunch through the steps of what it takes to fix this.

      Finally, anyone of us could step in a large pile of crap tomorrow. Any one of us could find ourselves in a pair of shoes very much like OP’s shoes. We have to ask ourselves, “If that were me, how would I want people to talk with me?”

      It’s darkest before the dawn, OP. Promise yourself a better quality of life, OP. And decide to do whatever it takes to get there.

  52. Jessie

    It’s really interesting to see the thought process of someone who was stealing from their company. I don’t have a lot of sympathy for you OP, but I really appreciate you posting this!

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      To be fair, the OP hasn’t stolen. He’s violated the rules of a corporate credit card and used credit that he’s not entitled to use. But as of right now, no money has been removed from his employer. (Of course, the employer is legally responsible for that debt, and if the OP stopped paying it off, you could call that a theft. But so far it hasn’t occurred.)

      1. KT

        This is a textbook case of embezzlement. He’s misusing funds his company entrusted to him, using a line of credit he could never get approved for on his own.

        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          I didn’t mean to imply there’s no crime here, and it’s obviously not okay. But I do think it’s worth noting that he hasn’t actually caused them any losses — yet. He very well may. If he was hit by a bus tomorrow, they’d be on the hook for that money.

          1. KT

            But it doesn’t matter if it resulted in losses or not–it’s still embezzlement. Misappropriating funds from an employer–even if it doesn’t result in a loss for them–is a crime.

            1. Katie the Fed

              I don’t think that’s true though – these aren’t the employer’s funds – they’re the bank’s.

          2. Meg

            They are almost certainly the guarantor on the card. They are almost certainly liable for the debt. I think you are being too nice here. This is not a victimless crime.

            1. Ask a Manager Post author

              I’m not sure from the threading, but I think that’s directed at me. In case so: I totally agree it’s not a victimless crime. It’s in no way okay.

      2. Jessie

        I’m not a lawyer, but I can see where it may or not be theft yet. My background is military, and in that environment it could definitely be considered a crime. But that’s a different standard.

        1. sunny-dee

          Nah, it comes down to theft for the credit card, and I think using Paypal for it adds wire fraud. It’s pretty much a crime for anyone, so it’s only whether the employer feels like prosecuting.

      3. Amy

        Alison, it is grossly irresponsible for you to be giving criminal legal advice, such as “OP hasn’t stolen.” You have no way of knowing whether OP has violated a criminal law in the jurisdiction. And it’s deeply, deeply irresponsible for you to say otherwise.

        This person needs a criminal defense attorney immediately, and he needs to ask you to remove this question (which is basically a confession) from the website immediately.

        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          Where do you see me giving the OP legal advice? I’m saying that no money has been removed from the employer yet; that is true.

          As I said above, I am not saying a crime hasn’t been committed. (In fact, I think it has been.)

          I see no reason that the question needs to be removed from the website, although feel free to make a case for that if you think I’m missing something.

          1. sunny-dee

            I think she’s saying that this guy has straight up confessed to a crime. If his employer decided to prosecute, this post would be used as evidence.

            1. Oldblue

              I kind of have to agree with that…. The person should have gone to a lawyer instead of writing a career advice blog… No offense to Allison, but this is not favoring him if his boss reads this blog and figures out who it is. Things can be deleted, but the internet is forever.

              1. Katie the Fed

                FWIW, I’ll bet this kind of thing happens way more than anyone realizes. A lot of people are living very close to the edge financially and make bad choices.

            2. BethRA

              If the employer decides to prosecute, they’ll have more than enough easily-obtained evidence in the banking records. This post would be the least of LW’s worries.

              1. Ask a Manager Post author

                Agreed. And really, I’m not the OP’s defense counsel and making decisions about what he should and shouldn’t do. He decided to write to an advice blog and that’s how this works.

                1. Amy

                  Yes, and his decision to write to an advice blog was a very bad decision that could well add to the evidence against him in an eventual criminal case. He needs to talk to a lawyer and to no one else about this incident ever again, unless and until his lawyer tells him to.

                2. Observer

                  @Amy, I would say that this decision is a wash. Assuming that the employer could prove that the poster is their employee, the post itself says very little that they can’t find out on their own. The credit card records are all any decent lawyer needs to nail this one. There is simply not way to argue the basic facts.

                  So, all the employer could possibly hope to get is proof of his attitude. The post has a lot of excuse making, which is not good for the poster. On the other hand, the post also shows that he’s sorry, stressed and desperate to make it good. That looks good for the poster.

              2. BethRA

                Again, what “evidence”? If the company finds out about the inappropriate use of their credit card, all they will need is access to the account’s records (and that’s assuming the OP doesn’t confess, himself). Is the idea that a company that’s too big (and/or paying so little attention to their finances) to discover this on their own, will somehow be eagle-eyed enough to connect a vague, generic entry in an advice blog to a specific person?

                Reaching out for advice before making any rash decisions is one of the smarter things the OP has done.

                1. Green

                  Lots of people go with the “you can’t prove it beyond a reasonable doubt” defense (which is really not a defense so much as an emphasis on the burden of proof), so he could lose leverage for his attorney to speculate that someone else stole his card or misused it if he’s written a confession. But it’s already in his e-mail, so it doesn’t really matter if it’s up on the blog or not. But, yes, Allison should have told him to seek a lawyer’s advice before she rolled up with the “Confess and cleanse your soul!” advice.

                2. Observer

                  @Green, based on what the OP described, it would not be a viable argument. We are talking three car purchases, years worth of personal expenses and the whole revolving credit bit. Such speculation wouldn’t pass the “giggle test”.

                  But, yes, he needs to talk to a lawyer before he says anything else to anyone.

          2. Alchemy

            “Where do you see me giving the OP legal advice? I’m saying that no money has been removed from the employer yet; that is true.”

            But you say this like it’s meaningful when it isn’t. Tons and tons of fraud and embezzlement cases have been successfully prosecuted by people with access to business credit lines using them for personal expenses. Purchase card misuse by employees is not uncommon in small businesses. It’s not necessary for OP to physically move paper currency from the petty cash box to his pocket for criminal fraud/embezzlement/whatever to occur. At this level of fraud the OP would have to be very very liked by the employer to meet with his boss on this issue and not spend the rest of the day in jail.

            I think this kind of comes across as legal advice and is extremely reckless:

            “The right thing to do: Tell your manager what happened. Come clean and accept the consequences. There is a good chance that you will lose your job over it, but if you’re an otherwise good employee and you’re genuinely contrite, they may be willing to work out a payment plan with you and not take legal action.”

            Where I live, the things he did constitute a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison. Your advice does not at all prepare him for the strong possibility that, after this meeting with his boss and explaining everything, law enforcement will arrive and arrest him. Your advice does not prepare him for the extreme likelihood that he will be placed in an interview room and given the same advice as you have – that if he just tells them everything, he’ll be free to go.

            OP needs legal representation to advise him on a strategy that will minimize the jail time he’s going to face, which may include: (1) how to set up restitution with his (soon-to-be) ex-employer which gets them to agree not to press charges while (2) giving the employer incentive to follow through with this agreement and (3) limiting the potential harm to the OP’s case if the employer decides to press charges anyway and the OP needs to develop a criminal defense.

            Every action the OP does needs to be done only after thinking, very thoroughly, “Is what I am doing going to make me spend more time in prison, or less?” Going to the boss without legal support, as you advise, will more than likely make him spend more time in prison than he would otherwise.

            I know this is a career blog and your advice is based on that, but advising him to do things that may get him a felony conviction when one might be avoidable is not going to help his career at all.

            1. Nan

              If he wanted legal advice, he could have contacted a lawyer. He wrote to AAM because he wanted her advice. I think this is alarmist and rather rude.

              1. Amy

                Based on what authority are you concluding that this is alarmist? We don’t even know what state OP lives in. There is simply no way to know how this will be treated either by the employer or by the law. Telling the OP to speak to someone who is competent to tell him how to avoid the worst adverse consequences is not “alarmist.” And I don’t think anything Alchemy said was rude.

              2. Amy

                There are lots of lawyers on this blog, and lots of lawyers, including criminal lawyers, in this thread. Almost all of the lawyers are advising talking to a lawyer. We’re not saying that because we’re shilling for business. We’re saying that because we’ve seen the truly terrible outcomes that can result when people don’t seek legal advice before acting in ways that make their cases much, much worse.

                The worst case scenario if the OP consults a lawyer is that he wastes a small amount of money and a small amount of time. And he can gain peace of mind. The worst case scenario if the OP doesn’t consult a lawyer is that he spends time in prison when he could have avoided it. This is a very high stakes situation, and OP should not navigate it alone. There are very good possible outcomes here and very bad possible outcomes.

                Alison is very good at what she does, but she simply doesn’t have the training and experience to tell you what to do to avoid the very bad outcomes in this situation, and the advice that she has given you in the original answer makes the very bad outcomes more likely.

                1. Nan

                  You and other lawyers *should* chime in. That’s great. There’s a comment section so others can share their expertise. But acting outraged that Alison didn’t give him legal advice and insisting she remove the letter is over the line, to me.

                2. Marmoset

                  I think the “outrage” (though I wouldn’t call it that) is that she DID give him legal advice despite not being qualified to do so. I don’t know whether taking the thread down at this point will do anything, and hopefully the OP consults a lawyer before confessing to what may be a crime that could, from what I understand, potentially send him to jail for felony embezzlement.

                3. Marmoset

                  BTW, a state-by-state breakdown of the definition of practicing law can be found by googling “state definitions of the practice of law – american bar”, for anyone who was as curious as I about what constitutes legal advice.

                4. Meg

                  I 100% agree with Amy. I read this column daily and usually agree with Allison. Her original answer stated that the OP should confess to the OP’s employer and never mentioned talking to a lawyer. Allison also seems convinced that this isn’t “theft” because there is no actual loss yet. As an attorney whose previous work involved federal criminal law, Allison missed the boat on this one big time. The OP needs a lawyer first and foremost before addressing anything further or talking to anyone else. Anything the OP says to a credit counselor is not going to be protected the way that a communication with an attorney would be.

                5. Ask a Manager Post author

                  I agree the OP should talk to a lawyer. I added in an update to the post after people pointed it out.

                  I did not intend to opine on what the law would and wouldn’t consider theft. I was attempting to respond to one commenter’s outrage about the OP stealing money from his employer and point out that he hasn’t actually removed money from his employer’s coffers yet (although that certainly may be the result). My point was very badly made.

                6. Buffay the Vampire Layer

                  Yes. I’m another lawyer who agrees that this advice, while excellent if this poor guy had not committed a crime, is not well-suited for this situation, in which he did commit a crime.

              3. Observer

                The fact hat he didn’t ask for legal advice doesn’t make this a non-legal matter. It just means that he didn’t realize that he needs legal advice.

                I’m not surprised that that was not part of original advice, and I do think that some of the lawyers were a bit unduly harsh about it. On the other hand, it’s clear that they are right about the need for advice before moving in any direction.

                And, to her credit, Allison updated her response to reflect that.

            2. LD

              I see Alison’s point, the OP is paying off the debt each month with a loan from PayPal, so not necessarily illegal, unless OP gets terminated and then cannot pay the debt, but definitely violating the agreement between OP and the company. I also see the points that others are making that the debt is based on the employer’s credit and not based on the OP’s personal credit. May not be a crime, not yet anyway, but still an ethical breach. Either way it’s a mess. If the OP approaches the employer with a contrite attitude and with an offer to turn over the card and have money garnished from his paycheck to pay off the amount over a 12-24 month period (maybe not 2K per month, but enough to be serious and still be able to live), that may be the best outcome. I know of a couple of instances where this was done for people (one was a situation in which someone received an overpayment of their salary and, instead of letting the company know, used it to buy a car. It was quite an overpayment! When it was discovered the employee had already spent it and so the company worked out a repayment plan.) I also agree with the recommendations to seek legal advice, just in case the company does decide to pursue legal action. Better to be prepared. Many people with good intentions are not smart about debt and make decisions based on hope and desperation. Please seek help with your debt and with this situation. Find a lawyer who deals with these kinds of matters ASAP. I wish the OP well.

  53. Brett

    Some bright sides…

    This company is big enough to not notice thousands of dollars cycling through this card like this. That also means they are big enough where $20k is not really going to hurt, and would probably hurt less than losing an employee they want to otherwise keep.
    The company has not lost money from you, yet. You have made really poor decisions with money, but not actually directly cost them money.

    This gives several advantages to coming clean. First off, they can transfer your debt directly to them. No more messing with the credit card and no more paypal fees. You can just owe them at interest rates that would be considerably better than paypal.
    You might keep your job. You have a good chance of avoiding criminal charges. Both of these things could easily happen if everything falls apart without you coming clean.
    Less stress. No more hiding what you are doing and a clear and easier path forward to getting out of this debt should reduce your stress. Obviously you might lose your job though, which could add to stress.

    Something big to realize though…. $20k sounds like a HUGE amount of money right now.
    It’s not.
    It might be enough to make people mad, but it is almost certainly not enough to hurt your company significantly. There is probably even a small possibility that they eat most of that debt for you. They would eat it with consequences to you (e.g. no promotions and no raises for a while, a wage garnishment agreement etc), but the amount is probably not too big for your company to eat if they think that is in their best interest.

    1. sunny-dee

      Whoa, that is a really sanguine approach to this. Most companies don’t track the credit card statements closely. They only get notifications if payments are missed. There is no reason to believe that the company would be “oh, only twenty grand? pffft — pocket change!” I honestly don’t see a scenario where this doesn’t get him fired, and legitimately — it is an insane misuse of company trust and funds and shows a true lack of integrity and judgment.

      They may or may not eat the amount, but depending on the size of the company, that may not be feasible. Probably not. That would cover a part-time position for an entire year or an entry-level, full-time hourly position. That’s a new car. That really is a huge amount of money.

      I’ve done freelance work for companies that had 50-60 employees, but there’s no way they could have or would have eaten $20,000 as an expense — it would have been disastrous financially. If it’s a big business, they have no incentive to keep a liability like this around.

      And I’m baffled why you would think keeping this employee was in the company’s best interest.

      1. Brett

        Oh, when I say “eat it”, I don’t mean eat it and keep the employee. I only mean “eat it”, as in not bring felony charges and lawsuits.
        $20k is enough to put someone in prison for a long time. It is enough to sue over. But it is also “small” enough to decide that it is not worth the publicity, trouble, etc and just quietly have the problem go away.

    2. MsM

      While I’m all for not piling on the OP, “the company will never miss $20k” (and as somebody who’s never worked for that kind of company, I’m still boggled by that) is the kind of thinking that causes this kind of problem. Just because they haven’t noticed – yet – doesn’t mean there aren’t more productive things they could be spending it on. And I hate to say it, but I doubt they’re going to think keeping an employee who would treat company funds so casually is worth the risk or the hit to their reputation if anyone outside the organization finds out.

      1. Green

        I’ve worked for some high rolling companies, and they may not give a crap about a legit $2,000 dinner business expense or a $12,000 first class plane ticket, but you better believe they would not be in the mood to play banker for an employee misusing funds to the tune of $20,000.

    3. Amber Rose

      Doesn’t sound like OP is terribly valued if the situation was “get a car or you’re out of a job” though.

  54. Nicole

    It really bothers me that some people are suggesting cashing in retirement funds to pay off this debt. I could not disagree more. If OP is in that much of a financial hole they are better off declaring bankruptcy, which cannot touch your retirement funds. That way they aren’t just moving this problem forward into the future.

    1. Kara

      He’s already declared bankruptcy once. You have to wait 10 years before you can do it a second time.
      Also if the choice is lose your job and possibly go to jail vs. cashing in a retirement fund? I think cashing in is a better option.

      1. Natalie

        And if the debt is in the company’s name, rather than the OP’s, or is somehow guaranteed by the company, bankruptcy wouldn’t do anything about it anyway.

    2. JB (not in Houston)

      Well, cashing out your retirement is better than going to jail, so that’s probably why people are suggesting it. Also, the OP already went through bankruptcy once, and depending on the circumstances, he may not be able to do that again right now.

    3. Observer

      In addition to the issue of jail – even if the company would not prosecute – the chances are sky high that he will lose his job. Also, very high that he’ll have a hard time getting another job any time soon. Talk about messing up his future and retirement.

    4. Green

      If this OP has any retirement funds at all:
      (1) It’s probably not enough that it’s worth $600 a month in PayPal fees versus the tax penalty.
      (2) You can’t successfully build up new retirement funds if you get a felony on your record and have trouble getting subsequently employed.

      The hands-down best financial decision in this case is to pay. it. off. The best way to build up retirement is to have a job. If OP wanted to use retirement funds to live off of because girlfriend had no job, we’d be like “Noooooooooooope.” But he already took that from his company. We’re trying to preserve his liberty and his earning capacity at this point.

  55. Kara

    I’m still really confused about how the balance is staying so high. I just checked my PayPal account to see what the fee would be for something like this. To pull $20,000 from a credit card, the PayPal fee would be $568, so I get that. Each month his balance goes up by $568.

    But he says he’s paying $2000 additional out of his own pocket each month. So even with deducting the $568 fee, there should be $1400 going toward the payoff each month. And if that $1400 is going to the balance, then it means the next month he should be able to withdraw less, and therefore lessen the fees. Conceivably, this could all be paid off in less than a year if OP can keep putting $2000 a month towards the balance.

    So the only thing I can figure is that he’s continuing to use the card for personal expenses and that’s why the balance never goes down. If that’s so, the very first thing that needs to happen is that he needs to STOP using the card. If it means eating ramen for 3 meals a day and cutting any extraneous bills and expenses, stop, immediately.

    Also this is where I’d strongly consider a 2nd and even a 3rd job. And selling as much of my stuff as I could to get any cash I can to continue to chip away at the balance. And really … the girlfriend needs to be contributing as well, since she used the money for her benefit.

    1. fposte

      I was wondering about the fees too–thanks for checking. If you’re right about the continued personal use, that’s a huge problem.

    2. Melissa

      My initial thought was the interest, but I suppose if he is technically paying off the balance in full every month then he wouldn’t be accruing interest on the card. I wonder if the card is also charging him a cash advance fee on top of what PayPal is charging? On a $20,000 cash advance each month, that could be a hefty fee. (I’m also really surprised that PayPal allows you to pull out $20,000 in cash advances every month.)

      But you’re right, even with cash advance fees and PayPal fees, the balance should be going down steadily every month, particularly if OP is throwing an additional $2,000 on it.

      1. HOW PAYPAL WORKS...

        Paypal doesn’t do cash advances. What LW is doing is paying himself a 20K invoice from the card, from which paypal takes close to 3% (thus the nearly $600 in fees) which is deducted immediately from the balance, so LW is receiving $19,400 in funds, that he transfers to his bank account. He then pays the CC balance with the funds, and adds his own cash.

        But he isn’t paying it down, because he must either still be using it, or something else is going on. It’s a pretty elaborate scheme he has concocted tbh. I’d be way too scared to ever do any of this.

        The fact that he was paying medical bills and personal expenses on his company credit card, but then trying to say he didn’t understand what the company card is for really baffles me. I understand not wanting to say outright that “I f*cked up and got in over my head” and trying to lessen it by saying I didn’t know any better, but he definitely knows better to be handling it this way.

        He has to STOP using the card for ANYTHING, even if it means been wildly uncomfortable and “broke as hell” for a while. He can pay it down in a year or so if he is adding cash to the balances and not using it for anything else.

    3. Something Professional

      Huh. That’s a good point. The overall balance should be going down at least a bit each month as long as the balance isn’t accruing interest and the amount the OP is paying from his/her personal funds exceeds the PayPal charges.

    4. Treena Kravm

      Yea, this is what I came to say. If he stops using the card, even without the fees lowering each time he pays off, it should take 14 months to pay off. Considering this has gone unnoticed for 4 years, one more surely won’t be as risky as coming clean right now. The issue I think is whether or not he can really stop using the card. This is where the credit counseling comes in big time.

    5. Pretend Scientist

      Yeah, I’m thinking along the same lines. How can this not be going down by $1200 every month? Is OP repeatedly making the same mistake? Because that calls all of the purported misunderstanding, etc., into question.

      1. Kara

        Yes. The continued use of the card for personal reasons really makes all the other excuses irrelevant.

        The PayPal fee is 2.9%. So if he pulls $20k the first time and incurs a $568 fee, but pays in an extra $2k, then the next draw should only be for $18,568, which is $538. Then the next payment reduces the balance to $17,106 which reduces the fee to $496. And so forth. Every time you have to draw less, which makes the fee less, which means more of the $2000 goes to the balance.

        Unless you’re continuing to rack it up to $20k by spending on it. In which case, you’re screwed.

        1. HOW PAYPAL WORKS...

          yeah this, which is why i’m assuming that he is still using it to cover that missing $2k a month from his take home income. He’s in a bad hole.

  56. Stephanie

    I’m going to disagree with most about the second or third jobs. Realistically, you’re not going to make enough at McDonalds or wherever to seriously service the debt and you’re going to have hours that will conflict with your day job (assuming you are able to keep your job). There some jobs (I’m thinking warehouse work or retail work at a 24-hour store), where you could work swing or overnight shift, but again that $10/hr super part-time is going to be a drop in the bucket.

    Now if you have some really specialized skill where you could consult, I’d look into that. I’d also check out tutoring or maybe test prep of you have high, semi-recent standardized test scores.

    I’d look into cashing out a 401k (tons of penalities and fees, yes) as a last resort. Maybe if you own up (and make no mention of ADD or anything) and have a down payment at the ready, that will mitigate things.

    Where I work, this would be a felony prosecution, but they’re serious about theft. Good luck getting out of this.

    1. Colette

      $10/hour isn’t tons of money, but it has two benefits – the OP is not spending money while working a second job, and it’s $10/hour more than sitting on the couch. Assuming she clears $7/hour and works 10 hours/week, that’s $280/month to put towards the debt.

      I don’t know if that’s the best option in this circumstance, but there are reasons to do it.

      1. AnotherAlison

        And if the girlfriend did it, too, it would be double that. Assuming they could get shifts, 20 hours/week is not that big of a lifestyle hit (4 hr shift/3 nights, Sat, Sun). I know high schoolers doing it.

        $280*2*2=$1,120 per month. . .that would at least stop the bleeding.

        I definitely get what Stephanie’s saying, though. I’d have a hard time working all weekend to make what I make in a few hours at my real job, but it would depend on what you earn normally.

    2. Kara

      15-20 hours a week could be done on the weekends or evenings and at $10/hr that would be around $500 a month after taxes. That’s a chunk when you’re talking about paying off a debt like this.
      Will it suck having to go from one job to another? Working until 10 p.m. or midnight at a grocery store or retailer? Working 8-10 hour shifts every weekend? Sure. But you know what, thousands of people work multiple jobs because they have no choice. They manage to not have hours that conflict from job to job.

      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        There’s also psychic benefit to yourself and others to be able to say that you’re doing everything possible, including taking on hardship, to pay it off as soon as possible.

      2. Melissa

        Actually, they don’t. There have been a lot of articles on this recently – about how difficult it is for minimum wage workers to work multiple jobs because retail and food service jobs so often expect people to be available 24/7. And if OP is already dealing with mental health issues, this is only going to make it worse.

        1. Kara

          With respect, Melissa, I work a 40 hour a week job and worked retail for 2 years to pay off an IRS lien for back taxes. We’re not talking about someone who is working 3 minimum wage jobs. The OP is obviously working a professional type of job and one would assume fixed hours and no need for 24/7 access. I could be wrong there, but generally people working minimum wage, shift jobs aren’t given corporate credit cards. Yes, it will be hard, but it’s doable.

          1. blackcat

            I think the point is that the OP might not be able to get a retail job because they have another job with regular hours. In some areas, retailers will only accept employees who work no other jobs so that they can be scheduled whenever or called in on short/no notice.

            Having a set commitment (school, another job, etc) can make it impossible to get/hold on to a low wage job.

            1. Pennalynn Lott

              Yep. Back when the economy crashed [the most recent time], I tried very, very had to get a part-time retail job in addition to my full-time, professional, white-collar job. There were none available because thousands of other full-time professionals were trying to do the same thing. The stores didn’t need help in the evenings and on weekends; those shifts were full-up.

        2. Green

          And OP’s mental health issues are going to be a heck of a lot worse in the pokey (or trying to get a subsequent job with a felony) than in a second job paying their bills. There are no “good” options here. There are just bad options and worse options.

    3. LBK

      That’s not really true. I worked weekends and a few weekday closing shifts at Starbucks while I was working my regular 9-5 for some extra spending money and it certainly made a difference – as Colette mentions, in addition to the extra money you’ll make, it can help prevent you from spending (because if you have to be up for work at 4AM, you’re probably not going to be out at a bar until 2AM the night before).

      It’s not nothing, but some money is better than no money, which is what you’ll make not spending those hours working. If people are advocating for cutting frivolous expenses like eating out that realistically only save $20-40 here and there, I don’t see why that’s not as effective as taking home an extra hundred dollars a week.

    4. Beebs

      I make anywhere from $500-$1200 a month at my second job, and I could be working more hours but I don’t need to. If I were desperate though, I would happily take as many extra hours as possible. Additionally, service jobs with tips can be very lucrative (fine dining, busy bars).

    5. Stephanie

      I was too absolutist in my statement. I do agree the extra cash can be helpful. I’ll amend it to say OP should do a cost-benefit analysis and this assumes OP will get to keep his job.*

      What gave me pause was just my own experience with service sector jobs with variable scheduling, no guaranteed minimum hours, and added costs like uniforms or work shoes in addition to commuting.

      Also, make sure you adjust your withholding (bump down to 0 for everything, even). My friend got a nasty surprise at tax time when he worked two jobs.

      *Not to freak you out too much, but my current job would fire you, charge you, and make sure to have you walked out in handcuffs in front of everyone as a cautionary tale (one of my trainers bragged about this happening before).

    6. Ad Astra

      I don’t want to say the OP *shouldn’t* get a second job, but I’m not totally convinced a second job would be feasible. I know I’ve been in a situation where I needed more money to make ends meet, but the irregular hours and increased work load at my main job made it impossible to get a gig waiting tables or flipping burgers. It’s still worth looking into for all the reasons people are saying, but I think some posters are underestimating the logistics of working two jobs.

  57. brighidg

    I think before coming clean, the OP should talk to a lawyer. As mentioned, what they’ve done could be considered criminal and he’s looking at worse than losing his job.

    A lawyer could also probably help set him up with a reputable financial counselling group.

    1. Jessie

      I thought of that, but in his situation, is he going to be able to afford a lawyer? He hasn’t been charged with a crime so it’s not like he’s entitled to one yet.

      1. brighidg

        If he’s gone through bankruptcy before, he’s probably already worked with a lawyer once. He should be able to afford a visit/consultation.

      2. Stephanie

        He could probably do a free or cheap consult, before the serious legal fees kick in.

      3. Observer

        There are free legal services for people like him in most cities in the US. There can be seriously long wait times, so this needs to be set in motion immediately.

      4. Green

        A lawyer in a criminal case is something that you make the money available for. And you don’t use a public defender if you can at all avoid it (God bless them, but they get like 20 minutes to look at a case like this, if that).

        1. Another Attorney

          Also in many (all?) jurisdictions, you don’t get a public defender until you’ve been charged with a crime.

          1. fposte

            Right, it’s not the free lawyer option you can take if you want–it’s how you get constitutionally mandated trial defense if your income is below the threshold.

        2. Zillah

          But what if the OP literally doesn’t have the ability to “make the money available for”? It’s not always that simple. I agree that they should if they can, but I also think it’s worth acknowledging a scenario in which the money just isn’t there – because it may not be.

          1. Green

            OP has $2k a month in disposable income to pay to the credit card debt. Just about the only thing I’d prioritize over paying that off would be $500 for a retainer for a lawyer.

  58. Episkey

    I volunteer for a nonprofit where our previous Treasurer started “borrowing” money from the org. This went on for several years as she was trusted, the nonprofit is all-volunteer, and no one was really double-checking anything. It was finally caught and all-in-all she had stolen about $10,000. I know it’s a little different because it was not a paying job, but she wasn’t prosecuted. I think she was even adversarial about the whole thing, instead of being contrite (and we are a specific dog breed rescue, about the most non-controversial kind of nonprofit — she was essentially stealing money that would have gone to pay vet fees/rescue more dogs). She did not volunteer the info, she was found out when the org President finally had a CPA begin reviewing the books. I think this amount of money is just almost not worth prosecuting. I hope everything works out.

    1. sunny-dee

      Actually, nonprofits (like yours and the church up-thread) have a very strong incentive not to prosecute embezzlement. There’s some IRS regulation that if a non-profit has embezzlement, it’s essentially not performed its fiduciary responsibilities, and they can be forced to go under the stewardship of the IRS or the court for some godawful long period of time. It’s way better to eat the embezzlement and let the person go than to formally prosecute and be essentially run out of business.

      1. Grand Bargain

        I didn’t know that and would like to dig into this a little more. Do you have a reference or a place to get started maybe? Thanks…

        1. sunny-dee

          I actually heard it in a sermon when I was in college. The pastor mentioned that at a previous church, his church secretary had embezzled something like $100,000 over the course of a few years. His first instinct was to prosecute, but instead he worked out a deal to have her repay what she could (and, you know, to be fired). I think she may have been on the board, come to think of it, so maybe that’s why there was a bigger legal risk. (The sermon was about not necessarily acting on your instincts but taking the time to pray and cool down. In his case, the church would have effectively been shut down had he prosecuted her.)

      2. Green

        Also, board members can be personally liable for misspent funds if they violated fiduciary duties. And having a prosecution (and corresponding article in the paper, and corresponding scandal), negatively impact fundraising. Non-profits very rarely prosecute.

      3. Episkey

        Well, it was my understanding from the President that she turned over all the evidence to our county’s Sheriff’s department and they declined to prosecute, but perhaps I misunderstood.

        1. LD

          Yes, sometimes it’s taken out of the hands of the organization in criminal cases whether to prosecute or not. The system takes over.

          1. LD

            And the court makes the decision as to punishment (jail/prison) and/or repayment, too. I am aware of a situation where the company wanted the embezzler to get prison time, but the judge ordered a repayment plan and court costs but not a fine. The embezzler had approached the company with a request to repay the debt and the company chose to sue. The judge chose leniency because the embezzler was contrite and had already tried to work out a repayment plan but the company refused. Still a tough situation and a crime, but sometimes justice is tempered with mercy.

  59. The Other Dawn

    Have a plan for repayment in place before confessing to your employer. If you go to you go to your boss with a plan for handling this and are very, VERY contrite, you might be able to save your job. But I think that might be a stretch.

    It sounds like OP initially had good intentions, for lack of a better phrase, but the situation quickly spiraled out of control and just kept snowballing. But I don’t quite buy that he misunderstood how the card was to be used. He was told, regardless of a wink or not, that the card was not for personal use and figured he could sneak a few charges in and pay them off without anyone noticing.

    Even though OP has a bankruptcy on record, if it’s been two years or more he may be able to get a credit card or an installment loan. Sure the rate with be high, but it might be worth it if he can pay down a large chunk of the balance before confessing. I had to file for bankruptcy many years ago, but within two years I had a credit card and a car loan, although with higher rates.

  60. Slippy

    Ok, under instructions to be gentle, here are some suggestions…
    1. You need to come clean about it; while you may lose your job the negative repercussions are likely to be lessened by being honest.
    2. Pick up a second job and have your girlfriend (if she is still with you) get one as well, you helped her out for 2 years now time to return the favor.
    3. Downsize as much as possible to free up more money to pay off the debt since you may or may not have a job after talking to your employer.
    4. Seek professional financial help.
    5. This is the most important (and also the harshest, full disclosure), identify the root cause behind poor decision making and work to address it. You have mentioned ADD but the more likely culprit is poor impulse control. You need to fix this and fix this fast or else you are going to keep moving from crisis to crisis.

    1. The Strand

      Poor impulse control/hyperactive is one of the hallmarks of attention deficit hyperactive disorder. (As opposed to the “inattentive predominant” type.) Impulsivity is listed in the DSM-IV. This is a good reference for laymen, at the Centers for Disease Control: http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/adhd/diagnosis.html

    2. MegEB

      Just to point out in regards to #5, poor impulse control is often a symptom of ADHD – they’re not mutually exclusive. I do, however, think that seeking professional financial help is a great first step. They’ll know little tricks that the average layperson doesn’t, and might be able to hook him up with a nonprofit (several posters above mentioned their experience working with nonprofits to pay off debt).

  61. Nancy Drew

    I am confused about this company credit card. Is it possible that the company is just a co-signer on the card and the OP is the actual owner of it? I can’t imagine that the accounting department wouldn’t notice all these PayPal transactions and not wonder if the card hadn’t been stolen.

    My husband had one that sounds similar to it–an American Express that he didn’t have to apply for, but he was responsible for it and received bills for it each month. So if he had to travel for work, he could put it on the card and then the company would reimburse him a month later and he would pay off the card. I have no idea if his company shared responsibility in the credit card bill or if they just verified to Amex that my husband was employed, but after his contract with the company ended, the card (and responsibility) was still his to use.

    So what I’m saying is, it may be worth discreetly looking into how much your employer will be on the hook for your credit bill. There are so many credit arrangements out there, I don’t think it’s safe to assume anything. (I mean really–if cc companies will offer credit to people with terrible credit, then why wouldn’t they offer credit to people with unknown credit histories who have verified jobs?)

    I agree with confessing, but before doing so, I would make sure that the company is indeed liable for your bill. If it’s technically a personal credit card that was just represented as a company card, then…well, that would be a completely different situation.

    Also, if you’ve been making payments consistently and on time for two years to this company, it may be possible for a credit counselor to negotiate a better payment plan at a lower interest rate for you. Good luck!

    1. Jessie

      If I understand the OP correctly, what he’s essentially doing is paying off his credit card every month and then paying back PayPal with his credit card: essentially he’s doing an endless loop of balance transfers (only with paypal instead of a second credit card) to avoid ever being delinquent on either side (and racking up some hefty balance transfer fees to go with it) .

      The company might only pull delinquency reports every month and hasn’t yet learned that they need to pull large-transaction reports as well. That’s how people sneak under the wire with this kind of usage.

  62. Huh?

    I’m not sure I understand how this is in any way LW’s boss’s business a this point. Don’t get me wrong, LW should NEVER have used a company card for this, and needs to stop using it for anything but BUSINESS EXPENSES, period, full stop.

    But if LW is using paypal to pay off personal charges in full each month, and OP stops using the card for personal expenses, then it’s now just a problem between OP and paypal. Am I totally misreading?

    1. Natalie

      The Paypal money is coming from a charge on the same credit card. Nothing’s actually getting paid off, OP is just shuffling the debt between Paypal and the CC.

    2. Amber Rose

      Nothing is actually getting paid. OP is paying the card with the card, using PayPal as a means to do it. PayPal allows OP to withdraw money from the card as cash, which he then uses to pay the previous months balance in full, while incurring a new month’s balance of the withdrawal plus fees. All the balance remains on the credit card.

      1. Anonymous Educator

        This is how I was understanding it too—basically using the current card to pay the previous card’s balance, using PayPal as an intermediary.

        What confuses me about this is that the company just leaves it up to the OP to pay the balance herself/himself.

        When I’ve been issued corporate credit cards, the company or school has always paid the balance every month. I just have to look at my month’s statement and initial and categorize each expense, sometimes including receipts when necessary.

        If it’s up to the employee and not the company to pay the balance each month, how will the company know when something like this OP’s situation happens?

        1. Amber Rose

          The other thing I find weird is that OP can afford 2K a month but couldn’t put down a down payment on any of the cars without the credit card.

          I think we’re missing some of the story.

          1. LBK

            I’m guessing the OP’s expenses have changed so that he can afford $2k a month now but couldn’t at the time – sounds like he had medical bills he had to pay off, which can be enormous.

            1. Katie the Fed

              God, medical bills. I have been recovering from a freak accident and my bills are already at $75k and growing. Thank god I have good insurance and sprung for the high-end plan last year because I was feeling fairly financially comfortable, because I would have just lost all my savings otherwise :(

              1. Green

                Yeah, but you let that go into collections or receivership or whatnot before taking money from your employer…

                1. Katie the Fed

                  Obviously. :)
                  But I’m speaking in generalities – medical bills can seriously wipe someone out. I’m not defending OP at all – he made some seriously boneheaded moves. But debt is really hard to get out of.

          2. Lindsay J

            I have a feeling the OP is putting a lot of his living expenses on the card each month (because, as discussed in other threads, otherwise the balance would continue to go down on the card and it’s not).

            I imagine some/most of these expenses are things like food, gasoline, etc that are not things he would be able to just not buy if he didn’t have to card.

            So I suspect if he stopped using the card all together he would have a lot more monthly expenses and thus not be able to put $2K towards other things.

            And sometimes, if you’re living paycheck-to-paycheck the problem is immediacy – I might have a good amount of money coming in next Friday, but if my bank account is empty/close to it right now and I get into a bad accident that doesn’t help me today and I can’t afford to miss work or even to pay for a taxi/etc until my next paycheck comes in.

  63. puddin

    OP – do you have a 401k and is it possible to borrow from it? It is not a smart idea to do that really. But if you can pay off your CC, handle the monthly paybacks, and not get fired in the process you might be relieved to have this as an option.

    1. Betty (the other Betty)

      The biggest problem with this scenario is that if the OP loses his job, he’ll have to pay the 401k loan off immediately or owe taxes and penalties.

  64. Pill Helmet

    OP, do you by any chance belong to a credit union? I have baaaaaaad credit. Bad. And I was able to get a $19K car loan at a much lower interest rate than a bank through my credit union. They are often a lot more forgiving.

    I really empathize with your situation. The thing about being very short on money and afraid you’re going to lose your job is that it can make you do crazy things. Debt is so stressful and it kind of haunts you. I think you will feel some relief once it’s not a secret anymore. Good luck and I hope you’re able to find a solution.

    1. Pennalynn Lott

      This. I was able to get a $28K car loan from my credit union just two years after backing into a Ch 7 (debt dissolution) bankruptcy [after six years of being on a Ch 13 (debt restructuring) bankruptcy]. My interest rate was only 5.25%.

  65. The Strand

    OP, even before I finished reading through your comment my thought was ADD or ADHD might have a place here. I think there’s been some great comments already said about financial counseling, but please, if you haven’t already, make an appointment with someone who handles psychological counseling for ADD. This person needs to be a psychologist or MSW (masters of social work). You can search Psychology Today’s listings and find someone close to you by zip code and by speciality (ADD). Getting a prescription is not enough. If you see someone who gives you a prescription, a psychiatrist in other words, and they just ask you if you’re feeling better, and write another script, that isn’t helping you with your strategies for resolving problems and challenges. Someone you spend a 45-50 minute talk session with, every week, is the person who can help you with that.

    As for some of the comments about ADD being an excuse, and the need to come clean without referring to it… I also think you should not acknowledge it at this time, but the rest I disagree with.

    What the OP did was not right, even if it appears the manager suggested it under the table. He or she mentioning ADD doesn’t make it an excuse. People with ADD and ADHD are more likely to be hurt in auto accidents and more likely to have bankruptcy and credit problems. Some have distinct issues with perceiving others’ intentions and emotional states correctly. That said, this is not a “pull yourself up by your bootstraps and get tough” disorder. ADD and ADHD are issues that people can request and receive ADA accommodation for on the job and at school. People who are dealing with these issues poorly are not just making excuses. They need help from a ADD coach or support group, and often also require a therapist due to comorbid depression and anxiety. They need family members and friends’ understanding. People with ADD hear all kinds of this talk all the time to just “get it together”, but these people are wired differently, just like people who have bipolar disorder are wired differently.

    I am married to someone with ADD (whose siblings, parent and stepparent all have it – between them two bankruptcies and one check fraud case), and one of my best friends has it also, so over the years I too have been guilty of thinking another lecture about their bad or “lazy” behavior is going to help them see the light. This is not going to help the OP. The OP seems genuinely contrite about how they handled this. Alison requested we treat them respectfully. Bottom line, they asked for help. A criminal out to defraud their company wouldn’t be writing in to ask how they can fix a problem, they’d just leave their employer on the hook.

    I also want to recommend the Credit Boards forums but note that they are not as nice as the people on AAM. I am not at all a fan of Dave Ramsey, which I won’t bother to get into in a lot of detail, but the “cash only, save your money in envelopes for specific expenses/goals” method was made for folks in your kind of trouble.

    1. Jessie

      Dave Ramsey is not a great resource for everyone, but I agree he is good for those who have a serious interest in getting out of debt but struggle to stay on track with it.

      1. The Strand

        Yes, absolutely, for certain people such as the OP, I think that Ramsey’s methods are absolutely on target.
        It helps for people who have little financial literacy, maybe don’t have the time or inclination to delve deeper in that direction, and who have poor impulse control. For others, I think Ramsey is rightly a potential stepping stone to more useful information and methods.

      2. The Strand

        OP, I hope you will update us on your progress. Even as you get out of this mess, don’t forget to be kind to yourself.

    2. Anonymusketeer

      Thanks for this. People with AD(H)D spend their whole lives being told they’re dumb/lazy/bad/not trying, and they internalize it at a very young age. It wreaks a lot of havoc on their self esteem.

      OP still has to deal with the consequences of his actions, but he should be gentle with himself about it. It should be “These are the choices you made and now you have to deal with them,” not “This happened because you’re an idiot and a screw-up who can’t do anything right.” How you talk to yourself is a huge factor for your mental health.

      1. Zillah

        This.

        I also have ADHD, and that’s definitely gotten me into trouble before, particularly before I’d started to develop decent coping mechanisms (though thankfully it’s generally not involved money). It’s not an excuse – you’re still responsible for your actions and it’s still on you to fix your mistakes – but it often contributes to the spiral, and if you don’t take it into account in your approach to the solution, you’re setting yourself up for failure.

        1. Helka

          This. It’s not about “well if you have ADD you’re not responsible for your actions” it’s about recognizing that a plan that helps people get back on track will be much, much harder for someone with ADD to put into practice. What is a difficult-but-doable plan for a NT person may get bumped up into being an impossible plan for someone with ADD, and it’s important for someone with ADD to get help from a specialist who can help them find strategies that will work with the way their brain functions — especially since ADD meds can be pretty difficult/expensive to come by.

          1. Zillah

            Yep, exactly. The way a lot of NT people approach ADHD reminds me of the way some men treat women who complain about catcalls – i.e., “I would be flattered if a woman came up to me like that” or something similar, which completely misses the mark in a lot of ways.

            And ughhh, ADHD meds. They’re such a pain. I ration mine for that reason. (For those who don’t know and are curious – most meds to treat ADHD are schedule II controlled substances, which means that they’re very very tightly regulated. It can’t be called in, and the prescription can’t include refills – you need a hard copy of the script, and you need a new one every month you want to refill the medication. Some psychiatrists will mail you one, but others won’t, and if insurance doesn’t cover your psychiatrist, it can be cost-prohibitive to see them every month.)

            1. Helka

              I’ve actually avoided going on medication for pretty much exactly the reasons you list. Treating comorbid depression and self-medicating the ADD with caffeine and careful strategizing/scheduling is a lot cheaper and less of a headache, but unfortunately it’s also a lot more fallible. Everything is a balance.

              1. The Strand

                The first step, though, is that you realize that the ADD does impact many of the things you do.

                On the bright side, ADD does have some positive attributes in the right situation, where a “hunter”, not a “farmer”, is called for. Speaking as a farmer myself!

  66. NickelandDime

    This is related, but actually isn’t directed at the OP, but just working folks in general, particularly younger people entering the work world that may be reading this. PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE get very clear direction on the use of corporate credit cards, and don’t use it for anything that can’t be expensed through your company. My husband and I make it a point where we don’t even keep our corporate cards in our wallets. We lock them in a safe until we need them for business travel. That way, there can be no “accidentally using the card” at the grocery store, for example. We both know people that have been fired for misuse of company credit cards, and you can google numerous stories of government employees that have been fired and even jailed for misuse of these cards.

    1. Laurel Gray

      This is actually GREAT advice. I know someone that was almost terminated for using her company card for a full day – she has an identical card and it was completely by mistake. Two weeks later, she goes to work and is escorted by her manager, the accounting manager and HR where they have the statement and copies of the receipts – they tracked them down from each store. The receipts easily showed they were related to personal use. She had to explain it was a mistake, opened her handbag which showed that she stacks her cards including driver’s license (and wraps a rubber band around them) in a small inner pocket. She had use the wrong one and kept shoving it at the top of the elastic that entire day as she shopped. HR and the managers believed her story and she wrote a check on the spot for all the charges and the issue was dropped. Could have been a completely different outcome even with the same mistake.

      1. NickelandDime

        People make mistakes. I’m glad they allowed her to explain what happened and pay it off and everyone moved on. In the cases I know of, however, it’s not a one time mistake and it was NUMEROUS charges over a period of time, resulting in large balances. Another issue was a person repeatedly going over their daily per Diem.

      2. Lemon

        It’s interesting how some employers would consider a mistake like this (for which the company could be immediately reimbursed, suffering zero loss) a firing offense, but many employers also expect their employees to float them money (that is, pay expenses for your work trip and they’ll pay you back) for sometimes months at a time, interest-free. Of course, those could be two separate categories of employer, but I bet there’s some overlap. Sigh.

    2. Jennifer

      I have zero personal experience with a company credit card (and I actually kind of feel creeped out at the idea of having access to one all the time), but I’m surprised offices don’t just keep the cards locked up and only allowed out when required, receipts coming back, etc. I used to think this sort of thing was much more regulated.

      1. AvonLady Barksdale

        At our company, that wouldn’t be feasible or even smart. Everyone gets a corporate card, and we use it for everything from office expenses to client gifts to travel. Sometimes we have to travel with a day’s notice. We also buy our own airfare. So having easy, quick access to the card is important.

        We’re a small company, so I imagine that if I ever mistakenly used the company card (which almost happened one day!), I could alert our admin and cut her a check right away. I would hate to think that I would be fired for doing that once or twice, especially if it was for, say, groceries or a coffee and not, like, a car.

    3. Laura Renee

      I’m a Millenial, and I have never at any point thought it would be okay to use a corporate card for the reasons OP listed! Especially as a way to make ends meet with a SO is out of work! I understand that sound financial education is a privilege, not something innate, but some things are widely understood or should at least give you pause to check if it’s okay!

      I’m really sorry that the OP ever felt he had to use a corporate card to keep his job, like with the first car purchase, but man — so many bad decisions mounting on one another.

  67. Laurel Gray

    In a perfect world, the OP would come clean with everything and the company should have to eat the expense for what is some seriously GROSS NEGLIGENCE on the act of his employer. The OP said it is a “company card” which means company’s credit history and liability but OP’s name on the card as an authorized user, right? So why is OP swiping this card left and right and NO ONE at his company reconciles these expenses? How can a company issue its employees company cards and NOT receive and check the statements AT LEAST once a month? How large is this company? Is there an accounting department? Who does the bank/credit reconciliations? What about the taxes? Is there no accountant tied to this business internally or externally? I offer no advice but boy oh boy do I find this all very, very intriguing. I would bet my gel insoles that if the OP has done this for this long with $20k, there is at least one other employee who has used the card for personal expenses too.

    1. NickelandDime

      Some companies take longer to address these issues than others. It seems bigger companies move very slowly with these things. But eventually, they will be at your office/desk/cube asking you why you’re playing with their money.

  68. BananaPants

    Wow. LW, I’m going to be blunt – you can’t try to play this off as a misunderstanding or blame this on your ADHD or on your boss’ tacit approval one time. You committed fraud and will almost certainly lose your job over this. If by some miracle they don’t fire you, this will still effectively end your career progression in this company.

    The fact that you have one bankruptcy and are now in a mountain of debt again says that you have issues with impulse control. It’s easier to blame it on the ADHD rather than taking responsibility, but it’s not truthful and I don’t think that excuse is going to fly in front of a judge. You need to seek legal counsel immediately to see if you can avoid criminal charges, much less a civil judgment for what will likely be your former employer trying to recover their money.

    Look, I’m no angel when it comes to making dumb financial decisions. When my husband worked 10 months at a horrible job, we put $20K worth of daycare on credit cards because we didn’t know what else to do and our savings were exhausted. We’ve done stupid with zeroes on the end, as Dave Ramsey often says. It sucks to pay the piper, but it’s necessary. You have to immediately get things in control. I would suggest the following:

    1) Stop using credit cards. Cut them up if you have to.
    2) Make a written, zero-based budget – every dollar has to have a purpose. I like the YNAB software but you can use Excel or even a piece of paper.
    3) Get a second job. If the GF is still in your life, she needs to be working two jobs as well. The second job will help if you get fired; if and when that happens
    4) Cut your lifestyle to the bone. You will not be going out to eat, to social events, or buying anything that is not necessary for basic human functioning. If you have any “toys” like a motorcycle, musical instruments, computer equipment, etc. then they all need to be sold.
    5) Save $1000 as a buffer in the bank for emergencies and to retain your attorney.
    6) Throw every spare penny at this debt until it is paid off. Pending legal advice from your attorney, you may try to offer a lump sum as a good faith start at repaying the debt when you inform your employer of what has happened.
    7) Seek therapy and financial counseling to ensure that you don’t fall into bad habits in the future.

    I keep my corporate card in a locked drawer at work, just so I can’t get it mixed up with my personal debit cards. I know people who’ve accidentally used their corporate card for personal purchases and as long as they’re honest and immediately pay it off, it’s no biggie – but the fact remains that corporate policy is that discipline including termination can result from using a corporate card for personal expenses. I don’t even want to risk it.

    1. Kathryn T.

      “you have issues with impulse control. It’s easier to blame it on the ADHD rather than taking responsibility, but it’s not truthful” — OK, this I have to respond to. Problems with impulse control are literally one of the diagnostic criteria for ADHD. Saying “I have problems with impulse control, it’s part of my ADHD” isn’t lying or avoiding responsibility, it’s a straight-up fact.

      That doesn’t excuse the OP or anyone with ADHD from needing to learn how to manage their impulse control issues appropriately, obviously, but I am so weary of people assuming that mental illnesses or cognitive disorders are really secretly just character flaws that we’re too lazy to address.

      1. BananaPants

        But the reality is that the LW’s employer isn’t going to give a darn about ADHD causing impulse control issues. They’re not going to care WHY he did it, just that he did. Spending $20K on a corporate credit card over what must have been a fairly long period of time, then gaming PayPal cash advances to keep it from being discovered for this long cannot be explained away as a momentary lapse in judgment. This was ongoing, sustained, and fraudulent misuse of company resources.

        Having ADHD or any other mental illness or cognitive difference does not give one carte blanche to commit a crime. Yes, he may have a harder time with impulse control than others, but he still needs to take responsibility for what happened.

        1. Kathryn T.

          Absolutely agreed. I have no issue with saying “Regardless of the cause, you have to take responsibility for managing these behaviors and issues.” I only took issue with the part of your comment I quoted, the part that says that attributing these issues to ADHD is not true and is an attempt to evade responsibility. It is true, and it has nothing to do with responsibility; he’s just as responsible if his impulse control issues are due to ADHD as they are if they’re due to any other factor.

    2. Helka

      5) Save $1000 as a buffer in the bank for emergencies and to retain your attorney.
      6) Throw every spare penny at this debt until it is paid off.

      How is the OP supposed to do both of these things at the same time? Putting aside a grand when he’s already living on the financial edge by itself would be pretty damn difficult, let alone while also trying to pay off a debt.

  69. Observer

    I have not read the responses, so I’m probably repeating some of the things people have said.

    A few things come to mind.

    Find a way to stop using paypal for this purpose – this way you can put that $600 per month to paying down the card.

    Stop using the card.

    Start making payments more often than just before the bill is due. Best would be weekly, but even bi-weekly would help. It lowers the interest accruals. Yes, it’s only a little bit, but it still adds up. It’s not just $20 or so a month – it’s that compounded in the reverse.

    Get credit and budget counseling. You need someone to help you figure out how to pay this down the fastest possible way. And you are going to have to develop a rigid budget – one that’s going to have to be quite tight so you can put the maximum into paying off this card.

    If you don’t tell your boss about this mess, document everything you are doing to pay this off. This way, if (more likey when) you get caught out, you will be able to show that you were trying to make it right. It probably would not save your job, but it might convince your employer not to press charges.

    Last, but not least, get some help for your ADD. I’m not sure that you can really lay this mess on your ADD, but it’s not helping, so you need to get a handle on it. And, if I am right, you also need to stop using ADD as an excuse / “explanation” for bad choices.

    The bottom line is that this kind of behavior can wreck your life. No one really cares WHY you are doing these things. Yes, they might sympathize if they really think that you mean well and are just struggling. But, they still won’t trust you with a job (or in a relationship, btw.) So, find some way to get help.

  70. Katie the Fed

    aww, I’m sad I’m late today – this letter deals with some of my favorite topics – ethics and personal finance.

    OP – you have no choice but to come clean. I’m sorry, I really am – but that’s your only option. It’s going to be a terrible discussion to have, but you have to. 1) you’ll feel better 2) they’ll find out eventually anyway and 3) it’s the right thing to do.

    When you come clean, you need a plan in place. You can pay X amount back every month, and you’re seeking counseling to get your financial habits under control. Unfortunately, when you’re only paying the minimum, it’s almost impossible to get out of the hole so you’ll have to do much more than that.

    Is your girlfriend helping, especially since you were covering her expenses? I hope she is – it’s the least she could do! Do you have parents or family who might be willing to help you out?

    I’m sorry you’re in this situation. Remember – you may have done a bad thing but it doesn’t make you a bad person. You know what you did was wrong and you’re trying to deal with it. But you do have to deal with it.

    I’m sorry, OP – that’s really rough. Good luck.

  71. Faith

    TBH, since you used the CC for personal reasons (helping your girlfriend out) knowing full well that probably wouldn’t fly, I think you should prepare yourself for a termination :( I really hope you get this figured out. Everyone makes mistakes, even huge ones, but you can only go up from here. Good luck, OP!

  72. Ed

    If OP decides not to come forward, I would suggest getting super aggressive with paying this off. And before everyone rolls their eyes and says “ya think?”, let me clarify. I would get crazy aggressive about it. An extra $150 a month won’t cut it. OP needs at least an extra $1K a month.

    If you have a house, sell it and get a small apartment. If you have an apartment, get a smaller, cheaper one with a roommate or rent a room on Craigslist. Moving back with your parents or a sibling would be the best bet. Cancel cable, put on sweaters in the winter, get a fan and sweat in the summer, carefully grocery shop to eat the cheapest meals every day, cancel cable, etc. Your only entertainment should be books from the library and maybe $10 a month for a Planet Fitness membership. We don’t know your personal obligations as far as kids to care for but I would also get a second job if possible. Places like UPS often pay pretty well for short shifts loading trucks in the evenings. Maybe do odd jobs from Craigslist where you get paid under the table. But I would avoid crappy jobs that pay nothing if possible. I would also be selling things on eBay. If your family exchanges XMas presents, say you’re going to have to bow out this year because you’re having some debt issues.

    Before you say “oh, I could never live like that”, think about the potential outcomes here. On one hand, you very slowly pay it off over years and nobody notices. It’s amazing nobody has noticed yet so I can’t imagine you will last years. You might have a nervous breakdown by then anyway. On the other hand, you confess. The best case scenario is you keep your job and they put you on an aggressive repayment plan or garnish your wages. The worst case is they fire you (making it difficult to get another decent-paying job), you pay it back and also get sued incurring legal fees as well. The time in court and possible publicity will make it even harder to get/keep a job. I wouldn’t think you go to jail assuming this is your first offense. In any scenario, you’re paying it back and your life will be turned upside down while you do it. Personally, I would rather be in control and turn my own life upside down.

    The first thing I would do is use one the many calculators online to figure out what your repayment options are. How long will it take if you can only pay $X a month. The rate you’re going now could honestly take ten years or more. You definitely won’t make it that long. I would figure out how much I need to pay a month, including PayPal fees, to get it paid off in a year. You may find the monthly number is more than you could possibly pay off in a reasonable amount of time. That fact alone could convince you the only real option is to come clean now.

    1. Anonymous Educator

      If you’re talking about aggressive, I definitely wouldn’t set aside $10 for Planet Fitness. There are plenty of cost-free ways to get exercise… walk, run, do some push-ups.

      1. Ed

        You have a point but less than 50 cents a day for some place to go to stay in shape, kill time, watch your favorite TV show on the treadmill because you canceled cable, etc. is a hell of a bargain. And you can’t go for a run in two feet of snow. Plus, if you radically change your living situation by moving home or renting a room in a stranger’s house, having a place to go to get away might keep you from going insane. But I’m a major introvert so time away from family/roommates is probably much higher on my list of necessities than most.

    2. some1

      “If you have an apartment, get a smaller, cheaper one with a roommate or rent a room on Craigslist. ”

      Some people (like me) would get charged a penalty for breaking their lease for doing this.

      I think a lot of the cost saving suggestions are coming from a good place, but I don’t think a lot of them are applicable or practical.

      1. Katie the Fed

        Yep. The reality and irony is that being poor is expensive. A lot of cost-savings that more well-off people can count on (bulk buying at costco, stocking up on sales, breaking leases, etc) are much easier when you have a cushion. If you’re living close to the edge you just can’t necessarily take advantage of cost savings that other people can.

        1. JMegan

          Exactly. It may be cheaper per roll to buy 50 rolls of toilet paper at Costco than to buy four rolls at your local grocery store, but it’s still more expensive *at the time.* In order to take advantage of the long-run savings, you have to have the cash up front, which not everyone does. We’re all doing the best we can with what we have.

          1. Judy

            “The reason that the rich were so rich, Vimes reasoned, was because they managed to spend less money.

            Take boots, for example. He earned thirty-eight dollars a month plus allowances. A really good pair of leather boots cost fifty dollars. But an affordable pair of boots, which were sort of OK for a season or two and then leaked like hell when the cardboard gave out, cost about ten dollars. Those were the kind of boots Vimes always bought, and wore until the soles were so thin that he could tell where he was in Ankh-Morpork on a foggy night by the feel of the cobbles.

            But the thing was that good boots lasted for years and years. A man who could afford fifty dollars had a pair of boots that’d still be keeping his feet dry in ten years’ time, while the poor man who could only afford cheap boots would have spent a hundred dollars on boots in the same time and would still have wet feet.

            This was the Captain Samuel Vimes ‘Boots’ theory of socioeconomic unfairness.”
            -Terry Pratchett, Men At Arms

            1. Joline

              He really was amazing at presenting significant truths about the world we live in in a humorous, down-to-earth way.

        2. Anx

          I imagine that if the LWs credit is so bad and he may be about to get fired, he may not be able to get another lease (not to mention the upfront costs of moving).

          1. Tau

            I’m moving right now and, frankly, I have no idea how anyone without decent savings can afford it. Mine are going to be pretty much wiped out from the up-front costs.

            1. AnonAnalyst

              Yes! Moving costs a fortune. Whenever I’ve been tempted to get a cheaper place, calculating the total cost including moving costs always makes it a worse financial proposition than just staying put.

              Granted, I never find huge rent savings because I’ve already cheaped-out on my rent, but if you were living in a much bigger place than you needed (or maybe in a luxury building or something), perhaps this would result in savings for you.

            2. Treena Kravm

              I’m always confused when people say this. Assuming a local move, that’s $50 max for the truck + gas. Say another $50 for tape and markers and materials to spackle walls. You get your people to help you with the heavy lifting. If you’re downgrading, you may even make money off of your deposit.

              I mean, sure there are lots of things you *could* pay for, but very little you absolutely *have* to pay for. Movers, boxes, cleaning, junkhauling all can be done DIY. I agree that it’s a miserable way to move, but if he were able to save $300-600/month in rent, that’s definitely worth it in the long run.

              1. Anx

                Well, I considered moving to apartments that were 50-150 cheaper per month. That moves me out of damp, slightly moldy, not-as-buggy-as-it-once-was apartment in a neighborhood where one of us can walk to work and is a block from the bus route into a damper, moldier, more buggy apartment either on the outskirts of town or in a higher crime neighborhood..

                Moving would mean having to save up a first and last months rent, perhaps adjusting my work hours as my bus route changes, having to spend money on cleaning supplies and doing a lot of laundry for the move, perhaps paying rent on two apartments for the transition month, and then livng out of boxes for the weeks it takes to set up shop, which makes meal prep and getting into a routine a bit of a nightmare. Plus, I’ve never moved without incurring some incidental costs. And of course: application fees.

                The cheaper apartments were much smaller, meaning we’d have to sell furniture. On the one hand, that’s more money in. On the other hand, that means losing a lot of its value and one day having to repurchase the items. They were also in areas with more frequent breaking and entering.

                It would be cheaper to move, but also incredibly disruptive to job searching and eating on the cheap, etc.

                It could definitely be worthwhile for many people,but I don’t think it’s very goo d blanket advice.

                I have already suck

              2. Lemon

                Moving everything yourself might be cheap if you’re able-bodied and have able-bodied family or friends willing to help, but many people aren’t in that position. (And where are you getting a truck for just $50?) Also, landlords often charge an application fee or a fee to run a background check. (My current landlord charges a $175 move-in fee, which they forgot to mention until I was moving in!) Some utilities also charge a setup/installation fee. Your old landlord might drag their feet on giving you back your security deposit. You’ll inevitably need some random necessities, like light bulbs or shower curtain rings (my first apartment didn’t come with those). And heaven forbid you’re in a hot market like New York or Boston, where we have to pay the godforsaken broker’s fee, which is usually one month’s rent.

      2. JMegan

        I think a lot of the cost saving suggestions are coming from a good place, but I don’t think a lot of them are applicable or practical.

        Agreed, and selling a house isn’t something you just do, either. There are a lot of upfront costs involved in getting the place ready to sell, plus moving expenses, plus the stress of finding somewhere else to live on top of all the other stress the OP is experiencing. Living in an apartment is probably (but not necessarily) cheaper than living in a house *in the long run*, but if you’re already in a house the financial and emotional costs of getting out of it might make it a better choice to stay.

        1. Bea W

          In some cases staying in a house you own is less expensive up front as well. I live in a crazy rent region. I could not find a place to rent for what I pay monthly in mortgage/escrow/condo fees (well I could, but it would be super sketchy or jack up my commuting expenses enough that I’d be spendng way more than staying put)

      3. Laurel Gray

        When you are staring at possible criminal charges….or at the very least loss of a job and references and a huge ding to your reputation as you eventually move on from this, paying the employer back that $20k is not as straight forward as suggested by some posters. While I do believe the OP is not good with personal finances, I think if some of the suggestions offered were practical for OP’s situation, they would have chosen to do that vs using this card.

      4. Green

        You take the penalty. Taking the penalty is less than continuing to spend more every month than you have.

        1. some1

          Green, you keep making these absolutist blanket statements all over the thread. You have no idea whether the LW could afford the penalty and all the costs that go with moving and signing a new lease, *even if the actual rent on the new place would be cheaper*.

          1. Green

            And you are coming up with random roadblocks to plenty of ideas that might work perfectly well for the OP based on “what ifs” that you have no reason to believe are actually issues for the OP.

            The situation here is POTENTIALLY GOING TO JAIL. JAIL. That is rather unpleasant. It’s time to for OP to consider every possible alternative, even if they may have dismissed the idea before (including whether moving their things one-by-one to a new home that is cheaper, even there is a penalty, or breaking their cell phone contract, even if there is a penalty, if it saves money overall). This is a very serious situation and the OP’s general preferences and frame of reference for what’s “necessary” need to be thrown out because they’re what got him into this mess.

      5. Lindsay J

        This.

        Also, moving costs money – time, supplies, renting a truck, etc.

        Moving (when my lease was up) did help me immensely as far as my budget was concerned. But even without worrying about lease-break fees I still had to save up money for it. And money for the deposit.

        Same with selling your car and buying a cheaper one. First of all, a lot of people have cars that aren’t worth that much beside being a way to get to/from work. And even if they’re worth something, they might not be worth all that much more than your basic car that is serviceable enough to get you to and from work (and sales tax, retitling, difference in insurance cost, and other expenses and fees might eat a decent portion of the initial price difference). And honestly, my car is the most valuable thing I own in that it allows me to continue to get to my job and continue making money.

        Only problem is that it isn’t inspected or registered in state. So I take it through inspection ($25), then bring it to the tax assessor to register and title it. Registration is $65, title fee is $33, and I have to pay $6.25
        Same with the advice to cut cell phone plans, etc. (And I’m guessing that a lot of people that are in a bad financial situation have already done these thing. I don’t know too many people who go to Starbucks every day, pay $100 a month for cable, go out to eat regularly, etc, and then are mystified that they are struggling with money.)

        I know a lot more people who have already done all those things and are still struggling because they just don’t get paid a living wage, and the problems compound.

        You put off getting your oil changed, and then the check engine light comes on, and then your car’s inspection comes due but you can’t afford to pay for the oil change and the inspection at the same time (or really you might be able to afford it, but you also might want to eat something that’s not rice and beans) so you let it float because it’s really not hurting anybody or anything. But then you get a ticket for not having the inspection done. So you pay the ticket, but that means being late on your credit card payment which jacks up your interest rate. And you still haven’t gotten the inspection or the oil change. And then you start to damage your car because you’ve been driving around without an oil change for so long.

        Or, you need to buy paper towels. They’re $.50 a roll, or 48 rolls for $13. But your budget for grocery shopping for the week is $20. So you buy a couple rolls at $.50 each and wind up paying a lot more in the long run than if you were able to buy them all at once.

    3. Natalie

      Check your lease before deciding to get rid of an apartment. I just broke mine (bought a house) and I had to pay 150% of my rent as a fee. I’m also on the hook for future rents if they somehow can’t rent the apartment.

      1. some1

        Also, the LW will need to pass a credit check/prove income to get a lease on a cheaper apartment, which I have never had to do with a lease renewal.

      2. Laurel Gray

        What state are you in? It is supposed to be one or the other. Either you pay a settlement to break your lease (something like 1, 1.5 or 2 months rent) and your lease is done or you agree to pay the rent until the unit is re-rented – prorated at your lease rate.

          1. Laurel Gray

            Yes, please look into this because also depending on the state, you may be able to collect damages from your landlord if they illegally collected fees like this.

            1. Natalie

              Well, perusing my state attorney general’s website suggests it is allowed. We apparently haven’t adopted the rule that the landlord has to make a good faith effort to find a new tenant.

              That said, if anyone has different information that would be awesome. I’m in MN

        1. Green

          Usually the owner has to make a good faith effort to rent your apartment (and have evidence of that–posters, paid advertisements) to mitigate their losses. If they don’t, they won’t win a lawsuit to collect the remaining rent from you in most states.

          (And, again, I would rather owe my ex-landlord money civilly than be dealing with criminal issues.)