terse answer Thursday — 7 short answers to 7 short questions

It’s terse answer Thursday — seven short answers to seven short questions. Here we go…

1. How can I reach out to a great candidate who I had to reject?

I conducted an interview screen recently that resulted in a no-hire decision for the candidate. It was, however, an extremely difficult decision, and the candidate, while not the right fit for what our team is looking for, would be a clear good fit for several other jobs in our office. In addition, the candidate and I share similar (very unusual and on-the-surface not very “marketable”) educational and work experiences–I really feel for how hard it is to find a position coming from that background!

I did pass the resume on to the hiring manager for the other positions in our office, with a good word about “not right for our job, but perhaps for yours.” The candidate sent me a “I understand I’m out of the running, thanks for your consideration” follow-up email today, and I would really like to reply with some sort of… encouragement? Links to other job posts? That if they’re looking for advice on what to do with our sort of weird background, I’d be happy to chat? I’m not sure what (if any) the appropriate thing to do here is!

If you’d really be happy to chat, that would be a really kind thing to offer. Most candidates would love to get feedback and personalized help from an employer, so if you’re willing to take the time to do that, definitely offer it!

2. Will declaring bankruptcy affect my job search?

I have a question about jobs and bankruptcy. I am considering filing for bankruptcy to get some help with my student loans. Unfortunately, I bought into the hype during high school that I would be able to make a lot of money after attending college. Other than my student loans, I only have one medical bill that is past due, but that is because my student loan bills are so high. I took out student loans to go to a great school and to obtain an in-demand major, but things did not work out in my favor. Since employers now are requiring background checks, do you think that it will hurt my job prospects in the future? I have never mismanaged any money from the jobs where I was required to handle money. Will employers ask me why I had to file for bankruptcy and consider my circumstances?

Well, first, this might not even be an option, because most student loans aren’t dischargeable in bankruptcy. So you’d want to look into that first. But if for some reason yours are, then whether it will impact your job prospects will depend on what type of field you’re in and what types of companies you’re applying with. Loads of companies, particularly smaller ones, don’t check credit records at all. And many others only do for jobs that involve handling money or having authority over money. Some employers are now starting to use them more frequently — but certainly not all or even most.

3. My manager will fire me if I don’t get a car

I have recently been told by my boss that if I do not purchase my own vehicle for the purposes of the business, that he will be looking to replace me. When I applied for the position, I was asked if I have access to my own vehicle, I said that I do not but am able to use my parents’ car. In email correspondence and in my contract, it was mentioned that he would reimburse me should I use my own vehicle for business. There was no mention of it being a necessity. I have since been unable to use my parents’ car as it is their only asset and they are trying their best not to run too many miles on it.

I have told him that purchasing a car for his business is an expense that I cannot possibly afford right now. I had also moved closer to work in order to walk. He says that if I do not have a car by the end of next week, he will fins someone else to replae me. I am currently on “short time” which I believe he is counting as the first of my 2 week’s notice. Can he do this?

Yes. As a condition of the job, he can require you to have a car, or a suit, or a passport, or a charming smile, or anything else that doesn’t discriminate based on race, sex, religion, national origin, or other protected classes.

4. Next-day interview, and employer wants to fill the job in less than a week

I’m applying for entry-level nonprofit communications roles, with plenty of communications internship experience and a year as an administrative assistant under my belt. Today I got a phone call from an organization I applied to work for, and they wanted to schedule me for an interview. Great! But when I told them my availability for the end of this week and beginning of next week, the response was, “What about tomorrow?” This in the mid-afternoon. I ended up taking an interview slot for tomorrow morning at 9:30 a.m.! It seems more than a little crazy to me that they want to interview me with less than 24 hours notice.

Then, it got weirder. The person I was on the phone with said that they want someone to start by Monday. Like, the coming Monday. I don’t know how they can possibly do due diligence in their hiring process in that short a time period. Even if they were to offer me this job, I can’t start on Monday — I’m in the middle of the interview process for two other organizations, and I would need at least a couple days to think things through and see if I get one of the other offers. I really want to ask these people “What’s the rush?” when they ask me if I have any questions for them, but I have a feeling that’s too terse. Any suggestions for how to ask about the crazy time table at my interview?

Hey, sometimes positions need to be filled on short timelines. If that’s the case here, and it’s a job that has a ton of well-qualified applicants, they probably don’t see any reason not to fill it that quickly. And since it’s entry-level, they might not be planning on extensive reference checks. It’s not the way people would ideally hire, but it’s not unheard of either. If it makes you uncomfortable, though, you’re certainly not under any obligation to accept an offer with them, or even interview.

As for how to ask about it though, you can say, “It sounds like you’re on a very tight timeline for filling the position. What’s driving that?”

5. Handling an interviewer who talks a lot

How do you handle an interview where the interviewer talks a lot and you feel as if you can’t get a word in unless she actually stops to ask something? I went on my first full-time interview yesterday and my interviewer talked a lot. I’m a shy person so it was hard enough for me to even be in the interview, let alone try to get a word about why I want the job. In the end, I felt like I didn’t even get a chance to talk about myself and all we did was talk about the company and the position.

If it happens again, try steering the conversation back to the job opening and your qualifications. Say something like, “Would it be okay to take a minute and lead you through my professional background? I think it’ll tie in with what you were just saying about the job.”

Keep in mind, too, that someone who hires this way likely is making hiring mistakes along the way, so you’ll have some not-so-great coworkers unless the person is quick to fix their hiring mistakes.

6. Can I ask for a raise even though I just got a small one?

I work as an office administrator at a tech company. My day-to-day consists of all of the basics — I answer phones, order snacks and supplies, greet guests, and basically run the office (we have about 350 onsite on any given day). In addition to this workload, I feel that I do many things that go above and beyond the typical office admin role. My managers, as well as other employees, frequently praise my work ethic and ability to get things done (I am the go-to person when someone needs something to happen).

That said, I have been at the job for less than a year. My time with the organization (about 9 months) happened to coincide with yearly reviews, and so I was given one despite being around less than a calendar level. I received excellent scores in all criteria and received a scheduled raise. However, because of the way that increased are calculated, I received half of what I would have, had I been working at the company for one month longer. This comes out to a 1.3% increase. This review happened in February, and it’s been weighing on my mind ever since — with inflation and increased payroll taxes, I essentially received a pay cut even after being given very high praise.

Do you think it is too late to bring up the issue of compensation with our HR department? I love my job and wouldn’t want to do anything to jeopardize my status at the company, but I felt a little slighted by the increase. If you do think I would benefit from a conversation with my superiors, do you think I should include my thoughts on the relative scale of the actual increase (i.e. that it’s essentially a pay cut) or should I dwell solely on positives — things like a repair I did on an item that saved the company $700.

Wait until you’ve been there a full year, since generally it’s not reasonable to expect any raise before that anyway. At that point, go to your manager (not HR; this is an issue for your manager) and advocate for a higher raise. You can point out that because of the raise cycle, you weren’t eligible for a full raise when salaries were last assessed, but don’t dwell on that — the main thrust of your argument should be why your performance warrants more.

7. Can I cite my expected raise when employers ask how much I make?

I’m in a bit of a conundrum. I am expecting a promotion and salary increase, but I do not know the new salary or title (not a work scope change). I do know it is imminent. As I am interviewing for a few positions elsewhere, I wanted to ask what you would recommend if I am asked about salary history and recommendations in the meantime. Do I base estimates on what I’d expect or what I’m currently receiving?

You can say that you’re expecting a raise of around $X, but really, you want to focus on what your contributions to the new company are worth, not on your salary history. Allowing employers to peg your salary to what you’ve earned in the past is a good way to avoid getting a large jump when you change jobs, so you want to avoid that as much as possible.

{ 363 comments… read them below }

  1. Anna*

    LW#2 – I’m going to get a little schoolmarmish on you, because your letter really rubbed me the wrong way. You might not realize this, but your whole letter has this aura of victimization to it, as if you were some hapless thing that had no hand in this.

    You took out a loan for college/degree. You attended college, and you got the degree. Yeah “things didn’t work out in [your] favor” but that’s not really here nor there. There are programs available to defer your payments while you look for work, but I don’t really understand why you think you should be able to discharge the entire debt because things didn’t really work out. You’re benefiting from the degree and the education.

    That’s not to say that all bankruptcies are awful or unwarranted. There are definitely circumstances (extreme medical bills come to mind) where people really don’t have a choice.

    OK, rant over.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Hmmm, I think that’s unwarranted. It doesn’t have to be your viewpoint, but reasonable people can believe that you should pay your debts (particularly in the case of student loans, when deferments are often available). There’s also a reason that student loans generally can’t be discharged in bankruptcy; it’s because otherwise students could get an expensive education and then immediately declare bankruptcy before starting their “real” financial life. That would be a huge burden on taxpayers and would interfere with other people’s ability to fund their education.

        1. Mike C.*

          Given the employment statistics (rates of employment, return on investment), you might be screwed with debt if you go to college, but you’ll be screwed even more without that degree. How many job out there needlessly require a four year degree? And for all the folks that talk about the trades, well, guess who took the biggest hit? Yep.

          The last thing someone caught between a rock and a hard place – and being a teenager expected to predict the job market after 4-5 years of school fits that bill – needs is a lecture on the morality of paying one’s bills.

          As far as dischargability, we could look around and notice that other nations have solved this issue by either not underfunding the crap out of public schools or only asking students to start paying loans back once they start making a certain amount of money. We have a limited form of that, but as well developed as you’d see in the UK for instance.

          As for Anna? The OP didn’t screw up the economy. The OP didn’t take out home loans, sell any home loans, securitize them, rate them, make up a bunch of terrible models overestimating repayment rates and cause this whole mess that we’ve been suffering through the past few years. It’s not the OP’s fault that there are medical issues involved here as well. Fun fact: medical bills are the leading cause of bankruptcy in the US!

          So if this OP is feeling like all their hard work is for naught or that times kind of suck right now, I don’t blame ’em one bit!

          1. Sophie*

            Australia work like that – a hecs debt is interest free and you aren’t required to pay it back until you earn over a certain amount of money.

          2. Sara L*

            All of this. Tuition has increased roughly 400% since the early 80’s or so while “real wage” actually went down. Yet people who got their education during the time when it was cheaper and much easier to pay off (then went straight into a job with a reasonable wage) are often really bitter about students getting relief today.

            1. Anna*

              I graduated college in 2004, so it wasn’t exactly cheap then either. But I also chose a school that didn’t cost as much as the best I could have gone to.

              It’s not a matter of bitterness. But I would say I’m incredulous at someone who thinks it’s ok to borrow a ton of money for something and then just walk away from that obligation.

              1. Mike C.*

                It’s incredibly disingenuous to point to someone who is doing everything they can to pay their school and medical bills and claim that they think it’s ok to walk away from an obligation.

                Also, claiming that you can relate after graduating in 2004 is a complete joke. The bottom didn’t fall out of the economy until 2008 or so. By then you had several years of experience over those like the OP who were just graduating.

                PS: Significantly reduced funding for public colleges and universities has forced those institutions to significantly raise their prices, so the whole “I went to a cheap school, why didn’t you” thing is a bit silly as well.

                1. Mimi*

                  “Claiming that you can relate after graduating in 2004 is a complete joke” is also an unwarranted comment. You’re being harsh again, Mike C.

                2. Mike C.*

                  The economic environment for a college graduate in 2004 was drastically different than than it was for a graduate in 2008. So drastically different that I would imagine those without first or second hand experience would be prone to underestimating the change.

                  What’s harsh is being in the former group and claiming to members of the latter “I did fine, why can’t you do the same?”

                3. Mimi*

                  The harshness I refer to is the “claiming you can relate……is a complete joke”. I think you could have made your point without that particular verbiage.

                4. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  Agree with Mimi — please keep this polite. Reasonable people can disagree on this issue, and the tone of the conversation should reflect that.

                5. Katie the Fed*

                  I must be missing something, because I’m not seeing an OP who is “doing everything they can to pay their school and medical bills.” There’s really no indication at all of that. And per Alison’s update, below, this is the same poster who wants to hold out for a more ideal job than look a little outside of her field.

                6. Anonymous*

                  “It’s incredibly disingenuous to point to someone who is doing everything they can to pay their school and medical bills and claim that they think it’s ok to walk away from an obligation.”

                  Well said.

              2. Anonymous*

                “Just walk away” makes it sound pretty flip. There are people who are stuck. They’ll never get out of poverty because of loans and accumulated interest.

                At a certain point, they should get out. I can sympathize with that.

          3. VictoriaHR*

            I don’t blame her either, because being in debt sucks big time. BUT she is a grown up now, so it *is* time to put on the big girl underpants and deal with it. (saying “she/her/girl” because it’s easier than typing out “him/her” every time)

            I graduated from college with $30k in student loan debt. They give you until infinity to pay it off. I pay $138 a month. Ideally, yes, I’d like to pay it off sooner than when I’m 70, but at least I have the option of smaller payments while I’m struggling.

            Look into refinancing your payments and/or deferring repayment until you have steady income. Also, consider taking a position that would mean you’re underemployed, just to get some income coming in while you look for a better job that fits your education.

            1. Xay*

              Not all student loans qualify for extended payment. I agree that the OP should exhaust all of their options as far as deferment/forbearance/extended payment plans before even considering bankruptcy or defaulting. However, not all student loans are eligible for those methods and I think the OPs letter does not provide enough information to determine whether they have explored all of those options.

            2. Meghan*

              Deferment isn’t always an option. When I was making $26k gross and paying almost $1k/month in loans, my private loans still weren’t eligible for deferment.

            3. Anonymous*

              ” deal with it”

              Bankruptcy is dealing with it. At a certain point, some people recognize they will never get off the treadmill of debt. Should they live in actual poverty (under the poverty line) for the rest of their lives? I don’ t think so.

      2. PEBCAK*

        I think it’s reasonable to point out the tone of the OP’s comment to the OP, because, if he/she is presenting this sort of “bad things happen to me and I have no control” attitude in a job search, that could hurt him/her far more than a credit check.

        1. Cat*

          I don’t think we have any evidence for that. We know she has a different moral view on bankruptcy than many commenters on this site; so do I, and it hasn’t come up in a job search (nor do I think it would hurt me with employers I want to work at if it did, but I don’t think many people discuss politics in job interviews as a rule). We also know she’s trying to scope out the potential consequences of declaring bankruptcy which is, in fact, examining your actions and dealing with them rather than saying things just happen to you. So yeah, I think most of those comments are about the individual’s morals rather than actually giving advice to the OP. Which is fine – I like theoretical discussions! – but I don’t think we can pretend that we’re doing her some great service.

      3. Spanish Teacher*

        It says that she believes one should honor one’s commitments and take responsibility for one’s debt. I don’t think that’s a bad thing at all.

    1. Dan*

      How do you actually know the OP is benefiting from his/her degree/education? S/he doesn’t actually say they are. For all you know, they are living with their parents and working at Starbucks.

      Quite frankly, I don’t fault students one bit. Sure nobody held a gun to their head and made them borrow money, but their brains are also not mature enough (and nor do they have the life experience at that age) to comprehend what borrowing $30k, $50k, or $100k really means.

      We give anybody else the chance at a fresh financial start, but we aren’t willing to let young people do it?

      1. Mike C.*

        Not to mention the fact that we’re demanding these teenagers successfully predict the job market 4-5 years down the road.

      2. Jennifer*

        I simply don’t understand why more (any?) schools, high school and college, don’t spend time teaching students about basic money matters such as these. Why you should pay down high-interest debt first, what APR means, why paying the minimum balance on credit card debt is a bad idea, why putting money into retirement accounts early is good because of compounding interest, approximately how much per month a student loan of 25k, 50k, 100k will look like, etc etc etc.

        We are throwing our children/young adults into very dangerous financial situations with little to no preparation, which I find to be irresponsible and fairly reprehensible. If I had the qualifications to give such talks at schools, I would absolutely volunteer my time to do so.

        1. Sara L*

          Jennifer, I get where you’re coming from, but no amount of knowledge or classes on “financial management” help when you’re making $7.25 an hour. You can’t pay for living expenses and save for college on that amount beforehand, nor can you pay for living expenses and pay off student loans afterward. No amount of budgeting can get blood from a stone.

          1. Mike C.*

            It doesn’t help that we have an entire industry of “financial educators” trying to sell well meaning people snake oil. Look how that crap fueled the housing boom to begin with!

        2. Your Mileage May Vary*

          My college requires undergrads to take a personal finance course as part of their general studies (so most students take it before the end of their sophomore year). I’m sure some of the students know the material before they take the course and some of the students don’t pay a lick of attention while they are in it but I have to believe that there are a few students to whom the course makes a difference in their financial planning.

          1. Liz in a Library*

            That’s a great start…I wish more schools (and high schools and middle schools) were doing that.

            1. Meg*

              In junior high, we took a career development course – interviewing basics, some OSHA stuff, Right to Know, etc. High school, a LOT more OSHA/Right to Know, but also some class that was like, Human Development or something that was required for all 9th graders.

              One of the projects was to find a job, found out how much money you’d make, doing taxes, buying a house, buying a car, doing a budget, paying off student loans, etc. It was like one big class of Life. It was a wake-up call to a lot of students who figured out how much they needed to make to support their lifestyles.

              Every high school needs that.

        3. Kristi*

          @ Jennifer, you (and all of us) might suggest this to your local financial institution. I used to work at a credit union, and year ago we started presenting free seminars on various topics including buying your first home, retirement planning, etc and then moved into paying for college, student loans, credit reports, budgeting 101. All great topics and the credit union continues to have decent turnout so they have a strong presence on campuses throughout the state.

          Its extremely difficult to give basic presentations at schools because (rightly so) the schools are very cautious about who they allow in front of the students. And its not as simple as giving out flyers at schools because that’s frowned upon too. This was a couple years ago so given the media attention student debt is getting these days, perhaps its gotten a little easier to either have speakers come in or invite students/parents to a presentation.

        4. A Teacher*

          A lot of us do explain it or emphasize the junior college route. I just spent 30 minutes today, during a dual credit medical terminology class of all classes, explaining the difference AGAIN between grants (Pell vs. Illinois MAP), scholarships, work study, subsidized loans, and unsubsidized loans. I’ve had to help countless kids with the FAFSA because they don’t understand it and I made all of the juniors and seniors sign up for the pin this year in my career classes.

          You can’t make a lot of the families understand that loans aren’t “free” money, at least in my experience. I also have to constantly remind them that if they don’t have at least a 2.0 they can’t get any of the above. We’ve been told countless times at the college where I’m an adjunct (I teach dual credit full time at a high school) to emphasize that point.

        5. Penny*

          I’m forever grateful to my high school government/economics teacher. Those courses were require senior year of high school and he did teach about budgeting and had us read news stories about young people getting into bad debt (with credit cards, but it’s all relatable). This always stuck with me and to this day I owe nothing on credit. If you’re gonna require economics, students should learn how to truly budget and understand all aspects of money and finances in the real world.

          I did take some school loans, but I tried to minimize it. I went to a private college and worried a long time about if I’d be able to afford it beforehand. I was really lucky in that my dad had saved and gave us each a certain amount of money for school, but nothing beyond that (it was really more of a child support agreement between my parents). However, this didn’t cover everything and I kept my grades up to keep grants and scholarships, worked on campus in a work/study program and the rest was loans. Give 18 year olds more credit. I understood taking those loans that I’d be paying them for years to come and that if I didn’t want the loans I could have chosen a cheaper school.

      3. Anna*

        Regardless of whether the OP is benefitting or not, they consumed the thing that was borrowed for. You can’t return an education/degree. Meanwhile, other students chose less expensive schools, or opted to spend a couple years at a community college to reduce costs, and owe far less. How is it right that the one who overextended should get a fresh financial start but others whom made better decisions don’t get any benefit.

        1. FiveNine*

          AAM noted that bankruptcy often isn’t even dischargeable in bankruptcy, a fact that in itself the OP didn’t appear to know. I don’t know why you keep hammering OP at this point about a decision to borrow that was made years ago and isn’t even really what the OP is asking.

          1. World's Best Employee*

            Agreed. The OP just asked a simple question. We don’t know this from their letter but they sound young and inexperienced as we all were at one time or another. I don’t think it is a crime to gather information in order to find out what your options are.

            As was just pointed out just a few days ago by another commenter, many comments are not geared towards helping the OP. Some are just axe-grinding exercises on largely academic subjects that have little practical bearing on the OP’s original question.

        2. Cat*

          Because part of living in a society is ensuring that society overall is functional. Thrusting someone with the potential to be a productive member of society into long-term poverty because they tried to get an education is not healthy or good for anyone in this economy in the long term. It’s not a moral issue, it’s a practical one.

          On a side note, every time this topic comes up, there’s a strong whiff of “people who tried to go to to an expensive school without having wealthy parents should be punished for trying to get above their station.” Frankly, I think this is a bad trend. Kids don’t go to Harvard at 18 because their selfish jerks who want to horde luxury for themselves. They do so because they were taught that education is the way to better themselves and their family, then were thrust into a world where that didn’t really turn out to be the case. (Well, I think it did a little but in a more limited way than presented.) No, not everyone is taught that; some people are taught that not borrowing money is more important than anything and that they should go to community college instead. But in a lot of places, that narrative was truly not the dominant one; “go to the best school you can and the money will work itself out was” and it was from people you’d think you could trust: guidance counselors, parents, etc. The burden of dealing with that should not be concentrated only on the individuals who were subject to it, at least not if it’s going to tank them financially permanently.

        3. Zee*

          Who’s to say that the OP didn’t choose a less expensive to college to begin with? Maybe most 4 year institutions are expensive for the OP.

          And eventually, with community colleges, some students have to repeat courses because the 4 year won’t accept all 68 (give or take) credits the 2 year awarded the student.

          1. Emma*

            +1. Live in one of the most expensive parts of the country (like New Jersey or New York) and the “cheap” state school is still about $20,000 per semester (tuition + board) or $10,000 per semester without board. And this was when I went there. I’m sure it’s even more now.

            And before you say, “leave New Jersey/New York and go to the cheapie state school in [insert state here]!….” that’s even less realistic. A 17/18-year-old will uproot completely with no job prospects to grind away as a minimum-wage job paying for all their living needs for the year or two it takes to gain residency in said cheapie-state-school-state?

    2. Dulcinea*

      As an attorney who has some bankruptcy experience (in legal aid) I will say this. Our Constitution, the Bible, and current existing laws provide the bankruptcy process as an option for debtors to get a fresh start within certain parameters. With a few very limited exceptions (child supportstudent loans, and tax debt for example) the process simply does not ask how/why the debtor got into this situation in the first place, nor does it ask them to justify why they can’t pay back the debt. There are literally people who maxed out their credit cards in casinos and got the debt discharged. So long as your debts (bearing in mind the exceptions listed above) outweigh your assets/income to a sufficient degree, you can have them discharged. And multi-million dollar corporations take advantage of this all.the.time. while still paying massive salaries to their executives. I think it’s perfectly reasonable for anyone to take advantage of the options legally open to him/her.

      1. Jen in RO*

        As someone from a country where there is no concept of bankruptcy for individuals (only companies) and where a top public university costs ~$1500 a year, I’m learning a lot from this thread. (And I’m not trying to say the US is “doing it wrong”, I really do like knowing how other countries work.)

        1. Cat*

          Out of curiosity, what happens in your country if someone racks up debts they have no realistic chance of paying, of whatever sort?

          1. Neeta(RO)*

            The bank would confiscate their assets (eg: TV, computer, house etc etc) in order to make up for the debt as much as possible.
            I think it is also possible to be imprisoned… but don’t quote me on that.

            Like Jen, I also find all these financial discussions very interesting.

          2. Jen in RO*

            I don’t think you can actually go to jail, unless you stole the money that you can’t repay. Basically they take whatever they can and then they let you go.

            1. Cat*

              That’s not really that different than the American concept of bankruptcy, to be honest, except that certain types of property are protected from seizure, which seems healthy to me.

              1. AnonLoan*

                Interesting.. I stayed here and my sister left, she got into a great University oversees (European Union), she has paid less than 3k per year, and has no debt, a normal, decent job with a lot of promotions so far (I am very proud!)

                I stayed here, and started community college, but even for an immigrant middle class family it was a lot for my parents (approx. 100 credit hour, $300 + fees per class x 4 classes… x 2 years…)

                However I stopped at community college, because I never qualified for financial aid – made too much money. The school’s here were approx $400-$700 per credit hour, not including fees.

                So I build up my resume on my degree and am now going back for school to a more focused field, that fits in with my current resume (but bumps it higher and opens other jobs)
                BUT I graduated high school 10 years ago, and I knew if I went to a very expensive school I had NO idea what I wanted to do.

                Like people said, sometimes there are other social pressures. If I could do it all over I would have concentrated more. but I had no idea what my passions were at age 17-18!

      2. Anna*

        Just because it may be legal (and I still doubt the OP can discharge student loans, and that’s a very good thing), doesn’t make it right, or ethical.

        Medical bills I can understand – you really can’t always plan for those. But if I was looking at a job applicant who borrowed a ton for school, or gambling, and then declared bankruptcy instead of fulfilling their responsibilities, I would be very unimpressed.

        1. Sara L*

          So you feel someone can’t plan for a medical emergency, but they can plan for a major recession (in which the key players all got bankruptcy protection, I might add)?

          Barring having a huge college fund set up by your parents, there is currently no way to get through school without loans. No job that doesn’t require schooling pays enough to pay for living expenses while setting money aside for college. Now, I don’t think someone should be fully funding a 35K a year private school with private loans, but a student working full time at minimum wage and going to a state school is still going to have to borrow at least 6K in loans unless their parents are giving them a free ride at home (and some parents think they’re above helping for college).

          I’m sure you have a mortgage, and if you lost your job tomorrow, you’d have no way to pay it. Would you like someone to work with you on that, or would you rather they say you shouldn’t have borrowed what you couldn’t afford when you should have foreseen that you’d lose your job?

          1. Anna*

            Well, we really have no idea how much the OP borrowed, but it sounds like a lot more than $6k.

            As for your question to me, I have six months of living expenses saved because I live well below my means and save for contingencies. And yes I would try to work with my bank (versus just declaring bankruptcy and trying to keep the house) but I also don’t see any indication the OP is attempting to take advantage of any loan deferment programs either.

            1. Sara L*

              I meant 6K per year, not altogether. My state university is currently 12K, and full time at minimum wage is 15K per year before taxes. So they’d probably actually need to borrow more. Two years of comm. college might reduce that by 12K overall. But there is absolutely no way to avoid loans, and with no job or a minimum wage job with living expenses it doesn’t matter how few thousand the loan is.

              And it often takes much longer than 6 months to find a job. Good luck finding a bank to work with you; if this should ever happen, you’ll hear the same BS about how you should have rented and saved until you could pay for a house in cash.

              1. ThursdaysGeek*

                Please don’t use absolutes, since the one example of my nephew who is slowing working towards his 4 year degree, while working in a grocery store and supporting a family, all without debt, disproves the “absolutely no way to avoid loans” statement. I’ll agree it’s very difficult, and something most people can’t do, but it’s not impossible.

                1. Anon*

                  Let me mention some college funds were tied into the stock market, and a lot of people lost everything including their children’s college money, even when it was a modest amount.

        2. Kaz*

          What about a student who went to law school expecting to make tons of money out of school and is now finding out that way, way too many of their peers did exactly the same thing? How exactly were they to plan for that? Do you really believe it is right and proper for these people to be crushed for the rest of their lives by $100k of student loan debt just because of a mistake they made when they were 22?

          1. fposte*

            I’m by no means opposed to bankruptcy and haven’t come down on either side in this case, but I think it’s worth noting that people are crushed for life by mistakes they made at 22 with some frequency; it’s just that usually that’s an effect most keenly felt by the underclass, and this one is felt by the middle class. Additionally, it’s not simply a “should they be crushed?” question, it’s a “should other people be expected to bear the brunt of the loans instead of them?” (Especially if the OP had co-signers, in which case that brunt won’t even be broadly distributed.)

            1. Anonymous*

              ” “should other people be expected to bear the brunt of the loans instead of them?””

              Yes. My answer to your question is yes. When we spread the cost around society as a whole, it’s reasonable to pay. I’ll pay. I do pay. I’d like to pay more by having higher taxes for lower tuition for good public higher education.

              The concept of both insurance and bankruptcy is to allow reasonable amounts of risk to exist in our society. I sure don’t want to live in a society where trying to go to college is too risky for anyone but the wealthy.

              So yes, other people should pay.

              1. fposte*

                And I think that’s an okay answer, and in many situations, I’ll agree. I just think that it has to be part of considering the question–it’s not just about what’s best for the person with debt.

        3. Cube Ninja*

          I have more on the subject of bankruptcy as a whole, but I do want to jump in here and address one specific statement.

          What is “right” or “ethical” to you is not what is “right” or “ethical” to everyone else. To be blunt, your personal moral code is totally irrelevant in this scenario and it isn’t your place to judge.

          If you’re putting more stock applicant’s credit history versus what they’re able to accomplish in the workplace, I would seriously question your ability to make good hiring decisions.

          The implications you’re making here (and in other comments) without anything close to all of the facts are extraordinarily presumptuous and from my viewpoint, lack understanding of a very major problem in the United States that has the potential to trash the economy all over again. Student loans are a rapidly developing area of default. And by rapidly, I mean there’s a lot of indications that there will be a significant crash in the next 3 years. This, like the mortgage bubble, is largely a creation of the banks, but also of schools. Tuition for a full-on college has vastly outstripped inflation in any sort of reasonable measure. We’re talking about greater than 100% increases in the last decade in some cases.

          Your comments read very much like someone who has not experienced a significant lack of income. I don’t have all of the information about your situation, so I’m not going to comment further there, but I can tell you without any hesitation that the decision to even *consider* bankruptcy as a viable option is not the first choice the vast majority of Americans will make.

          From where I sit, it is not “right” or “ethical” of you to pass judgment so easily.

      3. Your Mileage May Vary*

        The Bible? You mean the actual Bible? How is it part of the bankruptcy process?

        1. Mike C.*

          The idea is that there is a long tradition of bankruptcy. It’s not a new issue, and you’ll see references to it in all sorts of places.

    3. Anon-Mouse*

      I have to admit, this is one of those scenarios where even a dedicated political lefty like me gets a little frustrated, so I agree with you a little Anna. I absolutely feel for OP#2, just as I feel for my friends and colleagues in comparable situations.

      BUT, I was born and raised poor (we squeaked our way out of poverty and into working-class when I was in my teens). So I worked very hard (in a very rough inner-city public school) to get good grades because I knew I would need them to get scholarships for college. Then, because the private universities I would have loved to attend, with their incredible networks and facilities, didn’t give me enough financial assistance to be able to attend without drowning in student loan debt, I chose to attend a local state college that granted me full merit-based scholarships, and I worked part-time throughout my academic career to subsidize my living.

      Meanwhile, there’s chatter that taxpayers like me MAY end up taking up the burden for those students who instead chose to go to the incredibly expensive school they couldn’t afford. How nice for them, that they’ll have access in perpetuity to an alma mater with immense amounts of funds and a swath of well-connected alumni with very deep pockets, while those of us that chose the financially stable route have to kick, claw, and fight our way up to excellence because our resume’s don’t say “__insert expensive, renowned private university here__”

      Frankly, I’d rather my tax dollars go toward making public universities castles that are free for all–I think it would be a far better investment.

      Anywho, long story short, I’m a bad liberal but I’m with you a little, Anna.

      1. Cat*

        I agree with you re public universities in the long term but people make mistakes and kids especially make mistakes, and kids who are misled by pretty much everyone for the first 18 years of their life about certain prospects especially, especially make mistakes. The fact that you avoided that mistake is great but doesn’t mean we can expect everyone to have (I did too, and I’m glad about that, but it was a combination of upbringing and luck, not superior moral character).

        The question is: do we think people deserve to have their lives ruined because of a mistake they made at 18 in order to try to get a better education. I’d say no, and as a society we need to figure out a way to make sure their lives aren’t ruined, even if that involves a bit of extra tax burden. In actuality, however, I suspect it won’t: much like having people rack up medical debt they can’t pay and then default on it, having a lot of people who can’t pay student loans doesn’t make a healthy economy and we’re better off dealing with that instead of ignoring it and placing the entire burden on the individual. (That doesn’t mean just forgiving every student loan willy nilly, but it does mean not saying “You should have known going to school was stupid when you were 18, idiot; suffer for life!”) Then we should address the problem going forward.

        1. Anon-Mouse*

          I think my problem with your answer is that you assume that I believe I have some sort of “superior moral character.” I don’t. My preparation and foresight (and, by the way, considerable professional sacrifice–it’s arguably required two or three times as much work for me to get the kind of recognition that a graduate of Harvard of Yale would have merely by handing over his resume) doesn’t prove that I’m better. It proves if even a poor inner-city public school kid with limited resources can make good choices, the information to MAKE those good choices was and is widely available. At what point are the parents and “kids” (which I don’t believe is an appropriate term for 18-22 year olds, honestly) responsible for making sure their middle-class high school senior opens up a computer and googles “student loan risks.”

          I also don’t believe that students “should have known going to school was stupid.” I believe that all high school students should have the right to get a sound college education, regardless of circumstance. I do not believe, however, that I–who made a considerable professional sacrifice in favor of fiscal responsibility-should be made to pay for those students who now enjoy all of the resources and benefits of an extraordinarily expensive private education and can’t pay for it.

          I’m absolutely, passionately on-board when it comes to regulating the hell out of the private-student-loan industry, sanctioning predatory lending practices, and requiring that all private-student-loans offer income-based repayment options. I’m also a big fan of cracking down on grossly bloated tuition hikes, and I’ll happily shell out tax-dollar after tax-dollar if it goes toward reducing/eliminating the tuition for public colleges.

          I’m just not a fan of paying for somebody else very expensive mistake, not when the information necessary to make good choices is so widely available.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            ” I do not believe, however, that I–who made a considerable professional sacrifice in favor of fiscal responsibility-should be made to pay for those students who now enjoy all of the resources and benefits of an extraordinarily expensive private education and can’t pay for it. “

            Totally agree with this. (And yes, understand that not everyone in this boat chose an expensive private education. But agree with the statement nonetheless.)

            1. Natalie*

              Maybe this is getting too academic, but is this really different from all of the other ways we, as members of society, pay for other members of society? Sometimes those people that benefit have made bad choices, sometimes they haven’t, and usually we don’t know.

              Take something like the ADA. We all “pay” for ADA modifications in the same sense we pay when someone else declares bankruptcy – some company directly absorbs the cost, but passes the expense through to their consumers or lenders or what have you. Yet we don’t quiz every person in a wheelchair using a ramp or a sidewalk cutout to see if their disability was caused by their own foolishness.

              1. Anon-Mouse*

                We could go in circles on this (not just with the ADA, but any number of assistance programs), but I don’t want to derail the topic, short and sweet:

                There’s a difference between having a disability, being born into poverty/hunger, being in your 70’s and unable to care for yourself, etc etc et al and choosing to go to a 100K private college.

                The latter, in my opinion as a progressive and a policy wonk, is fundamentally a choice–a shortsighted and very expensive choice.

                1. Natalie*

                  Right, but my point is that there seems to be a thread of support here for “morals-testing” bankruptcy for student loans. If we’re going to do that with college, why not with other social services?

                  I know someone who is paralyzed because he chose to go dirt-biking drunk and broke his back. I don’t begrudge him the protections of the ADA , and I wouldn’t begrudge him SSDI if it turned out he was unable to work after that accident. In general, I’m not comfortable making decisions about who should or should not get assistance or protection based on whether or not we consider them to be deserving.

                2. fposte*

                  That’s an interesting approach–definitely making me think. To me, one difference is that bankruptcy is a conscious choice in a way breaking one’s back isn’t, and I do think there are people who use bankruptcy–sometimes more than once–as a get-out-of-financial-consequences-free card.

                  I don’t think that’s usually true, though, and I think that as so often happens the narrative overfocuses on people who misuse the situation. I would never want to eliminate the protections of bankruptcy just because there are a few people who misuse it–I’m not a big believer in the moral hazard theory anyway. However, I can still personally find some individual choices–about drunkenly breaking your back or choosing bankruptcy rather than working a job you don’t love–to be problematic without finding a need to change the support system just to preclude that.

          2. Cat*

            Well, it sounds like we’re in agreement that the system is broken. You’ve had to make considerable professional sacrifices you shouldn’t have had to make; other people are having to make considerable financial sacrifices they shouldn’t have had to make. And I see why that breeds resentment on both sides. But I guess I don’t think that addressing that problem means that you’re “paying” for someone else’s mistake. It means that we, as a society, are paying for the fact that we set up a lousy system that is unsustainable and are paying the consequences. Much like anyone with a 401K paid for hundreds of thousands of other people’s mistakes during the housing crisis.

            But in the end, I put the real blame on the people and institutions who set up the system; not on individuals who chose one bad choice over another. (Though, again, as I’ve said – I’m not saying that people should just be able to walk away from all their loans consequences free and I don’t think anyone on this thread has said that. I do think we should look at regimes that allocate consequences appropriately, and I don’t think our current system does that.)

            I also want to say – I don’t think this point is quite right: “It proves if even a poor inner-city public school kid with limited resources can make good choices, the information to MAKE those good choices was and is widely available.” First of all, decent, honest, reasonable people react differently to different situations, and anything that assumes that because one person was able to do it, another could, is not going to lead to good policy. Much like some people work themselves through awful childhood circumstances and succeed, but that doesn’t mean we should assume awful childhood circumstances are okay. Second, though, I suspect that the messages you were getting were actually different than the messages the type of middle class student most prone to taking out loans they couldn’t afford was getting, and that message was often “you will be screwed if you don’t go to the best school possible.” Conditioning is powerful, and for a long time, in certain communities, there wasn’t a lot of counter conditioning.

            And for what it’s worth – I made the choice you did. I went to a less-good school that didn’t put me into debt. And I know the huge pressures against me making that decision; it does not surprise me in the least that a lot of people in my situation truly and reasonably believed that another course was better.

            1. twentymilehike*

              Second, though, I suspect that the messages you were getting were actually different than the messages the type of middle class student most prone to taking out loans they couldn’t afford was getting, and that message was often “you will be screwed if you don’t go to the best school possible.”

              Excellent point. My generation (I graduated HS in 99), was constantly prepped for college and told we HAD to go to college to do anything withour lives, more or less.

              Anyhow, I heard recently on NPR that only 1/3 of jobs in the US require a college degree. Additionally, skilled laborers are beginning to retire, and today’s emerging working class doesn’t have the skillset to fill their shoes.

              It was very interesting … I wish I could find a link to it :(

              1. Anon*

                I posted some info all the way at the bottom, late to the party :)

                The HUGE issue why we have this is because for profit online school’s lobby and get federal funds. I had worked in the industry and they also rob our military vets of their benefits (actually those are preferred)

                A huge issue here is that these school’s hire sales people, and coach/force them to sign up students, sometimes lying to them about their actual loans and jobs.. even as far as accreditation.

                I am in a position where being in my early 30’s am going back to a more focused field and blending it with my resume. However, I could really only find 1 school in the Midwest that would charge an okay amount per class, and allow me to work.
                A lot of people go back later in life and make bad decisions because our colleges are not equipped to handle adult students, or can’t hire teachers to teach (esp true in healthcare)

                If we expanded community colleges more and gave grants/loans based on what you study AND financial need (some kind of points system) we would be better off.

                I believe someone posted something about healthcare (and loans/forgiveness) . It would be great if we had a shortage of x and instead of going overseas to find candidates we could train them here, and give them incentive to actually go to those schools! (flexible classes etc)

                I think we have all split a bit, and I am a foreigner that lived in a few other countries/went to school- when we all focus on the middle and working class, society as a whole benefits.

                As far as disabilities are concerned- I have one. Please know that even though I do have some kind of protection it rarely ever works the way it’s supposed to. Employers seem not to like diversity or investing in their workforce anymore.

              2. Noelle*

                Sadly, I think there’s a huge difference between jobs *requiring* a college degree and whether you’re likely to get those jobs without one. There’s nothing in my job that requires a college degree, but of the hundreds of people I know personally who work in my field, I only know one who got the job without a college degree.

      2. Mike C.*

        I’m torn on this, on one hand there are colleges out there that are charging way more than they should be. On the other hand, I can’t blame someone for getting admitted to an MIT or CalTech and not jumping at it, regardless of the cost.

        On my third hand, such a bailout would actually be a great stimulus to the economy and I’d take that over bailing out another bank or investment firm. Heck, just switching to a more robust income-based repayment scheme would have similar effects while negating a large amount of the taxpayer burden.

        1. Anon-Mouse*

          I think your second hand is where my typically-uber-lefty-brain keeps getting hung up on. I absolutely admit there’s an element of bitterness to unpack in some of these feelings–but why can’t we blame them? Many of us didn’t jump at it. Many of us cried over big fat acceptance letters with (comparatively) weak financial aid packages, then tossed them in the trash because we knew that nobody was going to be there to pick up the cost of that bill and we needed to make real, honest sacrifices to get our education.

          Include a four-year tax break for anybody who has attended a public college and toss in a requirement that private businesses may NOT take “prestige of a university” into account when hiring, and I’ll absolutely sign on for a private-student-loan bailout. But the former will never happen, so I guess my question is why should the latter?

          1. Liz in a Library*

            I completely agree. My ideal school would have cost me $35k a year not including housing, after numerous scholarships. I chose a public university and worked full time instead. I do feel for those with huge debt loads (I have enough of my own regardless), but that was ultimately a choice…

            1. twentymilehike*

              I chose a public university and worked full time instead.

              This was my choice, as well. I applied for private universities, and what it came down to was my mom explaining to me how much it would cost me, given that I had zero dollars to start out with. All-in-all, when I finished college, even though I worked through it, I still took out almost $20K in loans (not to mention all the credit cards I maxed out). I kick myself now, wishing I would have been more financially responsible. A lot of that loan money went to clothes, beer and fun … a lot of tangible things that I don’t have anymore and could have lived without back then. You understand debt differently when it overwhelms you. I’ve been working on paying off all that debt for almost ten years and I’m finally starting to feel in control of my finances (and that’s being married with a dual income, even).

              It feels really good not to have that burden of debt following you around dictating how you live your life. But having a bankruptcy on the books will also create a financial burden and you will have to work just as hard to repair your credit. OP, it is definately worth a long hard look at financial plans where you do and don’t file bankruptcy, and how that will influence all aspects of your life. In the end, you need to feel good about your choice. If you can support that choice and know you made the right one, it will earn you more respect. Good luck :)

          2. Cat*

            I don’t know how you could ever enforce a requirement that employers not take “prestige of university” into account when hiring. Even if you could enforce the “prestige” criteria itself, students who went to prestigious universities still have better access to alumni networks and well-connected professors (with research opportunities) and that’s going to filter down. Honestly, working to make prestigious universities accessible to anyone who qualifies for admission seems like the simpler course.

            1. Anon-Mouse*

              I agree, you couldn’t enforce it (it’s barely possible to enforce protected class, at least in the US which is predominately “at-will.”), that’s my whole point.

              I’m all for pressuring prestigious universities to deflate their bloated tuition, absolutely. But I just can’t get behind swamping the credit market with private-student-loan bankruptcies (and seeing all of my costs go up as a result) all while these students get all of those great networks and well-connected professors, and all they have to sacrifice for it is seven years of bad credit and shiny ivy-league education they can farm out to their “network” while the public school graduate starts from the bottom of a pool of a million job applicants and prays some great HR-Alison-replica notices them.

              1. Cat*

                I think there’s two parts of this though. First, mass default on student loans isn’t going to be better than mass bankruptcies, and would probably be worse than well-managed bankruptcies in individual cases. Second, and more importantly, the people who can’t pay their student loans* are not the people who benefited from Ivy League universities. They – by and large – are the people who made a poor choice to go to one of the private schools that costs as much as an Ivy League school but doesn’t get you the benefits. That was a poor choice but they’re not prospering as a result of it. Or they’re the relatively few people who went to a prestigious school and then had the market bottom out from under them. Or they’re the people who didn’t get financial aid and had to take out a lot of money to attend a “cheap” public school. The people who went to Harvard, got an i-banking job, and are ranking in the $$$ are not really relevant to this discussion. The people who went to some no-name private school that convinced them they have an amazing job placement rate and alumni network and which don’t are.

                * And I don’t think anyone is saying EVERYONE should be let out of their student loans with no looking at ability to pay.

              2. Cat*

                Basically what I’m saying is that you are actually in a better position than most of the people we’re talking about because you have a degree worth the same and paid way less for it. Nobody is giving huge brakes to the graduates of a $35k private school nobody has ever heard of.

          3. Natalie*

            I would also be careful in assuming that public colleges are necessarily cheaper. The land-grant university in my state charges a frankly ridiculous amount, even for in-state tuition, and provides almost no financial aid. I went to a private college in another state and lived on campus for less than the same amount of time at the land grant college would have cost, because the private college had an endowment and provided grants and low-interest loans to students.

            1. A Teacher*

              Agreed. My sister went to a small Catholic college that was ranked highly in her field. It could have cost $30k a year but because of scholarships she paid way less to go there than to our nearest state school. Some of going to college is researching the ways to pay for it as a high school student and thank you AAM readers because you’ve just given me an idea for my juniors and seniors next year in their career class!

          4. Mike C.*

            We can’t blame them because we’re they accepted those letters on the understanding that the investment would pay off afterwards. They weren’t taking the money and betting it all on double zero, they were doing what they had been told to do all of their life – do as best as you can in grade school, do the same when you get to college and you’ll be successful. And the statistics show that even now this is true. Just less so.

            And furthermore, why would you throw out the “prestige” of a particular school? Maybe some institutions get by on marketing, but there are plenty of schools where that reputation comes from the fact that students have access to things like *incredibly* expensive scientific equipment and laboratory space or have curriculum with insane requirements or no grade inflation.

            Public or private, every institution is different, why would you tell employers to treat every college degree as the same?

          5. Anon*

            Yup.. I am a die hard liberal.. but this is what happened with me. I got accepted, just moved to this country .. and knew my parents couldn’t afford it. So I went local.

        2. Judy*

          Sometimes the schools are promoting it, too. I was talking to a friend who has a daughter who is a junior in HS last week. Daughter wants to be an engineer, as I am. I went to Purdue (state land grant school, engineering ranked in top 10 most years). Daughter has decided she wants to go to small private university, and on campus tour, undergrad tour leader said “Don’t worry about taking the loans, my summer intern company has agreed to pay $80,000 of my loans if I come to work for them after graduation.” Which would be about half the price OF TUITION ALONE for this school. The tour guide also stated to this group of possible students the company is expecting to offer her a six figure salary.

          I’m sure what I told him matched what his older brother, another Purdue engineer, with 2 sons who are in their 20s Purdue engineers, from the way he responded to my comments. I’ve certainly learned in my years of in industry, there is a significant risk for companies not to do what they say, don’t go $160,000 in debt on the hopes of $80,000 signing bonus and six figure salaries.

          I’ve not heard of a market for female engineers that pays just out of school engineers more than the industry average for experienced engineers.

          1. Mike C.*

            Which small engineering college? Harvey Mudd, Olin, Rose Hulman?

            Also, I would like to point out that at small institutions like those, you’re paying for the fact that you are only taught by professors, and have no graduate students to compete with for research opportunities.

            Also, those schools tend to hand out a lot in financial aid. It was cheaper for me to attend one of the schools above than it would have been to attend the local state school (which is still a really good school, don’t get me wrong).

      3. Anonymous*

        There’s been a huge transfer of wealth upwards in our society in the last 30 years, to very wealthy people and to corporation (who profit from education loans).

        And those actors have middle class and poorer people fighting among ourselves over crumbs. It’s diabolical.

        “I’d rather my tax dollars go toward making public universities castles that are free for all–I think it would be a far better investment.”

        Yeah. Excellent point. But the problem with that is that financial institutions don’t get their cut. That’s why our political leaders prefer to make loans that go to pay more expensive public universities and also private universities (including for-profit private universities).

    4. Natalie*

      Leaving the rant aside, federal loans are capped at a fairly low maximum borrowing level. If the OP is considering declaring bankruptcy, it’s more than likely that they are talking about private student loans.

      it’s important to remember that all deferment and forgiveness programs are available for debt through the Department of Education *only*. The student loan crisis is largely one of *private* student loans, which are not eligible for any sort of forgiveness or deferment program.

      1. Anon-Mouse*

        All very true. It’s a frequent source of confusion for people–deferments, income adjustments, forgiveness, all of these things are exclusive to DOE loans. Private student loans have few if any of these protections.

    5. Lisa*

      I hate when people talk about deferment, because of the 8 loan companies I have had over 10 years (they keep transferring / selling my loans) all of them adhere to only giving out 2 deferments of 6 months each for the life of the loan. Of course I already used them. Of course I make too much to be given that monthly break based on income (before, I started making decent money). Of course most of the deferment options that people keep mentioning are only available for NEW loans, not old ones. People keep talking about deferment and oh go teach to get it wiped out. It only wipes out federal loans, and not every one. The problem is private loans. Besides, I didn’t go to college to become a teacher in a bad school district or to join the military so that I can them pay my expenses. I went to school to get a better paying job than my friends that didn’t go to college, because in the long run studies say college degrees make more for you than high school. Well its still true, but tack on 10 years before you end up where everyone told us we would be when we graduate – a more than average wage. 40-50k with a college degree, but the reality is you get 26k half the time even with a professional job in an office doing what you wanted to. 26k doesn’t pay rent, food, car, health ins, gas, AND the $700 average minimum monthly payments that most of my friends pay for their consolidated loans. I am not a victim and neither is OP, we’re deflated and drowning in debt that we wish we were better informed about when we took it on. Lessons learned – don’t go to private school unless they give you loads of money, don’t co-sign with your parents because you’ll ruin their debt, choose a better major, opt for flashy unpaid internships not paid crappy ones, work throughout school to pay off loans BEFORE you graduate, but alas the point. We graduated, we can’t go back in time. I can’t undo all the things i would change now. But my kids will be better prepared to make decisions when they go to school due to what I know now, unfortunately I am postponing kids by about 10 years due to my school debt.

    6. Steve G*

      Anna – This person probably graduated HS in 2006 or earlier. In the world of work, I knew the economy was tanking in very early 2007 but it didn’t get media attention until 2008 (not sure if anyone else noticed the recession like a year before it was in the media) – but someone not working wouldn’t have picked up on the subtle clues about the economy. And once the housing market crashed, what were younger people to expect happen? That it would stay bad for years?

      I also want to add that thanks to the recession I had to move to a big city (in my case, NYC was the closest) to find a job that paid enough to live on. I’d like you to note that despite my having 5 years full time experience at the time and being very well-spoken, etc. advanced Excel (the type most people meet and assume make $100K+ just because I’m well dressed etc – ie. it wasnt the case I wasn’t getting better interviews b/c I’m some sort of weirdo) and I was still only getting entry level-salary interviews. No one needed either an account mgr or analyst (my 2 previous jobs) – their were no sales to manage; their was nothing new to analyze when the economy tanked.

      So it is unjust to expect someone who may have had 0 yrs experience at the time and probably is in a place w/ less jobs (I’d imagine most places have less openings at any time than Manhattan), I really can only understand sympathizing w/ the OP.

  2. Anonymous*

    #1- Yes, I saw a program not too long ago about the monster debt college kids take on, and one case, the student had died, and the parents were left with the debt….they were unable to even reduce it. I believe they are treating student loans much like taxes, you can no longer run away from them.

    1. VintageLydia*

      Sounds morbid but that’s why I have life insurance on my son. If heaven forbid he dies while still owing money on a loan I consigned on, I need to be able to pay those bills.

      1. ThatHRGirl*

        Not morbid at all, this is why I have additional life insurance on my husband. It’s just necessary.

  3. Dan*


    While (all?) student loans are generally not dischargeable, they can be if you are are royally screwed. You’ll have to do some research, or perhaps contact an attorney, to see if you’d qualify.

    There are also income based repayment plans (google “IBR”) that will help you if your loans are all federally backed. If you have a lot of private loans, you won’t get much, if any benefit.

    Also, anything borrowed under the federal programs comes with some really generous repayment options. You can pay interest only for up to 8 years if you’ve borrowed a lot.

    1. Amy*

      Unfortunately, “royally screwed” for purposes of getting student loans forgiven doesn’t just mean unemployed and in a lot of debt. It means that you have no reasonable prospect of ever being able to pay them off. The only stories I’ve ever heard have involved borrowers who are permanently physically and/or mentally disabled such that doctors certify that the person will never work again. Just plain poor doesn’t garner any sympathy from the legal system.

    2. RG*

      You basically have to be completely disabled and unable to get any job in order to get your student loans discharged. Yes, there are some options, but they are very very very very very limited. And will involve time in front of a judge explaining how that is (which will generally cost you extra attorney fees, fwiw) Just so we’re not fanning any false hopes.

  4. bob*

    #2: Declaring bankruptcy can and will negatively affect your job prospects so DON’T DO IT! There are different options to repay your student loans based on income and under employment in particular so absolutely contact your loan servicer to find out what they will do for you. Also, I have no idea how large your medical bill is but most clinics or hospitals will let you string out payments as long as you pay something. I’ve dealt with both issues in the past so I’m pretty familiar with the anxiety involved.

    When I broke my neck I paid on the leftover ER bill for years, even while I was unemployed for about 2 1/4 years, until I had just about run out of all unemployment and everything I could cash out. I called the patient advocate at the hospital and told her my story about being unemployed then nearly running out of money and they forgave what was left on my bill because I had been paying regularly. Pretty much the only way to discharge your student loans is to become permanently disabled or dead so you need to find a way through without declaring bankruptcy which will just destroy your credit for 7-10 years and you’ll still end up with student loans.

    1. FiveNine*

      Thank you. While I fully appreciate AAM’s response to the OP, I was a little alarmed at how much it conflicted with my own experience during a five-year stint of underemployment — and I didn’t even have a bankruptcy on my financial background! If you have any kind of credit card debt, most — and I do mean most — jobs that are in the service industry do check and will hold it against you. I don’t even know why anything below a professional-level white collar job checks your credit history, but they do so, and they do it routinely. I mean whether it’s applying for a position to work as a cashier at Target or to work in the Comcast call center or what. (I think they justify these credit checks by saying anyone who handles money should be able to handle their own finances — but it’s so ridiculous because these aren’t high-finance type jobs, etc.) But absolutely, if a person is going through a difficult time getting professional entry-level work and is trying to work in the service industry or trades, ANYTHING on the financial background check can and will kick them out of the running for those jobs.

        1. bob*

          Actually for jobs that deal with money or have security clearances, in particular, the powers that be don’t want an employee who can be easily blackmailed.

      1. Lisa*

        I think the thinking behind that is “If this person can’t pay their bills/ are in a butt-load of debt, will they steal from us to subsidize their wages”.

        1. Anon*

          take a look into this. they have a new law on the books where they could no longer use this, unless you legit work in finance.

          this is pretty freaking stupid though… ummmmm we now have computers and things that could check irregularities. How would you close out your drawer ?? if you were missing $200 they would probably can you.! are people going to steal $5??
          Funny you mention Target, because I have a friend who is high up HR food chain and started out at the bottom.. and has always had credit issues. Some of her family have issues also and no problems.

          I also wanted to mention that when I got laid off and just couldn’t keep up, my credit cards would not accept a $20 payment, wanted $200! They usually write it off and sell the debt to really BAD places. PLEASE if you are in this situation look at the company sending you letters if your debt was SOLD (for penny’s and tax break) consult an attorney before you pay.
          You might end up owing things you never did or paying and them selling again.

          I won 4 lawsuits (can’t discuss amounts) for sold debts 3 years ago. I always tried to pay creditor.. but they sometimes just didn’t want to work with me!

  5. Canuck*

    A question for #6:

    Since I’m not in the U.S., I’m interested in knowing if it is actually possible to get a raise, yet take home less money? That’s not really possible here in Canada, because no matter how little the raise is, the income tax is a percentage of dollars earned. So even if the raise was a measly $1 per year, you would still earn at least $0.65 or so.

    Now, with inflation and a rising cost of living, then yes a small 1.3% raise may feel like a pay cut. But your actual paycheck should still be higher (albeit only just), shouldn’t it?

    1. PEBCAK*

      The payroll taxes have changed in the US from last year, so it’s possible that the 1.3% is not enough to off-set those changes.

      However, your general thesis is correct: we have marginal tax rates; even if a raise bumps you into a higher tax bracket, you take home more.

      1. jesicka309*

        In Australia it IS possible to get a pay increase and lose take home pay – if you have an outstanding university loan. Our money doesn’t come out until a certain threshold, so if your 2% pay increase tips your pay over by $20….you’re suddenly in the tax bracket which requires you pay off your debt.
        I know many graduates who are super excited at their first big pay increase…only to find that in reality, they’ll get $50-100 less take home pay. Sure, they need to pay off their debt, but it still stings when you’re early in your career and never had an increase before.

      2. Her*

        THIS. Plus in many companies the cost of benefits (medical, dental, and vision insurance) goes up every year often negating the bump in salary.

    2. FiveNine*

      I hope the OP doesn’t telegraph to the employer that OP sees the raise as essentially a pay cut, which OP actually said not once but twice in the letter. Because there is no question the employer is paying OP more and that it’s a raise. I absolutely understand the frustration over inflation and the fact that Congress did not extend the temporary payroll tax reduction, but the employer is paying OP more — if OP thinks this is a pay cut, keep in mind the reduction in OP’s takehome pay would have been more dramatic without the modest pay increase from the employer. And then consider what an actual pay cut by the employer would have looked like to OP!

      1. Cat*

        On the payroll tax, yes. But the employer is also subject to inflation so may be paying the OP less in real dollars due to that.

        1. FiveNine*

          But imagine if the OP had gotten an actual pay cut! There ARE employers who really are cutting the pay right now — and not only is this not the case for OP, OP also did not merely have his/her wages remain the same. OP received a RAISE and is acting like it’s a pay cut.

      2. anon o*

        Yeah exactly. I doubt the employer thinks of it as a pay cut and you run the risk of looking entitled if you treat it that way. I know your bills aren’t going up by 1.3% but your employer isn’t obligated to match the cost of living.

      3. AnotherAlison*

        What also concerns me is that after only 9 mos., the OP got a raise and is not happy with it. 9 months! If she was happy with the salary she was offered when she took the job, it seems a little much to ask for a second raise within 12 months.

        Now, if she has double the responsibilities listed on the original job description, she might have a point.

        1. Cat*

          It sounds like part of the issue is that she won’t be eligible for another raise under her company’s rubric for a year and nine months. So instead of getting her normal raise after a year and another raise after another year, it’ll be almost 3 years before she’s at that two year point. I can see that as frustrating.

    3. Holly*

      Is it possible that the raise bumped the OP into the next tax bracket, causing a higher amount of taxes to be taken out than normal – an amount that might negate or severely minimize the raise? (tax newb, concerned about this myself.)

      1. KellyK*

        But taxes are only paid for the income in that bracket. If (and I’m just making up numbers here), you make $50,000 and are right at the top of a tax bracket where you pay 15%, then you get a 5k raise and it bumps you up to the tax bracket where you pay 17%, then you pay 15% on your first 50k and 17% on that 5k.

        Tax brackets can make a raise effectively smaller, but they can’t turn it into an effective pay cut.

      2. Cat*

        That’s not how tax brackets work. When you’re bumped into a new tax bracket, only the income in that tax bracket is taxed at the higher rate. So for instance, imagine that up to $20k is the “10%” tax bracket and $20k-$30k is the 15% tax bracket. That means you’d pay $2k in taxes on your first $20k in income, and $1,500 on your next $10k.

        1. Holly*

          That’s what I was wondering. Seriously – tax newb. I’m in an entry level job, right under the margin of a tax bracket, so I wasn’t sure how that played out.

    4. Anoymous_J*

      It is. My raise this year was $100 less than my raise last year, AND my insurance premium went up.

      It was like not getting a raise at all.

      1. FiveNine*

        I understand totally. And yet, imagine where you’d be if you had not actually gotten your raise this year (because that payroll tax still went up and so did your insurance premium). And then take it one step more and think about where you’d be right now if not only did you not get that raise this year but your employer actually CUT your hourly or weekly pay (and of course you’d still had that payroll tax increase and increase in your insurance premium).

  6. Darcie*

    #3 : Is there a reason why your boss will not purchase or lease a company vehicle for you to use for business purposes? It’s totally insane that he’d expect his employees to own vehicles to subsidize his business. If I were in your position I’d counter with “if you pay me $X, then I can afford it”.

    In any case it doesn’t sound like you want to work for this guy.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      We probably beat that question to death in another thread recently, but it’s not at all uncommon for employees to need to use a personal car to run errands or go to off-site meetings. When the job itself isn’t based around driving (such as, say, a delivery job), it’s normal convention to expect that rather than providing a company car.

      1. Natalie*

        And many delivery drivers use their own vehicles as well, especially food delivery. They get a small reimbursement for gas and maintenance, but it’s usually below the IRS rate and well below what maintaining a delivery vehicle actually costs.

      2. Anon*

        I’m in sales (inside and outside ) so a car is expected.
        HOWEVER I had a few people negotiate a car and get one.

        I mostly worked out of state so would rent a car anyways and anything I did I could submit to the employer.

        Which industry is this?!!!!! It seems that the OP doesn’t need a car to drive to work, they walk… what do they need the car for? Errands?? I’m confused. I know off-site meetings etc… but ?? Wouldn’t those be scheduled in advance so the employees could car pool? And if they were a delivery driver wouldn’t they need the car to start with??

        This kind of reminds me of old job where everyone had a car and would use it to go to meetings with clients, except for one person. So they would schedule the meeting and I would end up going.. it got a bit crazy because they would sometimes schedule them 1 hour out and I would go to see 5 clients a week of theirs. Their excuse was their car was not reliable. This job required onsite client meetings and outside.

        Talk to your tax person, see what the benefits would be. A friend of mine just got a decent 2010 small car for $4000 cash. You can usually write off gas, tolls and maintenance – at a certain rate.

    2. FiveNine*

      One takeaway I got from the OP’s letter is that the employer did have the conversation before hiring OP about the job basically requiring reliable transportation. I’m not sure OP understood it that way — it’s hard to tell whether the employer put it precisely in those terms or whether the employer thought it was such a typical requirement that it was implied — but even with the vague wording by the OP it’s clear to me some variation of that conversation did happen.

      1. IndieGir*

        Or the information could have been confusingly relayed. I had a temp job in the past where they asked me “Do you have access to a car?” and I said yes, as I was sharing a car with my Mom. What they did not ask was “Would you be willing to use that car on the job?” I showed up the first day sans car and we both were very surprised. Since it was a temp job, no harm/no foul, but they did learn to ask the right question of the next candidate!

      2. CoffeeLover*

        Ya, whenever an employer asks if I have “reliable access to a car” I’ve learned it means I need a car and will be using it. OP told the employer she had a car when she was hired. Since that’s no longer the case, I don’t think it’s unreasonable for the employer to expect her to get one if that’s what the job requires.

        1. Anonymous Accountant*

          This exactly.

          I consider it reasonable when the job requires it and the employer asked before the LW was hired about having reliable access to a car that the LW needs to get a car. Some jobs require a car and some don’t.

          It sounds like it was made clear to the LW before accepting the job offer that ongoing access to a vehicle was required.

      3. Valencia*

        This conversation is fascinating – and disturbing – to me, having lived in only major US/Intl cities where using public transportation is the norm for professionals (and everyone.) I can understand when a professional like an electrician or plumber is expected to have made a sizable capital investment to possess the right tools – maybe $5000+ worth of them.

        But to otherwise ask someone not at the very highly paid executive level to make a capital investment 2 or 3 times that, just for a basic level job? This smacks of the worst kind of exploitation I can imagine. A person making $30,000 a year must spend $10,000+ on a car to make that? It may not be illegal but it should be.

        I can understand it the OP lived in some extreme rural are where they could not when get to work w/out a car, but they have very responsibly insured that they live within walking distance and get to work on time.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          It’s not just about getting to work on time. It’s about needing to drive to client meetings or run errands on occasion. Employers have no shortage of candidates who can do these things; it’s not unreasonable that they’d prefer to hire those people.

          Surely this is not really the worst kind of exploitation you can imagine.

        2. Anonymous Accountant*

          Example: I work in public accounting and need often to drive throughout our small town or into other nearby towns for client meetings or go to meet with estate planning attorneys with my clients. It’s a bona fide employment qualification and understood before you take the job that you MUST have reliable vehicle to use regularly.

          My boss made this clear in the interview and it’s in the written employee contract and offer letter.

          It may be different if a job was (for example) an admin asst in a large city where the assistant may be able to take a train or walk to other places as needed.

        3. The Other Meg*

          This is really not the worst kind of exploitation out there. And no, it shouldn’t be illegal. (And for the record, if you’re living in an urban area, it’s usually not that hard to find a decent car for under $10k)

          I do disagree with the manager’s way of handling this, and the ultimatum of “either get a car of you’re fired”, when it hasn’t been necessary to have one. Possibly the OP could get a Zipcar membership? I live in a large city where plenty of people don’t drive, and tons of people rent zipcars for when they need to drive. It’s $100 a year as opposed to $150/month for a car loan, and it seems to be a great solution.

          1. Lore*

            The downside of Zipcar is that if you need one for more than a couple of hours, it actually gets more expensive than a regular rental pretty quickly.

        4. Just Dropping In*

          “A person making $30,000 a year must spend $10,000+ on a car to make that? It may not be illegal but it should be.”

          The OP didn’t say it had to be a new car; a car doesn’t have to be $10,000.

      4. Anonicorn*

        Yeah, I’m with you. Because I would take questions about transportation to mean will you reliably show up on time every day, unless I explicitly knew the job involved driving my own vehicle.

    3. Colette*

      It seems pretty clear that the employer made the OP aware of the requirement before she was hired – and the OP either said she could use her parents’ car without thinking she would actually need to use it, or that her parents weren’t aware/on board with her using it for work.

  7. mel*

    I’m probably just being naive again, but I totally gaped at “their car is their only asset.” It just sounds unfortunate that someone’s only “asset” is something that loses value faster than an ice cream cone melts in the sun!

    Sucks that you might lose the job you get to walk to. It’s a great perk. A car would dig into that paycheque super quick.

  8. likesdesifem*

    Concerning number 3, well if the manager can prove that using a car is required for effectual job performance, then it’s his prerogative to terminate the position. This is not being discriminatory, as anti-discrimination laws largely pertain to factors that don’t affect job performance. For instance, if somebody is fired from an accounting firm merely because s/he is a Christian, then this is illegal in numerous countries. Evidently, one’s religion cannot affect being a competent managerial/financial accountant.

    Whilst it obviously depends on the job and/or the corporate culture involved, employers often value mobility due to ease of travel from place to place.

    One option may be to make a deal/accommodation with the manager, and say that in a given period (say a month or two) a car will be obtained.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Just to be clear, the manager does not need to prove that a car is required for the job. There’s no law (in the U.S.) that requires that. The manager can fire you for not having a car, not having nice teeth, not having a summer home, or any other reason that isn’t about race/religion/etc.

      1. Joey*

        The only thing that would be problematic is if they require you to own a car. That tends to discriminate against minorities.

        1. Victoria Nonprofit*

          What? Requiring an expensive piece of equipment discriminates against low-income people, I guess, and certainly people of color are more likely than white folks to be poor, but it’s a (huge) stretch to say that requiring car ownership discriminates against “minorities.”

          1. Joey*

            Nope. It would be like requiring you to own a 2 story house in a wealthy neighborhood as a condition of employment. It may appear non discriminatory on its surface, but if it tends to exclude minority groups without a legitimate business reason its likely to be discriminatory.

            In the case of a car the actual owning of a car is rarely a true requirement to perform a job. Having access to a car may be or being able to travel between locations may be but it would be really hard to justify actual ownership of a car as a bfoq.

            1. Millie*

              Actually, I’ve seen just such requirements as a condition of employment. A friend became an account executive with a huge telecomm company. She was handed a list of stores to shop at for clothing and furniture, a list of acceptable neighborhoods to live in, and a very short list of cars she could drive. And they were serious – as in, show me the receipts serious.

            2. Victoria Nonprofit*

              I see. Your point was about the distinction between car ownership and access to a car.

            3. Valencia*

              Car *ownership* has been documented, and I have witnessed it, as being used as a “code” to avoid hiring people based on race or other related factors.

              A non-USA example, in Cape Town, South Africa, in the upscale shopping malls, every shop hiring (for minimum wage, to hire teenagers, I mean) will require car *ownership* – which excludes ALL you from the township and similarly poor areas. Even many middle class, if they live in town and use the buses (which is normal.) This is to be a cashier in a shop!

              So it’s become a coded way of making sure “those people” don’t apply. They can’t claim discrimination, as well… they didn’t meet the “requirement.” And I guarantee you not one of these jobs will ever include the use of a car.

              1. Anon*

                I have lived in South Africa for years, we did have a car. Although.. fun fact- did you know some cars cannot be insured in South Africa because they get stolen so often? I believe the Golf was one. That’s for my USA friends.

                I never saw car ownership as a requirement. We lived in the suburbs and everyone had a car because you couldn’t just walk or take the bus (they are not safe in SA, most communities are guarded/fenced)

                BUT I will agree regarding this issue – of course people are discriminated against! Even when I have a car and apply 45 min away, a trip I’m willing to make, and if anything move there later… people don’t call or want local because the travel will “wear you out”.
                I have sometimes used a trusted friend’s address without problems and worked at a place for 3 years like that!

          2. Natalie*

            The EEOC looks at rules that have a disparate impact on classified groups, even if the policy itself is race (or whatever) neutral.

          3. Hmmm*

            Depending on where you live, lower income families could indeed be minorities. And lower income families use public transportation more often, as they don’t own their own cars.

            1. Hmmm*

              Also, I don’t know where you live, but “certainly people of color are more likely than white folks to be poor” is a helluva statement to make. Again, it’s all relative to demographics.

                1. RG*

                  But are there more poor minorities than than are poor white people? That is, if you look at only a specific socioeconomic bracket, and then break it down by race, what is the outcome?

                  If there are as many or more poor white people in that bracket, it looks like less of a race issue because there isn’t a disparate treatment of similarly situated persons.

                2. fposte*

                  It’s not whether the poor minorities outnumber the poor whites, it is, as Natalie notes, the question of disparate impact–are minorities disproportionately represented among the poor and therefore affected more significantly by these rules? Nationally, they inarguably are: 20% of the US lives in poverty, but only 13% of whites do; 35% of blacks and 33% of Hispanics do. So in a hiring pool with similar figures, a finance-based qualification would hurt blacks and Hispanics more than whites.

                3. Anonymous*

                  And to follow up on this, it’s not just about income, there are also massive disparities in wealth.

                  In 2010 the average net work of white Americans was about $110K. Black Americans $5K. That’s a massive difference with the latter far closer to insolvency and harder to own a car.

              1. ThatHRGirl*

                So, we’re damned if we DON’T agree that this requirement adversely affects people of color, and we’re damned if we DO think that people of color are more likely to be in a low-income household which would make car ownership more difficult?


  9. Sara L*

    #2, I’m surprised more people don’t know this, but there’s a clause in the bankruptcy code which says you can’t be fired or denied a new job due to a past bankruptcy or financial insolvency prior to the bankruptcy. If you’ve screwed up since then, yes. But bankruptcy is supposed to be a fresh start, and there are protections in place. I only work at a retail store and even we know we’re not allowed to reject a candidate for bankruptcy or what led up to it.

    I hope anyone here who hires people learns more about the issue, because credit checks generally come at the end of a hiring process (as in “You’ve been selected pending a background/credit check,”) so it’s going to be pretty obvious that’s what the candidate was rejected for. So if they know their rights, they’re going to push back and cause some trouble.

    1. Your Mileage May Vary*

      But doesn’t your credit score take a hit after bankruptcy? If the company you were trying to get hired at said that they wouldn’t hire someone with a score lower than, say, 400 (totally making up a number; I have no real idea what good vs. bad numbers are), then it wouldn’t matter if the applicant had a bankruptcy or a million maxed out credit cards that they never paid, or what.

      Besides, if the OP comes across a hiring manager that has a moral stance against bankruptcy, you can bet they will find some way not to hire them.

    2. Anonymous*

      There have also been some interesting federal court interpretations of that provision of the bankruptcy code that have essentially gutted it in at least three of the circuits, so I don’t think I would recommend relying on that clause to protect the debtor.

      1. Anonymous*

        I can’t speak to whether some judge somewhere interpreted the law differently, but why would an employer want to risk going to court over it on the off chance that 2 years later after 17 rounds they might get the case overturned?

        The thing about credit checks is that like Sarah said, they come at the end of the hiring process. They’re not free and not cheap, so you can’t just check everyone right away. And with higher level jobs where you don’t fill out an app with the usual “I give permission for the company to perform background and credit checks etc,” you have to give them a form to sign, so they’ll obviously know their bankruptcy was an issue if you reject them after that.

        Not to mention that employers shouldn’t be looking for ways to get around a perfectly reasonable law. If I find out my candidates are hiding a firing or glossing it over, I’m not going to hire them. So I kind of need to follow the rules too.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          It’s not some judge — it’s court after court ruling that private employers can consider bankruptcy in hiring decisions, to the point that it’s now basically case law.

      1. Anonymous*

        It’s actually the other way around–“No private employer may terminate the employment of, or discriminate with respect to employment against, an individual who is or has been a debtor under this title, a debtor or bankrupt under the Bankruptcy Act, or an individual associated with such debtor or bankrupt, solely because such debtor or bankrupt…”


        Or maybe not “the other way around,” since it doesn’t speak to public jobs and since they don’t affect me (whew) I’m not inclined to research it.

          1. Anonymous*

            It’s interesting that they were able to dismiss it that way. My employer treats it all as one blanket (even though we’re private) I assume because no one wants to go to court over it.

            Since government employees include DoD and the whole reason companies claim they need to do credit checks is OMG!embezzlement and OMG!bribes, it’s weird that they would include gov’t and exclude private. My guess is that the free market fans lobbied for that, so I’m just glad my company doesn’t play the game.

            Interestingly, I’m pretty sure the main reason the one state (NJ, I think?) banned credit checks for employment is because they say it’s de facto discrimination against women and minorities who are statistically more likely to have poor credit. So it’s like two ways of discriminating in one.

      2. Katie the Fed*

        And in a job that requires a security clearance, you’re pretty screwed if you have a bankruptcy in your recent financial history.

          1. Katie the Fed*

            Many of them are. THere are also contractor jobs that require clearances.

            Regardless, things can bar you from getting a clearance that wouldn’t bar you from getting hired. A clearance isn’t a right.

            1. T*

              Just out of curiosity, what are some things that can get your barred from a clearance but not hired? obviously drugs/arrest/felonies, but I didn’t realize bankruptcy could shoot your chances of getting clearance

              1. De Minimis*

                I’ve heard there’s a lot of suspicion when people have a lot of foreign connections, even if it’s family.
                I know there are a lot of cases where someone is helping support parents/other family outside the US and has issues with getting a clearance.

                Holding dual citizenship is another one.

                Of course, most of this depends on the type of clearance and the individual background investigator.

  10. Jim*

    About the interviewer who talks a lot, I’d like to point out that in my company we designate a single interviewer to spend more time explaining the company and the role rather than asking the candidate questions, so it isn’t always an unskilled interviewer simply wasting time. We do pay close attention to the candidate’s responses and questions during this interview. I’m kind of surprised at Alison’s advice, because it would come off as quite strange if during one of these interviews a candidate said “I understand that you are trying to talk about the company and the position but I’d like to talk about myself more now”. Generally, it’s a good idea to let the interviewer set the agenda for the interview. If you don’t get around to saying everything you wanted to or asking the questions you had, that’s a perfect opportunity to write a follow up/thank you note.

    1. CoffeeLover*


      While the OP was technically asking how she could talk more not if she should talk more, I still disagree with forcing the interview in a direction the interviewer doesn’t want to go. It has the potential to really backfire on you and generally, as Jim said, its just a weird thing to say.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Would you really sit through an entire interview not getting to talk about yourself? I wouldn’t, and believe it’s entirely possible to say “I’d love to tell you how my background relates to that” nicely. But this goes to what you believe about the power dynamics in interviewing and whether you’re willing to let the employer have all the control.

      1. Judy*

        I”m thinking of multiple interview on one day. This person is talking more about the position and work group. This person is taking you on a tour. Jane and Wakeen are looking at technical ability. The manager is looking for x abilities. The benefits person is just talking about the benefits. As an interviewee, I’ve been able to guess afterwards who was supposed to do what. As an interviewer, I’ve been given roles for my interview time.

        You don’t need to discuss your professional background with the benefits person, who is just outlining the insurance and 401k options.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Absolutely! I assumed the interviewer here was the sole interviewer talking with her. If that’s not the case, hopefully she’d be able to tell (or would have mentioned it), but certainly if this is the “now I’ll tell you about benefits, etc.” portion of the process, then yes.

          1. Anon*

            I once sat through a 30 min interview where one guy kept repeating ” you understand people are going to die right?”

            I’m serious

      2. CoffeeLover*

        I’m not really looking at it from the point of power play dynamics. I’m thinking more along the lines that the interviewer has a clearer understanding of their interview process. I’ve had interviews where the majority of the time the interviewer was talking, but then they’ve been followed by more intense question based, second round interviewers. If the interviewer is just using the interview to screen candidates, then they may not want to get into a really detailed discussion about the person’s background. I mean if you word it correctly it probably wouldn’t hurt since the interviewer can just shut you down if they don’t want to hear it at that point. If you word it incorrectly, it can put the interview in a weird place.

          1. CoffeeLover*

            I’m talking very basic screening. The kind of stuff where the interviewer just wants to get a feel for who you are (i.e. that you didn’t show up to your interview in “Juicy” sweatpants), and giving you a chance to learn more about the position/company before continuing. Kind of what Judy was talking about (though I think she explained it a lot better).

  11. Michael*

    #1: Definitely a good idea to keep good connections with promising candidates you didn’t select. You never know what will happen in your organization: you might have another person give notice next month, your new person might be a terrible fit, you might create a new position, etc. I have hired a once-rejected candidate six months after their first application because I had a wave of resignations on my team, and I’m glad I didn’t burn any bridges during the first round.

    1. AB*

      “I have hired a once-rejected candidate six months after their first application because I had a wave of resignations on my team, and I’m glad I didn’t burn any bridges during the first round.”

      Oh, I’ve seen so many hiring managers shoot themselves in the foot, treating candidates poorly, and then being left without the best candidates the next time they need to hire. Not to mention that sometimes people are in the position of interviewing and later of being interviewed. You never know who you will end up having to hire or convince to hire you at a future date, so that’s the smart thing to do, to treat well all candidates, and develop good relationships with top candidates you don’t select.

  12. World's Best Employee*

    OP #2 Student Loan Bankruptcy:

    OP we get precious few details from your letter so I’m going to make a few assumptions that may or may not apply to your particular situation.

    First, as AAM and others have stated, it is very unlikely that you will be able to have your student loans discharged through bankruptcy unless you become disabled (or dead). Also, as others have stated, you will not be doing yourself any favors to declare bankruptcy at this point in the game. So, let’s assume for a moment that this option is off the table.

    My second assumption is that the student loan debt is really just a symptom of the larger problem: you spent all this time and money on an investment that now does not seem to be paying off.

    Now, here’s the part where I am going to make a suggestion based purely on my own anecdotal evidence. Have you considered relocating to find work? Perhaps you have and it is not an option due to family responsibilities, etc. However, I came out of my Master’s program in 2010 and the employment situation was probably even worse than it is now. The only way I could find work even remotely related to my degree was to move to a city that was not my first choice of places to live. But, once I got there, was gainfully employed, and had a sense of “moving forward”, I found that the situation, on balance, really wasn’t too bad after all. After three years, I was able to find work in a more desirable location and was so glad I had made the choice to move away for a few years and get the experience I needed to move forward in life. I contrast that with a number of my classmates that refused to relocate from our university city and, as best as I can tell from their LinkedIn profiles, are still stringing together 2-3 part-time jobs just to survive a full three years after graduation.

    Again, I will repeat that this advice may not be applicable to your situation. This is just one meager suggestion based on a scenario that I have very limited information about. So, OP, take heart and cast your net a bit wider. By letting go of some things, you may just find what you are looking for and be able to pay off those student loans as well!

    1. Legal Eagle*

      Yes, I think this is good advice. When your plans don’t work out, switch to plan B and accept that making it to your goal may take longer than you thought.

      Also, call your loan servicers while looking for a new path! Loan servicing companies now only make money off your account if you are not defaulted so that they have an incentive to work with you. (My mother works for a major loan servicing company.) Get those bills deferred and find new employment. It’ll be a long, hard slog but with the right attitude you will grow and be surprised at where life takes you!

    2. Mike C.*

      Hahaha, when you first talked about relocating for work, I thought you meant leaving the country to avoid debt repayment.

      Just remember that moving carries risk: not only is it expensive to move, but you are oftentimes are moving away from one’s personal safety net of friends and family.

      It’s not a terrible suggestion by any means, but the planning you speak of is quite important.

  13. Anonimal*

    #3-Based solely on what you said in your letter, it seems that your employer made it clear that access to a vehicle would be a required part of the job. You said you had that, which, in fact, you didn’t. Being able to borrow a car is not reliable access. If you don’t own it, you can’t control the use of it. Your parents do. I can understand not wanting to own a car, walking to work, not spending a huge chunk of money on a vehicle. I get it but you said you could meet the requirements of the job and you can’t. It’s within your employer’s right to let you go.

    1. Legal Eagle*

      Yes, I would suggest that this OP start looking for another job. Buying a car is expensive, but necessary for this job. That big of a purchase doesn’t seem worth it in this situation.

      1. Anonimal*

        That being said, I would hazard a guess that the vast majority of jobs are going to require a vehicle. Especially any at a company with multiple branches or offices in a given area. You may be cutting yourself out of jobs because of not wanting to get a job. Save up some money and buy an old beater car. It doesn’t have to be pretty or have bells and whistles, just work. If you live near a large military base, check their local newspapers and want ads for people who are moving overseas and can’t take a car with them.

        Several years ago my parents bought a van from a family that was moving to Italy for the next 10 years and couldn’t take it with them. Good deal for both sides.

        1. Cat*

          I don’t think the “vast majority” of jobs require a vehicle if you can get to work without one.

          1. The IT Manager*

            Most (all) of the jobs I worked required me to get to and from work reliably, but never required me to have a car to perform my work duties. Very occasionally I had to attend training or a meeting at another location that required me to be some place other than my normal work location.

            Some jobs might but by no means most.

            1. Anonimal*

              I don’t know, let’s play this out. I’m not talking about entry level jobs, most retail or even bank tellers or call centers. But here are some examples….

              Bank branch managers traveling to cover other banks during staffing shortages or to open new locations

              Nurses traveling to a college or other location for required con ed or other work time educational activities.

              Teachers traveling for worktime con ed. I know this for a fact because my location rents rooms to a local school district for training.

              Construction workers running to home depot when suddenly short of nails or caulk or something like that.

              You could probably keep going but a lot of jobs require a minimal amount of travel and unless you live somewhere with a really robust public transport then you are stuck with needing a car. But this issue is really about the employee knowing that the employer said they need a vehicle and then not being forthright about that.

              1. T*

                I want to add a +1 for construction workers – I hire in concstruction, and one major turnover issue is transportation issues (not being able to get to a job site, for instance)

            2. Anonicorn*

              I agree that “vast majority” might be a bit off. I’m sure a good number of them do, but I’ve never worked somewhere that required I have my own car.

              I know several working families who share one vehicle, indicating it isn’t necessarily a requirement for at least one spouse either.

        2. Jane Doe*

          I think this depends a lot on where you live. I’ve always lived in the city and I’ve never had a job that required me to have a car or access to one (which is good, because I can’t drive anyway). Most of the people I know don’t have cars. I’m always surprised when I see non-sales jobs that require a car, and I just never apply to those jobs since I’d rather not do any driving for work anyway.

          1. HR Pufnstuf*

            The US has a lot of space, business, and commerce outside the major urban areas where public transport is not much an option.

            I maybe able to work fine in Seattle w/o a car, less likely in Aberdeen or Yakima.

          2. Meg*

            Most definitely. Where I lived before, you pretty much had to have a car. Public transportation was a joke, and unless you lived right by your job, walking wasn’t always an option.

            Where I live NOW (the DC metro area), not only is NOT having a car totally okay, many employers offer some kind of public transportation benefit to ENCOURAGE you to either walk, bike, carpool, or use public transportation. We have things like “Bike to Work Day” and “National Telework Week.” Sometimes it feels like they don’t even want us to show up for work, let alone drive! :-p

            1. Christine*

              Okay that’s it…I’m moving to DC!! I’m in New Jersey, and it seems like unless you drive (which I can’t do), you’re screwed because the transit system here is less than useful in some areas.

        3. KellyK*

          The suggestion of a beater car or buying a car from people who are moving is a really good one, but I think Cat is right that nowhere near the vast majority of jobs require a car.

    2. Brandy*

      #3- can you lease a car? I know leasing isn’t ideal, but it’s what got me through the first job I had that required a car. A quick googling shows that you can lease a compact car for about $90-120/month with basically nothing down.
      That’s not a bad price to pay to keep your job…unless you think you can pick up another job quickly.

  14. HR Guy*


    The institution that I work for only runs a credit check if handling money, finances, etc. is a part of the position’s essential functions. That being said, we do not consider accounts in bankruptcy nor student loan debt.

    *I understand that a company wants to attempt to minimize risk by doing a credit check, but I always feel wrong about looking at someone’s credit.

    1. Mike C.*

      I’ve never understood it either. You’d think that someone who has bad credit or a lot of debt would be more motivated than the average person to obtain and keep a job with a steady paycheck. This isn’t the CIA where there are legitimate worries about someone receiving a huge bribe for state secrets.

      Is there any actual research out there which shows a real correlation between credit rating and risk of theft or is this just something that’s believed as “common sense”?

      1. Anonymous*

        I think what there is is along the lines of “Hey, we looked at these 500 people accused of employee theft and x percent of them had bad credit, so everyone check credit because correlation equals causation.”

      2. Bess*

        My understanding — and I may be wrong, but this is what I have heard — is that the thought is that someone who made poor choices that got them into debt will make poor choices with regards to other things, including choices made on the job. Such thinking assumes that the ONLY way to get into debt is through making poor choices, which I personally think is bullshit, but it is a common assumption. It’s more of a moral judgement than anything else.

        1. Mike C.*

          I love how some think it’s a moral thing, like people choose to get cancer or something.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            I certainly think there’s a difference between getting cancer and making poorly thought out financial decisions, such as borrowing more money than you’re likely to be able to easily repay. I do understand that many people are led to do this by parents/schools, and I understand that 18 isn’t a great time to be making huge decisions that can haunt you for the rest of your life (although as fposte pointed out earlier, there are all sorts of decisions people make at 18 that haunt them forever — but they’re more often felt by the underclass and this one happens to really impact the middle class). But while I understand why people often make bad decisions, it doesn’t change the fact that they’re their decisions. Unlike cancer.

            1. Cat*

              I think Mike C was talking about people who have poor credit scores because of medical bills (which is ,after all, the cause of 50% of bankruptcies in the U.S.).

      3. Meg*

        I’ve always been told that someone who is heavily in debt may be more willing to steal or embezzle money to pay off said debt (or whatever). It may not necessarily be true, but that’s the general picture I’ve had painted for me.

        1. Mike C.*

          See, I’ve heard that too, but in most people’s minds, the best way out of debt is a regular paycheck. I see where someone with access to state secrets might be able to sell them for a huge payoff, but the vast majority of jobs which use these sorts of checks don’t have these sorts of concerns.

          Also, the leading reason for bankruptcy is for a medical issue, so having that stable job with health insurance would also help a great deal.

          I think the folks who paint these pictures are just looking for a cheap shortcut to hiring.

          1. De Minimis*

            If a company is doing what they should as far as internal control, stealing/embezzlement should be extremely difficult if not impossible for a single employee to accomplish. Now I’m not saying that lack of internal control excuses employee theft, just that I think this fear of the employee with bad credit robbing the company blind is not logical, and I think many times is just an excuse to avoid hiring someone.

            People make mistakes and sometimes just have bad luck. It also bothers me that companies and corporations file bankruptcy all the time and no one thinks anything about it, yet if an individual does it people make all these moral judgments.

            I had gotten the idea that the OP was wanting to file bankruptcy for their non-student loan debt so they could get to where the student debt was the only one they had, but I may be wrong.

            1. Meg*

              I was a manager at a big blue mass retailer that used to have a smiley face logo (ahem). I was in charge of the front-end, which were cashiers, people greeters, customer service, and cart pushers. Now we had an incident where $20-100 was missing from the customer service desk almost daily. I was counting registers at every cashier’s break and at the end of a cashier’s shift before I put a new cashier on that register, or at the service desk.

              There was one associate who would not work until her register was counted at the beginning of her shift. Coincidentally, after I left, they caught HER on the cameras stealing money from the drawer. Over a period of weeks, she got close to $1000 or more.

              Don’t know why though. But sometimes it takes a lot of effort and watching to catch these people doing it.

  15. AP*

    #4 – I’ve had to hire this way before. It’s not fun, but especially in entry-level positions at smaller organizations, it happens. Sometimes it can be driven by disorganization on the behalf of the employer, but in my case, it was that someone gave two weeks notice on a Friday afternoon, the job board didn’t post the new job until the next Tuesday, I got a million applicants that I had to sort through, and I could not have even a one-day gap in between coverage – because I had a HUGE project happening that week and I was going to be out of the office for it for the next two weeks, and there literally would not have been anyone to answer the phone in the meantime.

    Surprisingly enough I ended up with someone great who lasted quite a while at the company.

    1. Anon*

      OP #4 here- Thanks for the assurance that it can work out! It doesn’t appear that the organization here is going through quite the same thing- they posted the listing a month ago, and I applied right away. I had the interview yesterday morning and they really couldn’t give an actual reason for wanting someone in so quickly. The combination of disorganized hiring process + no solid reason for needing someone in so fast concerns me.

  16. JR*

    Student loans are brutal. Luckily I’m Canadian and I got through to a Masters degree with about 40 K of debt (which is still a lot of money, I realize). My American friend has paid well over 100 K for the same degree (she also worked/ had scholarships). I just can’t imagine how American kids are suppose to pay off that kind of debt.. ever. It’s totally insane! (I also realize it’s ultimately the student’s responsibility, but that kind of dept just seems so over the top to me). I mean, Eurpoean nations can offer free university to their citizens, so clearly there is something very wrong with the western tuition system.

    1. Anonymous*

      And not only are Eurpoeans getting a fantastic education for free, they’re now often first in line for many jobs here the the states that some companies claim they can’t fill with local talent. My European roommate who speaks minimal English just basically waltzed into a fabulous job with ‘G’ (we all know who ‘G’ is) who will even go to the trouble of getting him a work visa. I’m not hating on him but seriously? Aren’t their any citizens and permanent residents in all of NY who fit the bill?

      1. JR*

        Yeah, the western school system is seriously flawed. Can you imagine what we could do if we spent as much on education as we do on war?

      2. Anonymous*

        Expertise AND a good cultural fit *can* be hard to fid though – I mean it’s not like ‘G’ is saving money by hiring an European.

  17. Anonymous*

    #2. If the OP is holding DOE backed loans, I would not file bankruptcy. I’m speaking here from personal experience and not from alleged expertise. In any event, go to their website under ‘Defaulted Loans’ and follow their advice, which is to send them a check/money order to their ATLANTA address for the ACTUAL amount you can afford to pay each month, along with a letter explaining your circumstances and stating your commitment to paying the aforementioned amount on a particular day of each and every month. They will respond to your offer, which I predict will be an acceptance or request for additional information. Nevertheless, be sure to make every payment and keep records.

  18. Anonymous*

    Let’s be honest about school debt – in some cases, it’s basically a house you can’t live in or get rid of. I know a 19 year old who is funding her education on loans that will probably exceed $120,000 by the time she graduates. Discussions about a few years of community college to cover the basics more cheaply before transferring have gotten nowhere.

    But the thing about being legally competent to make your decisions is that you get to live with them – even the regrettable ones. She is going to be paying this off for decades.

    And I have to admit that I’m glad these are not generally dischargeable in bankruptcy – I don’t see why I should have to assume the financial burden for her choices.

  19. Ask a Manager* Post author

    For those of you arguing in support of letting people discharge student loans in bankruptcy, would it make any difference to you if the person in question was a relatively recent grad who, like the letter-writer from yesterday, was holding out for a job in precisely the field she wanted rather than looking at related jobs in related fields? In other words, how much responsibility does the person have to try to bring in an income first?

    (I ask because they’re actually the same person — something I debated about revealing, but since they’re both anonymous, I think it’s an interesting factor to throw in to consider.)

    1. RG*

      That puts it into the prima donna realm for me. It’s one thing if you can’t get ANY job. But if it’s just a matter of not getting the exact job you want, but might have other avenues to explore, you get no sympathy for me on your debts.

      1. RG*

        And if student loans were to be made dischargable (which I’d do by expanding the hardship definition), there would definitely be a waiting period (8 to 10 years, maybe) after graduation, and proof that the debtor made reasonable efforts to secure employment to make payments. And waiting for the perfect job to come along is not a reasonable effort, it’s a luxury.

        1. Meg*

          With federal financial aid, if the applicant is on an income-based repayment plan, the balance of the loan is forgiven after 25 years, as 25 years is maximum repayment period. I’m not sure if it’s just for this income-based repayment plan, or for all fed finaid. http://www.finaid.org/loans/ibr.phtml

          But also, according to http://studentaid.ed.gov/repay-loans/forgiveness-cancellation#discharge-in , you can have student loans discharged in bankruptcy in RARE cases.

          1. RG*

            I believe forgivness is only for IBR situations, since my federal loans are on a 30 year repayment schedule…and I think they’d still expect me to pay, even after the 25 year mark.

    2. Anonymous*

      I support letting people discharge student loan debt in bankruptcy with reasonable protections. I understand that the impetus behind keeping student loan debt away is that students would get the degree, turn around and declare bankruptcy (since it wouldn’t be a huge lifestyle inconvenience for most students, since they probably wouldn’t be buying a house, etc for at least 7 years after graduation anyway). I support dischargeable debt after some reasonable period of time, say, 2x the length of your degree. If 8 years after undergrad, you still can’t find a job that will allow you to make loan payments, I would argue that the value of what you bought what actually fairly minimal.

      I think you DO have an obligation to try to repay it. But just like I look at homebuyers with subprime mortgages, who bought at the top of the market after being sold a story about how great it would be, students ARE getting into debt with limited information and finding that what they purchased was seriously overvalued. You can stamp your foot and say “well you should HAVE to pay because you SHOULD have known” but really, student loans are no different than most other types of debt that we allow for discharge in bankruptcy (such as gambling debts, or credit card debt, as noted above). Unless you are suggesting getting rid of the bankruptcy option altogether, there’s no real reason student loans should be excluded.

      Incidentally, I think if student loan debt WERE dischargeable in bankruptcy, we’d actually see a huge improvement in the amount of “went to college, took out all these loans, now can’t find a job!” cases. It is virtually risk free to lend money to students, since with very few exceptions, they have to repay it. That means lenders have no qualms lending $200K to the girl who wants to study 14th century Russian painting. They’re almost guaranteed to make their money back and then some. If it were dischargeable in bankruptcy, lenders would need to take into consideration the buyers ability to ever pay back the loan, before lending in the first place. Yeah, it might lead to a lot of crushed dreams of professorships in 14th century Russian paintings for 18 or 19 year olds — but crushed dreams at 18 are a hell of a lot better than $2k/mo loan payments at age 22, on a 20K/yr job.

      1. Cat*

        Yeah – this is one situation where having lenders assess whether an individual student is worth the credit risk might make a lot more sense.

    3. Cat*

      I support letting people discharge student loans in bankruptcy based on less strenuous criteria than we use now but not any criteria. So a recent grad who will probably be able to get a job based on a reasonable evaluation by the bankruptcy courts? No. Someone who’s been struggling to pay the balance for ten years, has health problems and two young children, and has only seen it grow higher? Probably, yeah. Then there’s a lot of middle ground.

      But overall, I guess my real point in these comments is not that people should just be able to walk away from it. It’s that high student loan burdens – like high medical debts and high foreclosure rates – are something that is going to affect our economy as a whole, and are something which are incurred for a ton of reasons beyond merely lack of personal responsibility. Reducing them to black and white discussions of personal morality is not particularly useful even when addressing an individual.

    4. AnotherAlison*

      Holy cow. This person was supposed to have an econ & policy background, and yet demonstrates little understanding of how things work here in the real world. Maybe she should discharge her loan in bankruptcy, because she didn’t get much practical knowledge from her education.

      My main beef with the student loan debate is really the 2013 and beyond grads. I graduated without loans back before tuition went up. People in the mid-2000s may have had loans and high tuition, but unemployment was low, so it was somewhat reasonable to expect they could find a job after graduation. Sh*t hit the fan in 2008. People thought the government would fix it all quickly & we’d be back on track, but after a certain amount of time, anyone can see what the situation is and that unemployment isn’t going down and that new grads are struggling to find work. That doesn’t mean I expect kids to skip college, but I expect you have a better understanding that you’re taking on a lot of debt at risk. The schools and parents have a some role in explaining it, but my God, open up even crappy Yahoo any day of the week & there is an article about employment stats, so I can’t excuse people, esp. POLICY students, for not educating themselves.

      1. Cat*

        Presumably she didn’t take the policy classes until after signing up for the loans – dropping out midstream to go to a cheaper school at that point might well have not saved any money given that the credits might have transferred.

        1. AnotherAlison*

          True, but she’s not demonstrating much knowledge now, either, and definitely comes off as entitled. I didn’t think that yesterday. Yesterday, I thought, hey, she has a good background in what seems to be a marketable area. She should find something in a month or two. Now I think she may have taken the coursework, but she may not be someone who will knock an employer’s socks off in an interview, so maybe she just needs to get a j-o-b and pay her damn bills.

          (I think she’s less of a great candidate now because she didn’t know that most student loans aren’t dischargeable in bankruptcy, and that’s something that’s pretty easy to find out with 5 minutes on the internet. A policy analyst has to know how to do research.)

          1. Cat*

            She jotted off one question, among others apparently, to a blogger; it’s not like she made a baseless court filing. I mean, I’m not offering her a job; for all I know (which is virtually nothing) she’d be a terrible employee. But I don’t think we have enough information to answer that one way or another at this point.

    5. Joan*

      To me, it doesn’t matter at all that they are the same person. I have a lot of sympathy for the OP. I’ve seen first hand how a first job can define your career for years, if not forever. I had to do a career change at age 50, and that required student loans that I will probably not live long enough pay off. That payment hurts every month, and I am under no illusions about how fragile my ability to keep paying on that loan really is.

      The economic crash of 2008 and the resulting gutting of the job market was not something the OP could have forseen or planned for; neither should she be blamed for following the advice that the best education leads to the best jobs. Until 2008, that was largely true. Now the OP is faced with two ugly realities: a huge debt to service and taking a job that she doesn’t want and that will quite probably de-rail the career she paid so much to prepare for. That’s a bitter irony and I hope things turn out well for her.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Hmmm. I think I’d argue that it’s a vastly privileged position to believe that you should be able to hold out for fulfilling work — it’s a belief that most of the world’s population doesn’t having the luxury of.

        1. AnotherAlison*


          Joan said “the OP is faced with two ugly realities: a huge debt to service and taking a job that she doesn’t want and that will quite probably de-rail the career she paid so much to prepare for.”

          Hey, life’s not fair. And, life is what you make of it. I’m of the mind that if you want something badly enough, you’ll work your ass off to get it. WORK your ass off. Not wait for it to come to you. If you think that taking a professional job is a detriment to finding a job in your “dream” field (which you have no clue about, really, until you’ve worked in it as a paid, experienced professional), then work four part-time jobs until you land in your dream job.

          Years ago in a household argument, my husband told me I could go to medical school, but I couldn’t quit working entirely to do it. I said a lot of things to that, including “eff you”, and he said it could be done if I really wanted to. I decided 1.) he was right, and 2.) I didn’t really want it badly enough.

          1. Dulcinea*

            I agree that sometimes people have to realize that holding out for their dream is unrealistic and it’s time to settle for something else. But I will also say that someone who has a specialized advanced degree, in addition to paying a lot of money for it, probably worked very very hard in school to get it, studying, etc, and worked hard to get into whatever Prestigious U they went to. No matter how much loan money you have, most of us can’t just waltz into Yale and get a degree.

            It is a hard pill to swallow when you put a lot of effort, time, and money into something (that you were taught was worthwhile, ie, schoolwork and a professional degree) only to find that the payoff isn’t coming – possibly ever, or possibly for not for many years. Not that it isn’t a pill that eventually has to be swallowed, but it can be hard to just shrug off and do it. I struggle with the same issue myself.

            And I’ll tell you another thing – if offered the chance to trade in my own advanced degree and professional license to be relieved of my loans, I would give it serious thought.

            1. shadow*

              Completely agree with this, although it makes me sad to write what I have recently only thought, as I am personally in this situation. I would give up the advanced degree I earned in 2005 to be relieved of my student loans in a minute, no questions asked.

              1. Liz in a Library*

                Most of my loans are for a graduate degree. I made decent choices as an undergrad, and really dumb ones in grad school. I’d love to trade my MA in English for no loans…

          2. Joan*

            No, life is not fair. But that’s as much an excuse as it is a reality; we tolerate a lot of things that could and should be changed under that guise, when some effort would make things better.

            Life is indeed what you make of it – in so far as you are able. But a bad job is a powerful negative force in your life, and no amount of shrugging your shoulders and “well, life’s not fair” really lessens it.

            You made your choice when it came to medical school; that was your right. The OP has an equal right to make her own choices.

            1. Anonymous*

              “The OP has an equal right to make her own choices.”

              No, that’s where the phrase, “The debtor is slave to the lender” comes into play, IMHO.

              You want freedom, don’t borrow money. It’s almost like a mafia movie. Somebody’s gonna pay. . .

              1. Joan*

                That’s certainly how it’s playing out in our society today. But what’s the answer? An uneducated population benefits exactly no one. There’s not a lot of doubt that we falling behind other countries in fields like math and science. The only answer is education- the best education- and if education comes with a crushing load of debt, I doubt we’ll see that tend reversing any time soon.

                1. twentymilehike*

                  An uneducated population benefits exactly no one.

                  I agree, however, IS going to college really the only way to become “educated?” I went to college, and agree that I benefitted from it personally, yet my job doesn’t require me to have a degree and overall, I’m happy with my career choice. The majority of jobs in the US market don’t require a college education. My DH has only a GED and is completely brilliant in his field, however, I have friends who went to expensive private colleges that I sometimes wonder if they’ve have head trauma.

                  Decades ago when going to college was not the norm, we had a a productive workforce that many oldtimers argue was more ethical and respectable than what we are producing today. Yes, our society has changed tremendously in the last century, but I personally don’t believe that not going to college is equal to being “uneducated” to a level of detriment to our society. The Los Angeles county school district has something like a 50% high school drop out rate, and that’s the uneducated population that I worry about.

            2. Anonicorn*

              But a bad job is a powerful negative force in your life

              As are unemployment and debt.

              Most people in the world happier with any job that keeps them fed and sheltered than the possible alternative.

        2. Joan*

          Happiness is a privilege now? The fact that most of the world suffers doesn’t lessen any one individual’s pain. (Really not being a smartmouth; I’ve just had too many crappy jobs I took just to pay the bills to not admire someone who is holding out for something better.)

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Believing that you’re entitled to hold out for work that’s personally fulfilling is indeed a hugely privileged viewpoint, yes. Most of the world — including much of the U.S. — doesn’t operate that way, because they can’t.

            1. Mike C.*

              A whole lot of jobs that aren’t currently fulfilling would be if the employees weren’t treated like complete garbage by their employers, customers or society at large.

              How often do we look down upon retail or food service workers who are busy working harder than than the rest of us? How many times have you heard, “you better go to school or you’ll end up flipping burgers for a living!” And then we turn around and say, “wow, now that you’ve gone to college, you’re too good to flip burgers?!”

              Yes, you’re right that no one is owed meaningful work, but that’s a rather uninteresting point to me.

              I remember the summers doing janitorial work for my grandfather’s company, and just always being treated like garbage by the clients. Occasionally one would find out I was a science major and suddenly I was a human being again! “One of the good ones” was something I heard, another was, “at least you’re doing something with your life” (what about my grandfather?!).

              After going through that, I really don’t blame someone who not wanting to deal with that crap day in and day out.

          2. Anonymous*

            What else would happiness be? Only the pursuit of happiness was declared to be inalienable right.

            I’ve got no issue with people pursuing happiness. On their dime.

          3. Katie the Fed*

            uh yeah. Happiness is a priveledge. The world doesn’t owe you fulfilling work. Who would be left to work at call centers?

              1. Katie the Fed*

                Sorry, it was just a joke because in every comment stream it seems like people complain about working in call centers. It’s been portrayed as the worst job in the world.

                1. Marissa*

                  Joke accepted. While it may not be the worst work in the world, my experience there left me with ulcers from all the aspirin I was taking for tension headaches. And nobody who worked the phones was supporting themselves on what we were paid; all of us has access to some other income, from a spouse, roommate, second job, etc. I am VERY nice to call center people now!

        3. ThatHRGirl*

          Agreed. In my first job out of college I was a makeup artist. I then morphed that into an HR role because I needed to make more money and I needed to make it now.
          Now, 7 years after college, I have just accepted a position as a retail buyer which is what I wanted to do from day 1 – thanks in part to AAM advice, but that’s another post for another day! :)
          Not to mention, I JUST finished paying off $400/month student loans.
          Sometimes, you just have to dig deep, get creative, and make it work. I realize this isn’t going to be everyone’s experience and that I may have had some luck in my corner, but to say you’d just like to hold out for that perfect job and eschew all other financial responsibility is so incredibly naive and entitled.

              1. ThatHRGirl*

                Perhaps :) or “HeyIsn’tThatOurOldHRGirl”…

                Either way, I’m glad to be exiting the field. There were certainly parts of it I enjoyed, and people I enjoyed helping, but I’m not sensitive enough for it.

    6. Joanne*

      Beating a dead horse here, I’m sure, but that makes a huge difference to me. I was feeling badly for OP #2 until I read this. I do understand, as a ’08 grad and ’10 grad school grad. I did get a deferment when I stayed unemployed for 8 months after graduating. I sent out resume after resume to jobs in my field. And eventually, I realized that no job is a lifetime sentence, and got a job requiring only a high school diploma in a field only slightly related to mine. And 3 years later, I am using my master’s degree, still not doing exactly what I wanted to do, but much closer. Speaking as someone who was sold on making 60k right out of grad school, and did not know what student loan payments would look like, I understand. But cling too long to yesterday’s dreams, and you miss tomorrow’s opportunities. Sometimes our dreams come dressed differently than we expect.

      1. twentymilehike*

        Oh, this is beautiful!

        But cling too long to yesterday’s dreams, and you miss tomorrow’s opportunities. Sometimes our dreams come dressed differently than we expect.

    7. mas*

      Alison, what’s interesting to me about when commenters jump all over the OP and say “look outside your field” is that it seems to conflict with advice you’ve given elsewhere to other questions that it is more difficult to switch careers/fields now than ever, because there are so many candidates with the “perfect” experience, fewer companies are willing to take a chance on someone with just “related” experience. Obviously there are shades of gray here – I think Chocolate Teapot Marketing graduates should be willing to work in Chocolate Coffee Urn Marketing if offered a job, but its not realistic to think this grad would get a shot at a job like Editor of Strawberry Milkshake Weekly Magazine.

      I think it is also worth noting that if you take just any job to make a little money, it may disqualify you from other benefits you need – a friend with a law degree has turned down several very low paying legal assistant jobs because if she accepts them, she’ll loose her current state-subsidized health insurance and won’t be able to afford to buy her own or even just pay for prescriptions out of pocket – she will die within weeks without her medication so this is not an option. Right now she’s piecing together freelance and under-the-table work to keep afloat, along with some help from family and friends, but it is obviously not ideal.

      And one more point – everyone seems to be saying private schools cost more, don’t go to Harvard, Yale, etc. Most of the Ivys now cover your tuition 100% if you are lower or middle class, so this is likely not people going to Harvard or Yale who are then trying to get out of student loans. As others have said, often private schools offer more scholarships because they have endowments so speaking for myself, I actually took out a tenth of the loans I would have otherwise by living at home, where I could keep my part time job (plus add two more) and take scholarships to the local private school, rather than going away to a state school. For some people, our parents were unable to contribute anything to our tuition and perhaps were counting on us to pay our own basic expenses or contribute to the family bills, so even if I went to the community college, I still would have had to take out some loans.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        It’s easier to look outside your field when you’re a recent grad without a long job history doing something else (because for entry-level jobs, what your degree is often just doesn’t matter that much); I think that’s part of the difference here.

        1. mas*

          That’s a good point, but I think even with entry level jobs, companies can afford to be much more picky in this job market. I’m guilty of it myself – when screening intern resumes, I get so many that are the perfect fit, I don’t have to consider candidates that might to just as well a job but who have experience that is in a different area.

      2. Anonymous*

        Most of the Ivys now cover your tuition 100% if you are lower or middle class, so this is likely not people going to Harvard or Yale who are then trying to get out of student loans.

        Well, no. Just because your parents’ income doesn’t qualify you for financial aid doesn’t mean they are footing your bill. I have a high school aged child. We have a combined income of $180K. We’re still plain, old middle class with old cars and no trips to Europe. And I can’t afford to send him to Harvard.

        1. Anon*

          I know that I don’t know your situation, what your bills look like, etc- but $180k is $6000 out of being in the top 5% of household income in the US based on the 2010 census. (source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Household_income_in_the_United_States#cite_ref-New_York_Times_definition_of_class_according_to_the_quintiles_19-0) Harvard does in fact have the best financial aid policy of any university in the country- students whose families earn less than $65,000 per year are expected to pay nothing, and students whose families earn between $65,000-$150,000 are expected to pay no more than 10% of household income, with the exact amount varying. That means they provide significant levels of aid to students whose families fall in the lower 75% or so of household income. We have trouble defining “middle class” in this country, but Harvard does a pretty good job ensuring middle class families can send their kids there.

          1. fposte*

            I vaguely remember reading something about even the 5% thinking of themselves as not rich because they knew people who they thought of as *really* rich. I think we tend to compare up and forget about comparing down.

            1. Mike C.*

              Bingo. The stratification as you go up tenths or hundredths of a percent (above 5% or so) is absolutely mind boggling.

            2. Natalie*

              It certainly doesn’t help that the top few percent scale waaaaay up, while of course the bottom floor is always going to be zero.

          2. The 1st Anon Above. . .*

            “Harvard does a pretty good job ensuring middle class families can send their kids there.”

            My point wasn’t that I couldn’t afford to send him there, period, it was that I couldn’t afford to send him there without loans. I’m not intimately familiar with Harvard or any other school’s financial aid policies (yet), and since Harvard’s just started for last fall’s students, it is different than what I expect. It’s not clear to me if they are saying “contribute 10% of your income” for families making $150K means tuition is $15K/yr, or if that means you pay $15K cash & kiddo gets some loans, too.

            (FWIW, regarding my personal circumstances. . .when my son was born, we made <$30K/yr & about $65K/yr 8-10 yrs ago, so I don't consider myself particularly top-10% due to history. . .)

        2. Judy*

          Looking up, they expect in the financial aid formula:
          20% of students assets
          50% of student income
          2.5-4.6% of parent asset
          22-47% of parent income

          I think the parental asset number has been significantly reduced in the last 25 years. The two years my sister and I were in college at the same time, our family contribution added up to more than our family’s (my Dad’s) income.

        3. Ann O'Nemity*

          The other issue is that 18-24 year olds must report their parents’ income and that’s what determines financial aid. But there is no law requiring parents to actually help their children with college expenses. According to a recent 2012 Sallie Mae study, parents are leading the decline in spending on college education.

          In my own little sob story, my poverty-stricken single mother married a rich SOB when I was 17. I had the worst of both worlds – a childhood of poverty and zero assistance for college.

          1. Anonymous*

            No law requiring married parents to actually help their children with college expenses. Many states – Indiana being one – do require divorced parents to help with college expenses. For my niece, it was 1/3 her, 1/3 her mother, 1/3 her father, and income wasn’t taken into account (mom didn’t get to pay less because her income was less than dad’s). I think that’s pretty representative. (Indiana also just recently lowered the age where child support ends from 21 to, I think, 19. That’s for people not in college. In college, it used to be – and I think it might still be – 23.)

        4. mas*

          I also don’t know your personal situation, but surely you can see that $180K household income is vastly more than the majority of the country? As Anon below says, you are technically in the top 5% or so of households in America, which I think most people would say should not qualify for financial assistance for higher education. It may not be fair, but the cutoff has to be somewhere, and I think most people would agree it should be below the top income bracket in the country.

    8. Dulcinea*

      The other thing that I am not sure anyone has mentioned about loan forgiveness/principal reduction/some form of bailout for student loans is that even if every borrower was making payments, that’s money that they are not investing in the economy – not saving for retirement, not investing, not buying consumer goods, not buying real estate, delaying having children, etc. With the recent stagnation/decrease in wages over recent years, those individuals simply won’t have money left over to do those things. I definitely believe student loans are going to be the next big bubble to burst, leading to economic crisis, regardless of the number of borrowers who default. A bailout could be good for the economy over all.

      1. Serena*

        Agree that the student loan bubble will be the next to burst, for the reasons you outline. Good thinking!

      2. Mike C.*

        Another reason why income-based repayment would be a huge help!

        /Yes this horse is dead, why do you ask?

        1. Anonymous*

          But they DID invest it in the economy. The loans were taken out to pay for tuition, books, housing, etc. Which provided income and benefits for those who taught, administered, built, cleaned up, wrote, published, etc.

    9. not cool*

      So basically you deliberately witheld crucial information just to kick the hornet’s nest. Why would you have your readers waste all this time and energy just to sit here and debate strawmen? I thought the purpose of this blog was to examine real workplace issues and help people find solutions to them. Its your blog so I guess you can do whatever you want but geez…

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Uh, no. People send in multiple questions all the time, and there’s generally no reason to link their questions together. And when I answered this question, my answer had nothing to do with the issues that commenters later began to discuss, so why would I have mentioned it? Once commenters began discussing the issues that they did, I decided that it would be interesting to mention this factor.

        As for debating strawmen, we have discussions on this blog all the time that would change if we had additional information or a detail were different. A large part of that is because the discussion is relevant to others who may be in a similar situation too, but whose details may differ from the OP’s.

        This comment seems weirdly adversarial.

        1. Anonymous*

          What stuck out at me was,

          “For those of you arguing in support of letting people discharge student loans in bankruptcy, would it make any difference to you if the person in question was a relatively recent grad who, like the letter-writer from yesterday, was holding out for a job in precisely the field she wanted rather than looking at related jobs in related fields?”

          Actually, I think using a general example of a person who maybe hasn’t considered a lot of personal responsibility would be fine. But we were already primed to think badly of *this* particular person’s choices, so honestly, it did strike me as a little pot-stirry. I don’t think it was intentional, of course, and I think you and I come at this topic from very different angles.

          There are a million other people in the U.S. (yes, I’m one of them) that did exactly what you suggested: looked outside our fields, took work where we could get it, paid what we owed. And I have nothing left at the end of the month, even after IBR. Ok, fine. The world doesn’t owe me a thing. But I’m also not putting money into the economy, saving for retirement, or investing. And I know there are a million more like me out there. So I submit that now we’re doing a little cherry-picking (on both sides) to make our respective cases.

          (And, because people seem to think this is key info, I did go to a state school and it was still expensive and I still made stupid, stupid financial decisions to pay for college. )

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Oh, I think it was definitely pot-stirry. But it’s an interesting specific to throw into the discussion, because a lot of comments had been based on certain assumptions which this then called into question — and I think that’s interesting, and hope others do too.

        2. Cube Ninja*

          I think a lot of the comments on this one are weirdly adversarial.

          OP filing bankruptcy is a total non-starter as the likelihood of that resolving the problem is near zero, yet we probably have 40 hours’ worth of people typing stuff up about it. Seems like we’ve collectively jumped the shark on this subject as it relates to the original question. :)

          1. fposte*

            I’m with Mike–I like the fact that the blog isn’t a simple Q&A but also a prompt for issue discussion.

      2. Mike C.*

        We’ve had a rather interesting an entertaining discussion here, have we not? I think that’s certainly worth something.

    10. Mike C.*

      I don’t really care if the OP is holding out for a job as a lion tamer, income-based repayment plans would solve this issue to the benefit of those holding the debt, those at risk of picking up the check for defaults and anyone else who participates in this economy.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Yeah, although if we’re going to do that, I’d argue that lenders should be a lot pickier about who they lend money to and for what program of study.

        1. fposte*

          And that’s a discussion that seems to be starting with the for-profit schools, given their disproportionate default rates.

          1. Mike C.*

            The coverage Frontline had on those places made me sick. Not only are many of those places bilking public funds, but they’re leaving the students high and dry with insane debt loads and degrees that are worthless.

            1. Natalie*

              Very true. I got sold a bill of goods regarding a very high-priced certificate program from a private university. I paid for part of the program by winning a scholarship and a grant, graduated with honors, and there were no jobs for people just starting out. There still aren’t, and I owe $11,000 in loans. One minute of honesty from the university’s administration would have made me think the process through again, but then they might not have gotten the money.

        2. Mike C.*

          Lenders should be pickier period – last time I checked a loan has two parties, and no one is forcing a lender to hand money out in the first place.

          To be honest, loan insurance and a few points on the loan rates would take care of any losses from the start of such a program for lenders. Once you relieve students from crushing debt, they’re able to spend money elsewhere – driving demand and increasing jobs, or they can save it for emergencies reducing the load on our safety nets.

          And if, like you say, lenders start basing their loans on major or school or GPA, we could see costs go way down in many areas. Colleges will have to evolve, but there are those out there which can justify their high prices and the data would bear this out.

    11. Anonymous*

      “would it make any difference to you if the person in question was a relatively recent grad who, like the letter-writer from yesterday, was holding out for a job in precisely the field she wanted rather than looking at related jobs in related fields?”

      Not to me.

    12. AnonyMouse*

      The issue is a lot bigger than this one LW, and we don’t know all her circumstances. I doubt that with no experience she’s suddenly going to snag a job with a great salary just by broadening her search to other fields she hasn’t worked in yet. And it doesn’t change all those out there who can’t find anything but 8 bucks an hour but still have the loans that were supposed to put them in a position to pay them back. So unfortunately, by making it about this one LW, it looks like you didn’t like the way the comments were going and decided to throw this in so that would change. That makes me sad. I thought you wouldn’t need to do something like that.

    13. Tinker*

      I’m still inclined to be sympathetic to that OP, having had the experience of having to explain to people “I’m looking for X and Y is not X” and subsequently “I was looking for X, I have substantial qualifications for X, I was looking in a minor X center, and two weeks later I had a job in X, so no I was not an Entitled Youth Of Today for not pursuing X.” That’s not the OP’s position, naturally, and I think they could maybe use some more mature judgment, but it does make me think that folks are sometimes too quick on the trigger nowadays.

      Partly because of that, I’d favor tying student loan forgiveness to verifiable circumstances such as income, and not trying to delve into effort or virtue — and if the OP then qualified, I’d view it as a business decision like any other.

  20. danr*

    #6… Yes, ask your manager if you can get the rest of your raise at the one year mark. Before you talk to your manager, send him an email reviewing your accomplishments, and don’t leave out the regular stuff that you do. Then ask for a meeting to review your year’s work.

  21. Bess*

    Re: The Great Student Loan Debate

    There is one thing I’m confused on. There has been a lot of talk on the comment thread about how “I, as a taxpayer, do not want to pay for students to get an expensive education and then refuse to pay for it”. I fully admit I don’t have a good understanding of bankruptcy law, but public money (i.e., tax revenue) doesn’t actually go into paying for any kind of bankruptcy debts other than debts to public institutions, right? So the only kind of tax revenue that would go into paying for defaulted student loans would be for defaulted government student loans. The OP in question may or may not have government student loans; she doesn’t specify. But government student loans have many more options for repayment/deferment than private student loans, as well as a rather severe cap on the amount of money you can borrow in the first place, with the result that the majority of the “student debt crisis” is because of private student loans. Because of that, I am confused as to how we, the taxpayers, would be paying for students to default on the private student loans. My understanding of bankruptcy is that debtors simply don’t get paid; in other words, whoever loaned the money in the first place would have to write off the bad debt, no tax money involved.

    Please correct me if I am wrong.

    1. Anon-Mouse*

      It’s the same argument that’s made with regards to the uninsured. Costs are indirectly passed on to those who CAN pay their debts (in the form of hire interest and bank fees, stiffer loan criteria and stymied loan approvals, etc etc) when banks have to absorb the cost of defaulting debtors.

      1. Cat*

        And the answer to that is to insure everyone, not to say anyone who didn’t have a job that offered insurance when they got sick should be impoverished for life (or just die).

        1. Anon-Mouse*

          I don’t think getting into a health policy debate is conducive. Medical issues and debt cannot and should not be equated with college tuition debt. The former is, in the vast majority of cases, outside of our control. The latter is definitively not.

          A better comparison would be the subprime-mortgage crisis to student loan debt. In the case of subprime-mortgages, the flood of bankruptcies and foreclosures caused the credit-crunch that’s reverberating throughout the world today, squeezing the middle and lower classes and decimating (real) small businesses.

          What would happen if a flood of student loan bankruptcies hit the market?

          1. Cat*

            What would happen if a flood of student loan defaults hit the market? Neither would be good, but we need to look realistically at both possibilities and figure out what is going to be better and what the consequences are going to be.

            1. Anonymous*

              Not even if. When. There is too much bad student loan debt out there. It IS going to burst and we ARE going to pay the price. The minimum we can do is try to head it off soon.

            2. Cube Ninja*

              “What will happen when the flood of student loan defaults hits the market?”

              Fixed it for you. :)

      2. Bess*

        But that’s true of all bad debt. So why are private student loans a different kettle of fish than bad credit card debt or gambling debt or any other form of debt that leads someone to bankruptcy?

        1. Meg*

          Private student loans aren’t funded by the government, so I would lump private student loans with all the other privately-funded debt.

        2. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Because it’s a potentially huge amount of debt taken on early in adulthood,where it would be really easy to then turn around and file for bankruptcy, having had no intention of ever repaying it … and not have it affect you as much as it would if you file for bankruptcy when you’re older, because at 22 you’re probably not trying to buy a house yet, etc.

          1. Bess*

            Ok, that is an answer to “why shouldn’t we allow bankruptcy to include student loan debts”, but it’s not an answer to my question of how “we, the taxpayers” are somehow paying for everyone’s unpaid student loans. I am still not understanding that argument.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              Anon-Mouse answered that above: “Costs are indirectly passed on to those who CAN pay their debts (in the form of hire interest and bank fees, stiffer loan criteria and stymied loan approvals, etc etc) when banks have to absorb the cost of defaulting debtors.”

              1. Cat*

                But this happens with defaults too; the question is whether managing bankruptcies is going to be better than just absorbing defaults.

                1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  Right, but with student loans, because it’s a huge amount of debt taken on early in adulthood, there’s a much higher risk of people taking on the debt without ever intending to repay, like I wrote above.

                2. Cat*

                  My understanding is that most people who advocate bankruptcy reform for student loans do not advocate making them no-questions-asked dischargeable. I agree that would be a bad idea.

              2. Bess*

                And I still don’t see how that is any different from the couple down the street who just declared bankruptcy because they were in the habit of taking three Caribbean vacations a year that they couldn’t afford.

                “But then no one would ever repay students loans!” isn’t a good argument because there are so many ways around that — preventing bankruptcy from including student loans for X number of years after graduation, only allowing bankruptcy to include student loans if a person has been making below $Y threshold for Z years, etc. I just don’t see how making a blanket statement that private student loans are a different kettle of fish from every other kind of private debt makes any sense.

                1. Your Mileage May Vary*

                  Maybe they HAD to take the Caribbean vacations to team-build with their companies…

                2. Bess*

                  Ha! I would actually have a lot of sympathy for them if they were yesterday’s letter writer. Alas, they just had really horrible priorities.

              3. Bess*

                Also, I don’t consider myself to be “paying” for my now-bankrupt neighbor’s poor decisions, even though their bank and credit card company (who might also be mine; I don’t know) has had to write them off as bad debts. I similarly wouldn’t consider myself to be “paying” for someone else’s bad student loan debt. That kind of indirect cost is a part of a market economy, because some people are going to make poor decisions, and some people are going to have bad luck. That’s always going to be true. If I am “paying” for anything, it’s living in a capitalist country, not individual people’s decisions, so that’s something else I don’t get.

                My taxes going to pay for defaulted government student loans — that’s me paying for someone’s individual decisions. Having to pay interest on a loan that is higher than it would be if everyone repaid their loans all the time isn’t.

                1. fposte*

                  While I think you’re making strong points about shared investment in society, I’m not seeing the distinction you’re making between the two. To me you’re still talking about other people bearing costs, whether the method is taxation or fees, so your “How is it different from overleveraged house buyers?” question to me argues against student-loan bankruptcy rather than for it.

                2. Bess*

                  If that is the case, fposte, then you would be advocating for no bankruptcy ever, because someone else always bears the cost. What do you propose instead? Debtor’s prison?

                3. fposte*

                  No, I’m simply saying that you seem to be building your argument on the notion that it’s agreed that non-student loan defaults/bankruptcies are okay, and that’s not enough of a given to build your “and therefore student loans are too.”

                  And it’s not like bankruptcy or people’s feelings toward it are black and white, okay/not okay.

        3. Anon-Mouse*

          It’s the widespread nature of the problem that’s a concern (like the sub-prime mortgage crisis). Like I mentioned to another posted above, the sub-prime mortgage crisis was basically a flood of bankruptcies and foreclosures that hit the market like an atom bomb, causing the credit crunch that we’re suffering today. A flood of student-loan bankruptcies is likely to have a comparable economic effect.

          1. Cat*

            But I think this is a red herring. We’re not talking – or at least most of us aren’t – about making it so anyone whatsoever can declare bankruptcy. We’re talking about making it so some people can declare bankruptcy on student loans, and those would be the people who are already going to be defaulting. We’re not looking at everyone pays their loans (yay!) vs. bankruptcy. We’re looking at managed bankruptcies vs. unmanaged defaults. And much like banks have now figured out that short sales are cheaper for them than foreclosures, I suspect managed bankruptcies would also be better than unmanaged defaults.

            1. Anon-Mouse*

              I don’t think it’s a red herring at all, but I do see your overall point. However, default is very different from bankruptcy. In default, there’s still the possibility that the bank will receive some of its investment back overtime (through future wage garnishing, court settlements, etc). Chapter 7 essentially assesses your assets (which is, again, very different in the case of a student loan–how many assets does a twenty-something year old have? Though hey, their misguided cosigners sure have assets, ouch.), liquidates them, and the rest of the debt is eliminated. That’s it. The bank has to swallow what’s left (and banks won’t, because they’re banks, so they’ll make the REST of us swallow what’s left).

              I suppose there’s something to be said to allow students to file Chapter 13 for private student loan debt, but in chapter 13 a payment plan is created to resolve the debt (with the court as a mediator), and if the student can’t make their payments already…

          2. Bess*

            If we’re talking about “widespread nature”, the total credit card debt in the US is $801 billion. The total private student loan debt is $164 billion. No, most people aren’t going to go into bankruptcy over their credit card debt, but most people with private student loans aren’t going to go into bankruptcy over their student loans, either. A “flood” of student loan bankruptcies is as likely as a “flood” of credit card debt bankruptcies, and far less likely to cause significant economic damage.

  22. Sydney Bristow*

    #2- I’m not sure how much you’ve looked into all of this, but as someone with a huge amount of law school debt, I’d like to share some advice.

    First of all, as many people here have said, in the US the vast majority of student loans are not dischargeable in bankruptcy. It sounds like your only other major debt is a medical bill. Declaring bankruptcy will result in a huge hit to your credit score, but obviously so will a seriously delinquent medical bill.

    Second, if your loans are US federal loans then you should look to see if you qualify for Income-Based Repayment. There is a formula that takes into account your income and family size (although not the rest of your financial situation so your medical bills wouldn’t affect it) and your resulting payments can be in any range from an extremely low amount to a cap at the amount that you would pay under a 10-year repayment plan. Personally, my payments have ranged from under $300/month to $1600/month based on my income for the year. Once you qualify, you just have to continue to submit a copy of your tax return each year to have your repayments recalculated each year.

    Third, since student loans really aren’t dischargeable, it is most important that you are paying the minimums on those even if it is at the expense of paying other bills which are dischargeable.

    Finally, have you tried negotiating with the hospital about the amount of your total bill or setting up a different payment plan? Many hospitals have a “patient advocate” who can help you through the process. It doesn’t always work, but it is my understanding that many times a hospital will be willing to negotiate so that they receive some money instead of none and if you make it clear that you cannot pay your current bills then they may be flexible.

    1. mas*

      This is really good advice. I have been on the income based repayment plan for many years myself and it works great for me. I have also helped family members negotiate with hospitals and most are very willing to work with you or even forgive a portion of the debt as long as you make an effort to pay it off – even if it is only $10 a month, that shows good faith. The key is just to be willing to ask for help.

  23. anon*

    I don’t want to pile on LW2, but I would like to know what she majored in. As in, I don’t think engineers and math majors are having a hard time finding jobs these days. (Maybe they are and if so, my apologies for my bad assumptions.)

    But I remember the story in the paper a few years ago about a woman who borrowed almost $100K to major in women’s studies. I wanted to slap every counselor and advisor who didn’t stop her.


    1. CoffeeLover*

      Honestly, I blame the parents and the girl who took out the loan 100%. When did people stop having some foresight and understanding of debt. It’s like they forget they ever have to pay back the money they borrow. When I was applying for universities I considered going to an Ivy school until I realized how much debt that would put me in at the end of my studies. I also chose I major that I was reasonably certain would lead me into a decent job. While I’m all for the pursuit of happiness, I also understand that financial security is the first step towards that. So not only is there a lack of foresight and understanding of debt, but there’s a lack of understanding for the severity of declaring bankruptcy. OP above is considering declaring bankruptcy over accepting a job that’s beneath her standards. My father would have slapped me upside the head if I said I was going to take out 50k to major in women’s studies and that my plan for paying it off was to wait for the universe to find me a high paying job right after I graduate.

      1. CoffeeLover*

        Oh and I don’t want to harp on OP either. She’s one of thousands of people with severe personal debt (I’m including non-student loans as well). Maybe high schools should offer financial planning classes or something, because the lack of financial planning in North America is staggering. People need to learn to live within their means.

        1. Joanne*

          and classes on investing. seriously, does anyone understand IRA and 401k paperwork? I have never felt so unprepared for adult life.

          1. Judy*

            Check your local university or community college for a “personal finance” course. I took one as my 3hour free elective. It was the first course in getting the CFP certification, and was a broad course starting with budgeting, insurance and moving to investing. (CFP has that course, and then specific courses in those subjects.) I did a quick web search and saw what looked like several open university online courses. “The Fundamentals of Personal Financial Planning”

    2. The B*

      Alison mentioned in a post above that this is the author of a recent post who was holding out for a job in precisely the field she wanted rather than looking at related jobs in related fields. The field was environmental science and I think she wasn’t interested in going into something like environmental health. So she is looking for a specific kind of job and does not want to consider branching out.

      1. De Minimis*

        Also, you can major in something “marketable” and still have things not go right. I went to grad school in accounting, was hired by a big firm right out of school, and let go a year later. It was three years before I got back into working full time, and am still dealing with the various financial impacts [thankfully I was able to stay afloat financially during my long stretch of joblessness, but just barely.]

  24. TL*

    There’s more options for student loans (federally based, at least) than you might think.

    Depending on your career choices, you can do work that defers your students loans for a period of time/grants a percentage of loan forgiveness after the work is finished (there are a number of programs that offer 20% loan forgiveness.)

    And there are several ways to get your loans forgiven after ten years, (120 payments made in full, on-time, technically), depending on who you work for and the terms of your loans. If you can combine that with income-based repayment, you can get a substantial amount of your loans forgiven.
    (Again, this is all for federal loans. I don’t have any private ones/haven’t looked into them.)

  25. Cheryl Becker*

    as for #4, I’d just like to add, that often companies will TELL you they need to fill the job right away (and maybe they do, and maybe they really hope to),but the whole thing often does take longer than that, and longer than they think. I’d keep going, and see what happens. If they offer you the job, as Alison says, you don’t have to accept it, and you may be able to negotiate for a (somewhat) later start date. Good luck!

    1. Anonymous*

      These forgiveness programs only apply to federal student loans which are capped at $5500ish per year for undergrad (graduate school is a different story).

      If OP is talking about undergrad debt, then most of her debt likely comes from private loans (and if she’s considering not paying or a strategic default, she should make sure her parents didn’t cosign any of those loans, as many private lenders do require a parent cosigner for undergrad loans). They would not be eligible for many of these forgiveness or IBR plans.

      From the article:
      “For private student loans in default, your options may be limited, particularly borrowers who are unemployed or may be experiencing long-term financial distress. We’re currently looking for ideas about how to help borrowers with private loans find an affordable payment option.”

      1. Natalie*

        If the student has both federal and private loans (very likely) getting onto the repayment or deferment options for the federal loans may still help a little bit. My partner has a mix of federal and private student loan debt and is on the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program for the federal stuff, which frees up some extra cash to pay his private loans down.

  26. Anon-Mouse*

    I just wanted to say how great it was to have a discussion re: student loans that was reasonable, measured, and interesting. Normally internet-comment-boards degenerate into insults and naming calling, and at least in the threads I’ve been a part of I haven’t seen anything like that here. It’s great to see what a great blog attracts equally great readership :)

    That’s all! Until next time…

  27. Looking forward*

    The Great Loan Debate – one thing I did not see discussed is what was studied, other than from the OP: “I took out student loans to go to a great school and to obtain an in-demand major, but things did not work out in my favor.”

    For example, I personally feel like universities will give anyone who will pay and put in the time a Communications degree. Does that mean there are communications jobs for everyone? No.

    I’m interested in knowing what field the OP described as in-demand, but but didn’t work out in their favor. Was it something in demand, but the OP wasn’t well suited for (engineer)? Was it something sold as in demand, but isn’t (communications)? If it was truly in demand, what’s the problem?

  28. AnonLoan*

    Hmmm well I think some people are judging the person who is looking into debt relief a bit too harshly.

    First of all, we don’t know what may be going on, or what the school was etc. Maybe there is something else going on?

    BUT let me say the reason some people get into trouble with school loans is that 1# education is very expensive
    #2 most places allow you to defer and you never know what you are going to wind up with. This is especially true for online for-profit (I have worked and left this industry due to this)
    #3 sometimes the student is not even informed what kind of loans they are taking on.
    There was a huge story on a student once that went to become a vet, had maybe 250k in loans, and ended up with almost a million.

    With that being said, most private and federal student loans are never included in bankruptcy.

    Also, there are laws currently on the books where your credit could not be checked if you do not work in an industry that really needs it. I feel some employers were abusing this credit check loophole

    My advice?
    Contact a lawyer and ask. But most likely nothing would come of this and bad credit vs. bankruptcy would hurt you the same way if an employer were to check.. except that with student loan issues you would be able to explain what is going on and most employers would not care as long as most of your history is clean. I had one thing hit my credit, totally not my fault (company didn’t post payment) and took it down 100 points. I explained, and it was fine.

    Tips for dealing with your payments:
    You need to know what type of loans you have
    If you have federal some places will let you lump them, remove some penalties and refinance your loans at a lower rate
    Some private loans can be negotiated, don’t let them bully you or tell you that they can’t. They usually have a program in place, but will not tell students even if they are drowning.

    Look at your credit report, contact the company holding your medical debt, set up payments and try to report back that this is taken care of…

    with all that being said… had you not had your education, you could be thinking about it now, and looking to go back anyway… there is no win-win. I am going back right now to complete a 2 year more focused program.

    The huge issue that we have, IMO, is that we really do let people fall into this and this is now costing us BILLIONS, so instead of looking at one person, who probably had good intentions/was young and thought this would help them (trust me colleges really don’t tell you everything, it can be confusing) – we have to look at this as a whole industry and invest in colleges and students that go back to school in fields that offer opportunities….

  29. The B*

    I blame the people who approve the loans. Sure, the students also are at fault. I have a friend who spent well over $100,000 in Medieval Studies and complains she can’t get a job. But she didn’t consider what she was going to work in BEFORE enrolling. She just assumed hey, if I have a Master’s degree in Something, I’ll get hired for a well-paying job.
    However, she should have never been approved for that loan. Not only because, hey, Medieval Studies, but because her family had no way of repaying it. She lives with her family, depends on her parents for her housing and food bill, even her car belongs to her dad. She’s spent years under or unemployed and that loan is still there, like an albatross around her neck.

    1. anon*

      I think this is problematic though, because a field like social work, where you need a Masters for most jobs, you’ll never make a very big salary. Similar with a lot of other teaching or non-profit type of jobs where people are doing it for the passion or calling to help make a positive change. If we stop approving loans for these areas, then only the rich who can pay their own way get to work in these fields. I’m not sure that’s the way to build a successful society.

  30. Cube Ninja*

    Alrighty, my turn to jump in on the student loan thing, but I’m shooting more for clarification here.

    I’ll preface with the usual: I am not an attorney and nothing I say should be construed as legal advice.

    With that said, I have several years’ experience in default servicing, specifically related to bankruptcy.

    Generally speaking, student loans cannot be discharged. Public, private, doesn’t matter. The main point that a lot of people have overlooked (or simply don’t know) is that student loans *used to qualify* for discharge in Chapter 7 or 13 cases all the way up to 2005. There was a significant bankruptcy reform that was passed through the legislature which put student loans on the “no no” list, despite the fact that they’re unsecured.

    Fun fact: The only other (remotely common) type of debt that has this sort of classification is taxes.

    Getting a hardship discharge is basically a non-starter unless you are permanently disabled. I’ll note that this is true even if the debtor is deceased and the discharge would apply to the estate. There are probably a few other limited circumstances, but basically, consider it impossible – bankruptcy judges tend to hold hardship discharges to an extremely high bar. That said, judicial privilege comes into play. I’ve seen a couple hardship discharges under pretty loose adherence to the requirements.

    Given how much money is involved in student loans, I would find it extremely unlikely that the bankruptcy laws will change back any time soon, given that the last major shake-up was less than 10 years ago.

    OP: If the medical bills in question are significant, it might be worth exploring. If not, you’re probably better off trying, as others have suggested, to work with the provider on a payment plan or partial forgiveness.

    Bankruptcy won’t help with the bigger expense (the student loans) and will really screw up a lot of other things for you for a few years.

    And now for the not-clarifying part where I get all wibbly wobbly timey wimey about lending.

    There’s a certain irony in how lending works – the people who are less able to repay a loan typically have a higher interest rate, thereby ensuring that they can’t make headway because they’re stuck in a bad loan. In legal filings, a lot of these folks are referred to as “unsophisticated” borrowers. This doesn’t mean that they hop up on the dinner table, wipe their mouth with the tablecloth and drink Dom Perignon with Taco Bell, it’s the legalese version of “this person didn’t really have a good financial education”. And how many of us did, really? I know I didn’t learn much of anything from my parents with regard to financial management. Heck, if I hadn’t started my professional life working in accounts payable, I’d probably have no clue whatsoever.

    I find it’s extraordinarily easy to look down on someone because they can’t “fulfill their obligations”, or “make ends meet”, but the bottom line is that personal finance is damn near taboo in the United States. It is Not Okay(tm) to talk about your money situation and even less so to openly discuss any actual problems you might have because of the social stigma attached to it.

    Remember up front here that the percentage of US consumer bankruptcies related to medical bills exceeds 60%. Three years from now, I wouldn’t be surprised if we see significant numbers of people citing student loans as the main reason when the bottom falls out of that industry.

    I think we’d all do well to take several steps back from this one, get our own personal morals out of the discussion and take OP’s question for what it is – an honest request for advice.

    And for those of you who have all but stated outright that happiness is not a right, shame on you for misplacing your humanity.

    1. Anonymous*

      “And for those of you who have all but stated outright that happiness is not a right, shame on you for misplacing your humanity.”

      That’s a bit over the top, isn’t it?

      Happiness is not a right. Every person born is entitled to be happy? Where is that written? Happiness isn’t even defined the same way for everyone. What if my happiness causes your unhappiness?

      1. Cube Ninja*

        I don’t think its over the top at all. I think it’s genuinely sad that there are people who don’t believe that everyone has a right to happiness.

        You have a valid point when it happens at the expense of others, but do you honestly think that some people shouldn’t be allowed to be happy?

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I think people are probably using different definitions of “right to be happy here,” because definitely no one is saying people shouldn’t be allowed to be happy — but rather that you are not owed happiness on a plate by the government/your school/your employer/society/etc. That means, then, that it’s not reasonable to say that you won’t take a job unless it makes you happy, despite the consequences — i.e., you can’t ask society to support you (or in this case forgive your loans) because you’re holding out for a job that fulfills you. In other words, they don’t “owe you” happiness in that way. I don’t think anyone here would disagree with that, in fact. So people are just using the terminology differently.

  31. HR Pufnstuf*

    #1- Reaching out is great, my philosophy is to keep all doors open, what doesn’t fit now may work later. On another note I’ve found managers with personal interest in candidates not fitting their program and recommending to others may be acting for personal reasons and not in the interest of the company. Not saying that’s the case here, just that I’ve seen it before.

    #4- Hiring Managers can be incredibly short sighted and professionally selfish. This comes back to demanding the “purple squirrel”. Want a hire, delay the process, hem and haw, change up the job description and requirements, then NEED THEM TO START ASAP!
    And that’s the good ones.

    #5- Some interviewers are just bad, let them talk, nod and smile, allow your answers to be cut short, then make a decision. Keep in mind that bad interviewers can still be good bosses and vice/versa.

  32. presidente*

    Close to #1, I run a relatively-new networking organization in the same industry as I work in. When I interview people who we don’t hire, how weird would it be to later invite them to that org? I’ve considered replying to follow up/thank you notes… Most of my interviewees are entry level/1-2 years experience, so they may not have a lot of connection to the industry that they are trying to get into.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Some people will be bitter (“they rejected me and now want me to pay membership dues to join their org”) but others will appreciate it. If there’s no membership dues, it’s easier.

      1. presidente*

        I am interviewing them for a job not with the networking org but the company I work for. (And there are no dues!)

    2. Mike C.*

      If you’re talking about folks at the start of their careers, you’re talking about folks who might not be able to afford such a thing in the first place.

      Is this membership the kind of thing that you could give away a year without it hurting your bottom line too much? It might be useful to your dues-paying members to have a pool of decent folks at the start of their careers as well, it’s not like it’s a complete waste.

      Either that, if you’re looking for more junior members, there’s nothing wrong with having an inexpensive membership tier available to folks under a certain age or experience level.

      Just a few thoughts that came to mind, feel free to use or ignore as you see fit.

  33. Schuyler Pierson*

    I’m a bit late to the party and apologize to all commenters… I don’t have the time to read all 362 comments but I’m hoping #2 gets this. (Alison, please feel free to delete if I’ve rehashed what everyone else has said.)

    I’m a financial aid administrator, and want to encourage you to PLEASE contact the Department of ED to look into other repayment options. There are 7-8 of them now, including several income-based/income-contingent options, Public Service Loan Forgiveness, and the new Pay As You Earn plan (though fewer people are eligible for it due to the eligibility requirements). ED even has an “alternative” payment plan for those who can show extraordinary need for such an arrangement. Really, the aim is not to make people go broke or to force them into bankruptcy. You’ll need to contact your loan servicer to discuss payment options; if you took out federal loans (Direct or FFELP loans), which it sounds like you did, you can find the servicer for your loan(s) at http://nslds.ed.gov. Private/alternative loans – that is, a loan you may have applied for from a bank – will not be included here and is not subject to the payment plans offered by ED.

    I hope this helps. I can understand – I have very high debt myself – but I try to channel my expertise, and experience of receiving poor/no advice, into trying to be sure that others don’t find themselves in the same position. Or at least ensuring they are going into it knowledgeable and with their eyes wide open!

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