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

A reader writes:

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

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

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

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

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

The response:

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Read multiple updates to this letter here.

{ 896 comments… read them below }

  1. TCO*

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

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

    1. Kelly O*

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

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

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

      1. dawbs*

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

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

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

        And? it is all paid off now.

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

        1. Jake*

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

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

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

          1. Sospeso*

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

          2. Natalie*

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

            1. TL -*

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

              1. Natalie*

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

              2. Koko*

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

            2. Melissa*

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

            1. Lori*

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

              1. BetsyTacy*

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

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

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

              2. Jerry Vandesic*

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

          3. JJ*

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

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

            1. AnonaMoose*

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

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

              1. AnonaMoose*

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

                1. Coach Devie*

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

          4. Beezus*

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

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

          5. Jessa*

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

            1. Bea W*

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

        2. YandO*

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

          1. Apollo Warbucks*

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

        3. Credit counselor*

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

          1. dawbs*

            Sorry, that was unclear. Distracted writing.

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

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

        4. Not So NewReader*

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

          To say she was relieved does not fully describe.

        5. Jazzybella*

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

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

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

        6. ilovejoshlyman*

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

    2. Allison Mary*

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

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

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

      1. Engineer Girl*

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

        1. TL -*

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

        2. Kate M*

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

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

          1. Cordelia Naismith*

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

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

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

        3. Oryx*

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

          1. Tinker*

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

            1. Emmy*

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

            2. virago*

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

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

          2. AJS*

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

        4. AJS*

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

      2. Green*

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

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

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

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

            1. Kelly L.*

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

            2. Pennalynn Lott*

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

              1. Oryx*

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

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

                1. Jerry Vandesic*

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

              2. LBK*

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

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

                1. Pennalynn Lott*

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

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

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

                2. Jessa*

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

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

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

          1. nonegiven*

            He is also still making charges on it.

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

              1. Natalie*

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

                1. NoPantsFridays*

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

          2. AMT*

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

        2. JB (not in Houston)*

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

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

          1. TL -*

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

              1. Natalie*

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

                1. TL -*

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

      3. Brandy*

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

    3. Beebs*

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

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

      1. AnonaMoose*

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

      2. puddin*

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

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

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

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

        1. Beebs*

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

    4. KJones*

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

    5. Natalie*

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

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

    6. Bea W*

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

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

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

      1. Bea W*

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

    7. Kiwi*

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

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

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

      1. qkate*

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

  2. weasel007*

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

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

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

    Best of luck to you. Please keep us posted.

    1. Steve G*

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

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

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

      1. Anonygoose*

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

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

        1. Green*

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

          1. Spooky*

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

            1. Pretend Scientist*

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

            2. AMT*

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

        2. Not So NewReader*

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

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

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

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

          1. AMT*

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

      2. Nom d' Pixel*

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

        1. IfYouDoTheCrime*

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

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

          1. Jerry Vandesic*

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

    2. QAT Contractor*

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

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

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

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

    3. cheeky*

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

    4. Bea W*

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

      1. LUCYVP*

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

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

        1. Bea W*

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

  3. anon for this*

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

    1. Manders*

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

      1. TL -*

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

      2. nona*

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

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

        1. nona*

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

      3. Kathryn T.*

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

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

        1. Ellie H*

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

        2. Bea W*

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

        3. virago*

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

      4. Bea W*

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

    2. anon for this*

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

    3. pinky*

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

  4. Kelly L.*

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

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

    1. fposte*

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

      1. Kelly L.*

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

        1. fposte*

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

        2. sunny-dee*

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

          1. Kelly L.*

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

          2. Three Thousand*

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

            1. Parcae*

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

            2. Pill Helmet*

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

        3. Connie-Lynne*

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

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

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

          1. Natalie*

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

            1. Melissa*

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

            2. Chloe*

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

              1. Natalie*

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

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

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

                1. Chloe*

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

                2. Natalie*

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

                3. fposte*

                  @Natalie–and because to think about doing it with $20k is just too mindblowing.

                4. Saturn9*

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

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

                5. Natalie*

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

        4. HB*

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

          1. Jill*

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

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

            1. HB*

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

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

              1. HB*

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

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

                1. Jessa*

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

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

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

                2. HB*

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

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

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

                3. Something Professional*

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

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

              2. Anon to protect company*

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

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

            2. Laurel Gray*

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

              1. HB*

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

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

                I’m sorry if I was unclear above.

                1. Laurel Gray*

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

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

            3. doreen*

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

      2. Green*

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

        1. KT*

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

            1. cheeky*

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

              1. A Bug!*

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

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

                1. Tinker*

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

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

            2. Davey1983*

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

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

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

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

      3. Nom d' Pixel*

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

    2. Rose*

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

      1. sunny-dee*

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

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

        1. Kelly L.*

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

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

          1. sunny-dee*

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

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

            1. Kelly L.*

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

            2. Something Professional*

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

  5. Kvaren*

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

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

    1. kac*

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

    2. sunny-dee*


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

      1. Christy*

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

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

        1. sunny-dee*

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

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

            1. fposte*

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

              It’s not an easy call.

              1. Green*

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

                1. fposte*

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

          1. Jerry Vandesic*

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

            1. sunny-dee*

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

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

    3. The IT Manager*

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

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

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

      1. fposte*

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

        1. Natalie*

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

  6. Former Diet Coke Addict*

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

    Good luck.

    1. Mike C.*

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

      1. TL -*

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

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

        1. Zillah*

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

          Why can’t they be both?

          1. TL -*

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

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

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

          2. Zillah*

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

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

        2. Anonsie*

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

          1. TL -*

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

            1. Zillah*

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

              1. TL -*

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

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

                1. Zillah*

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

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

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

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

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

                2. TL -*

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

                3. Lady H*

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

                4. Zillah*

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

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

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

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

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

  7. fposte*

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

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

    1. Helka*

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

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

    2. HB*

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

    3. ms-starfish*

      Agree x 1000.

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

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

    4. Anonathon*

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

      1. Jessa*

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

    5. Noelle*

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

  8. Carrie in Scotland*

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

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

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

  9. Amber Rose*

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

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

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

    1. Paul*

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

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

      1. Helka*

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

        1. AG*

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

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

          1. AG*

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

          2. Dana*

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

            1. Natalie*

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

            2. Ineloquent*

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

              1. AnonAnalyst*

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

                1. Jessa*

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

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

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

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

      2. Amber Rose*

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

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

  10. Laura*

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

    1. fposte*

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

      1. Nobody Here By That Name*

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

      2. my two cents*

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

          1. Sans*

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

          2. cheeky*

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

      1. Alma*

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

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

    2. grasshopper*

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

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

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

      1. sunny-dee*

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

        1. fposte*

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

        2. AnonAnalyst*

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

      2. The IT Manager*

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

        * not an option for the LW unfortunately

      3. Jessa*

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

  11. Nobody Here By That Name*

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

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

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

    1. Sadsack*

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

    2. fposte*

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

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

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

        1. Green*

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

        2. The IT Manager*

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

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

          1. AnonAnalyst*

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

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

          2. pie ninja*

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

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

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

    3. Koko*

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

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

  12. Elkay*

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

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

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

    1. LisaLee*

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

      1. Nobody Here By That Name*

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

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

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

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

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

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

          1. Nobody Here By That Name*

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

          2. Katie Pi*

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

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

            1. Natalie*

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

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

              1. the_scientist*

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

            2. LBK*

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

            3. Ethyl*

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

              1. The IT Manager*

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

                1. The IT Manager*

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

            4. Thinking out loud*

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

            5. baseballfan*

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

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

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

            6. Anon Accountant*

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

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

            7. Laurel Gray*

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

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

          3. HumbleOnion*

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

          4. AnotherAlison*

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

          5. Kate M*

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

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

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

            1. Noelle*

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

          6. Jessa*

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

            1. Loose Seal*

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

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

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

          7. HOW PAYPAL WORKS...*

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

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

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

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

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

    2. Kelly L.*

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

      1. Elkay*

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

        1. HB*

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

          1. Elkay*

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

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

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

            1. HB*

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

              1. Boboccio*

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

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

            2. sunny-dee*

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

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

              1. Andrea*

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

                1. Judy*

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

                2. periwinkle*

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

                3. Mrs. Badcrumble*

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

            3. KB*

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

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

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

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

        2. LisaLee*

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

          1. HigherEd Admin*

            Depends. I’ve had it both ways:

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

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

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

            1. Xay*

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

              1. LisaLee*

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

                1. Xay*

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

      2. ElCee*

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

      3. Natalie*

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

        1. LisaLee*

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

          1. Natalie*

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

            1. Jessa*

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

      4. HOW PAYPAL WORKS...*

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

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

        1. TL -*

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

  13. Steph*

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

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

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

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

    1. TL -*

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

    2. Laura2*

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

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

      1. some1*

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

    3. diet ginger ale*

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

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

      1. diet ginger ale*

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

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

    4. Colette*

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

      1. Natalie*

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

        1. Colette*

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

        2. Melissa*

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

          1. Natalie*

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

        3. TL -*

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

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

  14. Anon for this*

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

    1. Dasha*

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

        1. Green*

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

    2. LBK*

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

      1. Green*

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

        1. LBK*

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

      2. some1*

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

        1. LBK*

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

      3. Kara*

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

        1. HB*

          That kind of loan has to be paid back immediately upon separation from the company…

          1. Kara*

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

            1. HB*

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

      4. Jessa*

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

    3. Nicole*

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

      1. Natalie*

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

        1. Pennalynn Lott*

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

          1. Jerry Vandesic*

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

            1. Jessa*

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

              1. Jerry Vandesic*

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

        2. Lyssa*

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

        1. Jerry Vandesic*

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

          1. Jessa*

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

          2. fposte*

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

      2. Observer*

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

    4. LMW*

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

  15. Meg*

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

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

    1. fposte*

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

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

          1. Jerry Vandesic*

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

            1. Jessa*

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

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

    2. Buffay the Vampire Layer*

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

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

      1. Not So NewReader*

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

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

        1. NoPantsFridays*

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

    3. The IT Manager*

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

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

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

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

        1. Jerry Vandesic*

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

          1. Graciosa*

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

      1. Xay*

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

      2. Meg*

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

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

      3. Kara*

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

        1. Jerry Vandesic*

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

        2. Not So NewReader*

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

  16. CAinUK*

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

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

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

  17. Helka*

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

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

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

    1. Observer*

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

    2. Buffay the Vampire Layer*

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

      1. Loose Seal*

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

  18. spek*

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

  19. Kay*

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

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

    1. Jessa*

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

  20. Bee Eye LL*

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

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

    1. DC Anon*

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

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

      1. Bee Eye LL*

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

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

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

      2. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I got more sympathetic after the second letter.

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

        1. fposte*

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

        2. Meg*

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

          1. KT*

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

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

            1. Jerry Vandesic*

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

          2. IndieGir*

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

            1. fposte*

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

              1. Meg*

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

                1. Pennalynn Lott*

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

                  I agree that something isn’t adding up here.

                2. AnonyGoose*

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

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

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

                3. fposte*

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

                4. Jessa*

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

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

                5. Pennalynn Lott*

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

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

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

          3. Pretend Scientist*

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

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

            1. Not So NewReader*

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

          4. SnowWhite*

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

        3. DC Anon*

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

    2. Anonathon*

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

      1. MsM*

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

        1. Anonathon*

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

      2. DC Anon*

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

      3. Not So NewReader*

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

        1. Saturn9*

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

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

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

    3. Chloe*

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

      1. Anx*

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

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

  21. MattRest*

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

    1. Apollo Warbucks*

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

  22. TL -*

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

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

  23. Malissa*

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

    1. Emmie*

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

      1. Not So NewReader*

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

        1. Emmie*

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

    2. Helka*

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

      1. Dana*

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

  24. Shawn*

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

    1. Nobody Here By That Name*

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

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

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

      1. Shawn*

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

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

          1. Graciosa*

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

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

        1. sunny-dee*

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

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

        2. The IT Manager*

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

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

          1. sunny-dee*

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

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

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

      2. stellanor*

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

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

        1. Shawn*

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

          1. sunny-dee*

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

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

            1. Ethyl*

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

          2. Colette*

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

          3. stellanor*

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

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

    2. some1*

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

    3. YandO*

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

      1. NoPantsFridays*

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

    4. Happy Lurker*

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

      1. LadyLep*

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

    5. AndersonDarling*

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

    6. Anonathon*

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

    7. Bend & Snap*

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

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

      1. Natalie*

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

  25. 42*

    Ah, OP…..

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

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

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

    1. Not So NewReader*

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

  26. an attorney*

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

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

    1. LCL*

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

    2. Buffay the Vampire Layer*

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

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

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

        1. Green*

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

        2. Katie the Fed*

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

        3. Buffay the Vampire Layer*

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

    3. Also a lawyer*


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

      1. Ben Around*

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

    4. not an attorney*

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

    5. WhatWhatWhat*

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

    6. Another Attorney*

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

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

  27. GIS Julie*

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

      1. fposte*

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

        1. some1*

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

          1. Green*

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

            1. some1*

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

              1. Green*

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

                1. some1*

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

                2. Green*

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

        2. Green*

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

            1. Green*

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

              1. Buffay the Vampire Layer*

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

              2. Mike C.*

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

                1. Green*

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

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

        3. Amanda*

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

  28. some1*

    I *think* I get how this worked:

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

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

    1. Shawn*

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

  29. Anoners*

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

  30. Joey*

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

    1. AndersonDarling*

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

    2. Laurel Gray*

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

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

    3. Graciosa*

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

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

  31. Dr. Johnny Fever*

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

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

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

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

    Good luck and kind thoughts your way.

    1. Natalie*

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

  32. grasshopper*

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

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

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

    1. YandO*

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

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

      1. Kara Ayako*

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

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

      2. stellanor*

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

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

        1. TL -*

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

          1. Natalie*

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

              1. Natalie*

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

      3. Green*

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

    2. fposte*

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

    3. BuildMeUp*

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

    4. K.*

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

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

    5. Tinker*

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

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

  33. YandO*

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

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

    1. tango*

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

      1. Engineer Girl*

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

        1. Melissa*

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

          1. fposte*

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

            1. Katie the Fed*

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

            2. JMegan*

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

              1. Anx*

                Anecdata: yes!

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

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

                1. Anx*

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

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

                2. Anx*

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

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

                  Thanks for the link!

          2. Kelly L.*

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

            1. Engineer Girl*

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

            2. AnonAnalyst*

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

    2. Beebs*

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

    3. Beebs*

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

  34. Wacky Teapots*

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

    1. TCO*

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

      1. Natalie*

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

      2. Mike C.*

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

      3. Green*

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

      4. Credit counselor*

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

      5. Another Attorney*

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

    2. LK*

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

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

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

  35. Jenn*

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

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

    1. Yoshi*

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

  36. JMegan*

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

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

    1. Green*

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

      1. Jennifer*

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

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

  37. MsChanandlerBong*

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

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

  38. Cari*

    OP – do I understand this correctly:

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

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

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

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

    1. TCO*

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

    2. Mike C.*

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

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

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

      1. Natalie*

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

        1. Melissa*

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

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

          1. TL -*

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

          2. Observer*

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

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

            1. Mike C.*

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

              1. Observer*

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

          3. Natalie*

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

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

            1. Anx*

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

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

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

              1. Kat M*

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

          4. Juli G.*

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

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

          5. Mike C.*

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

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

            1. Ruffingit*

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

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

              That is

          6. AnonAnalyst*

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

          7. FD*

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

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

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

            1. fposte*

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

              1. FD*

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

              2. LD*

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

      2. Stephanie*

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

    3. yep*

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

  39. TootsNYC*

    OP, I just want to say this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    1. fposte*

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

    2. Ellie H*

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

    3. Thank You.*

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

    4. LBK*

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

    5. Allison*

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

    6. Mimi*

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

    7. LeighTX*

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

    8. Andrea*

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

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

    9. Jennifer*

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

  40. MsMollyD*

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

    1. Kelly L.*

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

    2. LBK*

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

    3. The IT Manager*

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

  41. BRR*

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

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

    1. Grace*

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

      www dot debtorsanonymous dot org

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

  42. Accounting person*

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

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

    1. JB (not in Houston)*

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

    2. Laurel Gray*

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

      1. Accounting person*

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

  43. HigherEd Admin*

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

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

    1. Book Person*

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

      1. HigherEd Admin*

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

    2. Vanishing Girl*

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

  44. Ambrose*

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

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

    1. Katie the Fed*

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

  45. BritCred*

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

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

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

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

    1. Apollo Warbucks*

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

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

      Sooner or later someone will see it.

  46. Oldblue*

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

    1. Mike C.*

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

      1. KT*

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

        1. some1*

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

        2. LBK*

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

          1. KT*

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

            1. LBK*

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

            2. Katie the Fed*

              The letter clearly states:

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

              1. Dana*

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

      2. Oldblue*

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

        1. AnonAnalyst*

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

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

  47. Anonymusketeer*

    I’m stressed out just reading this.

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

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

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

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

    1. Katie the Fed*

      “I’m stressed out just reading this.”

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

  48. Book Person*

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

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

    1. Book Person*

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

      1. Green*

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

  49. MH*

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

  50. Retail Lifer*

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

  51. KT*

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

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

    1. That Lady*

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

      1. KT*

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

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

        He needs a lawyer. And a very benevolent company.

        1. Sadsack*

          I have to agree with you. I do wish OP the best because at least he is trying to figure out how to end this. However, I did read his letter as filled with a lot of excuses. I think OP should not try to offer those same excuses to his employer when he confesses.

    2. Ally*

      Alison kindly asked not to pile on, and so people didn’t.

      This was rather harsh! The guy made a mistake, it happens. He’s asking how to make it right.

      1. KT*

        There’s mistakes, like forgetting an email, then there’s crime, like embezzlement. That doesn’t just “happen”.

        1. MsM*

          No, but it’s already done. I agree that the OP needs to treat this as serious and not expect leniency from the employer – up to and including the possibility of legal consequences – but he knows that. Knowing that is probably part of why he’s made these desperate moves to cover it up. He needs a game plan that will put an end to that, not further incentive to hide.

          1. Agreed*

            it is already done, as you say, but it’s still also right in the middle of still happening. This is current situation and won’t stop until the OP is caught, confesses, or it resolves financially.

            1. Melissa*

              And that’s what pretty much every else in this post has said. No one has suggested that he disappear and move to Mexico or something like that. No one has even approached saying what he did isn’t wrong.

        2. fposte*

          It’s a moot point when we’re guests and have been asked not to be harsh by the host.

      2. Apollo Warbucks*

        I don’t think this comment is harsh at all, KT hasn’t been rude or abusive to the OP and her assessment of the situation is a fairly logical and reasonable one even if you disagree with it.

        I was pretty shocked by the letter when I read it and had to think it over before rushing to judgement. In my profession this would be so outragous it would cost you’re job, reputation, professional accreditation, in addition to becoming a criminal matter and finishing your career. So to me the basic facts are very damming you can’t help yourself to $20k even with the best of intentions and I don’t doubt the OP means no harm but they’ve done the wrong thing so I’ve got little sympathy.

        1. Loose Seal*

          You can be sympathetic toward the person without being in support of their choices.

    3. Jessie*

      I had an employee steal while he was in a position of trust working for me. His actions caused a lot of damage (mainly because some of what he did put suspicion on innocent people in my office). I agree. This is criminal. I think the OP’s best bet is to come clean and hope that losing his job is the worst that happens.

    4. Mike C.*

      Save your two minutes hate for folks who convince people to buy snake oil over actual medicine, screwed over the world economy, build football pitches with the blood of migrant workers or “recruit” child soldiers.

      People screw up. I’m not a religious person, but the idea that “but for the grace of God go I” is something we should all take a moment to remember.

      1. Anon369*

        But someone bears the cost of these screw-ups, and it’s often the victim. I’ve been personally embezzled from by someone in a position of trust, and the feeling of violation is akin to your examples.

        1. Natalie*

          The OP isn’t hiding out in Mexico. All of the advice given has included the OP paying the company back, so they would bear the financial cost of their mistake.

            1. TL -*

              He could, I think, if he could get on a different payment plan – he’s putting $2000/month towards it.

              So the OP just needs to change the situation and he would, theoretically, be able to pay it back relatively quickly, even with interest.

        2. Mike C.*

          and the feeling of violation is akin to your examples

          Being kidnapped and forced to become a child soldier or dying in the sweltering heat to manufacture a football pitch that will only be used a handful of times is really not akin to having money stolen from you.

          1. Amanda*