Should I go into credit card debt to change careers?

Do some research before charging hefty online courses on your card

Your Business Credit columnist Elaine Pofeldt
Elaine Pofeldt is a journalist whose articles on entrepreneurship and careers have appeared in Fortune, Working Mother, Money and many other publications. She is a former senior editor at Fortune Small Business magazine and an entrepreneur herself, as co-founder of 200kfreelancer.com, a website for independent professionals. She writes "Your Business Credit," a weekly column about small business and credit, for CreditCards.com.

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Question Dear Your Business Credit,
I have a steady full-time job, but my heart isn’t in what I do. I’m thinking about taking a course in online marketing, with the hope of getting into a new field.

The course has gotten very good reviews online, but it costs $5,000. I would have to charge it to my credit card and pay it off over time. Should I go ahead? – Dan

Answer Dear Dan,
Many people ask themselves questions like yours, given the constant stream of headlines about automation and robots taking our jobs.

Clearly, we all will have to keep our skills current to make sure we stay relevant in the workplace of the future. Being willing to refresh our skills, as you are, is very important to staying employable today.

Do some research first

I would urge you to think carefully before you borrow money on your credit cards to pay for an online course.

There are many types of skills that will be needed in the future – including online marketing – but that doesn’t mean they are necessarily a good fit for you personally.

Before you sink $5,000 into an online course, I’d do some small experiments.

  • First, try taking a very short course in what you plan to study. For instance, if you are looking to learn social media marketing, perhaps you could take a class on YouTube, Lynda.com or General Assembly. You’ll know pretty quickly if you have any interest in the subject, and as you try to apply what you’ve learned will soon figure out if you have an aptitude for it.

  • Look for some longer-term courses you can try for free. For instance, edX, a site founded by Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University, offers a variety of free online courses in marketing.

Consider this before changing careers

Before you try changing careers, it’s important to understand exactly how you’ll be spending your time in your new line of work.

  • Talk with people in the field to give you an idea of the challenges and opportunities.

  • Take a test drive of your new career choice. See if you can arrange to work as a volunteer intern at a local digital marketing agency on your next vacation. Applying your skills in the “real” world may be different than in the classroom.

  • Consider freelancing and bidding on some projects in your new career area. Even doing two or three freelance projects will give you valuable insight into what the work will actually be like.

Even better, you’ll make some money that you can apply to paying off the course.

Making a final decision

I suspect that once you do these things, you will not feel you need to charge the $5,000 course on your credit card.

However, it is possible that, once you know more about the subject, you’ll come to the conclusion that the course offers something very unique that would ultimately make the course pay for itself. If that’s the case, go for it.

Just be prepared to keep refreshing your skills as time goes on. The world of online marketing is changing by the day, and the people who are most successful in the field are those who are the most up-to-date.

See related: 7 ways to protect credit in a gig economy, Don't let your 'side hustle' become a full-time headache

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Updated: 12-16-2017