Student loans at 40?
April 14, 2011 12:44 PM   Subscribe

Is it worth it at 40yrs. old to take out student loans and go back to school full-time for 2 years? The profession I am interested in has a starting pay around 45-60K and is in the healthcare profession, so jobs are plentiful. I would be taking out about 30K in loans and of course, losing my current salary. My spouse and I both make pretty good money, we have a 4 month old child, we own a home and have 2 car notes, but no other debt. Considering these factors is it worth it to take on that amount of debt at 40 to make that kind salary? Is having a more satisfying career, being a happier person, parent and spouse (not that I am unhappy personally, just very dissatisfied with my career) worth the loss of salary and debt? Is that fair to my family?
posted by flesti to Work & Money (30 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Are you guaranteed a position in two years or will the market be saturated by that time? It is likely that a lot of people are having the same ideas as you right now. Markets change in a relatively short time period.

Also there is the very real fact of age discrimination unless you have something more to offer than the average younger graduate.
posted by JJ86 at 12:48 PM on April 14, 2011 [2 favorites]

Yes, it's worth it. I have no life experience that qualifies me to answer this question, but it sounds like your plusses outweigh your minuses. Your age doesn't matter - you're going to live like 60 more years, do you really want to spend 25-30 of them doing a job you don't like? You should go for it.
posted by CheeseLouise at 12:49 PM on April 14, 2011

You sold me with "having a more satisfying career, being a happier person, parent and spouse."
posted by klausman at 12:49 PM on April 14, 2011 [6 favorites]

Is having a more satisfying career, being a happier person, parent and spouse... worth the loss of salary and debt? Is that fair to my family?

Yes, yes, yes and yes. If you can get all those things for only $30K, you're winning the game.

And your family deserves a happier you, too. Do it.
posted by rokusan at 12:50 PM on April 14, 2011

If that is what you really want to do, then it is worth it.
If it is just another job that will get you out of your current one, then no.

Would there be other careers that you would like to switch to that you don't have to go back to school for? Think about what those could be. It's a big deal to lose your income and a bigger one to go into debt for school, so maybe exhaust other career options first.
posted by rmless at 12:50 PM on April 14, 2011

It sounds worth it to me. I would create a spreadsheet to see how your expenses and income will look while you are in school, and projecting out once you are paying off your loans. Make sure you have an emergency fund, and a contingency plan (what if your wife loses her job? can you reduce monthly expenses? can you sell one car? etc.). But yes, after that sort of thought and preparation I would do it.
posted by JenMarie at 12:52 PM on April 14, 2011

A good friend of mine went back to school a few years ago at about that age to become a Physician's Assistant. She took out much more than 30k in loans, though PAs start in the 80k range for salary, so there's a balance there. I just the other day read a rough guideline that you shouldn't take out more than a year's salary in student loans, and your 30k is well within that range. It has worked out very well for her, and the last few years have been the first time since I've known them that she and her wife and kids have been able to just relax a little bit about money. She enjoys her work and is very good at it, and is valued by the people she works with. It has made a huge difference for her whole family. It was definitely worth it for her.
posted by not that girl at 12:58 PM on April 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

Do it, do it, do it, do it, DO IT. Sounds like you have a pretty solid plan (not a flighty "oh, I always wanted to pursue my love of pottery!" pipe dream). Assuming you can work out the logistics, DO IT, sooner rather than later. I dawdled with going back to college for years - I convinced myself that it would be too expensive, too hard, that it would disrupt my family life too much, etc. Y'know what? One semester in, I am SO much happier than I was before. Seriously. Getting a chance to flex your brain and pursue something that you love is amazing.
posted by julthumbscrew at 1:00 PM on April 14, 2011

Is 30K what the degree costs, total, or is 30K just the amount you'll be borrowing, in addition to your current savings, to pay for the degree? (For example, if you're sinking, say, 50K of savings into it, on top of the 30K in loans and, what, 80K in forgone salary, that's more expensive than just 30K. Keep in mind that it's hard to build up savings for retirement once you're over 40, since you lose a lot of the compounded-interest advantage of youth.)

A couple of ways to further explore might be to do volunteer work in this area, so that you know it's something that would make you happy; and to talk to newly employed people in this area, so that you know there are plentiful jobs (not necessarily true for every job in health care in every geographical area, by the way). It could well be worth it, but if I were an older person with dependents looking at an expensive career change, I would definitely make every effort to be sure it's going to be what I thought it would be, rather than turning out to be a "grass is greener" situation.
posted by palliser at 1:10 PM on April 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

Absolutely do it. I'm 35 and about to go back to school in May for a similar degree in what I suspect is the same profession. I had to spend several years taking prerequisites to get to this point and when I first started out and was having serious doubts due to age, finances, etc., I once rhetorically asked a family member, "Do you know how old I'll be when I finally finish this?" Their response? "Exactly the same age you'll be if you didn't do it at all." Kind of made me feel better about the whole thing (as did sufficient planning for it - academic, financial and otherwise.) It's important to love what you do, and since you seem to have thought about the financial ramifications, it sounds like you're in decent shape.

Got your family's blessing? If so, I say go nuts.
posted by Rewind at 1:12 PM on April 14, 2011

With a 4-month old child, won't it be hard to concentrate on homework? If you have a 9-5 job, you go, you're at the office, your work is defined in terms of its time and space. But with school, you'll be at home, baby will be crying, you'll be sitting trying to read material for your courses, spouse looking at you like you're not doing anything, facial expression saying why aren't you helping...that situation would scare me.
posted by Paquda at 1:16 PM on April 14, 2011

In 2006 I left a job in manufacturing engineering in SE Michigan to retrain for a job in the healthcare field that had starting pay around $45-$60K. (It's nursing, right? I just know it's nursing!) I went through a 1 year 2nd-BS program that ended up costing me around $25K.

Even in my late 40's, I had no problems finding my first job. Opportunities for lateral transfers have been plentiful. I've staffed in several local institutions and units - simply because I wanted the changes of scenery. Now that I've developed some clinical credibility, and given my previous background, opportunities for advancement are coming within reach.

Was it sound economically? My old job is long gone. My old company is long gone. My old co-workers are still un/under-employed. So without running any future-value of money calculations or other rigorous analysis, I'd have to say hell yeah it's worth it.
posted by klarck at 1:27 PM on April 14, 2011 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Ok, so the actual amount would be about 30K in loans. I, however, would not be able to contribute to our checking or savings account for 2 years, which is really scary. My better-half says if we can working it out financially, then I should go for it. The most-supportive spouse ever.
There are breaks in the course of the day btwn classes/clinicals when I would be able to work on homework, study, etc. which might help me have a little bit more time in the evenings with my family.
I am talking about a Masters in Speech Path. I am currently a researcher for a medical facility with only an undergrad degree (which I completed over a very long period of time). I was corporate for years before I got into research, so I know I do not want to go back into a business setting. I have been looking at other career paths for years and basically, I want to be a SLP doing clinical work. I thought about an accelerated BSN program, but it is not a passion for me - may have been before baby, but I wouldn't want to work crazy hours to get established.
I love research, but I would rather be working with clients/patients being more actively involved.
posted by flesti at 1:33 PM on April 14, 2011

more satisfying career, being a happier person, parent and spouse
At the end of your life, you are way more likely to regret *not* doing this. Life is about more than the money. That said, spending a year saving like crazy, then getting the degree might be a good idea.
posted by theora55 at 1:40 PM on April 14, 2011

Oh man!

I just wanted to come in here and reiterate that you should carefully consider one of the first questions posed up top:

Also there is the very real fact of age discrimination unless you have something more to offer than the average younger graduate.

It would be a terrible surprise to find that there are lots of jobs, but no one wants you anyway.

However! You work as a researcher for a medical facility? Now you want practical experience? This more than makes up for the age difference. To an employer, your change in career makes sense (you don't look crazy, since you are staying close to what you know and their is a tangible difference but what you did before and what you want to do) and you bring lots of valuable knowledge and insight with you from the previous experience.

I think you could make it work out! Have you considered long term where those salaries can go, or what kind of moves you could make after, say, 5 or 10 years working? Because two years no salary, followed by 30K debt and a toddler and potentially earning just 45K per year is.... ugh. Rough. 60K with that debt and sacrifice is more doable. But in any case, it would be good to have some ideas in mind, to help guide you through your studies and early working years afterwards.
posted by molecicco at 1:55 PM on April 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Money exists for no other purpose than to exchange for things you need and want. If this is what you want and you can afford it then why not?

I think what you need to do is change your question. I would be taking out about 30K in loans and of course, losing my current salary.

So, what's the real cost? To my debt-adverse mind the biggest problem with the way people think about debt is that they don't consider the true cost. That you're borrowing 30k is less significant than what that 30k will cost you over the lifetime of the loan. What will you have to pay back? You're already being smart about considering the loss of your salary as a cost too.

So if you want to do a purely mathematical comparison you consider the cost of this pursuit (30,000 + interest/origination + (current salary * 2)) and compare it to what additional salary you'll earn over your lifetime. If you work till 65 that means 65 - 40 - 2, or 23 years.

So if that adds up to $150,000 and you're earning an extra $15,000 a year you're break-even in 10 years and start getting ahead. If you assume that your salary increases as a percentage over time then you'll gain a little faster than that.

But as others say above, I think the larger question is one of personal satisfaction. Personally I'd get out from under one of those car loans - the thing I most loathe about all debt is the way it limits your choices and increases your risk. But if you can handle it on the one salary and think the sacrifice & monetary cost is worth it then I hope you do it.
posted by phearlez at 2:01 PM on April 14, 2011 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: I just wanted to clarify that the research I currently do is NOT in Speech Path.

additional info: When I met with the program advisors they mentioned that they would like to have me in their program simply b/c I am older student w/ experience in the work force, who would take the whole thing more seriously (b/c I had more at stake).
Not sure if that same type of outlook would apply in the work place, except I would be considered a little more self-assured, b/c I have dealt with people longer in the real world than a young, inexperienced graduate. Not saying younger graduates are not great- just that when I was younger and working in postions of some authority, I was always approached with a bit of skepticism. I think that is kinda normal.
posted by flesti at 2:09 PM on April 14, 2011

30K is not that much. It's equivalent to buying an entry-luxury car. Not that you are necessarily in the market for a really nice car, but would you rather have a nice car for a few years or an education that will pay all kinds of dividends both personally and professionally for the rest of your life? Easy choice. It's only money, you can make more.
posted by fusinski at 2:33 PM on April 14, 2011

I just finished a second-career nursing program in December (used to be a computer programmer), and there were several 40+year-olds in my class. I absolutely think it is worth it, given the details you've provided. It seems like the financial concern is your biggest worry. There is really one way to make that go as well as it can go: get your spouse and your own inner self on board with living like students, and start doing it now. Any money you can save before you start is money you don't have to take out in loans later.

It might be tempting to think, "My spouse still has a job, so we don't have to tighten our belts that much," but it's not true. Every dollar you borrow for school is more expensive than a dollar you pay out of your savings, because of the interest. I was surprised to find government student loan interest rates for graduate students to be in the 5-8% range for me over the last 2 years, compared with the 1-2% loans I received in undergrad. I would have planned a bit differently if I had known that ahead of time. The school you're looking at should have financial aid counselors who can tell you how much aid you can expect to receive, and at approximately what interest rate, which might give you the facts you need to do a cold, hard calculation.
posted by vytae at 2:56 PM on April 14, 2011

I would do it. This sounds like a worthwhile risk. It's getting more and more common for fortysomethings to go back to school and re-tool their careers. It sounds like your family is behind you, and you have a solid plan.

Age discrimination: there are those who believe it's OMG FIERCE and those who believe it's piffling. From what I've seen - the fierce discrimination is far more likely in certain industries that are "youth-oriented" (and health care is not one of them) OR if you look simply terrible for your age (haggard, tired, dark circles under your eyes, anything suggesting an ill and low-energy person).

People in industries that are not youth-oriented and who look reasonably healthy and vibrant - NOT heavily plastic surgeried or Botoxed but rather project an aura of energy and health - shouldn't have to worry about age discrimination if they have the education and talent.

You will be 40 years old whether or not you took this risk.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 3:09 PM on April 14, 2011

Do you really need to take $30K in loans? Pre-reqs could be taken at a a community college for a fraction of the price, or for that matter, the whole training program might be available cheaper at a community college or public technical institute. Just something to consider.
posted by caveatz at 3:17 PM on April 14, 2011

... Masters in Speech Pathology...

Pre-reqs could be taken at a a community college for a fraction of the price, or for that matter, the whole training program might be available cheaper at a community college or public technical institute.

That's unlikely.

Why do you assume outright that you will have to pay for the entire tuition? If there are people in the department who actually want you there, they can arrange to entirelly or partially waive your tuition or fund your research to some extent by paying you a salary.

In a graduate school setting (at least in the sciences), when someone says that they would like to have you in their program, it typically means that they would be willing to pay to have you there.
posted by halogen at 3:27 PM on April 14, 2011

I just finished doing pretty much the exact same thing, except the career change was different, I'm a year younger than you, and I own a home with my wife but we had paid off our cars. If your budget can handle going down to one income, and the extra loan payments won't be too much, by all means, do it.

Being in school is so much more fun than working, though I'm working full time again now after 2 years, and it's nice to have dual income again...
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 4:08 PM on April 14, 2011

If you are making a comfortable living than a 30k student loan payment need not be any more burdensome than a fancy car payment. Would having a job you like and making good money be worth a car payment to you?
posted by ian1977 at 7:02 PM on April 14, 2011

Going back to school sounds like a great idea, but I would not stop working. Perhaps you could work at your school or find some/any kind of part-time job in the field you want.
posted by odeon at 8:01 PM on April 14, 2011

How secure is your spouse's job?

I went back to school at 43 and had a great time but I had zero debt and could pay tuition without a loan. If I was in your shoes, I would get rid of some of those car loans first, build up some savings. Children can sometimes bring unexpected expenses and you don't want to have to choose between their welfare and your career aspirations.

Is having a more satisfying career, being a happier person, parent and spouse (not that I am unhappy personally, just very dissatisfied with my career) worth the loss of salary and debt?

That brought me up short. How do you *know* that this program will actually lead to a more satisfying career? The reason I ask is that I've been through a time where I was dissatisfied with where I was in life and ended up projecting an ideal future onto the options I was considering. I think it's important to be realistic and to accept that getting the accreditation is simply that - a door that leads to other roads, which may or may not deliver satisfaction or happiness.
posted by storybored at 9:31 PM on April 14, 2011

Just be really sure that there are the jobs you think there are. I finished nursing school and the job market (in the northeast) is pretty awful. And not that great in the rest of the country. I'm told that things will change a lot in the next couple of years, but...that doesn't help right now. I'm lucky to have a job but I'm making what I used to make as a secretary. No joke. Actually, a little less.

So. Be damn sure a) that it's what you want to do [because you will be paying for it for a long, long time] and b) that there is definitely a job at the end of the tunnel. A job you want.

I'm damn serious! I wish I'd taken my own advice a little bit.
posted by sully75 at 1:45 AM on April 15, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks to all for the input.

30K would be the amt w/o taping into savings and w/o getting an assistantship in year 2.
Not offered to in-state students the first year and I will have to fight to be a GA in year 2 b/c it is competitive, but I am willing to put up a good fight. It is a full-time program, so I would not be able to work. There is only one university in a 45 mile radius that offers this program, so I do not have options to go elsewhere. I have all the prereqs I need, so that is very helpful.
I really don't want to touch our savings if we are planning on losing an income, simply b/c of our little one. We need to have the nest egg handy in case he needs something.

My spouse's job is very secure. Seems silly to say that in this economy, but it is true.

I think I will spend some time with the Speech Paths at the medical facility where I currently work. It would be nice to be able to return to this facility in a different capacity if I decide to get the Masters.
posted by flesti at 6:24 AM on April 15, 2011

Yeah, be really sure that the jobs are out there, and that the jobs that are out there are the kind of jobs you want. I know people with Speech Language Pathology degrees who are not working in SLP. A lot of the SLP jobs (at least where I am, and from what I understand from one embittered former speech therapist) are contract positions in nursing homes where you spend a lot of your time on swallowing issues, not Geoffrey-Rush-in-The-King's-Speech kind of stuff. (If you already know that and you're up for it, great!)

Definitely spend time with the Speech Paths at the facility where you work, and find out when they finished their degrees, what their classmates are doing, how long it took them to find jobs, what other jobs they worked before they got these jobs (remember you are only seeing a small subset of Speech Paths at your facility - the ones who are already doing a job that you think you are interested in).
posted by mskyle at 6:29 AM on April 15, 2011

Response by poster: My exposure to Speech Path has actually been to practitioners who do not work at facility where I am employed. I know it may sound strange, but I haven't really considered, until the last 2 days, the possibility of returning to my current work place in that capacity.
In response to the nursing home subject, geriatrics has always been an interest for me and a population with whom I am most comfortable.

I think that my preferred career path is not that risky, it is more the loss of income and debt to be incurred that is really concerning me.
posted by flesti at 2:54 PM on April 15, 2011

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