How can I increase income to pay student loan debt?
December 22, 2013 7:26 PM   Subscribe

I have $85k in student loan debt, and need to increase my income so I can pay it off. I need a bigger spoon to eat this elephant. Fishing for ideas.

My degree is in Audio Engineering (I know, I know), but I've pretty much given up on that dream because I wasn't making much money. I have drastically reduced my expenses and moved back in with my parents. I'm throwing everything I have at the debt, and really need to increase my income.

I have $85k in student loan debt:
* $55,000 to private lender
* $21,000 in Federal Stafford loans
* $8,500 to a no-interest loan from family

Currently working in transportation/logistics for $15/hour, but they let me work all the overtime I can handle plus they cover my medical insurance. I hate the place but am trying to grin and bear it, for lack of any clear options. The company is floundering and have already cut pay for contractors/independent employees. I fear they will close my branch and I will be left without any skills that could command a better salary. I'm trying to learn as much as I can there, but they aren't exactly providing good examples of success.

* Audio Post Production (B.A., internships, indie film production, assistant engineering)
* Transportation (freight forwarding, truck dispatch, warehouse)
* Customer Service (hospitality, call centers, retail)
* Cross-cultural communication (Taught English in Japan on JET, JLPT N3)

Career books always bring me back to the same place - I already chased my dream and that's what got me in this mess! I would love to do something interesting and fulfilling, but my top priority is getting rid of this debt. I don't want to go take on more debt to go back to school, but am not opposed to getting some sort of certification online or at community college.
* Supply Chain Management certification?
* I.T. / programming?
* Learn a trade?

tl;dr How can I increase my income so I can pay down my huge student loan debt?
posted by mannermode to Work & Money (12 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Drive the trucks instead of dispatching them?
posted by oceanjesse at 7:40 PM on December 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you already have customer service and engineering experience, and are exploring IT, I would say you should be able to start out as a customer service/first tier support person. (Not sure what JLPT J3 is, specifically, but if it is everyday Japanese, you should be able to exploit that as well, probably of more use for international organizations with locations in multiple sites - not necessarily staffed locations; I'm thinking of companies with datacenters in remote locations where they don't have offices, but having someone who speaks the local language could be helpful.) What you can find depends on where you are -- are you in a major metro area, or willing/able to move?

Also, if your local community college offers courses in networking that could lead to a solid certification like CCNA, that may be a good track -- you obviously wouldn't want to take on more debt, but if two semesters at like $350 a pop could get you the paper to increase your earnings, it might be worthwhile. A CCNA with customer service experience should be worth at least a second tier support gig in a company that supports real networks. With audio experience you may be able to find something in a media specific company as well.
posted by sldownard at 7:47 PM on December 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

Teach in the Middle East. Not the greatest lifestyle but you can save a bit of money. To really make a difference, work in a high school that will pay for your masters and then work in top tier international schools. Some people are able to save as much as thirty thousand a year. Hard-core savers only, but it's still possible. Don't bother if you don't enjoy teaching. I just wanted to point out that there are routes to getting a degree and career-changing that don't cost you any money.
posted by pynchonesque at 10:14 PM on December 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

Video game audio editing is tedious as hell, but if you can get into that racket, you can easily go from $15 an hour to $25 in one step. Any game companies near you? Any studios that get subcontracted to do game audio editing? Sports games, in particular, are very editing intensive, because there's so much sportscaster dialogue.
posted by MeanwhileBackAtTheRanch at 11:05 PM on December 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

Invest your energy on the career that interests you, naturally; but start by researching careers that offer the strongest long-term growth prospects and ease of entry. In your list, IT sticks out as a strong contender. In 2013, the industry sounded alarm bells on the lack of tech pros with cloud skills, with claims that 7 million IT jobs will be unfilled in 2015 due to a lack of cloud-skilled pros:
Cloud computing skills gap is widening, warns IDC
Rackspace Addresses Cloud Computing Skills Shortage with Launch of Open Cloud Academy
Cloud skills shortage needs to be addressed, says Cloudreach
Global Knowledge 2013 IT Skills & Salary Report
Technology Hiring Trends (focuses on Washington State, with correlations nationally/globally)

Other AskMe threads have addressed getting a start in IT, with good tips on training and certification (this thread, for example). Technology companies are pushing training and certification to get new entrants and career-shifters ramped up on new cloud services and technology. For example, Cisco hosts a Learning Network. Companies like Microsoft are aggressively pushing training on their platforms (SQL Server, Windows Server, Azure, etc) with free online training courses, and hosts interesting virtual events on job trends. You can also find free vendor-agnostic training at places like Kahn Academy. Best of luck whichever path you take!
posted by prinado at 12:00 AM on December 23, 2013 [9 favorites]

I hope you're already on income based repayment.

Also remember that if you work for a non profit, some of your loan loan debt can be forgiven.
posted by k8t at 12:08 AM on December 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

Telecom or anything involving signal processing should be your focus if you want to make more money and not waste your degree completely. Start seeing what the job market is like where you are and get whatever certs you need to get your foot in the door in those fields.
posted by empath at 1:30 AM on December 23, 2013

If you have a clean driving record and criminal background and can find the time get yourself a CDL, there are jobs out there that pay $300 a day. Now that's for driving 600 miles that day, but hey. Most trucking companies are understaffed, and there's no shortage of work to be done.
posted by valkyryn at 3:36 AM on December 23, 2013

What about instructional design, specializing in creating computer-based training courses? If you picked up some software skills to creating training courses, and you read a few books on instructional design, you could propose that your degree helps you with that career. Plus, you have training experience. If you approached a business that has lots of warehouse workers, truckers, etc., but also a big office presence, I could see that they would be really interested in your skillset.

Are there businesses like that where you are?
posted by Houstonian at 3:57 AM on December 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

No one's going to pay much in IT/programming until you have experience, but your dream of working with audio might be continued by other means there as a way of learning it. You could either go down the road of learning HTML, CSS, and JavaScript to the point where you can assemble a web site and some fun-for-you web audio widget that demonstrates your skill. Or you could learn Python and start scripting audio and music stuff even sooner but without a UI. Quite a lot of IT/QA/software support teams are OK with applicants having only basic scripting skills, and personal projects count, if you pitch them correctly on your resume (e.g. an achievements or projects section that mixes work and personal experience).

Your city newspaper probably writes up business profiles for growing local companies, or maybe it has some sort of "great places to work" survey. Use that stuff to find employer web sites and look for job listings you think would be a slight reach for you, but something you could handle and grow into. Incidentally, the career guides that tell you to pursue your dreams are the opposite of this one.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 5:11 AM on December 23, 2013

As a Japanese speaker, I can tell you that N3 is not sufficient for a job in which you will be paid for knowing Japanese. It's an admirable achievement for learners, but it translates to reading at about a 4th-grade level and while it does not test oral skills at all, the N3 level suggests the student isn't ready for everyday business communications with native speakers. I think jobs where Japanese is a relevant skill require something beyond the N1 level in terms of proficiency. If you wanted to spend a few years of study to bring up your Japanese to proficiency in all the joyo kanji (including the commensurate growth in vocabulary), you could see about breaking into freelance translating. I know a few in that field and they seem to be doing quite well. You do have to consider if you have the temperament for it, though. It is a lot of time by yourself in front of a screen.

You could always go back to TEFL. The Japanese market is pretty bad, though, from most accounts that I am reading. I occasionally browse the job listings out of nostalgia and 250,000 yen/month is a pretty common salary, which is less than you are making now. I think it is also worth noting that at least in Japan, TEFL is not a long-term career unless you can get a position at one of the few universities that extends tenure to non-Japanese. Things might be better in China, Korea, and other locations, but I don't know about those places.

Given your dispatching background, you may want to make the jump to driving the trucks as oceanjesse suggests.
posted by Tanizaki at 7:51 AM on December 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

TEFL is no better in Korea. When I left, I was making what I made 5 years ago. Starting salaries haven't increased much and they're wanting much more, TEFL cert (100+ hours in classroom, not online) or bachelors in English or Education.
posted by kathrynm at 5:18 PM on December 23, 2013

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