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Dear Liz: I am 48 and planning on a career change. I was looking at a culinary school website and it looks pretty exciting. It is a two-year, full-time program and the cost is about $65,000, which doesn’t cover the dorm or apartment expenses for living nearby. Of course, the institute’s counselor told me they have financial aid and asked, “How can you put a price on your future?” Right.
What would be the payback on something like that compared with an average salary of a chef? I will be 50 or so when I complete the program, and I’m not sure I want the big payment plan on my back. Can you help?
Answer: The counselor’s question is ridiculous. How can you not put a price on your future, particularly when it involves such a huge expense? Smart students consider the price not only of their educations but the incomes that education will bring them.
Many students sign up for these for-profit schools with visions of being the next Gordon Ramsay dancing in their heads. A little research would show them that this field is not exactly lucrative or booming.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median pay for a chef or head cook was $42,480 in 2012. Employment is expected to grow 5% in the next decade, which is “slower than average for all occupations.”
So the payback isn’t great, especially if you have to borrow money to foot the bill — and most of the financial aid you get at these schools is loans rather than grants or scholarships. Even for someone with a 40-year working career ahead, taking on that level of debt isn’t smart.
You would have much less time to make an investment in a second career pay off — 15 years or so, and that’s if you can tough it out in a hot, hectic environment into your 60s.
If you really want to take this chance, at least minimize your investment by getting trained at a community college. Even better, get a part-time job in a restaurant and see how you like the work first before you commit to the field.
A more thoughtful approach to a career change would involve meeting with a career counselor to consider your strengths and experience, then looking into jobs in which those are an asset. Any training you would need should be reasonably priced and preferably something you could do while hanging on to your day job. Just think about that culinary expression “Out of the frying pan and into the fire,” and try to avoid getting burned.
Today’s top story: The consequences of never checking your credit report. Also in the news: How your smart phone can help your budget, how bad America is at saving for college, and are memberships to big box stores worth it?
What Happens if I Never Check My Credit Report?
You really, really don’t want to do that.
How Your Phone Can Boost Your Budgeting
Savings at your fingertips.
How Bad Is America at Saving for College?
What Member Discount Programs are Worth the Cost?
Are the gigantic packs of toilet paper worth it?
In 30 Minutes, She Cut Her Credit Card Debt by $3,128
Negotiating skills are a must.
Today’s top story: How to eat healthy while on a tight budget. Also in the news: Mistakes you’re making with your life insurance, why you should live like you’re already retired, and debunking credit card myths.
4 Ways to Eat Healthy on a Budget
Healthy doesn’t have to mean expensive.
3 Costly Mistakes You Are Making on Life Insurance
Re-evaluating your coverage is crucial.
Why You Should Live Like You’re Already Retired
A different financial mindset could make saving money easier.
5 Credit Card Myths Debunked
How To Declare Your Financial Independence
Just in time for the 4th of July!
Today’s top story: How to build credit when you don’t want a credit card. Also in the news: Why you shouldn’t turn your 401(k) over to a broker, how to save on summer energy costs, and how to save on health care while you’re retired.
How to Build Credit Without a Credit Card
For those with no interest in having a credit card.
The One Reason to Nix A 401(k) Rollover to a Broker
Two words: brokerage commissions.
7 Ways to Cut Your Summer Energy Costs
No need to make your wallet sweat too.
5 ways to reduce retiree health care costs
How to reduce the price tag on your care.
Study: When the Honeymoon is Over, Credit Scores are Extremely Important
Getting down to the nitty gritty
Samantha Castillo drove her family a bit crazy with her love for video games–and her criticisms of the ones that could be better. She loved educational games when she was little, for example, but found the games for older kids could be pretty dull.
So she jumped at the chance to learn game design from USC’s Game Innovation Lab when she was in high school. In return, the lab wanted high schoolers’ help in designing games to make it easier for first-generation students to apply for college.
“First generation” students are those whose parents haven’t gone to college. The knowledge gap between those parents, and the ones with college degrees, can be huge. Kids without parents to guide them through the application and financial aid processes are less likely to attend college, and less likely to get college degrees when they do. A big problem is “under-matching,” when the student settles for a much less challenging or selective school than the ones for which she’s qualified.
That could have been Castillo, who lives in a neighborhood where just getting through high school is considered an accomplishment. She had a vague idea that she might go on to community college, but wasn’t sure what that would involve.
So she asked a lot of questions, and helped to research the answers. Just the fact that the game developers listened to her and her opinions gave her more confidence.
Fast forward to today: Castillo is about to graduate USC with a degree in neuroscience. She credits the game lab, and working on its college application games, with the big step up in her ambition and accomplishment.
For more on Castillo, and the games, read my Reuters column this week: “To get into college, play a game or two.”
Today’s top story: Finding the best travel rewards credit cards. Also in the news: Five ways tot get things off of your credit report, what your parents didn’t teach you about personal finance, and five bad financial habits you need to break.
The Best Travel Rewards Credit Cards in America
How to get the most from your summer travel.
5 Ways to Get Things Off Your Credit Report
Erasers don’t actual work in this case.
What Your Parents Never Taught You About Personal Finance
The information age has changed the game.
5 Bad Financial Habits You Need to Break
Time to stop your chronic overspending.
5 Ways To Save On Home Remodeling
How to remodel without breaking the bank
Today’s top story: Four quick tips to improve your credit score. Also in the news: What really matters when it comes to credit reports, should you move while retired, and why you shouldn’t put your retirement savings on the back burner.
How to Improve a Credit Score: 4 Quick Tips
Quick ways to boost your score.
What Really Matters When It Comes to Credit Reports
Focus on the important things.
Is Moving in Retirement a Smart Money Choice?
Are you better off staying put?
Don’t Put Saving for Retirement on the Back Burner
It’ll be here before you know it.
Retired couples wrestle over money issues
How to deal with financial stress.
Dear Liz: I’m having trouble finding information about how to structure my finances to get the maximum financial aid for my kids when they enter college. For example, will contributing to an IRA instead of a taxable investment account matter? Should I focus on paying off my mortgage or should I buy a bigger house and acquire debt in the process if I want my kids to qualify for more aid? There’s plenty of advice out there about how to minimize taxes — for example, by contributing to 401(k)s or selling losing stocks at year-end. But I’m interested in legally and ethically shielding my assets from the family contribution calculations used by the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. Any idea how I can learn more about the inner workings of the FASFA formula?
Answer: Before you rearrange your finances, you need to understand that most financial aid these days consists of loans, which have to be repaid, rather than scholarships and grants that don’t. Wanting your kids to qualify for more aid could just lead them to qualify for more debt.
Also, the FAFSA formula weighs income more heavily than assets. If you have a six-figure income and only one child in college at a time, you shouldn’t expect much need-based financial aid, regardless of what you do with your assets.
That said, there are some sensible ways to shield assets from the formula, and often they’re things you should be doing anyway: maxing out your retirement contributions, for example, and using any non-retirement savings to pay down credit cards, car loans and other consumer debt.
Using non-retirement savings to pay down mortgage debt helps with the federal formula, but may not help much with private schools that include home equity in their calculations. Either way, taking on a bigger mortgage with college looming is rarely a good idea.
You can get some idea of how much the federal formula expects you to pay for your children’s educations by using the “estimated family contribution” calculator at FinAid.org. Another great source of information is the book “Filing the FAFSA: The Edvisors Guide to Completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid” by Mark Kantrowitz and David Levy.
Today’s top story: Credit dangers faced by single parents. Also in the news: Financial advice on repeat, how saving for retirement is like sports, and the worst financial lessons kids learn from television.
The Credit Dangers That Single Parents Face
Building credit can be difficult.
Why You Need to Hear the Same Financial Advice Over and Over
Hit the repeat button.
The Offense and Defense of Retirement Savings
It takes a team effort.
4 of the Worst Financial Lessons on Kids TV Shows
Too many money trees.
6 Ways to Save on Glasses or Contacts
Save money and get a clearer view of the world.