15 September 2011

I used to say a categoric 'no' to this question. We all know debt is bad and it's best to stay out of it wherever possible.

Here are some cases where people borrow money for their career break and some arguments for and against.

Case 1: The Opportunity

An opportunity has landed in your lap. You were made redundant, you were fired, your mate or partner is taking a career break and wants you to come - suddenly, it seems like the best time to go. But you're a little short of cash so you consider borrowing.

For: If money is the only obstacle to a wonderful opportunity, a short-term loan could make it happen. If you're sure you'll be able to pay it back!

Against: You may have trouble getting a new job (where the salary will cover your debt repayments); you will be stuck if you run out of money while abroad; the benefits office probably won't be too sympathetic.

Case 2: The only time

If you really think that this is the only time you can take a career break (rather than simply a good time, as in Case 1), you have a better case for borrowing money. For example, if your health is precarious, you're planning to have kids, you have family members who need looking after, or you're on a very fixed career path - there are many reasons.

For: You probably won't regret it; you have less chance of feeling resentful or frustrated.

Against: If you're in a wobbly situation already, borrowing money could be a really bad idea; you could end up getting deeper and deeper into debt.

Case 3: You need to get away from it all

You've just been dumped. You've lost your job. Your cat died. There are lots of reasons to want to get away from it all, and a career break really can provide some perspective, and even help you decide what to do (especially with regards to your job).

For: It could save your sanity; it could restore your shattered confidence; it could help your career (provided you do something constructive).

Against: Borrowing money when you're an emotional basketcase is very unwise; if it takes a long time for you to get back on your feet you could end up with a lot of interest to pay back.

Case 4: Retraining

Sometimes a career break is necessary to retrain for a new career. Whether you want to be a ski instructor or a brain surgeon, you will need cash to learn how to do it without killing anyone. Many career break course providers provide help getting a job, or even a guaranteed job, so it's worth looking at these.

For: You might have to do it before you get any older; there are course places available now; you have to change career before you go crazy.

Against: Some courses cost a staggering amount of money and you could be a hundred years old before your loan is paid off.

Who to borrow from

If you're retraining, you can look at getting a Career Development Loan. It's like a normal loan, except that you don't pay interest on it while you're on your course.

Alternatively, you can approach your bank for a normal loan, although they will need some convincing. Doing something productive on your career break that's actually going to help your career will help.

There's friends and family to call on as well, but be aware that borrowing money off people is the quickest and easiest way of destroying your relationship with them, short of setting fire to their house.

Whatever you do, don't borrow money off payday loan companies and/or those which advertise on daytime telly. Their interest rates are absolutely enormous and they're not designed for what you want to do.

Alternatives to borrowing

Even if you're skint, you might be able to take a career break without borrowing. Some ideas:

  • Get a grant. Yep, they're rarer than hen's teeth these days, but if you're doing a course, it's worth asking the provider.
  • Work on your career break. If you're young, you can get a working holiday visa, otherwise, TEFL is the way to go (if you've got enough cash to do the course and get certified).
  • Fundraise. If you're doing volunteer work, you might be able to get sponsorship for it, otherwise your organisation might give you some fundraising ideas.
  • Budget like crazy. Many career breakers make it happen by simply slashing their living costs for a bit.
  • Beg. Not very dignified, but still better than getting into debt. A rich friend or relative might be happy to help fund your career break, and you won't know until you ask!

Good luck!


If you're ready to start planning your career break, have a look at all your career break options here.