Should I Repay $20,000 in Relo for a Career Opportunity?

I am currently underemployed by my current company. When I started out in their training program I was told I would have the opportunity to work in a variety of different departments. I loved this training program and was very happy, using my knowledge and skill from my degree. After finishing, however, the only open positions were in a department that does not only not utilize my degree, but also makes me flat out miserable.

I have been so miserable, that only a few months into this new role, I started applying elsewhere. I was given an offer from a different (non-competitor) company that is in a location I love, a better salary, will use my degree, and more importantly, accelerate my career by about 3-5 years.

Sounds perfect, right? Well, the only problem is I signed a relocation payback agreement with my current company and I’m in the hole for around $20,000. A colleague of mine who left the company told me that they allowed him to repay on a monthly plan and I am sure they will do the same for me.

However, he owes the company much less and I already have student loan debt. I know you are not here to give financial advice, but would you suggest making a move to advance a career if it puts the person in debt?

First of all, I hate debt. It eats at your soul. It binds you to people you don’t wish to be bound to. It’s horrible and my official policy is that you should only go into debt for 3 things: Housing (within your means!), education (again, no $150,000 loans for a degree in basket weaving), and a functional car (no debt for a sports car). So, generally, you can expect my response to be, “suck it up, buttercup. You signed a relocation agreement and you’re stuck!”

But, nothing in real life is ever that simple. I’d say you should never, ever, go in debt for a vacation. But, if that vacation is to see your 92-year-old grandmother who is close to death and who raised you, then yeah, put those airplane tickets on a credit card. So, ask yourself the following questions.

1. Will the new company pay off the debt for me? This is not unusual, by the way. You must be pretty awesome for a company to offer you relocation worth $20k, so the new company probably thinks you’re pretty awesome as well. They may be willing to pay part or all of the debt.

2. How much is the salary difference? and How fast can I pay off the $20k? I’m sure the old company will allow you to make payments–it’s in their best interest to do so. But, if big new salary is $62k compared to the current salary of $60k, it’s going to take an awful long time to make up that difference. If it’s a $10,000 raise, then you can, obviously, pay it back faster. I certainly would be leery of anything you can’t pay back in a year. If you’re the type that spends, spends, spends, don’t do this. If you’re a disciplined soul who can live on rice and beans, then it’s not as bad of a deal.

3. Is the grass really greener? Your current position is awful. It doesn’t fit your skills. It’s not what you want to do. Clear. But, you’re supposed to work in a variety of departments. How much longer are you going to be in the awful role? Does it make sense to take on $20,000 worth of debt in order to get out of 6 months of work you don’t like? It wouldn’t be for me, but it might be for you. And, you came to this job convinced that this was the greatest thing since sliced bread and now it stinks. How do you know that the new job won’t turn out to be just as lousy–plus debt!

4. Is this a bridge you want to burn? You’re thinking of the relocation money. Repaying that brings you up morally and legally with the old company. This is swell. However, they’ve invested a lot more than relocation in you. You’ve been through a training program that undoubtedly cost the company more money than you earned for them in that training. While you don’t have to pay this back, you are seriously burning bridges by leaving so soon. Your current boss and the development program leaders are going to be loathe to give you a good reference, unless they recognize that they made the mistake in placing you in the wrong place. Don’t count on that.

5. Have you talked with your current boss? You’re in a rotational program. Is your current boss aware of your desire to move on? It may be possible to transfer you out tomorrow (well, not tomorrow, but still). Have you asked? You may be taking on huge debt to solve a problem that isn’t really a problem.

Think through these things and I think it will help you make a good decision.


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6 thoughts on “Should I Repay $20,000 in Relo for a Career Opportunity?

  1. Your advice seems to be assuming the OP is still in the training program, giving her a chance to move through multiple departments. I read it as she made it through all the rotations in the training, and now she’s full-time in this department she hates. There may still be a possibility of an internal transfer, but it doesn’t read to me like she has any rotations automatically awaiting her.

    1. True, he could be completely done. But, in my experience, these programs usually give you training and then a planned rotation every 18 months or 2 years. Since he’s still under relocation payback, he’s undoubtedly been there less than 2 years and probably less than 1. So, I wouldn’t be surprised at all if there was a rotation coming up.

      If there’s not, then that’s another point towards leaving and paying back the money.

  2. This stuck out for me “When I started out in their training program I was told I would have the opportunity to work in a variety of different departments.”

    According to the OP, this hasn’t happened. I wonder if there’s any leeway here, regarding paying back the relocation fees, if the company who relocated the OP didn’t live up to their side of the bargain?

  3. No 5 – talk to your boss. This is the best advice for almost any situation.

    Managers aren’t mind readers, although we often think they should be, so it is possible that they don’t know they are about to lose someone they paid to come onboard.

    Also, it has only been a few months. I think that is worth repeating – it has only been a few months – not long at all. Has the OP even had a formal review yet? If not, I would think it is too soon to move on. If so, what was said then about moving onto another position? What was said about growth within this current position?

    While this position might seem “miserable” I would want to know what makes it so miserable. Are you not learning anything? Are you not getting anything from this current position? If there is no potential for moving forward in your current company; then, yea, leave. But, if there is any chance of moving within this current company I’d stick it out for a year.

    Lastly, I’d ask myself what if the new job makes me more “miserable” and I leave that too. Will I look like a job hopper?

  4. Agreed, talk to your boss first. Maybe he can give you other projects to do that will increase your skills. He might have a plan you are not aware of yet. Maybe you need the current position experience to get to other positions.

    Like the above poster said, what exactly is making you miserable? Remember that some jobs do have crappy stuff to do in them; it is just part of the job.

    Are you really sure this new company will be what you want? Sometimes we tend to convince ourselves that something has got to be better then what we have now, because we want so badly to leave our current one.

    Also can you really afford to have that extra debt? I mean without being miserable that you can no longer afford the things you want to have and do? That is a lot of debt. And with school loans? Which will cause the most misery?

  5. I think another major thing to consider is how long much longer she has to stay with her current company in order to not have to pay back the relocation expenses.

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