Real Answers from Real Pilots

Financing and Post-training Debt

Hello,

I am in the process of making a career switch at 35 to attend ATP’s zero to airline 40 hr program beginning asap. While talking finances may be a bit taboo, I’m interested in learning the experiences of others regarding life after training with the large debt burden. I’ll likely have to borrow the bulk of the program’s training cost (if I don’t opt for cashing out my 401k). I understand instructor pay will be meager and first year FO salaries will also be modest, therefore making repayment contributions tough until several years in with a regional. I live well below my means, so I plan on chipping away as soon as I can, but wanted input from others on how best to naviagate post training to began addressing the debt. Are there any dos or don’t regarding lending and how much. I am tempted to borrow the full amount possible as a safety net with the hopes that I won’t need it all (living expenses, housing, etc.) I live far away from any ATP training facilities, so I will have to relocate. I’ve read or heard where it isn’t advisable to work much going through the triaining, which I understand. I have considered waiting tables or getting a side gig for one or two evenings a week. Any thoughts?

Kindly,

Eric

Eric,

If you read through this forum you’ll see talking finances is anything but taboo (not sure why you think it would be?). The cost of training is one of the biggest obstacles most people face and it’s obviously a legitimate concern. While it’s been quite a while since I went through the training myself I do have some thoughts on the subject.

I don’t want to sound unsympathetic, nor do I want to sound like the old guy complaining that “you youngins’ don’t know how good you have it! When I was training we had to walk 20mi uphill in the snow with no shoes…”. BUT the truth is you don’t! While ATP has done an incredible job keeping the cost of training down over the years they’ve raised instructor pay, Regional airlines are offering Tuition Reimbursement, salaries at the Regionals have doubled (and tripled) and they’re hiring like crazy. In short I had a comparable loan, had no Tuition Reimbursement, and had to worry about hopefully getting an interview let alone get hired and had to survive on $19hr vs the $38+ you’ll be getting and I was still able to live and cover my loan payments. I guess I really don’t have much sympathy :slight_smile: Will it be easy? No but def doable.

You say you’ve read the on the subject of working while attending ATP so you know our feelings on it. Ultimately the decision is yours. There are no ATP police who’ll “bust” you if you do. Frankly I don’t understand the question? You’re concerned with paying back this massive loan, at the same time you’re about to begin an accelerated training program that will make you a professional pilot in months while most schools take years. Show up unprepared and you’re out. Bust more than 2 checkrides and not only will you lose the guaranteed instructor gig, you’ll have a blemish on your training record that will literally stay with you for the rest of your career. Managing the loan is one thing. Managing that loan knowing you blew the training and sabotaged your entire career to me is the stuff nightmares are made of. Your call.

Adam

Thank you, Adam. I appreciate your feedback.

Eric

Eric,

I am going to second Adam here, working during the program is a disastrous idea. The program is so accelerated as it is, that you are really setting yourself up for failure if you work. I know it is tough, but my advice is to buckle down, eat ramen and make it happen.

Chris

Thanks, Chris. Looking forward to the challenge.

You sound just like me right now. Same age and all.
I have pondered options on what to do with my current debts while quitting my job and going to ATP.
One option, I’d have to cash the 401k out as borrowing won’t be an option. That’s a lot of lost money.
The option I’m currently leaning toward is that I will power-save for a year, pay off everything, and then go to ATP in one year. I really don’t want to make my retirement disappear but also don’t want to wait a year… Darn this debt. Anything can happen in a year to prevent this, hopefully not, but maybe the 401k thing can be a plan B just in case that happens.

I am not worried about the loan though. It’s the current debt that is stressing me out. I see it like a really expensive post-graduate college loan. You’ll just have to deal with it until it becomes less and less burdensome like everyone else. At least you’ll make some money back as a CFI if you go that route. You’ll get to be a pilot! Worth it.

I say all of this because I am curious. Do you have current debt you have to worry about before going full time at ATP? If so, what becomes of it? Are you trying to get the highest allowed loan amount partly to pay off your car or credit cards or whatever? I am eager to hear other’s ideas on this.

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Ryan,

While I have always been enamored my aviation, this flying bug did not hit me until recently. Its like the light bulb went on and I discovered what I wanted to be when I grow up! This comes after spending nine years with one company and earning my MBA last year with plans to advance. I must’ve done a 180 - I came to despise office life and left my job not knowing what was ahead. I relocated back near my parents (I’m single w/ no kids) and took odd jobs up until now.

I found out today that Wells Fargo wants me to have a cosigner (I prefer not), and Sallie Mae questions my ability to began making repayments once training is over (my concern in my original post). I have minimal debt which I can address rather quickly if need be. Leaving my job so soon wasn’t smart as the higher income would’ve gotten me a loan much easier.

Using a 401k or an IRA is tricky. If ATP qualifed as a chapter (??) school, you could withdraw for education and not have to pay the 10% penalty. ATP doesn’t qualify. Also, keep in mind that taking any disbursments is considered income therefore likely placing you in a higher tax bracket. This - along with the penalty - would seem counterintuitive as your needing less debt which is why you’re accessing the funds to begin with. No fun to cash out around 80k and only get to keep 52K after taxes and penalties. This is a very rough estimate. One option is to borrow against it and repay. I may do this if I do not get all of the lending I’ve requested. Most IRA’s or 401k’s will allow you to borrow 1/2 of the fund’s balance or $50k - whichever is less.

I am waiting to hear back from Sallie Mae. They updated the app once we discussed retirement savings, education level, and a few other things.

Truthfully, I want to do this pretty bad, so I will sacrafice my new truck, possibly what’s left of my 401k after taxes, and maybe even a kidney. I’m just ruling out the more sensible options first.

Eric

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Thank you for your reply.
I’ve had more time to think on it and definitely am deciding not to cash out on 401k. I feel it would be a horrible move at this point (for me) due to the penalties and taxes taken as you say. I’ll just leave it alone. Borrowing would just put me back in debt, which is what I’m trying to get out of anyway.
I definitely won’t quit my job before applying if that helps on the loan, though it seems weird because they must know I’ll have to quit my job anyway to be full time at a flight school. I haven’t talked to them about my situation at all yet so what do I know.
I will say that being single sure seems to make decisions easier. I have to consider my family in every decision. Part of my one year debt thing is to not just pay off my own debts but I have to save enough to help my lover and her kids be okay for at least nine months. It’s fun though. I’ve already started saving for debt with a high interest savings account online and its challenging but fun. I’ve never saved so hard. I might be addicted.
I don’t know your detailed finances but I really hope you are able to hold onto your kidneys!

Oooooh! I haven’t thought about selling body parts to help finance ATP! :joy: