Finances

The job market process can be expensive.
One strategy for minimizing financial strain is to sign up for a 0% interest credit card.

 

About Job Market Expenses

Job market expenses fall into one of two categories:
(1) Out of pocket (e.g. AMA travel, a new interview suit)
(2) Reimbursable (e.g. airfare, taxis, rental cars for fly outs)

 

Out of pocket. Four nights at the San Francisco Marriott Marquis runs $860 before tax (or room service). Airfare from NYC is just shy of $600. You probably also need a new suit, and perhaps shoes as well. All in, AMA could run in excess of $2000 -- and all those expenses come out of your personal bank account. As you enter the final year in the Phd program, it's entirely probable you don't have an extra $2k just sitting around. One option may be to "park" AMA and other out of pocket expenses on a 0% credit card. This gives you the option to pay over time or in 12 - 18 months when your faculty salary starts and you transition from "future rich" to "present rich".

 

Reimbursable. Airfare and travel expenses from fly outs can add up. The department inviting you to give a job talk may book some things for you, and any expenses you incur will be reimbursed, though getting the check in the mail might take a few weeks. Also keep in mind that even though you may incur some expenses well in advance of a campus visit (i.e. booking airfare 2-3 weeks before a fly out), the reimbursement process will be initiated at the end of the visit (after all expenses have been incurred). A 0% card can be useful for isolating charges while you're waiting for reimbursement checks to show up in the mail. Partitioning reimbursable expenses with a "job market" card may be useful for other practical reasons too. It can prevent you you from hitting credit limits on cards you use actively for regular expenses (it also keeps your significant other from wondering why the credit card bill is suddenly $5000 instead of $500). A job market card may also prevent fraud alerts due to "unusual" activity. Your regular credit card company knows that you only spend money on Chipotle, coffee, and Mturk. If charges in different states or countries start showing up unexpectedly, your current card may call you to check in (though hopefully not in the middle of your job talk).

 

About 0% Interest Credit Card Offers

Offers typically range from 12 - 18 months of 0% interest. You will have to make a minimum payment each month, but you can carry a balance at no cost.
I like creditcards.com for comparing offers.

Among the current 0% offers on creditcards.com, here are some things worth considering for your particular scenario.
1. Timing. Some schools will start your salary or summer funding in June; in other cases your first paycheck might not hit your bank account until September 30th. Zero-percent for 18 months will cover you in all cases, though 12, 14, or 15 months might work for many candidates.
2. Total Charges. If you anticipate charging $5000 or more, you might want to consider a 0% card with a cash back reward. Typically cash back rewards are set at 1% and require accumulation of $50 in credits for redemption, which is why the $5000 figure is important ($5000 x .01 = $50).
3. Initial Bonus. A few cards offer a $100-$200 reward when you spend a specified amount in the first 3 months. In many cases, AMA expenses alone will get you to that threshold.
4. Irrelevant features. If you anticipate charging less than $5000 in the next year, having points in the reward program doesn't do you much good. Similarly you use the card solely for job market expenses (highly recommended), then quarterly rotating bonus categories for gas stations and department store purchases don't matter either.
5. Credit limit. This will only be assigned if you are approved for a card. But you may need to evaluate whether the credit limit you are offered will get you through interview season. If not, you can call to request a higher limit once you've made a payment or two or you can sign up for another card with a different bank.
6. Processing. As with all credit cards, it will potentially take a few weeks for your card to show up once it's approved. Make sure you apply far enough in advance that it arrives before you need to pay for AMA and fly out expenses.

 

Potentially Interesting Offers

Citi Simplicity

18 months at 0% interest. No penalties or late fees ever. This looks like the lowest stress option, which may be good for those new to the 0% credit card game. Charge away, and pay things off when money comes in (while making minimum payments along the way).

Discover it

14 months at 0% interest. 1% cash back reward + category bonuses. The customer service feature may also be valuable if you are unfamiliar with details or just like talking to a real person when you have questions.

Barclay Arrival

0% for 12 months, $200 statement credit applied to travel purchases when you spend $1000 in the first 90 days 2 points per dollar on travel and dining and 1 point per dollar on all other purchases, and a 10% points rebate on statement credits (i.e. redeem 20k points for a $200 statement credit, get 2k points added back to your rewards account). Given that you're likely to spend a fair amount on the AMA hotel and plane tickets, this is a particularly good reward system for the circumstances. There's also no foreign transaction fees, which may be useful should you have any international fly outs.

 

Disclaimer: As with any credit card offer, it's critical that you read the fine print as to how interest charges are calculated, how rates are determined, what happens if you carry a balance past the offer period, etc. But provided you qualify and are comfortable navigating things, a 0% card might make things a little easier while you're on the market. Also keep in mind that the system outlined here is designed to help you track and coordinate job market expenses. It breaks down somewhat if you attempt to smooth consumption for things like groceries, a new laptop, a 4k HDTV, a used Ferrari etc. In general, I recommend against using a 0% card to smooth "life" expenses -- the professor salary will kick in soon enough. However, this system may come in handy next summer for managing reimbursable moving expenses.