Negotiating A Six-Figure Salary Helped This 35-Year-Old Pay Off $40,000 In Debt

Illustration by Richard Chance
In our series My Salary Story, women with long-term career experience open up about the most intimate details of their jobs: compensation. It’s an honest look at how real people navigate the complicated world of negotiating, raises, promotions, and job loss, with the hope it will give young women more insight into how to advocate for themselves — and maybe take a few risks along the way.
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Previously, we talked to a 31-year-old graphic designer in L.A. who went from corporate to freelance and back again. Today, we connect with a financial service professional who learned to fight "spending creep" and pay down significant credit card debt as she moved into the six-figure salary range.
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Age: 35
Current Location: NYC
Current Industry & Title: Financial Services Compliance Officer
Starting Salary: $28,500
Current Salary: $159,000 ($140,000 base plus annual bonus)
Number of Years Employed: 13
Biggest Salary Jump: $21,500
Biggest Salary Drop: None
Biggest Salary Regret: Not negotiating salary early on in my career and not taking my career seriously for many years.
Best Salary-Related Advice: "Try to negotiate! I was timid and always had the attitude of I am lucky to have to this offer instead of, This job is lucky to have me. Over time, that has a big impact on your income. Your next job will likely base your new compensation on your previous salary (although some states have passed legislation prohibiting prospective employers from asking your current salary in an effort to close the gender wage gap). That practice certainly impacted me; new employers are sometimes only willing to increase your current salary by a certain percentage, perpetuating an underpaid status. Also, have a clear vision of where you want to end up. I had no plan for many years and that negatively impacted my earnings due to not seeking out better opportunities and remaining complacent."
Best Career Advice: "Stay in touch with old coworkers and meet them for lunch or drinks when you can. Send well wishes on holidays (I'm big on the Happy New Year text.) Over time, you will establish a great network because people eventually move on to new roles and can potentially refer you for a position one day — or vice versa. You may also need them as a reference and you don't want to ask a favor of someone you never speak to. It's also great to have people in your industry you can bounce ideas off or ask what their company does to address a specific issue. If you work at a larger company, network with people inside as well as outside of your department. Don't be afraid to ask senior people to lunch. I've noticed that people who are 'popular' at work (always having lunch with different people, know everyone) are more likely to get put on high-profile projects or are the first to be considered for new roles."
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1 of 12
"I graduated with a degree in Economics and had no idea what I wanted to do. All I knew was that I was done with school and did not want to do a Ph.D., which is the path most economists take. I applied for a full-time position at the bank I had worked at part-time throughout college and got the job. I did not negotiate and accepted a salary of $28,500. I was thrilled and felt so fancy. I worked in a fancy building, wore a suit to work, went to happy hours and networking events, and loved my coworkers and boss.

"The goal of this position was to obtain all your financial services licenses and eventually become a financial advisor within your bank branches. I obtained my Series 7, Series 66, and Life and Health Insurance licenses in six months. I loved talking about interest rates, the stock market, and learning about different investment vehicles. The FAs would throw small clients my way and I was able to earn commissions off any sales I made. With commission, I netted about $32,000.

"I lived at home my first year out of college but as soon as I saved enough money for rent, I hightailed it out of my parents' house. I moved into an apartment in D.C. with friends and paid $1,000 for my bedroom in a three-bedroom apartment. We threw parties all the time, held game nights, and cooked together. That was a great time in my life, but I racked up a lot of credit card debt. For some reason, the idea of thousands of dollars of credit card debt did not scare me. I wish it would have."
2 of 12
"I realized that I wasn't the greatest salesperson, even though I had a thorough understanding of financial markets and the products my company sold. So, when one of the compliance officers at the company left, I made a beeline for the role. I felt it was more stable because it wasn't commission based and I would still work with the same people I loved. I got the position and made $45,000 base; again, I did not negotiate.

"I think I got a bonus of $4,000 during those two years. I had to pass two more certification exams for this position, which I did. I should have asked for a salary increase or bonus once I passed those exams since that is what most firms do. You live and learn."
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3 of 12
"I decided to make a career out of financial compliance. We had regulatory examiners come in to conduct routine exams of my firm and it seemed like such an interesting job. I applied to become one of the regulators and was hired. Again, I did not negotiate and accepted a $60,000 salary with a $10,000 sign-on bonus.

"The position was in Philadelphia, so I moved out of the apartment I lived in and got a big-girl apartment in Philly all by myself. I felt so badass moving to a different city and having my own place and a real job. I made close friends at this job that I'm still in touch with today."
4 of 12
"It wasn't very hard to get promoted at my new job; my salary after my bonus was $72,000. As long as you were not a complete screw-up, did the work, and didn't cause trouble, you would get promoted. (Some people lied on expense reports, messed up important meetings, missed deadlines, etc.) It was a bit bureaucratic from that perspective."
5 of 12
"I continued coasting and being complacent. Again, as long as you did a decent job and didn't raise eyebrows, you would get promoted. My salary after my bonus was $82,500, but I wish I had been more aggressive in my career at that time. I never thought I would be a career-oriented woman. I always thought I would get married and have kids, and my job wouldn't matter because my husband would be the breadwinner. I hate that I thought that way for so long."
6 of 12
"In 2013, I decided to transfer to my company's NYC office because I felt there was more opportunity for me there. I had turned 30; experienced two failed, four-year relationships; and still wasn't married yet. I realized I should get my act together and take my career more seriously. My company gave me a cost-of-living adjustment and increased my salary to $88,000; they also gave me $3,000 toward moving expenses."
7 of 12
"In early 2014, I received another promotion and was this close to meeting my six-figure salary goal; my salary was $98,500. I was stoked — which was kind of stupid because I think a lot of people with the same title were making more.

"In early 2014, I received a $13,000 bonus for my 2013 efforts. Although I made decent money that year, I lived like it was my last year on earth. I bought clothes all the time, went out to fancy restaurants and bars and on Sephora binges, joined fancy gyms, and took expensive trips. I was also paying $2,400/month in rent. By the end of 2015, my credit card debt went from $10,000 to nearly $40,000.

"I had a nervous breakdown one day when I realized I had maxed out all my cards. It was a very low moment for me and I felt like I was living a lie. On the outside, I looked like I had everything together — living alone in a nice apartment, working a decent job — but I was flat broke from a lifestyle I couldn't afford. I am still paying for that mistake. It was a total disaster."
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8 of 12
"My boss retired at the end of 2014, and I hated my new boss so much, I had to get out of there. There was no autonomy, lots of finger-pointing, and no teamwork. I loved my coworkers but the management was awful. I left to pursue an opportunity in regulatory consulting and negotiated a nice salary bump to $120,000. They offered $115,000; I asked for $125,000, and we met in the middle.

"I loved this job but worked for a terrible person. The guy who hired me seemed like he would be an advocate for me and told me I would go far in the company. He was smart, funny, and seemed to take a liking to me. I was so naïve. He turned out to not only be a sexual harasser, but he was also a sociopath. He made up lies and pit people on the team against each other like a puppet master.

"He also caused me to lose out on a ~$13,000 bonus from my old job that was due to be paid in early 2015 by not deferring my start date. I had left my old firm two months before bonuses were paid out because my new boss said the team needed me and there was a lot of work to do. I later found out that was not true. In the end, I got a bonus of $2,500 from this new job in mid-2015, when I could have received $13,000 from my previous company by staying just a little longer. They also sprung a ton of travel on me, which I did not like (four weeks straight in another city wears on you) and I worked 10-to-12-hour days most of the time. I lost about 10 pounds from the stress of that place.

"The sociopath was fired a couple of months after I started when another team member went to HR. (And yes, I unleashed at my exit interview and told them every awful bit of what went on.)"
9 of 12
"I lasted just shy of a year at that place and approached my job search with 110% fervor. I was determined to get out of there and I finally knew my worth. I got a job at a financial services company making $130,000 a year. I tried to negotiate but they wouldn't budge, and I took it since I was desperate. I got a $13,000 bonus after working there less than half a year and not making much of an impact, so no complaints from me.

"It turned out to be a great place to work and I love the company. There's a healthy work environment, I can walk to work, and I no longer have crazy hours. I report to people who are normal and there is so much opportunity to grow. I don't see myself leaving for a while."
10 of 12
"Over the next two years, I received two small salary increases and 10% bonuses. The first brought me to a base salary of $132,500."
11 of 12
"I received another small increase and a $14,000 bonus."
12 of 12
"I received a $19,000 bonus in February and a 3.5% cost of living increase, bringing my base salary to $140,000. My hard work over the past two and a half years is finally starting to pay off. I had a very candid conversation with my boss and told him I would like to start taking things off his plate, participate in more management meetings, and add to my responsibilities. He said he would start giving me more of his responsibilities as he assumed more of his boss'. I have asked for this before, so I hope this time it happens and leads to a promotion.

"As far as my $40,000 in debt: I have it down to $15,000 at the moment. I would have paid it all off by now but I had a wedding to pay for and I contribute $1,000/month to a joint savings account with my husband, which is slowing me down a little. (I am not paying interest on the credit card debt thanks to a balance transfer option.)

"I plan to obtain an additional certification this year to set myself up for that promotion. My goal is to bring home $200,000 by age 40. I'm married now, but do not plan to rely on my husband financially. My views on marriage, kids, and gender roles have completely changed since I was 25. My husband and I operate as equals with money and chores, and I really like that. I really love the company I work for and would very much like to grow there, so I am putting all my eggs in this basket for now."
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