Whether it was love at first sight, a blind date gone right, or a best friend who’s much more than that, you’re head over heels in love. Marriage is on the horizon, and so is combining your lives—and your finances.
While you’d like to believe love conquers all, you know it’s a mistake to have blinders on when it comes to love, marriage, and money. Like it or not, marrying someone with student loan debt impacts your financial future and your personal finances as a couple.
So, is it a big mistake marrying someone with student loan debt?
Not if you know about it and have a plan to address it.
While you aren’t personally liable for student loans your future spouse brings into the marriage, ignoring the five or six-figure debt while dreaming about the life you want to build together isn’t wise.
Want to avoid feeling like you’re marrying your partner and their debt? Get ahead of it.
Before you say, “I do,” work together to devise a strategy for making the student loan payments.
As you construct a plan for how to reduce student loan debt, other questions might arise. You might wonder if consolidating your spouse’s student loans would make sense, or if a student loan planner could provide helpful advice.
Tackling these and other questions early on and knowing what you might face down the road puts you in the driver’s seat.
Prevalence of Student Debt
Student loan debt is a massive problem in the United States. Close to 45 million people—1 in 4 Americans—collectively owe almost $1.57 trillion in student loans. This amount is greater than what people owe on auto loans and credit cards.
According to the Institute for College Access and Success, borrowers in the Class of 2017 have an average student loan debt of $28,650. With rising college costs far outpacing wage growth in the US, many students will continue amassing student loan debt to earn degrees.
If you’re not one of the millions who owe, it’s likely you will marry someone with student loan debt.
Financial Challenges Can Harm a Marriage
Even though divorce rate may be falling, financial challenges remain a primary source of tension between partners, whether married or not. No matter how in love you are, you’ll face plenty of stressors navigating life together.
A 2018 Fidelity Investments Couples and Money study found that 40% of people bringing debt into a relationship report it having a negative impact. It’s not hard to see why marrying someone with student loan debt puts you at higher risk for marital difficulties.
But debt isn’t the only money-related struggle you might have with your spouse.
Each of your financial behaviors can also create conflict you’ll need to address. If you’re a saver and your partner is a spender, then you’ll have disagreements over finances. The more challenges you have over time, the greater the impact it can have on your marriage.
Common Problems Associated with Student Loan Debt in Marriage
You might feel like you’re fighting an uphill battle when marrying someone with student loan debt.
But facing the issues together can strengthen your relationship and build your marriage on solid ground. Here are the problems most frequently associated with student loan debt in marriage.
Lack of Money
With low starting salaries and significant loan payments, your budget may be squeaky tight. Taking on side gigs to pay all the bills can increase stress levels further. Financial stress can affect your relationship, regardless of how much you love each other.
Accepting that you have debt is one thing. Working together to develop a plan to address it is another. Setting short-term and long-term goals, devising budgets and tracking expenses can be overwhelming.
If a conflict arises quickly or often when talking about money, communication breaks down.
Too Many Emotions
It’s not easy to separate your feelings from your money. Partners with student loan debt may feel shame or guilt over the debt they’re bringing in to the relationship.
They may also feel they’re taking advantage of their partner, especially if they never finished a degree program or made poor decisions with loan money.
The partner without debt may also feel resentment over having to pay more than their fair share of household expenses, or for helping pay back loans that aren’t theirs.
Higher Loan Payments And Loss Of Tax Benefits
If the partner with debt is on an income-driven repayment plan and files joint taxes in marriage, loan payments can increase significantly. Tax advantages can even be lost. This may create additional stress in the relationship and compound the financial issues.
Transfer Of Debt Responsibility
Some couples take out new loans together (i.e., home equity lines of credit) to combine loans, reduce interest rates, and pay down student loan debt. This fundamentally shifts the responsibility of the debt from one partner on to the couple.
While it may seem like the right thing to do in marriage, it could create serious issues in the future if the loan goes into default or the marriage ends.
Taking On More Debt
Some spouses continue their education and need to take on more student loan debt after marriage. Sometimes this becomes joint debt whether the other partner cosigns for a loan or not.
This can affect credit scores and future finances—especially in cases of divorce.
11 Rules To Follow To Keep Student Loan Debt From Affecting Your Marriage
As you tackle student loans (or any money matters), strive to put your relationship first. That doesn’t mean you should compromise your own need for financial security.
Follow these eleven rules to help keep your love alive, your money in order, and any student loan debt from affecting your marriage.
Live Within Your Means
Take a deep dive into your finances, learn to manage your money, and avoid debt. This can be challenging as you start your life together! Pull both of your credit reports and be transparent about what you owe. Start tracking your expenses and use a budget.
If you can’t pay your bills, lease a smaller apartment, move in with family, get a roommate, or take on part-time jobs. The honeymoon you’ve always dreamed of and the house with the white picket fence might need to wait. Even though it’s difficult, you need to learn to say no.
Adopt a Debt Payoff Strategy
To reduce how overwhelmed you feel, adopt a payoff strategy for your student loans and any other debts.
For example, there’s the debt avalanche method. Paying the minimum monthly payment on all your debts and then putting any extra cash you have toward your highest interest rate debt until it’s paid off saves you the most money. But it can take a long time to see real progress with this method.
There’s also the “debt snowball” strategy, which boosts your motivation as you pay off debt faster. With the snowball method, after paying the minimum payment on all of your accounts, you’ll put extra money toward your smallest debt balance first. Once that debt is paid off, you put all the money once allocated for that debt toward the next smallest debt and repeat until you’re debt-free.
Whether it’s the debt avalanche, debt snowball or another method, Implement the strategy that gives you both the most motivation to tackle the debt.
Communicate And Commit
Before you marry, make plans on creating systems for how you’ll handle money and debt. Schedule money dates on the calendar and stick to them. Create both short and long term goals based on both your values.
This addresses your student loans in the present while allowing you to plan your life after them too.
Create a Financial Mission Statement
Like with institutions, organizations or companies, creating a financial mission statement can provide similar purpose and resolve. A mission statement will help you as a couple visualize your financial goals.
Manage Your Emotions
On top of managing money, you need to manage your feelings. There are layers of emotions on both sides when it comes to a partner who brings debt into a relationship. Do whatever you can to attack the debt and not each other.
Consult Professionals When Needed
As much as you want to put money toward debt, putting it towards hiring a professional when you need to is a smart decision. Legal, tax, or financial questions you might search the internet and find answers for can also lead you to make mistakes or miss out on things the pros know. Don’t be afraid to spend some money when you need help or advice.
Keep Debt Separate But Tackle It Together
Don’t shift liability from one person to another. Instead, address it together. If you decide to refinance or consolidate spouse student loans, keep separate loans for each person whenever possible.
A debt consolidation or personal loan might simplify the process of paying off your debt. It could also reduce the interest rate on some of your loans depending on your credit history and score. But watch out for high fees that are often associated with these types of financial products.
What seems like it may solve problems now could create difficulties in the future.
Loans After Marriage Are Joint Debt
Taking on student loan debt after the wedding generally becomes your responsibility as a couple—even if no one co-signs the loan. Be sure you understand your state’s rules about community property and realize a judge will consider your entire financial situation in the event of divorce.
Consider A Prenup (or Postnup)
A prenuptial agreement details what your money situation looks like before marriage and what it would look like in the event of a divorce. Prenups are not just for the wealthy. While you might not realize it, everyone entering a marriage is entering an agreement on how their finances will be divided upon divorce.
In the event of marital dissolution, couples follow the law for married property rights within the state they reside. By having a prenuptial agreement signed before entering the marriage, you may have more say if your marriage ends in divorce.
If you’ve already said the I do’s, consider a postnuptial agreement to spell out what would happen with any assets or liabilities in the face of a legal separation, divorce, or death.
Write An Investment Policy Statement
Even though your focus is paying off student loans and other debt, you need to think about building long-term wealth too. That’s why you should consider writing an investment policy statement (IPS) together.
Don’t worry if you are only investing a small amount of money now, because an IPS helps you identify and define your long-term financial goals.
In order to define your strategy to reach your goals, you’ll have to consider your full financial picture and timeline — including your risk tolerance.
The written guidelines of your IPS map out how you’ll meet your financial goals and keep you focused on the future, especially during stock market downturns or challenging economic times.
Celebrate Your Money Wins
Paying down your debt could take years — even if you’re laser-focused on paying it off. In addition to budgeting for student loan payments and the things you need, you’ll also want to budget for things you enjoy. That should include ways you can celebrate major money wins.
When you pay off a loan, treat yourselves to something special. The important part of this is that you both must agree on how to celebrate.
It may extend the time it takes you to pay off all of your debt by a month or two, but it’s important to honor your accomplishments. You — and your relationship — deserve it.
Dating and Marrying Someone with Student Loan Debt
After considering how debt can affect your relationship, you might be wondering if student loans or any financial liabilities should be a factor to consider when dating someone.
That’s a question only you can answer.
The amount of debt a potential spouse has can be concerning. But there’s a lot more to think about when marrying someone with student loans.
- What degree did they earn?
- What career do they have and what’s their future salary potential?
- Is an advanced degree (with more loans) still in their future?
- What other debts do they have?
- How do they manage their finances?
Dating someone doesn’t mean you are going to marry them. It also doesn’t mean you won’t face a debt problem in your future too.
If there are red flags, by all means, pay attention. Don’t take on someone else’s financial troubles if they show no effort to eliminate their debt or positive signs of managing their money responsibly.
But keep in mind that if the relationship gets serious, it’s easier to pay down liabilities with two salaries, and working together to meet your goals can strengthen your relationship.
Before you make a vow to love someone from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, recognize that student loans may become part of your married life.
Following the eleven rules above will help you enjoy your married years without becoming too overly focused on debt or other personal finance issues.
Celebrating your wedding day and all that lies ahead while knowing you have a sound strategy to address your partner’s student loan debt is priceless.
Amy Blacklock is the co-founder of the websites Women Who Money and Women's Money Talk, and the founder and blogger behind Life Zemplified.