Imagine meeting the man or woman of your dreams, falling in love and then finding out that they have over six figures in student loan debt—well above the average.
Would you marry them? Wait for them to pay off their student loans? Or move on?
Culturally, we’re told that when we find ‘The One’ everything will just magically work out, but statistics tell a different story. It turns out that money stress is a major predictor of divorce. Couples who argued about money more than once a week were 30 percent more likely to divorce than those who argued less than once a month.
That makes choosing to marry someone who will bring a significant amount of debt into the relationship a gamble. Which leads some people to question whether the relationship is strong enough to survive that added stress. The National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC) recently conducted a survey that showed that 57 percent of people would think twice about marrying someone with large amounts of debt.
According to a recent article in The Guardian, there are around 1.1 million people who owe over $100,000 in student loans. For those who incurred that debt, they always knew that the day would come when they would have to pay it back. But for the significant others that they meet years or even decades after graduating, that debt is often an unwelcome surprise.
Luckily, it’s not all bad news for those carrying significant student loan debt – the NFCC study also found that 46 percent of people would consider marrying a heavily indebted partner and helping with student loan repayment. There are also many couples with happy marriages who manage to pay off significant amounts of debt without it tearing the relationship apart.
If you are considering marrying someone with six figures of student loan debt it’s important that you understand the potential challenges that you might face as a couple so that you’re better able to tackle them.
You Will End Up Helping To Pay Their Loans
Pre-existing student loan debt always belongs to the borrower and a spouse is in no way legally responsible for repaying it. Some couples even agree prior to getting married that the spouse who owns the student loans is solely responsible for repaying them.
That said, there are a number of reasons why a spouse might end up repaying part or all of their partner’s student loan debt. The first reason might simply be that you might decide you want to be debt-free as a family in order to do things like buy a house, have children, or save for retirement. By chipping in every month, you’ll be able to put the debt behind you faster. You might also choose to have your spouse stay at home with your children when they’re born, in which case those student loans will become your responsibility to repay.
But you might also end up helping them pay off their student loans indirectly.
Most people with massive student loans are enrolled in income-driven repayment plans. If you were to file your taxes jointly to take advantage of the tax benefits from doing so, your spouse would likely no longer qualify for income-based repayment and their monthly payment would increase. They then could require your financial help to either directly pay the loans or to cover other household expenses.
While you can choose to file your taxes separately, their student loans will still be indirectly affecting your financial situation since you’ll forgo the tax savings you would have gotten by filing jointly.
Another way that you could end up paying your spouse’s loans indirectly is if your spouse becomes disabled and is unable to work. They might be able to get their loans discharged due to their disability, but then the amount discharged will count as taxable income and you’ll owe the IRS money.
Be Prepared To Make Big Sacrifices
Paying off debt means scrimping and saving. Marrying someone with a significant amount of student debt will mean significant sacrifices over the course of your lives together.
It will likely mean that you won’t be able to take expensive vacations until you’ve paid off the debt and that you’ll have less money for fun things like evenings out, concerts, and even cable TV. You’ll have to be careful about how you spend your money on small things like groceries, gas, personal expenses, and clothing.
It will also mean sacrifices on big things. With that much debt, you’ll likely have to compromise and get a cheaper car and a smaller house or apartment. You might even have to wait to own your own home or to have children.
And the effects of six-figure loans aren’t just felt while you’re struggling to pay them off. Debt can have a lasting impact throughout your life. Since you will have used a significant amount of your combined marital income to pay off debt when you were young, you’ll likely have to play catch up when it comes to things like saving for retirement or for college for your children.
That could mean you’ll have to readjust your vision for your lifestyle or your retirement. It might also mean that you’ll have to take on a second job or work past the age of 65.
Make Sure They Have A Plan
If you’re thinking about marrying someone with a significant amount of student loan debt, it’s important that you sit down and talk about their debt before you do so. Make sure that your future spouse has a clear plan for how they intend to pay off their debt. Together, you may want to consider applying for private student loan refinancing. As a couple it may be easier to meet the income and credit requirements necessary to refinance. Refinancing involves the process of combining student loan debt together under a new interest rate; high income is a key eligibility requirement in this process.
If your partner doesn’t take their debt seriously and routinely misses payments while spending their money on frivolous things, then this is a red flag that they won’t be responsible with their repayments and that you will potentially have to be the spouse who bears the weight of the family’s finances.
If they also have other forms of debt in addition to their large student loans, this might be an indication that they’re not responsible with credit. Which might mean that they’ll continue to be irresponsible in the future.
Now That We’ve Scared You – The Good News
Despite the challenges, there are many couples with happy marriages who manage to pay off significant amounts of debt without it tearing their relationships apart. By having open and honest conversations with your partner about it before you get married, you have a better idea of how you might work together as a couple and overcome these financial difficulties.
If, after having these conversations, you’re still concerned about your potential spouse’s six-figure student loan debt, it might mean that you’re better off waiting to marry them until some of their student loans have been paid off.