Should I marry someone with a large student loan debt?
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UPDATED: Jun 25, 2013
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Consumers should not be afraid of marrying someone with large student loan debts as long as the indebted partner is open about their financial past and to future repayment plans.
Money is one of the largest causes of relationship problems, but with the proper communication, financial problems can be resolved. If a couple discusses their debts, concerns, and future plans, large student debts should not keep a couple away from marriage.
According to a June study by the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC), two-thirds of engaged couples have negative attitudes about discussing financial concerns.
Dr. Tina Tessina, a psychotherapist nicknamed Dr. Romance, said that overcoming money problems will actually strengthen a relationship’s bond.
“Money doesn’t have to be a wedge between you and your partner,” she said. “It can be a great tool for learning more about one another. Money doesn’t make happiness, but using money matters as a discussion point can help your relationship grow.”
The current state of a relationship is one concern, but many couples fear the aftermath of a failed marriage. These consumers fear what happens to large debts after a divorce.
Joshua Cohen, a lawyer that focuses solely on student loan law, said that federal student loans will never affect the spouse of a borrower. Federal loans do not transfer to spouses directly. The only instance when a spouse could be penalized is during tax season, but Cohen offers a solution around this. The debt-free spouse can file an injured spouse form and will receive their income tax return without a reduction.
Even though private student loans offer fewer leniencies than federal loans, Cohen said that even these loans do not affect the non-borrowing spouse directly.
One area that could cause concern is statewide property laws.
Each state views debt and marriage differently and it is important for consumers to know their rights within their particular state. Some states are common property law states which mean that most property and debt acquired during the marriage is owned by both spouses and would be divided upon divorce, annulment, or death.
According to the IRS, there are nine common property law states, which include Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, New Mexico, Nevada, Texas, Washington, and Wisconsin.
Laws are in place for property distribution after marriage, but they do not eliminate consumers’ fears about their possessions.
Cohen has counseled two separate couples that worried about how student loan debt would impact their relationship. In both instances, the male partners were concerned about the debt of their female girlfriend or fiancée.
Once Cohen educated both couples about the effects of student loan debt, both opened up to the relationship.
Cohen said this is a problem because people do not know how student loans affect themselves and the people surrounding them. They fear that every debt becomes joint property and it simply does not work that way.
He blames it on the American culture and idea that “once you get married, everything is yours.”
Thankfully, student loan debt does not hinder all couples.
Michael Luchies, national growth and programs manager for the Collegiate Entrepreneurs Organization (CEO), feared that his $40,000 in student loan debt was going to be a large burden for him and his future wife. In order to reduce stress, they discussed their finances and any plans of repayment before getting married.
“Now, I realize those conversations were needed and have helped us have a happy first year of marriage,” Luchies said.
In the process, he learned valuable lessons about himself.
“It took a while to overcome the selfish tendencies with money that I didn’t even know I had,” he said.
Another couple was able to overcome the fear of student loan debt and take their relationship further.
Daniel Packer, owner of personal finance website SweatingTheBigStuff.com, married his wife one year ago, despite him having $70,000 in student loan debt.
His wife Lauren finished her undergraduate degree and is now receiving her Master’s for Speech Pathology.
The couple decided to repay his high-interest loans first. His other loans offer a low interest rate of 3.25 percent, so he pays a small amount each month, and puts the rest into saving or other investments. He said that by the time they are ready to have children, his student loan debts should be significantly smaller.
Despite the large impact of student loan debt, Packer said that student loan debts are simply fact of life and did not impact his decision to marry Lauren.
“We love each other,” he said. “The student loans were there but had no chance of changing our life plans. We will deal with them without letting them dictate how we run our lives.”
Each couple must decide how to approach their unique situation and Packer agrees that communication is vital.
“Going into a marriage without discussing the impact of financial concerns is very dangerous and can lead to trouble down the line,” he said.