Student Loans Can Be a Relationship Problem
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UPDATED: Aug 10, 2012
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Student loan debt has overtaken credit card debt and reached $1 trillion according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Speculation abounds that this is the beginning of another financial bubble, but indebted students, some carrying debt in excess of $100,000, insist this is already a full-blown national crisis. Crisis or not, gargantuan debt of this size is certainly impacting our nation on a micro level, affecting borrower’s individual lives. Reports of student loans affecting dating relationships, marriages, and even relationships after marriage are growing more popular and more severe with each passing day.
While comparing online quotes can inform borrowers, that does not mean that informed borrowers will not fall victim to the high levels of student loan debt. This debt that was originally meant lead to an education and better life has instead proven to be a damper on relationships.
An interview by NPR highlights just how off-putting debt can be in budding relationships.
Rachel Bingham of Portland, Maine is an art teacher with $80,000 in debt—an issue that affected both her and her (now) ex-boyfriend, who recently ended their relationship.
“He said it scared him, that it really made him anxious. And he just did not want to take on my responsibility,” she said in the interview.
Understandably upset, Bingham noted that she had never requested help nor failed to make her loan payments.
“I was really floored at the time, because I just didn’t consider that as a reason for someone to not be with someone else,” she said. “I felt it was very shallow.”
Clearly for some people, the others people’s debt can prompt a measure of financial self-preservation in the form of rejection.
Debt and Marriage Don’t Go Together Like a Horse and Carriage
Unfortunately, student loan debt can prove to be an uncomfortable and difficult issue well past the dating stage.
NPR found that couples are avoiding legal marriage altogether because of student loans.
“Once you’re married, you’re basically responsible for [your spouse’s debt] at some level,” said Bill Driscoll, a financial planner in Massachusetts. “It’s causing uncertainty and tension because it’s an impediment to [couples] moving forward on a lot of fronts.”
One of these “fronts” is the purchase of a home, perhaps the most defining aspect of the American dream.
“If they go to buy a home and they’ve got $65,000 in student debt, that’s going to undermine a lot of the possibilities for getting financing,” said Driscoll.
That same student debt has been continuously climbing for years.
In 2007 the average student loan debt per college graduate was $12,400, according to American Student Assistance. In 2011, FinAid.org said that average rose to $18,000.
If we place those same years side-by-side with the average age of marriage in those years, we begin to see a disheartening trend.
According to IHS Global Insight, the median age for males getting married for the first time in 2007 was 27.5. For females it was 25.6. And in 2011 the average for both genders rose by one year.
While plenty of other economical factors certainly contribute to this increasing age, we can’t deny the possible role that growing student loan debt plays.
A Possible Matchmaker
Perhaps a comforting silver lining for those in heavy debt is the fact that they are not alone.
Craig Pfeister, a guitar craftsman from Denver has over $100,000 in student loans. Needless to say, dating has proven somewhat difficult for him.
“I just usually wait until it comes up and kind of clench my teeth,” he said to NPR. “Generally, it starts with an awkward look, like, ‘what have I gotten myself into?’”
In a reversal of fortune, debt has actually allowed Pfeister to date women in situations similar to him.
Pfeister said, “We kind of laugh about it like we’re both owned by Sallie Mae. If they already have in their mind they’ll have this debt for their entire life, when they hear about mine, it’s just, ‘Oh, you, too?’”
Pfeister’s experience—and no doubt the experiences of others—shows that debt is a matchmaker that dating singles use to find commonalities just as they would with hobbies and interests.
Life Will Go On
Critics may argue that it is unwise for a person with manageable debt to marry a person with heavy debt. These same critics may also argue that it is unwise even for the heavily indebted to marry one another. Love however, can be far more motivating than any financial advice, and couples are still tying the knot.
Debt is but one of many obstacles in life. Singles and couples in all places, past and present, have overcome obstacles far more severe than debt. While they may be forced to settle for lower cost weddings, and maybe (hope to) have children later, the American dream will no doubt persist and continue to be the goal we all reach for.