Marrying Into Debt



One of the most important conversations that needs to be had before entering into marriage is the debt conversation.  Unfortunately many couples don’t have it then only realise they have married into a substantial amount of debt a couple of years after getting married!

Many people are happy to spend hours and hours talking about the specifics of their wedding, what kinds of flowers they will have, where the event will be, but haven’t even spent 30 minutes looking at their finances and determining how their marriage will function financially.   Unless you have the debt conversation, you may be entering into a marriage that already has problems just waiting to arise.

For many young couples it can be student debt that one partner doesn’t know about.  Some couples get married then one partner finds out shortly after the wedding that the other has $100’000 of college debt, a debt burden that is now shared between the two of them.   Others get married only to find out that their new partner has $50’000 in credit card debt which they forgot to mention, or owes a significant amount of alimony to their previous husband or wife.

Those sudden surprises can put a great deal of pressure on the new marriage and one partner could feel cheated by the other partners lack of disclosure as to their real financial situation.   It is always best to come clean before getting married and be honest with your soon to be husband or wife.

Financial experts recommend “money dates” which consist of a nice dinner then a couple of hours to just discuss finances and any concerns you may have with debt and money.  During that date you share your most intimate details with your partner, like the total of your student loans, your credit card debt and even your credit score!

If you have a terrible credit score, it’s best to be upfront now, rather than have an angry and frustrated partner trying to understand why you can’t get a home loan or a car loan in the second year of the marriage.

By coming clean with your partner you can actually help build trust and can start planning a long term partnership, emotional and financial that can last many years rather than one that is destined to experience conflict early on.  You partner would also know the extent of any financial problems and realize that they should be smarter about spending money.  The last thing you want is a partner completely unaware of your financial problems and continue to spend money and generate more debt.

Once you have had a debt date and come clear about any potential problems, you can work out a plan that will work in the long run, set debt reduction goals and have realistic expectations about when you can buy a home, buy a new car and so on.  Once married, the debt problems of either partner are shared, so it’s best to address them as quickly as possible.

Student loans are increasingly a significant debt problem for newly married couples and the level of student debt has been exploding in recent years, leading to newly married couples sharing significant levels of debt early on.  If the couple cannot deal with that debt and manage expectations, the marriage will be under a great deal of stress.

On top of all of that existing debt, many newly married couples may have racked up debt for their wedding and honey moon.   The average wedding costs close to $30’000 so that is another huge debt burden which newly married couples may be responsible for.

The average student loan is about the same amount – $28’000 so if both partners have a student loan and have an average wedding, they are looking at close to $90’000 in debt from the outset.  Juggling that level of debt is difficult when you add on utility bills, rent, car loan payments and more, especially with a weak job market.

The best solution is always to be honest with your partner.  You may be fearful of being truthful about your debt, but the consequences of hiding the debt level until later in the marriage can be far more serious.


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