Tying the knot

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Student Loans and Your Spouse

If only one of you has student debt, what does that mean for your marriage?

We work with a lot of engaged or recently married couples in our office, and one thing we see over and over is that these folks need help with student loans - especially when one spouse has them and the other doesn't.

This situation is tricky, and there's no one "right" way to handle it. On one hand, the debt-free spouse often feels that the other person should take care of their own loans. This makes sense to a degree, and works for many couples. On the other hand, however, if that debt starts crippling the team, when should the other spouse take on some of that burden?

There's nothing wrong with letting each spouse take care of their own debts. After all, if you took on debt to go to school, presumably you're also planning on working and building a career. Especially if both spouses are well employed, the big benefit here is that one can take on more of the household expenses while the other tackles their student loans head-on. Teamwork, right?

But, problems can arise when one partner is left holding the bag for all aspects of running the household for a long period of time, while the other isn't contributing as much. I've seen this lead to resentment on the part of the debt-free spouse, feelings of overwhelm or failure on the part of the spouse with debts, and dishonest behavior from one or both. Being overwhelmed with debt can lead to hiding purchases and feelings of guilt. I've also seen the debt-free spouse hide expenditures, thinking they deserve something for keeping the household afloat seemingly by themselves.

Nothing good ever comes from hiding things from your partner. Read that sentence again, folks. It's vitally important to be transparent, think of yourself as a team, and yes, sometimes work together on each other's financial issues for the good of that team.

So, should you lend a hand and help out with your beloved's student loans? If you're heading down the road described above, it might not be a bad idea to lend a hand now and then. Keep in mind there are ways to help out beyond the monetary. Review each spouse's budget together so you can be efficient with your money. Establish lifestyle goals and dreams now, and agree to live within those means. Be constructive with each other, not destructive.

If you are recently married, our team can help you find ways to work together and support each other. And if you aren't married yet, we'd be happy to help you have some of these financial conversations before the big day. Just as it's crucial not to hide things during your marriage, it's not a good idea to spring a lot of debt on your brand-new spouse right after you tie the knot. Talk first, so you can move forward together.

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