Should You Pay Off Your Spouse’s Loans?

Today we welcome back Catherine Alford, our regular Tuesday contributor.

Did You Marry Their Debt?

Did You Marry Their Debt?

Asking someone if they’d pay off their spouse’s student loans is kind of like asking someone who should pay for the first date. There are bound to be a ton of different responses and feelings on the subject so let’s chat about them.

Marriage Means We’re In This Together

First of all, I have always felt like when I got married, my money became our money, and my debt became our debt. The same goes for my husband. Although it took a little while to get used to having a joint account – first year of marriage growing pains! – we’ve really established a good system of trust over the past few years when it comes to our joint finances.

Now that my husband is in medical school, there is no question that we’re both going to work extremely hard to get rid of those six figure loans when he is done. After all, if I don’t help him and if I’m not supportive of his payoff process, it will hurt me in the long run. It’s definitely in my best interest and in the best interest of our future kids to get rid of all of our student loan debt as quickly as possible. So to me, this is a joint venture, something that we’re in together.

Similarly, I know that Lance saved up tens of thousands of dollars to pay off Tori’s student loans when they got married. As many of you know, he’s utilized that money for a few different things, but in the end, he’s going to help her knock out the debt once and for all.

Of course, all of this might be a completely different story if we were chatting about a different kind of loan…

What About Bad Debt?

What if you spouse has to pay back a loan from gambling too much in college? What if they owe a loan on a failed business? What if they owe money to family members for various reasons?

In those cases, I could see how some spouses would make the argument that the spouse with the loan is responsible for their payoff. Sometimes, we make poor choices and they follow us into our married years, and perhaps it’s best if one spouse takes responsibility for those types of mistakes.

Still, I have to say, even when my husband and I got married with credit card debt, we worked together to pay it off. Even if we didn’t approve of the way we each got into credit card debt, we still joined our finances and tried to find a way to pay it all off once and for all.

To me, that’s what marriage is – working together towards a common goal. However, we got married really young, and I realize that people who get married later in life might have a different view of joint finances and debt payoff since they are much further along in their careers.

So, we want to hear from you. Did you help pay off your spouse’s debt? Or, if you’re not married yet, would you help a potential spouse pay off their debt?

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About Catherine Alford

Catherine Alford is a personal finance freelance writer who received a B.A. from The College of William and Mary and an M.A. from Virginia Tech. She enjoys sharing her adventures on her blog, www.BudgetBlonde.com.

Comments

  1. Call me anti romantic but I don’t think one should pay the other’s loan. Yes you’re in this together but stats says 1/3 of you won’t be in a few years. Then you either get resentful or one gets a step back in his/her financial journey. I don’t mind paying more of the mortgage (in exchange for a bigger share) so we can live comfortably for example, and have a better lifestyle, but don’t think I would pitch in, even for education debt.

    • To each their own opinion for sure!! I have a generally very positive view of marriage though and never consider divorce as even an option or a topic of conversation since that’s not productive! 🙂

      • Stephanie says:

        I am trying to decide about this also – but it may be sourced from a potential inheritance, so it wouldn’t really be my money going into it either.

        Here’s what I’m looking at mostly, though: if I pay off his student loan, he doesn’t have to pay the YEARS of financing fees attached! That money saved can be invested in a college savings plan for our children. This would put us BOTH ahead and leave something for our children’s future…so I’m looking into the financial benefit of paying off his debts more than the lesson he might learn or what might happen in the future.

  2. I don’t think it matters what kind of debt it is…once you say your marriage vows my belief is that “two become one” in every sense of the word. You now work together to resolve all conflicts and challenges towards the common goal of sharing and building one life together.

    • That’s how I feel about it too! 🙂

      • Stephanie says:

        It’s hard to think about “what might happen” in the future, because it really depends on what vows mean to each person as an individual. People tell us it’s “smart” to plan for rainy days…and we try to protect ourselves against divorce…but doing that does open the door to that possibility that much wider subconsciously in our minds, in my opinion. It makes going through that door that much easier, since you have planned for it.

        I am trying to let go of hurts from my parents and not see my spouse as something to protect myself against. It’s hard – but I want to feel the way Cat @ Budget Blonde does about marriage.

  3. I’d have to disagree with Pauline. In marriage, we think it’s all for one and one for all. In our group of friends and family, all the couples that have had marital problems and separated or divorced are the ones that make distinctions between what is “his” and what is “hers”. The relationship problems might be the reason for the separation of accounts rather than the other way around, but it definitely seems like couples who treat everything as “ours” seem way more likely to stay together than those who don’t. (At least in our cohort.)

  4. When we got married, all of our debts became “ours” and all of our assets became “ours.” All of our money is pooled together so we effectively paid for each other’s stuff. Now that we’re debt free, I’m glad that we didn’t separate debts out like that. I don’t understand separate finances if you’re married.

  5. My husband never had any debt, but I did have to pay for my car in 4 years (paid it off in 2012). We weren’t married back then, but, even if we were, I would NEVER expect anyone to pay for my stuff. We’re both working on our business now and try to pitch in as much as possible for the household. We’re saving money and having common goals. But, if any was still in debt, I don’t think we’d accept the other one to pay for it. We both use my car (his broke down 1 year ago), but I made ALL the payments, since it was my responsibility and my mistake – he’ll say it was a mistake, if you ask him :))

  6. I’m of the opinion that when you join in marriage, so does your financial situation. If you’re in it for life, I see no realistic reason to keep things, including debt, as separate. The key is to make sure to understand every single dollar of debt on both sides as well as have a common vision long before the actual wedding on how this will be tracked, handled, and paid off. In our case, my wife and I both knew what was on the table, so we had everything combined and in place long before we exchanged our wedding vows.

  7. I firmly believe that “my” money becomes “our” money when you get married.

    It’s a no-brainer for me, it becomes “our” debt.

  8. This is definitely a conversation to have before marriage- A mutual understanding of how you’ll approach your finances- the good, the bad, and the ugly.

  9. I’m with you – after marriage, everything becomes joint. And that’s how it worked for us; my husband used his savings to pay off my student loan debt. If I was uncomfortable enough with some debt my SO had – like they hadn’t learned their “lesson” well enough concerning bad debt or something – that would be a reason not to get married, not a reason to keep (partially) separate finances after marriage.

  10. Tough call! Both my wife and I had no debt when we married. In fact, we each brought some savings to the marriage.

  11. Bryce @ Save and Conquer says:

    I’m in agreement with most other commenters. My wife and I commingled our funds and paid off her student loans right after we were married. The bad debt gambling or failed business questions don’t apply, because I would not have married someone carrying a large amount of those kinds of debts. My wife and I both have advanced degrees in mechanical engineering, so her having student loan debt was completely understandable, and it was only around $12k. (I knew to the penny how much it was prior to marriage, because she showed me the loan statements.)

  12. This is such a good question. I got engaged this weekend, and we haven’t even given it a thought. I have some student loans still, and they are at 0% but I’d like to pay them off still fairly quickly so they won’t loom over me. J has no debt, so I wouldn’t have to deal with it.

    • Daisy, you need to have this talk NOW and not after you’re getting married. I personally consider that each has his/her own responsibility, other commenters here were able to work it out together and pay off whatever needed to be paid. No matter what you both choose, it’s good to have the talk before you start arguing about who has to pay, if you’ll do joint accounts, if not etc.

      Congratulations for the engagement by the way 🙂

    • Stephanie says:

      Definitely sit down to a nice dinner and chat this out before you tie the knot. 🙂 Cheers to your engagement!

  13. Looks like I’m the outsider on this one.

    As always, it depends. What’s most important is what works for you.

    For me, that was pre-nup. Just like you drive sanely, but still have car insurance, you go into a marriage expecting the best, but a pre-nup is your marriage insurance. By clearly listing the state of affairs before the merger, it makes it easier to be fair if the worst should happen. It also lets your specify spousal support – I can’t believe anyone who has seen someone they know’s life ruined by alimony payments would ever go into a marriage without hedging that risk.

    That said, in our case, we both had debts coming in, and we are pooling our income and paying off our debts together, and spending on present and future income together. It’s primarily the previous assets – house, retirement accounts, investment accounts, etc. – that we keep separate.

  14. Really great post Cat! My husband is very supportive of helping me pay off my $40,000 in school debt compared to the about $8,000 he has left. He knows that the sooner we get my debt paid off, the better we are as a couple, financially. While I hear about all those nay-sayers who quote divorce stats, I too am someone who takes marriage very seriously. My husbands parents are still married and while mine are divorced, I know for a fact they shouldn’t have married in the first place hence why it failed (but then I never would have been born so I’m glad they married, lol). My husband and I are in this together so we pay our debts and save together (and have joint checking/savings accounts too!)

  15. This was hard for me at first because I brought more school debt into marriage, though he had the mortgage. But my honey was adamant it was our debt and we worked to pay it off. Last payment of $70,000 total in 21 months goes in today actually! Our college, grad school, and car loans are gone! I still wouldn’t add his name to my previous debt in case I died he would not have the burden, but wo long as we are alive we work on goals, including finances together.

  16. We married for life, divorce isn’t an option, and everything is ours – not his and hers. I was taught that declaring from the start that divorce isn’t even an option just sets you up for success instead of failure – and as someone else commented and said, this discourages his vs her money ideas.
    When we got married my spouse had about $9,000 in student loans, and I was debt free, but he’d also paid for a $1500 plane ticket for me fly across the continent to him.
    Now we have joint debt due to buying a car that was too expensive for us, way too many medical bills ( even with insurance) and his return to school.
    Those are our bills, not his, not mine, and we’ll work together to pay them off for our mutual benefit and success. I couldn’t imagine separating them out.

  17. I also believe that when you get married your separate money and debt becomes “our” money and debt, but I think both people have to be interested in paying off the debt. I have always been one to look at how much I owe and try to make a plan to pay it even if there isn’t money to do so. My husband is one who hides bills and doesn’t open then because he can’t pay them. In fact I found a bag of unopened bills when we moved out of our last apartment after we got married. I knew we were in debt, he just didn’t know how much he owed. So I put all the bills on a spreadsheet and we agreed on a budget to live on so that we can throw some money at our collective debt. I wish he was more responsible about handling it but with some encouragement (read:nagging) he has shown some progress. I don’t have any problem paying the debts, I just think its important to work as a team to pay them off.

  18. I am in complete agreement with you. As I would be living in the same household as my husband sooner or later I would be affected by his finances and he would be affected by mine. Sometimes I feel like I’m old-fashioned but it just seems like keeping things separate keeps the couple from being completely together. It’s almost a you vs. me situation. I don’t want that for my future marriage

  19. My boyfriend is talking of marriage, but has debts (jail time (stealing cars/drugs and child support, currently 21 yrs. old, but back paying)….He thinks once we get married that I help contribute to paying the debt. I see everyone’s point of view about marriage and becoming one. I understand. I really do. I find this situation a little different than others when they are paying off a car or school debt, which are things that are positive items that you need in life. How do I get past paying for someone’s horrific type of debt? Is it bad to have him pay it?

    • I don’t think it is bad to have him pay it, but if you aren’t comfortable merging your finances are you really sure you want to be in that relationship for the long term? You have to make sure you’re 100% committed on all levels for life, that’s what marriage is. If you are, then you wouldn’t mind helping pay for the debt. Sounds like you have some doubt in there somewhere.

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