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Did Your Spouse Bring Debt Into Your Relationship?

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Paying off debt

I remember it like it was yesterday. My husband and I were at a pre-marital retreat through our church (a requirement to get married there.) They played this game where the couples sat back-to-back, the leaders asked different questions, and you had to raise your hand if the answer applied to you.

For example, they would ask things like, “Who will be in charge of paying the bills?” and you had to see who raised their hand. Needless to say, the hubs and I both kept raising our hands for various things. It was clear we actually needed to be there. There were so many things we hadn’t discussed, so many things we thought the other person would be in charge of, even after four years of dating!

Looking back, though, I find it interesting that there were no questions about debt. Maybe it was too personal to ask, “Raise your hand if you have debt,” or “Who will be in charge of handling credit card debt?” in a room full of people, but it seems like the questions should have been a part of the program. After all, questions about money and debt are sometimes vastly more important than, “Who will take out the trash?”

I Knew About His Debt

 

I knew my husband had a little bit of credit card debt and a little bit of student loan debt when we got married. He just randomly told me one day while we were dating just because we were getting serious, and he thought I should know.

That information didn’t phase me at all.

I didn’t know what I know now about managing finances, but debt was not a deal breaker for me. Now, there are probably websites out there that match people up online based on credit scores.

It Could Be a Warning Sign

 

My husband and I have successfully gotten out of credit card debt and are slowly working on our student loan debt just like many other couples across the world. Yet, a very, very close friend of mine lost her marriage due to financial issues.

She tried hard to keep her family on budget and on track, but her husband would make large purchases without consulting her and without considering the repercussions of draining their savings account. Even though they were compatible in so many ways and very much in love, he soon drove them into the ground financially, and she had to walk away.

That is, of course, just one example and isn’t indicative of every couple who has money issues. It just illustrates that when you don’t talk about money and when you don’t know the financial history of the person you marry, things could get rough.

Did Your Spouse Bring Debt Into Your Relationship?

 

Now you’ve heard our story. We were a little young and naive in terms of finances when we got married, but we still have the same goals. You’ve heard the story of my good friend, who could not get her husband to level with her in terms of how they managed their spending. So, now I want to hear from you:

 

Did you or your spouse bring debt into your relationship? Did you let the other person know? How did you handle it?

 

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Photo courtesy of: Nina Matthews Photography

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Catherine Alford is a professional public speaker and freelance writer who covers family, finance, and freedom. Check out her blog, BudgetBlonde, and her bio at CatherineAlford.com.

68 Comments

  • E.M. says:

    While I’m not married, my boyfriend and I agreed that we would really like to have our student loans paid off before we tie the knot. It seems fitting to start married life with a clean slate where debt is concerned. Thankfully neither of us has credit card debt, and I know and trust that he can manage his finances well, which means a lot to me.

  • Catherine says:

    We both had debt but I had about 7x more thanhim.Even though its nothing he says or does, it still makes me feel kind of crappy. We’re working on paying it off though! Communication is key!

  • We both brought student loan debt into our relationship. I think as long as you talk about it or at very minimum are aware that it’s there you should usually be fine. It’s when you get married and did NOT know about it that issues come up.

  • The only debt my wife came into our relationship with were her student loan debts (which her mother actually paid for as a gift..so nothing to worry about). It was what happened afterwards that caused us problems……

    In a general sense though, while having a lot of debt should be a red flag, a conversation as well as observations over time (before long term commitment) as to where the person’s head is NOW is really what you want to pay attention to before committing.

  • Rick had a $14,000 car loan, but he also had $15k in the bank. I had a small bit of debt, nothing serious. However, we never discussed money and how we wanted our finances handled, and I really wish we would have. Rick was, at that time, MUCH better with money than I, yet he wanted nothing to do with handling the finances. I, on the other hand, was a “spend it as soon as you get it” girl. Our lack of communication led to a huge mess for us!

  • Yeah, we both have debt…but it’s the house and student loan debt. I think addressing it and not hiding it is key to success!

  • Greg had like $2,000 in credit card debt when we started dating. I had no debt aside from a car loan. Neither of those things were too bad but we were both extremely low earners. Fortunately, we made it work!

  • dojo says:

    My husband never had any debt, and my car payments lasted 4 years but were done before we got married. He never agreed with me taking on the loan, but I paid it with my own money, so he never carried my burden.

  • My husband and I both brought debt into our marriage, of course we let each other know and we were both in agreement that we would keep our debts separate, except those incurred after marriage (cc debt, auto loan).

  • The Warrior says:

    I am grateful that neither of us brought debt into the relationship. Though we have accumulated some, we have also established ourselves and accomplished something things together that makes that bit of debt we do have not as painful.

    I think bringing debt to a relationship can bring about a lot of issues. I have some best friends that just got married where one spouse makes a ton of money and the other doesn’t along with bringing debt to the relationship. Thankfully, we didn’t find ourselves in that situation.

    The Warrior
    NetWorthWarrior.com

  • I brought $40,000 of student loans and he has $10,000 of his own. Outside of a no-interest credit card we’re paying off tomorrow (yeah!) we have no credit card debt. I’ve been upfront about my loans to my husband the whole time we were dating as I think that’s really important.

    That is interesting that dating seminar didn’t ask about debt. I wouldn’t be surprised if they might have started asking as debt is a bigger issue in marriage.

    Also, regarding your friend, I had a friend who’s mother would spend money on her eldest son who was always running into trouble. Her dad had to get a separate checking account for himself and he’d give her cash weekly for groceries (and dad would pay all the bills). She told me her mother couldn’t stop helping her brother so that was the only way to save her parent’s marriage from financial ruin.

    • Whaaat! A payoff tomorrow? Awesome!

      But that’s so sad about your friend’s parents. I imagine that has to be one of the hardest things about being a parent: needing to help your kids but not knowing what will happen if you stop.

  • Matt Becker says:

    We were fortunate in that neither of us brought any debt into our marriage. We’d also been living together for a couple of years and while we hadn’t combined our finances, we had discussed them plenty and did a lot of things in conjunction. Money is one of those things that takes effort to get right even when you’re on your own, and it’s even harder when doing it with someone else. You simply have to start talking about it early on or you’re just asking for trouble.

  • We have the requirement to go to pre-marital counselling before we get married to be married by the church, but not the retreat. I would prefer to do a retreat! It sounds like a great way to get away and focus only on your pending marriage. J has no debt and I paid off my car loan within a year and a half of getting it, so we are good to go on that front!

  • Jim and I both had student loan debt, but all the rest we racked up together, how sweet! I think money is a marriage killer. If you don’t have much to begin with, it’s easy to skip the savings/debt/retirement conversation. Couples should have a plan for their long term goals and how they want to spend their money. You spend your check and I’ll spend mine rarely works.

  • Sarah says:

    When my husband and I got married, I was debt-free while he had about $50,000 in student loans, a $20,000 car loan, and about $5,000 in credit card debt. I definitely knew about all of it before we were married, but didn’t realize how poorly he was managing it. He had plenty of income, but was still paying the minimums on everything… and yet had no savings.

    By the time we got married, we had already agreed that I would handle all of the finances… and less than two years later, we’re down to $45,000 in non-mortgage debt. It’s still a lot more than most people I know, but I’m really proud of the progress.

    PS We didn’t have to do a retreat, but had to take the FOCCUS Inventory before getting married. There were a handful of questions about finances but they weren’t very specific.

  • I’m glad they at least asked the question of “who will pay your bills”. I’ve heard that a lot of pre-marriage counseling does not include ANY mention of finances which is hugely disturbing. Rather than a spiritual class perhaps we should all take a couples finance workshop before getting married.

  • I kind of like the idea of pre-marriage counseling, although I’ve never really heard of anyone doing it before. What other kinds of questions did they ask?

    We are both going to be free and clear of debt by the time we get married, but the boyfriend was in debt when we first moved out together. Now let’s keep it that way!

    • Gosh they asked all kinds of stuff like what would we do if we couldn’t have kids, what’s going to happen if one of our parents get sick, what would we do if we had a child with special needs, etc etc etc. Lots of stuff we hadn’t thought of!

  • I think the missus had a little student loan debt. It wasn’t significant though. I don’t even remember how much it was. I’ll have to ask her.

  • My husband had a tiny amount of student debt but it wasn’t very much since he spent hours applying for as many scholarships as possible. And remember – this was pre-internet days! 🙂 When we got married, my husband made me promise to always pay cash for everything, even our vehicles. The only debt we have is our home. Sometimes I get the urge to instantly gratify a want but then I remember my promise and how it has helped us live an amazing 23 years together. It makes it pretty darn easy to walk away. And yes, I do believe it’s important to talk about money, debt, responsibilities and goals before walking down the aisle. I wouldn’t automatically rule out someone with debt but I would need to understand how they got it, their attitude towards it and how they working towards eliminating it.

  • I brought a good amount of student loans into the marriage. I’m not sure if I really told my wife the actual amount of my loan which is a significant amount but I did tell her about it. And I think we also went to pre-martial counseling through the church and we did discuss finances in more detail. I’d be much more worried about credit card debt, especially if that debt was racked up due to being a spendthrift.

  • My husband and I both came into the marriage with debt. We agreed from the beginning that we would help each other pay it down. Though I handle the finances we are always communicating about what is going on with our money.

  • I knew my wife had a few thousand in a student loan, but no other debt. We paid off the loan as soon as we were married. I knew she was frugal from the car she drove, the furnishings in her apartment, and the clothes in her closet. We also talked about saving and future financial plans before getting married. I wrote about our frugal wedding on my blog. Total cost was $3,000.

  • I brought in all of the debt into the relationship. I actually acquired most of it right before and after we got married. I didn’t tell her, because I didn’t realize the situation myself. I had to tell myself before I could tell her. I took care of it on my own though because most of it was business related.

  • anna says:

    We had to do the same thing for our pre-marital church retreat! There was no out loud questions about debt, but afterward we had a series of questions in a notebook, answer them individually, and meet up with each other afterward to discuss. I remember there were questions about debt, savings, do we consider having a single vs. dual income, separate vs. joint accounts, etc. We had pretty much answered everything before the retreat, but I think it’s useful for those that haven’t. I’m the one with debt going into our marriage, but doing my best to be as close to debt-free as possible!

  • I brought student loan debt into my marriage. My husband and I started dating while I was still in college and he knew I’d taken out loans to cover the cost of tuition. I told him he was not responsible for paying my debt and that I could take care of it myself. We planned to have a joint bank account and he made the point that my degree benefited us both in the long run, since it would position me for a better salary. He had no qualms about helping me pay it down and helped me see how important it was to pay it down as quickly as possible. We paid it off a few years ago.

  • Micro says:

    That does seem really odd. 50% of all marriages end in divorce and the financial issues are a huge contributing factor. You’d think there would be all kinds of financial related questions to help ensure soon to be married couples had those issues taken care off.

  • Michelle says:

    We each had no debt at the start of our relationship. However, I definitely accrued a lot from my student loans! We’ve always been open about our finances, but I have heard many stories where people didn’t know their spouse had tons of debt until they were married.

  • Interesting stuff cat. I was the one who brought some debt into our relationship and I have to admit that I should have been more open about it

  • We both had only mortgage debt but acquired some from the wedding. Since paying it off we are on the same page in regards to how we run our finances.

  • Definitely a conversation that should be discussed before getting too serious. I think the type of debt is important. If it is school or car or something “useful” then it is probably ok. If we are talking massive credit card issues, I really would think about walking away.
    My wife and I had the same amount of the same type of debt. It was all about school and our car notes. Both we have managed to work off and pretty much live a cash type life.

  • While am still on the singles list….ladies 🙂 I believe it would only be fair and prudent to inform your potential spouse of any debt you may have. Marriage is the joining of forces and its best if you are reading from the same financial page. Secondly two heads are better than one as its said and as a couple you can come up with the best ways to tackle the debt.
    Honesty is the best policy!

  • Unfortunately, poor financial choices are a deal breaker when it comes to marriage or relationships. I am happy that my wife is extremely responsible when it comes to spending and even tough not really a PF freak like me, she keeps the costs down low and rarely spends on wants. Neither of us had any debt when we started our relationship (nor any money, either since we were still in college) and fortunately we managed to remain debt free. And still love each other deeply :))

  • Bringing debt into a marriage wouldn’t be a deal breaker for me; the deal breaker would be hiding that you had it when we talked about money or weren’t attempting to get out from under the weight of it. Debt is just a burden that will continue to drain more of your resources and draw your focus away from the relationship. It would definitely depend on the nature of the debt. A mortgage for a house you were living in or student loan debt, okay. Credit card debt because you partake in retail therapy, not so much.

  • My wife had over $80k of student loans by the time she graduated, but I was 100% completely aware of it. It stinks, but we’re almost done paying the loans off. Just a few more months hopefully!

  • I knew the approximate amount of debt my husband was bringing. I actually thought that I was bringing less in to our marriage and that his loans were tying us down. How wrong was I! I am still in disbelief that I was the baggage bringer.

    All in all, we got on the same page during our engagement in which we were saving up around 30k for our wedding. It really forced us to focus on our spending habits and our priorities- as well as make some long term goals for ourselves.

  • Krista says:

    I think my husband and I were fortunate to both have similar amounts of student loan debt. I think it may be shifting, the ability to talk about finances, which is an important goal for us with our blog. When you keep things like debt as a skeleton in your closet you’re building potential for hurt relationships. Plus when you talk about debt and other financial struggles people are likely to help you by giving advice, pointing you to resources or just encouraging you to stick with a budget.

  • Ken says:

    We’ve been married for almost two years and recently had a baby. My wife has brought over 10x the debt than I have into the marriage totaling to >$100k, primarily from student loans. And I think it’s fair to ask her to go back to work after maternity leave to contribute to the debt, since she accrued over 90% of that debt prior to the marriage. I would like to help her pay it down, but only if she’s making a majority effort. I don’t believe that her wanting to “become a housewife” and become a singe-income family with all of the income and debt on my shoulders is practical or fair. Am I being unreasonable?

  • jonnypean says:

    Well Cat, like many other couple, we too had the student loan to pay off at the time of getting married, but now it is all cleared up. And we are focusing on the credit card ones now. I guess discussing it in great detail with your spouse is what helps to solve out all the problems.

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