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My Partner Has a Lot of Debt, What Do I Do?

Estimated Reading Time: 6 minutes

Being married is about a lot of things. If you’re in the majority of the world, it’s about love. If you’re a practical kind of person and you don’t care about labels, it could just be for tax purposes.

There are some places around the world where marriage is still about who your parents picked out for you. But whatever the reason you got married was – it’s now about honesty and sharing everything.

Not all of us are lucky enough to be this man, whose wife paid his debt for him. Not all of us would want that (though it sounds pretty good).

If you’re surprised to find my partner has debt, that shows they were hiding it from you. Here’s how to handle debt in a marriage and how to bring it up in conversation.

Bringing up Debt Before Marriage

Everyone thinks that proposing to someone is a really romantic thing. And it is! But it’s not usually out of nowhere. Once couples start getting serious, it’s normal to have the “what do we want for our future” talk.

And maybe it’s not a long drawn out talk with concrete goals and charts. Maybe it’s commented here and there about how you want to buy a house in the next five years.

Your keyword here, to keep everything from getting too real, is IF. You want to say something like “if” we get married, I’d like to pay off my loans before we buy a house.

Or, “If” we’re together then, you’ll have to put the house in your name, as my credit is bad from my loans/debt.

Having debt is more common than you think. More than half of college students borrow money to pay for their education. If your spouse or spouse-to-be dumps you because you have debt (and you brought it up honestly) they’re not the one for you.

… or for anyone. Be honest, open, and answer their questions. Don’t get defensive – even if they’re not handling the conversation perfectly. We never had a unit on “how to talk about thousands of dollars in debt to a future suitor” in school – and they didn’t have a lesson on how to receive that information either.

My Partner Just Revealed They Have Debt: What Now?

If your partner was hiding the fact that they have debt from you and you just found out, you need to have a conversation. They may have been taught that you don’t talk about money with others – or they were ashamed.

If you’re hurt, you can say that, but don’t make it the main theme of the conversation. Your conversation needs to be: what do we do going forward?

The best thing you can do, for both of you, is finding an accountant. They can help you make a debt payoff plan, without ignoring your marital (household) expenses.

Or go online, to this page, and learn about different kinds of loan structures.

Debt-Repayment Marriage Structures

In some cases, you may agree not to get married until your partner has their debt under control – or paid off completely (though that’ll take a while).

That’s a decision you need to make together, as a couple.

The No-Joint Account

If you’re married, you’re expected to have a joint checking and savings account. But you don’t have to.

Your bank is not going to merge your accounts without your permission.

You’re welcome to keep a separate account from your spouse if you don’t want their credit dragging yours down.

The only way it would drag it down, by the way, is if you applied for something like a house or a car as a couple.

Then the dealership or the bank would average your credit scores, and if yours is average, that means it can get pulled down a lot.

If you still want a car or a house, you could apply in the person with better credit’s name. Both parties (hopefully) would contribute money towards the down payment.

But if you were to divorce, that would make things tricky. The non-debt having partner could claim that the house is in their name, and they don’t have to divide it as property.

Instead of chancing that, have a lawyer draw up paperwork that says while the house in spouse B’s name, spouse C gets an equal claim in a divorce – or something like that.

Multiple Solutions

There are as many solutions as there are dollars in your partner’s debt account. Each couple is different and the way you work this out will have your special brand of cooperation.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help, whether that’s from a lawyer, an accountant, a marriage counselor, or a religious leader.

Moving Forward

It’s their debt, but it’s both your marriage. If you really love and care about my partner, you’ll find a way to work it out. It may mean that you pay 70% of household expenses and they pay 30% while they pay off loans, then they switch once the loans are paid off.

An accountant can help you with your personal solution. For extra credit, find an accountant or a lawyer who has experience with bankruptcy. We’re not saying you should declare it, but they’ll be familiar with loan and debt regulations/payback schedules.

On the other hand, maybe your spouse does want to declare bankruptcy. It’s all

Relationships are hard – we get it. Our blog is here to help.

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