As Millenials and Gen-Z begin to graduate, start their adult lives, and look forward to life experiences such as marriage, starting a family, and more, we are reminded that many of us are among the millions of U.S. college graduates who are or will be in debt.
Student loans are a necessity at this point, unless you come from generational wealth, have a large scholarship, or have had your tuition waived for some reason. Add major life choices and decisions like marriage to the mix, and you have a lot of first-date conversation starters to choose from.
For many couples who are looking to get married, or see themselves moving in and starting their lives together, it’s important to clear out the big things before you make these decisions.
Everything from wanting or not wanting kids, whether you’re willing to relocate, wif you’ll have to make career or job switches, and very importantly, your finances, which include student debt.
Before you follow through on saying “I do,” be sure you’ve addressed and understood the following:
You need to know how much you (both) owe
It’s imperative that you make sure you’re aware of how much you both owe, individually. This will help set the tone and make decisions for how much you need to pay within a given time-frame and what your financial situation and standing are like. It’s important to know the major financial baggage that you bring to your marriage because it will do more than set the tone for future decisions; it will also impact short-term decisions such as the wedding itself, sorting paperwork, relocating, etc.
Know what your expected interest is like, how much you’re supposed to pay each month, and how you can continue to pay off your loan while starting a life together.
Of course, your partner is not liable to pay off your loan or vice versa, unless explicitly agreed upon or co-signed (aka co-borrowed), and you might have to come to terms with the fact that things like owning a home and starting a family might take a while before you get to it.
Decide how much of your finances you’ll merge
Of course, marriage isn’t just a romantic gesture. It’s a social contract that offers you various benefits like healthcare access and rights, filing joint incomes and taxes, access to other assets, and much more. Till death do us part? More like till debt do us part!
And there is a lot of advice out there that recommends merging your federal loans or refinancing private loans to merge them or apply for repayment plan adjustments that allow you to change your terms. But these options don’t come without drawbacks, such as lower monthly payments and how they might fall short of interest and extend your repayments significantly.
Your joint and individual incomes, the size of your household, and other financial responsibilities all play a part in the way you proceed with repayments. A lot of people choose to stick with current repayment plans to pay off their loans faster and, thus, have the financial freedom to make decisions such as moving across the country, switching jobs, or starting a family.
It might seem convenient to merge your debts as one too, but in the case of separation, dispute, or divorce, it can be a long-drawn-out and very ugly process of separating and fighting over your finances. Any decision you make should be in the long-run.
Make smarter decisions for the long-term
Marriage is the start of a new life together, and you should be willing and open to hearing your partner out. What are the long-term decisions you should be making together? Having clear financial goals and strategies, managing expenses, and budgeting, as well as putting in place a loan repayment strategy will help you significantly.
It might seem awkward and dreadful, and like an invasion of privacy, but unless you’re willing to take on your partner’s debt and have enough income to make it through without sweating the little stuff (like a few hundred dollars each month), you need to address the elephant in the room.
Hold back your emotions and approach the subject with a clear head, despite how difficult it seems, because money troubles and financial instability in your marriage can take a major toll. Learn about tax breaks that are available to you, how you will repay your loans, whether you will pitch in for each other, and even be willing to become each other’s co-signers.
Becoming a co-signer for a graduate-degree loan, for instance, makes you liable to pay too, so it’s important to know exactly what you’re getting into, what your long-term plans and goals are, including returning to school.
Don’t hesitate to talk about pre-nuptial agreements
This is another awkward yet very important subject to address. Prenups have gotten a bad rap thanks to misunderstandings about their implications. Just because a couple signs a prenup doesn’t mean they distrust one another, or one is out to get the other. On the contrary, it’s a simple contract that outlines your financial decisions, division of assets, how your student (or other) debt will be managed, and what role you play in each other’s decision-making abilities.
It’s not a document to show your marriage is doomed. Instead, it helps avoid a lot of confusion, misunderstanding, and other financial mistakes and problems. It’s important to you speak to your parent about this and work closely with a legal expert regarding this.
If you have spoken to your partner and are looking to refinance your student loan or apply for a graduate loan, you can get in touch with Education Loan Finance (ELFI), who offers some of the most flexible terms and rates.
About the Author
The writer is a marriage counselor focusing on helping young couples work through communication gaps and sharing advice, tips, and information from their daily practice.