Ask Team Practical: Marrying into Debt

For richer or poorer?

hands rings wedding

Q: My partner and I are not technically engaged yet, but we plan to get hitched next summer. By the time he’s through with grad school, he’ll have about one hundred thousand dollars in student loan debt. First of all, we plan to merge finances eventually, but he’s firmly convicted that the loan payments should come only out of his paychecks. Is this a reasonable plan?

Secondly, my upper-class parents are FREAKING OUT. Neither of them took out loans to pay for college, and they were careful to make sure I didn’t have to take out any loans either. They see student debt as a sign of financial irresponsibility—even though my partner comes from a poor family and there was no other way he could afford an education—and they don’t trust him to stay on top of the paperwork. They are insisting that I enumerate the loans, figure out the terms, and make a payment plan. Moreover, they want copies of the paperwork.

I think my parents are probably projecting feelings about my uncle’s recent and financially damaging divorce onto my relationship. Still, I’m hurt by how suspicious they are. My partner feels insulted by what he sees as thinly veiled classism. He doesn’t think his loan paperwork is any of their business. How do I deal with this?

Debt Exacerbates Brooding Tensions

A: Dear DEBT,

Student loans are gross and scary. While I can’t offer you financial advice, here’s some good information by the experts (and sure, you can share it with your parents, too, I guess). I really can’t blame your parents for getting hand-wringy about this stuff. Luckily, debt is just one of those exciting adventures that you sign on to tackle together when you get married! Yaaaay. But really. A giant burden is so much lighter when it’s on four sturdy shoulders, and you have a terrific opportunity to help your partner with this load, if only emotionally. So much guilt and shame is tied up in having debt (even if your in-laws aren’t there wagging fingers), that I’m sure you can be a great help in easing that pressure for your partner and being a source of encouragement and support.

Marriage sets you up to be a team and to face challenges together. Unfortunately (or fortunately?) your parents aren’t on that team. Or if they are, they’re second-string. Or maybe they’re the cheerleaders? Or something. I think I just lost myself in a sports metaphor. The point is, your parents love you and want to protect and care for you. But, now is that time when they have to take a step back and let you guys take care of yourselves, first, before rushing in to save you.  It’s only healthy for all parties involved—themselves included. Not only is this stuff no longer their right, it’s also no longer their responsibility. This is that point where they get to let you run off and make your own fabulous, expensive mistakes while they remain blissfully ignorant (at least in part). Of course your parents will still worry about you. They love you. But knowing the nitty-gritty details of interest accrual and payment due dates won’t relieve some of that worry, it’ll only add to it.

Marriage can definitely be a community effort (something we talk about on APW sort of often), but you as a couple, establishing your baby family, determine when to allow that community in to help. It’s not up to them to elbow their way in. It’s up to you to establish boundaries and gently help your loving, well-intentioned parents maintain them. (I totally just made that sound easy, huh? Ha!) Wise folks don’t assume they’ll be able to handle everything themselves. But, how much help and by whom and how is a decision you make with your partner.

I have no doubt that your parents’ motivations are pure.

They want to take care of you. If you try to see it from their perspective, it’s almost a fear of the unknown. They’ve never dealt with student loans before! Perhaps they don’t know anyone who had to work three jobs just to get by in college, and still racked up student loan debt. But, of course it happens. It’s not a character flaw. It’s a matter of unfortunate, and all too common, circumstances. Sometimes, folks are forced to do the best they can with the cards they were dealt. Unless you faced those circumstances yourself (or know someone who has), it can be hard to imagine what that’s like (or that it’s even possible). Try to help your partner to see it that way. First, that he’s awesome for getting this education in the first place. And second, that it’s not about him; it’s about this unknown challenge that your parents never have handled before.

By working on this on your own (together) without the babysitting of mommy and daddy, you can try to prove to your parents that he is the responsible guy you know him to be, and that you are becoming a responsible married couple. He’s mature and adult enough to handle his debt without having the in-laws peeking over his shoulder, and you’re responsible enough to support him. Show them that! But, politely. “Thanks so much for offering to help, but (Partner) and I would rather sort things out ourselves.” You can let them know about whatever important steps you take—meeting with a financial advisor, seeking consolidation programs, etc.—but only within those predetermined boundaries that you establish with your partner. (Hint: This almost certainly doesn’t involve them having copies of anything.)

As far as the two of you guys go, if you’re pooling finances, all of the money is “our” money, so it doesn’t really matter whose paycheck it comes from, right? Assume he does pay for his loans straight from his own check. Then, he has X amount of money less than you do. So, does that mean you go out to dinner by yourself? He’s not able to come to the movies? He wears old, holey shoes while you buy some new ones for yourself? Or, does it mean that you treat him to everything from your own account—paying for your dinners, buying him presents without him able to reciprocate? Neither of those situations is ideal. If you’re merging finances, it makes sense for these student loan payments to become just another bill that you’re tackling together, despite your partner’s guilt hang-ups. Maybe eventually, he’ll use that expensive education to make bank. Then you’ll both reap the rewards! Then, maybe you can pass along those keys to your French summer home (ahem). In the same way, practicing this teamwork and setting these boundaries may be sort of difficult and scary this time around, but it can lay the groundwork for the many years to come.

Team Practical, did you face marrying into financial inequality? How do you navigate setting boundaries with well-meaning but intrusive parents?

If you would like to ask Team Practical a question please don’t be shy! You can email Liz at: askteampractical [at] apracticalwedding [dot] com. If you would prefer to not be named, anonymous questions are also accepted. Though it really makes our day when you come up with a clever sign-off!

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  • I certainly married a someone in a different financial situation than myself. I am certainly the less financially secure one. He’s had over a decade of time to save, I was only out of grad school for a few years and still had somewhat less than half of my student debt to pay down.

    We chose to set up a pre-nup because we live in a country in which all your pre-marriage assets and debts are legally merged upon marriage, with which I am uncomfortable. Hence, I asked for a pre-nup (my husband later admitted he would not have been comfortable asking for one, but was very appreciative that I did).

    We set it up in such a way that all income after marriage is joint, but all debts and assets from prior to the marriage were kept as individual property (we also named a few sentimental heirlooms that we want to keep for our respective families as not included in the merging of assets).

    If we never divorce, the pre-nup won’t do anything (we’ve set it up so that if a death ends the marriage the inheritance will be executed as if we had merged everything), but if we do divorce, we only share the money and material items gained in the duration of the marriage. He would get half of what we’d gained plus his original savings. I would get the other half, minus a small part that would have been ‘his share’ of the debt payments. I like that.

    None of our parental units were really informed in great detail about the specifics of the inequalities between us, although I think they were aware that there were some. However, I think we had some privilege backing us – it’s a little more socially (sexistically, really) acceptable for a women to be less affluent than it is for a guy. We told our folks we have a pre-nup and told them about as much about the contents as I just wrote down. That’s all they need to know.

    • Sara

      I think a pre-nup is really a good idea. No one plans on divorcing when they get married, and it can be an awkward thing to talk about when you’re so excited about spending the rest of your lives together, but things can change, and having all that sorted out beforehand can be a life saver.

      My boyfriend went through a pretty nasty divorce many years ago. They did not set up a pre-nup, and had to sort out all the financial stuff in the middle of figuring out custody and also being really sad and mad at each other because they were divorcing. And thanks to wanting to just “get it over with”, he got stuck with some really bad deals in the end. She’s since declared bankruptcy and her student loans defaulted onto him, for example. Nasty stuff.

      I think it’s important that you and your husband-to-be decide how you want to merge/not merge your incomes and debts, together, before getting married. And then you can choose to tell your parents about it. But a pre-nup might really help ease their concerns as well as make it easier on both of you to just have things in writing, if nothing else.

    • meg

      Though as the article we linked to notes, you never have to break out Federal Student Loans (in the US) via pre-nup or anything else. They always stay attached only to the borrower.

      • Ashley B.

        While I don’t plan to divorce my husband ever (because, OMG he’s the greatest and I snapped him up because I want his awesome around 100% of the time) it’s nice to know that. He had substantially more student debt than I did when we got married and I just assumed it became ours. I don’t/didn’t mind, but it’s still a nice thing to know– esp as we look toward future joint debt (mortgage etc.)

        • meg

          Do your research, I’m not giving financial advice, but that’s generally true, and you’re right, it IS nice :)

          • rys

            It’s also the case the student loans are the only loans not dischargeable in bankruptcy, so it’s another thing to think about (this may or may not affect decisions, but ought to be recognized when thinking through debt and finances, me thinks).

          • Sara

            Yes, it’s really just important to do some research, and talk to a lawyer or financial aid person either way. Things are different in every region (like Meg said about student loans, that may apply in the US but does not where I live.)

        • Steph

          I didn’t know this either and am happy for the exact opposie reason. Hubby just paid off his loans. Mine will take quite a while longer :( glad to know if anything ever happens to me (god forbid) he isn’t stuck paying for my degree (which overall has not been a very good investment, sigh, live and learn…)

          • Amanda

            I haven’t done my research to know the answer to this question – but what *does* happen to the student loan debt if the debtor dies? Does the spouse become responsible under those circumstances, or does the debt disappear? Is the estate responsible? Ugh, so many questions, so many (different) answers out there!

          • meg

            If we’re talking about GOVERNMENT loans (not private loans, obiously), my understanding (and a quick google search agrees) that the loans are discharged (disappear) upon borrower death. This is, however, why you should always read your loan terms, and call and ask questions if you have them. You should have a number to contact for your loans!

  • nancy

    so. i WISH my husband had student loan debt when we were getting ready to get married- student loans are at least a responsible form of debt, the interest rates are usually pretty low, and honestly it probably would have meant an additional degree and a career boost for him in the end which would’ve helped us pay it off.

    but no. mid-way through our engagement (i had no clue before that point!) i stumbled upon the fact that he had a LOT of credit card debt. the fallout wasn’t pretty. thousands of dollars we could never get back, spent during his pre-me days on crap and meaningless nights out. i was pretty angry. :) we definitely had it out that night and there were plenty of disappointed tears as we immediately emptied our savings and paid those dumb balances down to zero.

    you can’t help what choices you or your future husband have made in the past- the past is past. but as you MOVE FORWARD, can you decide to make choices together as a team? sometimes as a team (together) you have consequences for one or both of your past choices. i don’t care if that’s financial, health-related, or even as big of a responsibility as a child from a past relationship. these are all things that you have to decide if you’re okay with as you commit to someone else for life.. but as liz said- it’s between you and him, and not you, him, and your parents.

    even though my then-fiance’s debt was directly related to financial irresponsibility (and not educational choices), i didn’t get on the phone and talk to my parents about all this- although that would’ve probably felt good and been easy to do. i thought through the fully repentant attitude my fiance had and how sorry he was for the position he placed us in. i thought about his character overall- could i trust him in the future? i knew the answer was yes. i was grateful that somehow, we had found the $$ to pay it all of even if that meant sacrifice to us and our future together. i didn’t need anyone else’s opinion in the mix to truly know what i could and couldn’t handle in this situation. in the end it doesn’t really matter what your parents think. it’s about you and him and the life you guys will build together. even though your parents probably have great intentions, as you guys move towards marriage, one of the biggest favors you can for each other is to rely less on other people and rely more on your future hubs and the team you’re building together. leave and cleave, you know? :)

    ps i had almost $50,000 in student loan debt when i got my undergrad. there was literally no other way (besides student loans) to get my education. through a LOT of sacrifice and hard work, i’m now almost 30 years old with less than $8,000 left. paying that stuff off can be done!

    • Umpteenth Sarah

      I have no reason to doubt that in your case your husband’s debt was irresponsible, because you say it is, but I would like to defend — or at least recognize — some of the rest of us who do have credit card debt, responsibly. I would argue that there are many, many, many Americans with terrifying amounts of credit card debt (to them) that came about buying groceries and medical treatment and other such “responsible” items that they couldn’t afford at the time because of unemployment/underemployment and so on.

      Debt sucks. I hate it. But, sometimes, in spite of your best intentions, it just has to happen for a while, even to responsible people.

      • nancy

        sarah- oh, totally. and we have also been through a period of unexpected unemployment together so i GET how hard that is and can be. what i was referring to was the classic “i wanna live outside my means” type of credit card debt and how it snowballed on him, and before he knew it he was only acknowledging minimum payments each month which got him nowhere.

        debt is unavoidable sometimes. ps i haven’t always had a fabulous record in the credit card department and have struggled in the past to stay on budget and not use them to shop ’til i drop for things i don’t need. i also understand that (this upcoming year especially while we are both in the middle of career changes and recent cross-country move) we may be faced with a car repair or a medical bill that would have to be slowly paid off via credit card. oh well! that’s life.

        my bottom line? debt sucks. but can it be handled between partners? absolutely. is it “fair” or “even” everytime? nope. but part of being a team is putting the “us” before “me.”

      • Liz

        Yep! We have grocery credit card debt, too. It’s not a financially responsible thing, but it’s a no-other-choice thing.

        There’s so much guilt tied up in ANY sort of debt, that I’d rather we not set up a hierarchy of better and worse kinds (it’s ALL gross!). That said, Nancy, I get what you’re saying in terms of coming to grips with footing the bill for your partner’s possibly reckless spending.

        • Amy March

          Eh, I actually don’t think all debt is gross though. I feel just fine about my student loan debt. I’d love to have a mortgage. And those are better debts to have than a 20% interest rate credit card, and those differences legitimately change the conversation for me.

          • Liz

            For me, at the end of the month a chunk of my money is going to loans and another chunk of it is paying for the credit cards that bought groceries when we needed them. I don’t regret acquiring either debt, but I still would prefer to keep those chunks of money for myself.

          • Ambi

            Amy March, I agree about not viewing my student loan debt or our mortgage as “gross.” That is honestly what immediately turned me off about the advice Liz gave today, because sometimes student loan debt can be a really good decision. Considering the amount of debt I have compared to my vastly increased earnings as a lawyer compared to what I would have been earning without a college degree and a law degree, I view my student loans as an investment and I honestly don’t feel any shame or hand-wringing or grossness about them. Same with the house – yeah, it is a big deal to have a mortgage, but investing in real estate can be damn smart.

            Credit card debt can be different, and it can also sometimes be a necessary investment. For example, when I first graduated and was unemployed, I bought a business suit on my credit card, for job interviews. Then when I got a job, but before I got paid, I had to buy several more to wear to work. Suits are expensive. Buying five or six at one time is really expensive. But if having those suits will allow you to get (and keep) a lucrative job, charging them on a card and paying them off as you start to get paychecks makes sense.

            I don’t want to come across as saying that debt is just fine and we shouldn’t be negative about it – that isn’t the case for a whole lot of types of debt – but for many of us, our student loan debts (and other types of debts) are not gross, they aren’t hand-wringingly scary – they are just a necessary part of life and can be really good decisions.

          • AnotherCourtney

            My rule is whether you go into debt for an appreciating asset (good!) or depreciating asset (not as good!). So, student loan debt, which allows you to find better employment and higher salary to pay back those debts? Probably worth it. Credit card debt on nights out you don’t even really remember any more? Probably not worth it. I don’t mind my mortgage at all, for example, because (theoretically) the house’s value will increase, and in the meantime, my interest + escrow payments are less than I’d be paying in rent somewhere else.

            There’s always a bit of a grey area…credit card debt for groceries? A car loan so you can get to work reliably? Rules of thumb don’t help with those!

            When I got married, my husband had student loan debt, credit card debt, a car loan – you name it. The credit card debt was high-interest and caused me serious anxiety, so we paid it off as soon as humanly possible. The car loan was next. The student loan debt is still looming, but less frightening, so we’ve slowed down a little now to focus on other financial goals. The point, I think, is how amazing it was to work together on goals like that. We accomplished it MUCH faster than either of us would have alone, and we celebrated together when we succeeded.

          • Liz

            Yeah, tricky stuff sometimes! Especially when, as Ambi mentioned, it’s a necessity more than anything else.

            This conversation is frankly making me a little nervous because it’s veering into morality-of-money territory (and those conversations don’t always go well), but it is something to think about.

        • Umpteenth Sarah

          True Dat, Liz. Good debt, bad debt, up debt, down debt, who the heck is anyone to say that Person A’s debt is ok but Person B’s debt is not, other than Person A and Person B? Similarly, when people say “oh, my graduate debt was worth it because it was so I can become a lawyer,” I get a little annoyed — soooo, my graduate debt isn’t worth it because I’m an unemployed historian? (which I personally am not, but you get the idea) Why doesn’t everyone have the opportunity to pursue their dreams, and why is “bad debt” therefore the realm of only certain kinds of people?

          • Certainly there’s a lot of cultural noise surrounding debt, and some people are kind of yucky about it, but my experience is that when people make comments about educational debt being worth it, it’s because generally speaking one borrows against expected future earnings. So, from an economic perspective, it’s more rational to go into $50,000 debt for a degree in applied animal husbandry than esoteric philosophy of theoretical theory (assuming that there’s a demand for people with degree A and not degree B).

            That said, I’m personally pro higher education for the sake of learning, and the cost of post-secondary education makes me angry (and I’m in Canada, where it’s a fraction of the cost in the USA). So I agree that it’s ridiculous to get into deciding what degrees are “worth it” and assigning value to them, it’s just that some people are speaking more in economic terms than in value-judgement terms.

            Of course, I live with an economist, so YMMV.

          • Ambi

            I disagree with this. I don’t think anyone is saying that bad debt is the realm of certain kinds of people – I personally have had both good and bad debt, and I have my own ways of defining which is which, and I talk a LOT below about the pervasive classist attitudes about debt.

            All I am saying is that, in a context where Liz has correctly said that there is so much guilt and shame tied up in having debt, I personally don’t think the right approach is to pile on that guilt and shame buy calling student loan debt “gross” and saying the parents’ hand-wringing is completely understandable. I say shame-blast that shit. Student loan debt is not something to be ashamed of!

            Yes, I think we can all agree that there are good debts and bad debts, smart investments and not-so-smart choices, and student loan debt could probably fall into either category depending on the circumstances. Do I think that it is important to balance your potential earning ability with the amount of student loan debt you are taking on before you sign on the dotted line? Yeah, I do. So, I do feel more comfortable taking on X amount of debt for, say, a law degree or a medical degree that has higher earning potential rather than taking on the exact same amount of debt for a degree with a much lower earning potential, but ultimately that will all be up to personal choice. Maybe earning potential isn’t the biggest factor for some people – maybe paying off that debt will be worth it even if they struggle financially, if it means they get to work in a field they love (I actually have done this – my LL.M. degree didn’t translate to much higher earning potential, but it did allow me specialize in an area of the law that I am passionate about, so to me that debt is worth it). My point isn’t that student loan debt is good only if you end up with a high-earning career – my point is that we all need to view student loans as an investment, and just make sure you are happy with what you are putting in versus what you are getting out.

            I talk at lenght, beleow, about how classist it is to assume that a person somehow deserves their financial station in life, or that if they were smarter or harder working or more responsible they would simply make better financial decisions. That is just not reality. But I do think we should be able to discuss good and bad debt and try to help each other (1) make smart choices, and (2) let go of the guilt and shame for debt, especially when it is a smart choice – why are we even talking about being ashamed of student loan debt?! There is nothing to be ashamed about! That is what I was reacting to.

            I don’t think that saying student loan debt is a good investment and smart choice in any way implies that other types of debt, like credit card debt (which I tend ot view as bad debt, but sometimes necessary debt) are “the realm of only certain kinds of people.” The whole point is that every person, from every financial background, can make both good and bad choices, so I personally think that talking about good debt vs. bad debt is really helpful and informative.

          • Liz

            Hold the phone, Ambi. I’m not trying to contribute to guilting and shaming by saying “debt is gross.” Owing people money is not a happy thing. The results of taking out a loan or charging something on a credit card may be nice (or important), but paying a premium for not having the cash up front isn’t. That’s no statement about anyone who takes on debt (especially considering I’m in debt as a result of my education).

          • Ambi

            Yeah, I know you weren’t trying to add shame or guilt, but honestly my immediate gut reaction to the first paragraph or two was basically, wait, what?! Debt is gross? Student loans are scary? The parents are right to be worried? NO! Student loans are empowering, and dealing with them is only scary if you let it be scary. It’s kind of like how many people feel about math – oh, it’s so scary and uncomfortable and foreign, but it doesn’t have to be viewed that way! I view my loans really positively, so I guess I wanted a response that drove that point home.

            Yeah, paying anyone money every month sucks. Owing someone money sucks. But I don’t view my student loan debt that way. I view it as empowering. This wonderful government program allowed me to go to college. And law school. And my life is so very very different today because I was able to get an education. Maybe what really sucks is the fact that college is so damn expensive. Maybe the poster’s parents felt that same “gross” feeling when they were cutting huge tuition checks to her university. And maybe they viewed saving for her college fund as just as scary as you are describing student loans to be. Yes, having student loan debt is a big responsibility. It means keeping up with lots of paperwork, and it means having to make financial decisions in a way that allows you to repay those loans. But in my view, student loans are so often an overall plus that this extra responsibility and burden is kind of like the “burden” of other big life events like getting a professional license (annual fees, continuing education, ethical rules to abide by!), getting your first big job (or starting your own business!), buying a house, or having kids. It would be really really nice if we could all afford higher education without loans, but I guess I don’t see loans as a yoke of poverty, I see them as the rope that helps you get out of poverty. I see them as the burden and responsibility that comes along with the huge benefit that is a college education. Kind of like the fact that there is huge responsibility and financial burden with starting a business, but many people would view starting a business as an overall positive, something to be proud of. Student loans can be the very best investment a person makes in their entire lives, and they can literally raise up not just one person, but generations and generations to come. So, yeah, I would have preferred a response that was a ringing endorsement of the fiance’s smart investment in himself and in their future family, and I would have loved for you to have defiantly said that the parents are way off base because student loan debt is usually the exact opposite of “irresponsible.” Instead, I felt like it started with a lot of negativity about student loans and, even more than that, lumped them in with other types of debt or treated it as “debt” in general. Believe me, I have had “bad” debt. I’ve been up to my eyeballs in credit card debt. I understand the grossness and scariness and sick feeling you get when you owe someone so much money. BUT, I really do not view my student loans that way. That’s all I’m saying!

            I hate to be so critical, since I usually really love your advice and I thought that parts of this were spot-on. I hope my explanation makes sense. Love y’all . . . can we still be friends? :)

          • Liz

            Ambi, your comment honestly surprised me so I went back and re-read the post. I thought I HAD written a “ringing endorsement” of education and the OP’s fiance, and that I had been hard on her parents. But, I think you’re correct. In my effort to be balanced, I overcompensated for my gut reaction of, “EW.” In that, I think you’re right.

            But I do think that we get further when we try to be compassionate and see the opposite perspective, even if we strongly disagree with it (in this instance, the perspective of parents who have never struggled with the decision to take on student loans).

            And I stand by my assessment above (that started this thread) that labeling certain debts as “responsible” and “irresponsible” does more harm than good in a conversation that’s already riddled with guilt. Perhaps student loans are “responsible” debt, but is it responsible to rack up 100k worth? Is it made more or less responsible depending on his anticipated income? It can get pretty hairy pretty fast when we start making those value judgements. Especially in this economy, where many have been told that an “investment” in education will land a steady job, and have found that not to be the case.

          • Ambi

            I totally get that, and I somehow kind of knew you didn’t really mean to portray SLs negatively. But that was my reaction, and others’ reactions I think, so I am glad we are talking about it.

            And I agree with you about how hairy it can get when we start putting value judgments on debts. So I think you are right, this forum isn’t the place for any of us to debate whether her fiance’s SL debt was “responsible” or not. But, I really do think that SLs have to be viewed as an investment and taken on with your eyes wide open about the pros and the cons, and that sometimes they will be worth it and sometimes not. I’ve talked below about the fact that it isn’t all about future earning potential – happiness matters too. And sometimes SLs would seem to make sense but aren’t the right choice (for example, my brother was so concerned about his ability to succeed academically in college that he didn’t take on loans because he feared being stuck with debt if never completed a degree). So, basically, it may not be our place here to decide which student loans are responsible or not, or good or bad, I don’t think this is a situation where we can just chalk it up to “to each his own” and ignore the fact that SL debt really can be a good investment, or not. It is definitely about calculating the risks and benefits and taking into acocunt all the information you have. Know yourself. Think about the economy. Yes, all of that. But, statistically, even today, a college degree is still a huge huge benefit. Even though recent grads are having a lot of trouble finding the types of jobs they thought they’d have, and they aren’t making what they thought they would, according to all of the recent studies I’ve seen, they are still doing better than they would have been without the degree and they will still earn, on average, over a million dollars more in their lifetimes than they would have without the degree.

            Sorry, I’ll get off my soapbox now! :) I just get worked up. College is such an amazing opportunity, and here we have a government program that opens that opportunity up to everyone, not just the wealthy. You get to put off paying for college until after you’ve gained all the benefits of college and have risen up to a much higher earning potential which makes paying for it possible! That is AMAZING. Without the SL program, rising out of poverty, or rising up to a higher economic level than your parents, would basically be impossible for most people. So, I think ultimately we may just have to agree to disagree on whether SL debt is a “good” debt or whether it is “responsible” or whatever. I hate those value-laden terms as much as the next person, but there is a financial reality to keep them in check – I have personally gotten into credit card debt before, and I am the first to tell you that it was “irresponsible” debt. Hearing that hurt, but it also helped me fix my problem. And while labeling SL debt as responsible is a bit sticky and makes people, it is also empowering and helpful. So, while I won’t pass judgment on any specific person’s student loan debt and whether it was a good investment, I am not going to shy away from making the blanket statement, in my opinion, student loan debt is good debt, it is responsible debt, and it is absolutely nothing to feel guilty about.

        • One More Sara

          Fun (or not so fun?) Fact: in most grocery stores (at least the ones I frequent..) here in NL don’t accept credit cards to pay for your groceries. On the other hand (and based on my very limited knowledge), unemployment/government assistance programs are drastically different here (read: more benefits). yay Socialism!

        • Emily

          All of these comments about using credit cards to pay for groceries make me so sad. Not just because it reminds me how pervasive unemployment is right now, but because for many people this is totally avoidable. Food stamps (or SNAP benefits) can provide up to 200 dollars per person per month of food to any household living below the poverty line. It isn’t fun getting foodstamps (you have to wait for hours), but it can save a lot of heart ache.
          Now maybe some of these people who spent money they didn’t have on food, couldn’t qualify for food stamps because of existing assets like a retirement fund they weren’t ready to raid, but I would bet that at least some of them didn’t even think to apply. People who grow up middle or upper class don’t always understand the benefits they qualify for, or carry a lot of shame about accepting government aid.
          Of course, few people are ashamed to accept public loans for education even though it costs the government a huge amount of money to bankroll those programs. You might say that student loans are different because they are an investment in our countries future, but feeding you while you look for a job is also an investment in our country’s future.
          Some people worry that they don’t deserve the money.
          SNAP benefits are an entitlement. That means that everyone who qualifies gets the money. You aren’t taking food out of porer people’s mouths, and if you or your parents have ever paid taxes, then you have paid into the social safety net.

    • Carolyn

      I am (nearly) the opposite of your experience, Nancy. About a month into our engagement, my then-fiance and I had the Come To Jesus about my debt. I hadn’t told him about it – not one word! – because I was convinced I could handle it myself. And like your husband, Nancy, it wasn’t student loan debt – it was Pre-Him situational financial turmoil combined with a dash of general irresponsibility. It wasn’t a huge amount, but it was mine, and I wanted to fix it all by myself.

      It took a lot of conversations, a lot of tears, and a lot more conversations (that we still have) to understand that him wanting to help me pay down that debt was something that he was doing for The Future Us. It wasn’t that he thought I couldn’t handle it on my own. It was that he knew that he could help US in the future – a house, a baby, unforeseen expenses – by helping ME in the present. It’s so hard being on a team sometimes, but that’s is a small but monumental part about what our marriage is. You take turns being the one who has to do something hard to help your partner and in turn, help your marriage.

      We, too, paid down that dumb balance to zero. I can’t imagine what I’d feel like had he gone to his parents (or they’d interfered, which is what it sounds like has happened with the LW) and they wanted paper copies of our personal, baby-family finances. It’s hard, but building your baby family boundaries will get you and your partner through this.

      • nancy

        carolyn- in the long run, isn’t it awesome to go through stuff like this together that at the time feels INCREDIBLY painful and hard but in the end solidifies what kind of identity the two of you want to form in your marriage? personally i wouldn’t want to repeat my own come-to-Jesus meeting haha but in the end i wouldn’t change a thing.

        ps couldn’t agree more with you about boundaries. i’ve seen a lot of well-intentioned parents and adult kids with lack of boundaries (on both ends! it takes two) mess up really great marriages and relationships by intermingling too much. it IS so hard to build that baby family that’s somehow connected but altogether separate from either families of origin but super worth it. never perfect :) but worth it.

        • Carolyn

          Yes … the hard and painful experiences are what strengthen you as a team. It’s been hard for me, as a very independent person, to realize this, and actually let my husband take care of me … because in doing so, it takes care of US. Money or otherwise.

      • Jess

        I’ve had a lot of similar conversations with my husband! I brought student loans (moderate) to the marriage but he has debt from when he was young, freshly out on his own, lost a job, had no supportive family, and friends who screwed him over. I made the same arguments about ‘the future of us,’ but he’s dealt with a LOT of shame and guilt over it. It’s really hard for him to accept what he sees as ‘my’ money – and which I see as ‘our’ money. We’re still working on paying off his debts, but I would never dream of giving all the details to my family. My parents aren’t nosy or interfering, but when my mom asks about when we might buy a house, I just say we don’t have enough saved up yet – she doesn’t need to know all the details that would embarrass him.

        • Carolyn

          Trust me, it is VERY difficult to accept it when my husband says that it’s “our” money! That guilty, shameful feeling is one that is all too real, and at times I wonder if it will ever really go away.

          Kudos to you for doing for your husband what mine is doing for me. It is so hard to learn that help, even if you don’t want it, is what is best for you, your partner, and your marriage. And GOOD FOR YOU for not sharing the details with your family. It is so important to build up your baby family finances and boundaries. We’re doing it, too, and boy, is it hard sometimes, but so worth it.

    • Moz

      I think there are different types of debt, and this is something that might need to be said to DEBT’s parents. It’s not like your partner racked up debt by doing something stupid, he did it because he was young and trying to go to school. There’s only so much money you can make before you go to and during college!

      I am in debt because of two operations I had to save my life about 3 years ago. Although this is a debt that keeps me up at night I know I didn’t have any other options.

  • Shawna

    I also came from a family who couldn’t afford to put me through college, so I took out enormous student loans. However, I now have a career that is very satisfying, and, in the matter of about 6 years, I was able to completely pay off those loans (by living in cheap housing to save on rent, etc.). When I got married, I still had some of the loans and my husband did not. I can’t lie, even though, legally, our money was now owned in joint, it was a point of pride for me to make the loan payments from my own account. My husband had some money in his savings and offered to just finish paying them off, but I said no. I know, I know. But when you come from a background like I did, it is very rewarding to pay off the loans yourself. Now, I need to say, we don’t yet have children. If I had gotten pregnant, I would have just used hubbie’s money to pay them off so we could be done and think about paying for kids instead. It all just really depends on the circumstances.

    As far as being responsible, there are many things that show responsibility. For example, does he have other debt? Credit cards that he took out when he wanted something he couldn’t yet afford? Or did he stick to having student loan debt? Discussing with your parents the reasons you think he is responsible seems like a reasonable thing to do. However, I’m gonna agree with him and say it’s none of their business to see his loan paperwork.

    Finally, and this might really help your parents, I’m fairly certain that when you get married, the only debt that does NOT become joint is student loan debt. As far as I know, this debt stays with the person who originally had it. So, even if you were to get divorced, those student loans would NOT be part of the divorce proceedings and wouldn’t end up being partially your responsibility. Perhaps this varies state-to-state, so you might check on it. But, this was one of the reasons that I felt fine about getting married while still having debt. Legally, I was not shouldering my husband with debt. So, I think you might be able to check on that detail, and, if it true where you are, that might be all the info your parents need.

    Good luck!!!

    • Liz

      Yep, that’s exactly what the Mint link goes into! Student loan debt dies when you do (which makes me feel sort of George Bailey, sometimes, if I think about it too much).

    • Granola

      Actually, at least in the U.S., and where I live, New York, I’m pretty confident that no debt that one part incurs prior to the marriage becomes joint debt UNLESS you co-sign for those loans after marriage. If you do sign for them, then I don’t think any of it goes away when a spouse dies, even student loans. My almost-husband has both credit card and student loan debt, and while we’ll pay it off together, (we’ve merged finances) we mutually decided there was no chance I’d sign on to those loans. Creditors will want you to for a lower interest rate, but I’d avoid it, personally.

      • R

        I agree with you about not co-signing. I was reading Financially Ever After by Jeff Opdyke, and he made the point that co-signing can set you up so that neither of you can qualify for other loans and that both of you get dinged (credit-score wise) if something goes wrong. Whereas if the loans stay tied (legally) to just one person, then only one person’s credit is exposed to those risks- which leaves you with a backup.

        Which is not to say that you can’t (or shouldn’t) help pay the loans down. Just that there’s no point in getting yourself tied to them legally.

        I would also totally recommend Financially Ever After as a good book to read about combining finances/ marital finances/ etc. He covers a lot of the basic financial principles that Get Rich Slowly and other books/ programs do, but from the perspective of getting/ being married. And I found his financial perspective to be fairly balanced (probably because it was pretty similar to mine, so ymmv)

    • ElisabethJoanne

      I think in most states, all assets and all debts before marriage remain separate after marriage. If you bought a house outright before marriage, you get it upon divorce, even if you lived there married for 30 years. If you had credit card debt that magically just sits for a 30 year marriage, that’s your responsibility upon divorce.

      It gets tricky when you’re (living) together accumulating these assets and debts before marriage. It also gets tricky when you fiddle with debts and assets during marriage – mortgage payments after marriage on a house you bought before marriage, for example; or all the examples being said of one partner paying off the other’s debts.

  • tenya

    I can only respond to the portion about unequal loan shouldering, when my husband and I married he had about half of the amount the LW mentions in student debt and I had zero. I also make about 6x what my husband makes. When we were looking at getting married, my husband was blissfully under the assumption he would just continue his income-based repayment of $0/month until either he won the lottery or his loans were dropped after 25 years. But I’m not marrying him to keep everything separate and live high while he is struggling (I’m not going to dinner by myself!), and having a huge debt like that should we want to say, buy a house, is not going to work. Besides, if he does end up winning the lottery, wouldn’t it be better to spend it on cool stuff/experiences instead of ballooned student debt? So, I’m (mostly) paying off his debts, with my income it will take a fraction of those 25 years. Yes, it would suck if he were to then divorce me, but seriously? I wouldn’t have married him if I thought a divorce was in the works in that short amount of time! Besides which, yes right now my income is good, but I could lose my job tomorrow. If that is the case, we’ll figure out something else. That is partly why I married him, because he is someone that will roll with the punches with me.
    So as to whether it is responsible for him to only pay his loans out of his own paychecks, that is up to you guys individually and what kind of financial circumstances you both have, but for us it was much easier to look at the future together without his debt.

    There will be teasing about needing a sugar momma / gold digger kind of comments. You will need to be firm with parents that HE is capable of managing the debt situation, you don’t need to either step in and take over for him or hand it over to them. Yep, it could end up being a financial mistake for you. So could a lot of things. They need to trust you and accept your judgment of your partner.

  • Jashshea

    Short comment, on phone. Echoing something I said earlier this week: unless you are living with or are otherwise financially dependent upon your parents, you need to politely but firmly tell them to mind their own beeswax. I have a good job, a car, and a mortgage, but my parents still don’t fully understand that I’m independent. You’ll have to have this conversation with your parents over and over, but (it’s my hope) that someday they’ll understand.

    • meg

      Oh, parents :) So true.

    • Lana

      Definitely. They always want to help if they can, even on the little stuff. My mom came out to visit me and we argued over who would pick up the restaurant check. I have a good job (and have for years), I picked the restaurant, you made the effort to come visit, let me pay for dinner!

      But I’m always going to be her little girl and she’s always going to want to look out for me no matter how old I get or how long I’ve been financially independent. We all just need to work on establishing boundaries without making them feel completely left out and “useless” (as my mom say, which of course she is not).

  • Erin

    If you’re truly happy with the idea of helping to pay off his student loans, then I would. The points above about unequal spending available and treating your husband are all good ones.

    But the reason I encourage it is this: the faster you pay them off, the more money you save.

    Use a debt calculator. Put in his loans, his interest rates, and play with the time it might take to pay it off. /Boggle/ at the amount you’d pay in interest even with a low interest rate. It’s very motivating. It’s what encouraged me to keep living in a basement long after I could afford to move out (my parents are very lovely and generous people) and put every extra cent into my loans, so that $45K disappeared in 3.5 years

    So let’s pretend that his loans have a 6% interest rate (I’m making that number up, it’s close to what mine were a few years ago).

    If he can only afford to pay off $600 a month, it will take him 30 years to pay them off completely – and he will pay an extra $114,764.17 in interest. That’s right – MORE THAN DOUBLE his original loan.

    Let’s say you can afford to double that. $1200 a month – now it’s 9 years and $28,829.48 in interest.

    Maybe you both get pretty awesome jobs and/or can live very frugally, so you can do $3000 a month. Now you’re done in 3 years and you’re paying $9,069.70 in interest.

    The calculator I’m using is here: – it’s a super tool for thinking about these things with a complete set of information.

    The other thing to think about is that eventually you’ll want other things – a house, kids, vacations. If you’re still shoving several hundred dollars a month at student loan debt in 15 years, that’s time and money you can’t be using for other things. This debt can not only make things feel unequal, but can put off what would otherwise be joint goals.

    It’s a hard thing to do, mentally. My husband doesn’t have debt (thank goodness), but he’s also been unemployed since we got married, which means we’re living on my (small) salary. There are times when I struggle with the mindset of ‘treating’ him to things or having to watch ‘my’ money go toward some financial fee he caused (by being late with car registration). But I think in some ways having to have that struggle has been beneficial to me, because it’s certainly made me deal with what it means to be a team.

    Finally, as someone who grew up without a lot of money, I have to say I see your husband’s point about thinly veiled classicism and lack of trust. I doubt your parents mean to seem that way, but I wonder if you couldn’t have a conversation with them about how their demands make the two of you feel? Maybe do so after sitting down with a calculator and making some plans. You might discuss the fact that their lack of trust and demands make it difficult for you to come to them for financial advice if/when you really need it.

    • Hurrah for math! Came here to say exactly this – if you’re pooling money, it is in everyone’s best interest to pay those loans off as fast as humanly possible. I get the sentiment of him “wanting to pay his own debt,” but that nice idea will make you both worse off.

      • Liz

        This is EXACTLY the point Maddie made, but that I neglected to include. Two people working to pay it down is much faster and cheaper in the long run.

        • Oh yeah, it took some serious going-over with excel and a debt calculator for my husband to make me realize that I needed to stop feeling guilty about bringing my student loan debt into our marriage- pointing out the difference it makes to pay off early is hugely helpful.

    • Yes to this! We happen to be in a unique situation where my husband’s workplace provides “free” housing (he works extra to compensate for it, but living here is part of the contract and thus untaxed). He makes a normal salary for his job, and I am starting a job this fall that makes a normal salary. So we are paying down the student loans as fast as possible. I’d recommend that to anyone. Do what it takes — limit eating out, don’t make other big purchases, etc — to lower that debt. $100k will take a long time if you’re not committed to bringing it down.

      In the 4 years since I met my husband, he has brought an almost $40k debt down to $15k on a pretty modest salary. I am bringing in $13k from my most recent degree (my parents were horrified! They sound like yours, OP — they insisted on me having no debt from undergrad, and my first grad degree was paid for by my school). Our goal is to use my whole incoming to pay it all down now. Like Erin, we’ve boggled at how much we can save by paying off early. It will definitely be worth the savings!

    • Kristen

      There’s definitely a lot to be said for this, particularly if you have the cash flow to make it possible. On the other hand, it’s also important to consider the immense value of liquidity. For example, I graduated from school without debt, but my husband accrued about $60,000 in student loans. Before we got married, I was very diligent about saving, and I have about $50,000 in various liquid accounts.

      In the name of paying down debt as soon as possible and avoiding those exorbitant interest charges, we could choose to put all $50,000 of that toward his loans and pay almost all of it off in one fell swoop. But! We’re not going to do that because even though our debt would be dramatically decreased, we’d also no longer have any liquid assets in case of emergencies, or for baby expenses (we’re due in April). So, for right now, we’re making his regular payments, plus adding whatever extra we managed to save that month (from fewer groceries, etc.). In the coming years, we hope to increase our payments significantly, but for now, having the cash in hand is worth it.

      I think of it this way: If you have savings of $75,000 and loans worth $100,000, your net worth is -$25,000. If you put all your savings to paying off the loans, your net worth is STILL -$25,000, but now you no longer have any cash, either. And that sets you up to be unprepared for emergencies and have to go back into debt to cover an unexpected car repair, etc. However, it’s important to note that this philosophy really only applies to loans with relatively low interest rates (i.e. I wouldn’t use it if we were talking about credit card debt with 20% interest).

      Just another perspective!

      • Liz

        You guys are teaching so much to this money-dumb lady over here. I’m taking notes.

        • You’re not dumb – you’re just not as financially literate as you’d like to be, which is true of most people.

          There are a lot of good personal finance resources around the web. I like Get Rich Slowly because it provides a variety of voices (some of the sites I’ve seen are super-evangelical about living as frugally as possible, and I just can’t handle the 1-ply and washed-out milk bags).

          It drives me insane that they don’t teach this stuff in schools. I was terrible with money until I had almost graduated university.

          • amy

            Seconding the recommendation for Get Rich Slowly. It was that blog that really helped me become financially literate after college.

          • H

            Thirding. Actually, it was how I found this blog.

          • meg

            I also like the “I Will Teach You To Be Rich” book. We changed some of our financial patterns and how we paid things, because of it. Made things way simpler.

          • Copper

            I really wish they taught financial literacy in high schools. Home Ec should be completely re-invented to include this, and be a required class again. Then maybe some of us would have fewer student loans to begin with because we’d have had the tools to have made decisions that would work better for us in the long run back when we actually chose where we’d go to school. I’m not the sort that’s saying all school debt is bad, but I know that I would have made different choices than I did, if I’d known more back then. After all, I chose my college and major at 16 years old—how on earth was I equipped to understand the full effects of those loans?

        • Ros

          “Your Money or Your Life” has really helped me get a grip on reality vs dreams vs priorities, and then how to translate how I feel about those things into concrete plans and dollar amounts. :)

          • Kristen

            My favorite is “Rich by Thirty” by Lesley Scorgie. It’s not actually about becoming rich; it teaches you smart money skills that set you up for a lifetime of healthy money habits. I’m a dork, and personal finance books are a hobby of mine ;)

          • R

            I really liked “Financially Ever After” by Jeff Opdyke. He covers all the financial bases, but from the perspective of getting/ being married- so you not only get info about budgeting/ investing/ etc., but also how to go about doing all that with another person, which I found super helpful.

        • Michelle

          I also found Learn Vest to be helpful in learning about my finances and loans last year. Sometimes I don’t agree with the more “personal interest” stories articles, but the main financial planning and budgeting info is solid.

      • efletch

        Awesome sauce! Very solid advice, and I just want to add that it’s important to have balance between paying down debt and saving money. If you pay off all your credit cards but have no money in savings, you set your self up to just rack up more credit card debt if you have an emergency.

      • That’s true, but there’s still a balance – you could calculate an emergency fund (or cost of your upcoming baby, or whatever), set that aside, and put the remainder against the debt. Obviously you know your situation better than anyone, but $50,000 sounds like a mighty big emergency fund (although maybe I’m wrong – are babies expensive to deliver? I’m not in the US so I don’t know).

        Anyways! Emergency funds are good!

        • Kristen

          I totally agree there’s a balance. It’s something I’ve been putting a LOT of thought into lately. It can get really interesting when you start thinking about the advantages/disadvantages of putting extra money toward student loans vs. retirement vs. liquid savings. Over the long-term, investments typically return 8-10%, which is more than the 6% interest we’re paying on student loans. And you can’t get back time when it comes to investing early in retirement plans to take advantage of compound interest. However, as you pointed out above, the interest-upon-interest that accrues from student loans is staggering, and there’s a natural urge to want to pay that down as fast as possible. It’s so hard!

          My solution before marriage, from age 20 to 24, was to sock away as much as possible in retirement because I knew that once we were married and I wasn’t living with my parents for free, I wouldn’t be able to contribute anywhere close to that anymore. And so now I can rest a little easier knowing I put away lots of money in my IRA at a young age, and even if I can’t contribute much to it ever again, I’ll still likely end up with hundreds of thousands of dollars by the time I retire.

          Now that we’re married and focusing on our finances as a team, I think student loans are going to take a much more prominent position in our list of goals. Like you said, an extra $100 a month here and there goes a long way toward reducing the total amount of interest we’ll pay over the lifetime of the loan.

          It’s all so complex! I love that we can have these conversations, though.

        • amy

          50k could be a reasonable emergency fund given the right situation. If a regular pregnancy balloons into a high risk one, the costs can really skyrocket. Or so I hear. And everyone has different expenses and different risk thresholds. If someone has variable income or is concerned about losing their job, for example, they’ll want a much bigger emergency fund than someone with a more stable-ish job with regular income.

          • meg

            Oh, I think that’s a reasonable emergency fund, but I’m nuts. I like a year of expenses in the bank, in a (very) ideal world. Thank god I have Kaiser (god bless fake socialized medicine) so that can’t happen to me with pregnancy costs.

          • When I have insomnia, I list all the money I have in various emergency funds. (Some double as travel and house funds, but really, at the core, they’re emergency money.) I find it embarrassingly comforting. It’s a big number. I’d rather have more bank than more things.

            Growing up without much money really does do interesting things to your relationship with money.

      • Ros


        There is a definite value in having a really good safety net.

        That said, as a Canadian, I’m still boggled by how much having a baby costs outside of Quebec. We’re planning on staying in this province long-term, and our house-building and future-living plans definitely take paid maternity leave (full year) and paternity leave (6 weeks) into account, as well as healthcare and 7$/day daycare. The social programs you’ve got available affect the budget a whole lot!

        • Liz F

          $7/day day care??! I’m going to go cry in the corner now.

          Signed, Citizen of the Richest Country on Earth.

          • meg

            That whole paragraph hurt, if we’re being honest.

          • Even as a non-Quebec Canadian, it stings a little! Although we only differ on the daycare.

            Actually in Ontario (and I think federally) parents can split the year of parental leave however they want, as well. You get a percentage of your salary from the employment insurance that we all pay into, and then most employers will top it up.


        • Daycare through my work in Calgary? $1875 A MONTH. PER BABY.

          Quebec makes me ragey, some days, and daycare is a big reason why.

          • Kara

            Yeah. It doesn’t take very long for the cost of daycare to erase the benefit of working. SO SO stinky.

      • Jashshea

        YES. Liquidity is so important. Paying off everything with all available cash generally leads to creation of new debts soon after the payoff. In, ahem, my own personal experience. :)

      • meg

        Exactly. We do similar things. Liquidity (if you can possibly pull it off… it’s usually very hard earned, so I’m not saying you should feel bad if it’s not currently an option) is the #1 thing that will keep you from accruing MORE debt. Plus, it keeps your stress levels low. Unexpected expenses? Job losses? They suck, but you know you’ll be ok.

        So paying off all your debt at once is often not the best choice. Being more agressive on debt that’s higher interest (like credit card debt) is smart, but often it’s not the smartest move to pay off student loans more quickly, since interest rates are low.

        And not to get overly technical, but with low interest loans, you also need to consider the Time Value Of Money, which basically says money that you have now is more valuable than money you have later, because you can invest it in ways to make it grow (anything from money market funds to using it to grow a business, which we’ll discuss later today). So, given TVM, with low interest rate loans, it’s often smarter to pay them off slowly and use the extra money elsewhere.

        But the best thing to do? Talk to a good financial advisor. By which I DO NOT MEAN your parents. No matter what they think ;)

        • Meredith

          True Story. My car loan interest rate is 0.9%. I have the cash to pay the whole thing off right now. Currently though, that money is in a CD that has a 1.8% interest rate. So it makes more sense for me to keep that money in the CD and pay the loan off slowly under my normal payment plan than pay the remainder of the loan off (as the amount I earn in interest from the CD is greater than the amount I would pay in interest on the loan).

          There is the piece of mind aspect of it too, though. I hate paying this car loan. Hate it. Hate writing a check every month. So I might just pay it off because I can and I will feel better about it. Piece of mind can be worth it.

          • Yes to this! I have no problem with our mortgage, but I HATE my student loan. I could probably make some smart moves with the money so that we come out ahead, but I can barely bring myself to buy a new pair of jeans with my OSAP balance still in existence. It’s like the telltale heart.

          • peace of mind is so huge in money discussions. which, as an analytical sort of person who thinks budgeting and personal finance are fun, was really hard for me to accept in myself.

            but, ultimately, the whole point of money, to me, is the extent to which it can buy me peace of mind (not happiness, that is more complicated – but knowing we can feed and house ourselves? very peaceful feeling, brought to me by money.)

            as such, i am absolutely itching for the day that we own our house outright, even though every finance dork knows that is one of the more useless financial moves when you have a good interest rate.

      • I think I’ve read/heard somewhere that if you have eight months of living expenses stashed in an emergency fund, that you’re doing pretty well; it would cover the first few months of unemployment or any other minor emergency that would come up without completely derailing you. It would also give you a few months breathing time to figure out how to adjust financially after that.

    • Amen! (P.S. Math winds up solving all money discussions in our house. Prevents ’em from turning into arguments since it’s hard to argue with math.)

    • Breck

      Totally saving this comment for whenever my boyf and I decide to discuss student loan debt, since I’ll have… err… like 10x more of it than he does. Yay, expensive private schools!

  • Melissa

    My fiance’s family is much more well-off than mine. I had to accrue student loan debt to get myself through college. I cannot imagine what this fiance must feel like with his in-laws asking for personal financial information. He made it through graduate school; surely, he can make bill payments. I would kindly but very very firmly tell my parents to get out of it. This will only cause pain and embarrassment for your future husband. To me, it does seem classicist.

    • Ambi

      Melissa, I completely agree. I am also in a relationship with someone whose family is much more well-off than mine, and I have long recognized this sort of classism in their worldview. While they would never admit it outright, they seem to have a sense that people deserve their station in life – as in, if you are wealthy and live a comfortable lifestyle and are well dressed, then you must also be hard working and responsible and dependable, but if you are poorer you must not work as hard or make smart decisions or be as responsible. For them, seeing poorer people lose their house in the recession or struggle to pay off debt or things like that just reinforces their worldview. They don’t see it as good people dealing with the cards they were dealt and doing the best they can in difficult circumstances, they see it as confimation that they (the wealthy) deserve their privilege and that, essentially, poor people are just going to stay poor because they don’t work hard enough or make good decisions. I have tried and tried and tried (!) to call my boyfriend out on this kind of thinking. He was raised with it and it is somewhat ingrained in him, but our conversations do help. For example, my car broke down recently, and instead of taking it in to the shop and getting it fixed, I had my brother look at it and see what he could do. My boyfriend was frustrated because his family always takes their cars in to the dealership for any and all problems, and for preventative maintenance. He was arguing that the reason my family’s cars break down so much is because we don’t take good enough care of them. By trying to fix them ourselves, we end up with more problems and eventually have to to replace the cars sooner and get less for our trade-ins than he will with a well-taken-care-off car. All of that is true. But, what he didn’t get was that some people just don’t have the money to take a car into the shop. If you don’t have $1,000 to spend on getting repairs done right and you need your car to function so you can get to work, you’re going to go with the much cheaper option of having a friend or family member fix it themselves, even if that option is riskier. This is just one example of how he didn’t realize that his “smart choices” are only available to people who have the money to make them. So when his family talks about buying rather than renting, for example (a big sticking point, since they repeatedly talked about how stupid it was to rent while, for 6+ years of our relationship, I was renting), they don’t think about the fact that many people don’t have the money for a downpayment, and they have a lot of trouble saving it while they are also paying rent (which, you know, you kind of have to do if you want a roof over your head).

      So, basically, I just get really really fed up with the sort of classist world view that looks at poorer people and assumes that, if they’d only be more like us and work harder and make better decisions they wouldn’t be in that situation. I’ve learned that a person’s financial situation can be self-perpetuating, meaning that people with money are able to maintain and improve upon that level of financial security much more easily than someone without money is able to pull themselves up.

      To me, the parents’ insistance on being involved in the details of the loan repayment and not trusting him to stay on top of the loan just screams classism, based on the worldview I described above. “Oh, he has student loan debt because his family hadn’t saved up enough to cover his education? How irresponsible. He must be lazy and flaky, so we have to step in and make sure all the paperwork gets done, because god knows that anyone irresponsible enough to take out such loans can’t be trusted to pay them back . . .”

      I fear that if the original poster doesn’t address this head-on right now and call her parents out on their underlying assumptions about the fiance, it will just continue to escalate. “You can’t buy a house because you’re paying off student loan debt? Irresponsible! So now you’re ‘throwing away money’ while you rent? Proof that the husband is financially flaky and can’t be depended upon!” . . . See where this is going?

      • meg

        All wise points.

      • Agreed. I would also feel like parents’ concerns about the partner and their “need” to see documents undermines my capability to address these things on my own. Sure being parents they may have experience that I don’t have. So maybe they could just ask, ” how do you feel about this [if they already know for some reason] and if you want our advice or help, let us know.”

        By judging my partner on this matter, I would not only feel hurt that my partner is being judged. But I would also feel hurt that I was not given the autonomy or trust to make decisions on my own. Maybe I make wise decisions? Maybe I make mistakes? Either way I want to be granted the autonomy do it.

        • Copper

          agree with everything except the concept of someone else granting you autonomy. If you are not actually dependent upon them in anyway, don’t wait for it to be granted—take it! It is yours already.

      • Breck

        “I’ve learned that a person’s financial situation can be self-perpetuating, meaning that people with money are able to maintain and improve upon that level of financial security much more easily than someone without money is able to pull themselves up.”

        ABSOLUTELY. Just look at some of the tax code in the US.

  • AnonForThis

    Thank you for the post! I loved it start to finish.
    I am not yet even in the pre-engaged state, however my current partner and I are in vastly different financial circumstances. I am the eldest of two children from a suddenly single parent home. My father left when I was in high school, and disappeared. My mom worked hard to support my brother and I. I put myself through college – and grad school – completely on my own. Unlike a lot of my peers, I began paying toward the money I had borrowed my sophomore year of college. I’m now thirty, and have paid down $150k with $30k left. We won’t discuss the interest rate on my graduate school stafford because I don’t want to frighten anyone.
    My boyfriend comes from an affluent family, and he and his brother have trust funds. He has no student debt, after 2 bachelors degrees, and no expenses, as he’s living with family as he prepares his graduate school applications.
    Recently, he offered to simply pay my remaining balance with a portion of his trust, and for us to sign some paperwork detailing my payment plan to him, and the interest after the first year (between 2 and 5% accrued annually. I should mention that his father and step mother … are not my biggest fans? As in, she accuses me of breaking into their house and rearranging things. That’s a story for another day. I fretted over the decision, and eventually declined.
    It is not yet clear that we’re on a path toward engagement or marriage, and I had very mixed feelings about signing up to be financially tied to him in that way under those circumstances. Despite the fact that it would boost my credit in a big, big way, and allow me to pay off what I owe in a much more timely fashion, something inside of me said, “Not yet. Not now.”
    As it stands, he wants to wrap his mind around the idea of moving cross country (his dream) and beginning a graduate degree outside of the influence of his family before we really decide where our relationship is going long term. I get impatient about that, but understand his reasons (see crazy stepmother above).
    I worry a lot about how and when to begin the serious discussions with him – about marriage and money and long term plans and What it All Means. . These seem like important questions — as important to me as the questions he needs to answer by leaving his family behind — for me to know where we’re going, and if we’re going there together. Suggestions from you experienced mavens?

    • KEA1

      I think what you’ve outlined here is a good way to get those discussions going. When his plans come up in conversation, you can use that opportunity to say, “honey, have you given thought to where I fit into those plans? When you offered to help me pay off my loans, the big reason I declined was that I didn’t have a clear sense of where you think this relationship is going. But even without the loans, I still would really appreciate hearing your take on where you want the future to take us.” Or something like that. Good luck!

    • Kim

      Re: how and when to begin these conversations. There’s never a good time, but if you can do it when you’re both not tired, hungry or super-stressed, we’re more rational than emotional.

      We try to start by establishing a goal (i.e. we want to pay for our wedding equally with our parents, which will cost us $xx,ooo; or we don’t want to have any credit card debt), and then working our way backwards. We started doing this when planning our wedding, and we use this model all the time now for major financial/life decisions.

      Having a piece of paper with the numbers written down, a calculator handy, and a place to write ideas down can help. It’s always helpful for me to see numbers on paper, so it feels more concrete.

      If we can’t agree on something after one conversation, we let each other have time to think it through. But, if we’re lucky and come to a consensus in one conversation, it feels pretty great to have a plan to follow moving forward.

      To me, there’s nothing better than agreeing on what we want, figuring out a plan to accomplish it, and then diligently working towards and achieving a goal TOGETHER.

    • kathleen

      I think you sound so rational and clearheaded (and good with money to boot!)— and that’s the best place to start these conversations. I’ve found that money is the lens that my fiance and I use to talk about the future- we plan and dream best when we are talking about real actual numbers…where we are now and where we want to be. Before we were engaged we met with a lawyer and a financial planner (they both said “congratulations!” and we said “eh, we aren’t engaged yet, this is actually our first official engagement step”) because this sort of talking and planning is so important to us. We aren’t super rich or fancy or what have you, we just are very consciousness of how money can and does affect us individually and coming into the relationship. Much good luck to you!

  • Ash

    I think a short conversation about being adults and handling this yourself should be enough for your parents. Finances are personal and they aren’t marrying him, you are. Their heart is in the right place, but they are over stepping.

    The only complication I could see here is if you are still accepting money from your parents. In which case, I can see how they would be concerned ‘their’ money is paying off ‘his’ debt. (even that is a little iffy, but still… when people contribute money they usually also contribute opinions)

    But if your finances are entirely separate from your parents- its pretty clear cut. It is tough, but also a great opportunity to establish boundaries.

  • E

    My husband and I are in an interesting situation. Coming into the marriage, I had no debt, a small amount of savings, and a job, while he was still in school and amassing large amount of student loans. That means that right now, we are living off my money (unfortunately, just lost the income so for the moment that just means savings…but that’s a different story) and trying to take out loans for tuition only. However, as his degree is basically a guarantee of making a decent amount of money, in 5 years he will be making the big bucks and I will be the lesser earner.

    Since I’m the one putting up the money for the early part of our marriage, I am in the more vulnerable position. Technically, he could divorce me right as he graduates and completely screw me over. But I 100% believe that would not happen (even if we did divorce, I don’t think he would try to get me to pay back his loans), so I’m ok with the situation. It all comes down to trust.

    • Amy March

      1.) what degree is this that guarantees the money? Be prepared for this not to be the case

      2.) I know divorce courts get a bad rap, but in theory when dividing assets they do consider your contributions to his degree, even if he has just started working and doesn’t have huge assets yet.

      • Liz F

        Based on her blog (stalker alert), he is a med student. So, after residency (long hours, mediocre pay) and depending on his specialty he will be making $$$-$$$$$.

        However, the average cost of a medical education in the US is a quarter million dollars. There are some loan forgiveness programs but they typically require working in remote or under-served areas. And the cost of moving several times for med school, residency and first job add up.

        But its a goal of his and a project E has signed on for. I wish them all the best.

        • E

          Oh geez, I forgot I linked that (sad and pretty much defunct) blog to my comments on this site. Now there’s a project I definitely gave up on…

          But yes, my husband is a medical student. That racks up a lot of debt, but it is part of a fairly good system in which there are not more graduates than there are jobs and it is very rare for a graduate to become unemployed. Doctors do make very little money starting out as residents, but once you become an attending the income rises considerably for nearly all specialties. Saying that he would make the big bucks in 5 years was a bit of an exaggeration – it will probably be more like 8-10 years in his chosen specialty.* Yes, there are things that could go wrong before we get to that point, and we understand that, but I prefer not to dwell on the unlikely “what ifs.”

          Looking over my past post I realize why it may have sounded naive, so perhaps I should have thought through what I was writing better. My purpose was really just to talk about a different kind of situation, one in which one partner makes more initially but the other will make more in the long run. It is a complicated situation and requires a lot of trust. But we are definitely in it together!

          *That really makes sound like a gold digger. I swear, I didn’t marry my husband because he is going to be a doctor. In fact, being married to a medical student kinda sucks and won’t be getting better any time soon (I wanted to submit a post about that but never got around to it – oops)

          • Sarah

            I’m pretty sure it’s not to late for you to submit that post. Right APW staff? Cause I know I’d like to read it :)

    • meg

      Agreed with Amy. Keep in mind that pretty much no degree guarantees lots of money right now (says the woman with the husband, and the husbands friends with very high powered legal degrees). But also, while I’d suggest looking at divorce law in your state (EVERYONE SHOULD. The marriage contract is probably the most powerful contract you will ever sign, and almost no one actually reads the terms of the contract), but in most cases divorce courts are pretty fair. If you put a partner though school, they generally consider that you are owed some of their earnings.

      • In theory they are fair. In practice, people administer the courts. People have bad days, biases, personal experiences and opinions. While they are not supposed to come into play, nothing works in a vacuum. Do NOT rely on any court to be “fair”. Fair does not exist in the law; neither does morality. “Fair” (and morality) are used to make laws not enforce them. Its a small distinction, but it’s, in my experience (including of divorce court in Canada), an accurate one.

        A pre-nup is your best bet, but as you are already married a mutual contract may work. I’m not overly familiar with US law. If there is one thing I learned from the Canadian divorce courts, it’s that you have to protect yourself; your partner won’t if it comes to divorce and the court is only interested in pushing through your case. It’s a sad thought, but, as I said, in my experience it’s true.

  • margo

    As far as your parents go, you need to tell them to back off. Period. There are definitely some class (and generational) differences going on, and there is no way that will end well. Your parents are not responsible for your partner’s finances. It’s really incredible that they could get you through college without debt, but it is not the norm. And it is far from ok that they demand copies of the paperwork because they don’t trust your fiance. What else won’t they trust him with? I think it sends the wrong message to your fiance, as well. “My parents don’t trust you, and I agree with them (or can’t say no to them) so let’s hand over all your financial documents.”

    It sucks, but I think you have to pick sides. There isn’t a compromise here. I really don’t see a way you can appease your parents without agreeing, on some level, that your fiance can’t be trusted or is irresponsible. If I were you, I’d shut that conversation down hard. “Parents, I love you and respect your concern for us. We really appreciate everything you do to support us going into this marriage. And I’m going to need you to continue to support us by trusting me and my fiance to handle our income and debt on our own. I hope you know that I will come to you if I need advice in the future, but right now I do not need your help. Thank you! I love you!” Repeat every time they bring it up.

    • Megan (from Nova Scotia)

      I’m currently struggling with setting these boundaries with my parents. I’ve always gone to them with pretty much every worry, and we are pretty close, despite the fact that mom and I don’t always see eye to eye on certain lifestyle choices. Trying to reel this in, and not always talk to them about some worrying aspect of my fiance’s very stalled house reno, or his eventual inheritance of the family land, is very difficult for me. Unfortunately mom can be quite judgy about things like this, so it’s created some super tense moments.
      So yes, boundaries. Because you will be starting a new family with this man, and the two of you should be on eachothers sides, not divided by what your parents think.

      Also-pretty much everyone I know has student loans just from their undergrad. I think DEBT needs to explain to her parents that they were very lucky to not have them, but that student loans are more the rule than the exception. The parents have absolutely no right to demand financial papers from either of you. Once you become of age, the only part of your finances that are their business is if you are spending their money.

      • Megan: I didn’t experience this, but I am witnessing a friend experiencing it, and I can say from hearing her speak that this issue of being very close with your family, and them being who you think of as “family” is an adjustment when you get married, and suddenly this other person becomes your primary family member. You’re not the only one going through that, and you’re right: it’s tricky territory.

        But you give great advice. I really think that by finding your way with your partner and not allowing your parents to be involved in a “parenting” way anymore, though difficult and sometimes painful, is ultimately an opportunity to create deep levels of trust and committment to your partner, by showing just how much he/she has become your family, confidant and priority. It also helps your parents slowly let go of the primacy of their role in your life, and the relationship you have with them then gets to evolve into something even closer to equal.

    • meg

      Agreed. Oh, the picking sides. It’s a weird phrase to describe what happens after you get married, and it’s obviously more complex than that, but it also sums up a truth pretty well. Getting married means your primary allegiance shifts from your nuclear family to your new family. Which means if your parents are not treating your partner correctly, you have to be on your partners side. This doesn’t mean, obviously, that you become a yes man for everything your partner does, even if it’s shitty behavior. But, it does mean your loyalties shift somewhat.

      In the end, I think that’s one of the things that makes weddings tough on parents. They know what’s coming, even when you don’t. And it’s HARD.

      • I’m not engaged yet, but I’m already having these types of issues. We both are. And it is really, really difficult!

  • Steph

    I am in a situation where we both have student debt from graduate school. We are lucky to not have undergraduate student debt (a scholarship and a phenomenal state school system) and have chosen professions (public health and law) where graduate degrees were important to furthering our career. Quite frankly, I would have been shocked if my husband didnt have student loans after 3 years of law school and then graduating into a incredibly horrible job market.

    I want to take a moment to normalize that a lot of people have student loans, not just “poor” people. Over the long term, it is often a responsible decision to take on that debt in order to advance one’s career and earning potential. Now, the system is screwed up and i cannot even begin to take that on in the comments section, but felt like that this point is really important to make.

    I cannot stress enough setting up boundaries for your new family and revisiting them with your partner to make sure that they are working… They will need to adapt and change with things that come up in life- both good and bad. Our wedding planning process helped us to see that and provided us with an invaluable foundation as we build our family.

    • Ash

      Yes, this! I think people often say debt = bad. Which can be true. But often it’s an investment in your future. Honestly, what 20 year old doesn’t have some student debt?

      I hate when people are afraid to spend a little money. As long as you are being responsible and have a plan to pay it off- you gotta live a little!

    • JC

      This! I am 23 and halfway through Veterinary school, and accumulating student debt. My parents are very well-off and probably could pay for years 4-8 of my higher education but they are not obligated to, and my financial manager father wants me to have loans (If he, Mr.-All-Things-Money, thinks that student loans are something I SHOULD have, not something to be avoided at all costs then they can’t be THAT bad). My partner recently graduated with a Masters that was entirely paid for by the university (super lucky, we know) and has no debt, so he will be helping me to pay down mine someday.

  • Rowan

    Liz’s answer was a lot nicer than mine. My answer would have been to tell your parents to “butt the F out.” Seriously. His debt is so not their business.

    It is yours though. Depending on his degree and where you live 100k may be a lot or not a big deal. My husband had about 80k in debt after graduating. Since his degree led to a high paying job (he’s a veterinarian) and we live in a low cost area (so we could live on my salary alone) we paid it off in 3.5 years. Absolutely a good investment that would never have happened if we had to pay for it out of pocket. Other student debt can plague you for years if it doesn’t lead to a job that pays enough. This is your decision to make, eyes wide open. You’ve decided this is the man for you. You are about to be a family. Families support each other, even if it means eating beans and rice for three years and living in a crappy apartment in order to let one pursue a dream career (or pay off a costly mistake of grad school).

    • Karen

      Yeah, my initial response was “how in the heck do they even know about it?” It is definitely no one else’s business. I guess one of the “blessings” of having grown up in an extremely dysfunctional childhood is that my mother only knows what I tell her. I can’t imagine talking about my partner’s debt with my family. They don’t deserve an explanation of how or why he got into debt or an explanation of how it is going to be paid off.

    • meg

      Also. Even if paying off 100K in student loan debt (or whatever amount, 60K, 80K, whatever) DOES take a long time, it’s not the end of the world. In the world of lawyering, we know people who paid off 150K in two years (ha), because they had two partners at crazy (over)paid firm jobs. That’s nice, but the lawyers who went into public interest law are clearly not going to be able to do that. That doesn’t mean their debt is less ok, or that they are lesser people, or less responsable. I’d argue that there is moral strength there: taking on student loan debt for a profession you love, and using that profession to help people even if that means you pay off your debt more slowly? Rad. The point is paying it off at some point, and being able to live in the meantime.

      So, does student loan debt ‘plague you for years’ if you don’t choose to take a high paying job? Not necessarily. It’s just a bill you pay every month, but totally worth it for what you get to do with your life. (I mean, seriously, how much better does it feel to pay that bill than to pay a CAR loan?)

      Though: NOTE. I’d argue this is why it’s important to make sure you love something before you get the degree. It’s the lawyers who realized they hated law and are stuck lawyering because of debt that make me really sad on the inside.

      • Jashshea

        Exactly to that last bit. I work in an industry that provides technology services to lawyers/firms/legal depts and the people who obviously hate lawyering are so obvious. It’s very sad.

      • Ambi

        Holy crap, Meg, I think we just had a mind meld because this is EXACTLY what I was trying to say when I posted something similar below. I hit *exactly* enough! This comment is something that I think every single college freshman (and everyone applying to law school) should have to read!

  • I came into our marriage with sizeable student loan debt from school (my husband’s total was much less than mine) and we decided to pay it off together almost out of necessity. When we moved in together, both of our jobs were up in the air (I was still in grad school, we moved to a new city, he had just graduated, and it was 2008). That was excellent training ground for our marriage, I believe because we tackled all student loans as if they were “ours” not “yours and mine”–no guilt, or trying to change the past. It’s truly a team effort.

  • Amy March

    I hear your parents asking two questions. One: how exactly is he going to pay off his loans. Two: how are the two of you going to support yourselves once you are married.

    I think the answer to one is “we’ve discussed a plan, and frankly it’s none of your business what exactly that is”

    But I would give more thought to question 2. I don’t think they are entitled to an answer, but it is something I would discuss with my parents. Especially if your life is still partially financed by the Bank of Mom and Dad, with it’s associated fees of guilt and involvement, explaining to them that you understand how life will financially work with him could be reassuring, and a good conversation for you to establish that love and concern are welcome, but micro-management is neither necessary nor acceptable.

    • Poeticplatypus

      For the OP I know everyone is saying tell the parents to butt out of your business and I completely agree you are building a family unit with your future husband. This issue that came up with them, your parents, is a perfect lesson on knowing what you can and should not share with them. Learn from this and keep on trucking.

  • Chalk

    I encourage you to draw firm boundaries with your parents in order to protect the privacy of your partner and your intimate life together. It’s hard to draw boundaries about finances, for example, if you are still financially dependent on your parents. If they are still paying for your cell phone bill or your car insurance, or whatever, you need to take over those bills. Then, you have full standing to say (maturely) that they need to back off.

    Your partner is looking for you to do this. These are your parents, and you are responsible for handling them. Until you can firmly draw boundaries that put your partner’s needs as the priority, you aren’t ready to be married.

    Right now, it’s your partner’s student loans they want to control and judge, in five years, what will it be? If you don’t start setting boundaries now, adult to adult, you’re setting up strained relationships between the three people you love – your husband, your mom and your dad.

    I’ve been learning this tough lesson as my controlling mother (also wealthy and judgmental) has been pushing boundaries during my wedding planning. It’s not easy, but stick with what you believe in, and you’ll feel good about what you stand for.

    • meg

      Yes, yes, to it being your job and your partner looking to you to handle it. He can’t really step in and shut them down, but you need to, to protect him. And protecting your partner as needed becomes a very important job when you choose to become a family.

  • anon

    My husband had 6 figure law school debt when we married (now in the 5 figures! Woohoo!). We pooled all finances and law school debt comes from “our” joint money. His loans are sitting at 6-8% debt which is pretty high and paying them off asap is a priority for our whole family. We both benefit from his degree and I see it as our debt. It was important for both of us to pool everything because we believe that sharing financial goals is an important part of being a family.

    Practically, it’s much easier for us to pool since I currently make significantly less than he does (but my earning potential is about as high and I has minimal debt) and the math required to split bills fairly seemed complicated. Furthermore, I moved to an expensive city and took on a fairly pricey commute so my expenses are now higher so he could be closer to work. Since our current earnings are so disparate, we both thought that not pooling money would create an unhealthy balance of power in our relationship which would be bad for us in the long term. I’m not saying it’s right for everyone but pooling money and debt and planning how to save, spend etc has been really good for our marriage.

    Additionally, I believe that part of establishing a new family is having your own financial goals and decisions. I have no doubt that your parents are well-intentioned but they really need to trust you on this one and butt out. You and your partner need to present a united front.

    • Kate

      Five figures is the promised land for this baby-lawyer! Well done ;-)

    • Not Sarah

      Congrats on getting it into the 5 figure range! That is amazing work!

  • Kim

    I’ve been on both sides of this!

    I came into our relationship with debt (college loans, credit cards), and my husband was fortunate to have parents who paid for his college education in cash (!?!). To be honest, I don’t think it makes sense to pay for college in cash. Maybe because it wasn’t an option for me, as there was no way my parents were ever going to have enough money to pay upfront, my sister and I both chose colleges that gave us the best financial aid packages. We got GREAT educations, lots of grants for our good grades, and ended up with manageable student loans. My parents paid (and still pay) for as much as they could, and we pay for our share as well. Nothing in my life has ever come for free, and I have learned how to work hard, be crafty, and get it done.

    Right after school, I appreciated the immediacy of paying my loans monthly. It was my first bill. Even if I lived at home, I had to get my act together to pay my bills. I had instant motivation to push myself to get a job. There was no room for delay.

    Despite my financial baggage, my husband knew how hard I was working to pay things off (like Dori says in Finding Nemo, “just keep swimming”…I “just kept paying” until the debt slowly vanished). Without student loans, he squirreled away all his earnings…and then decided to go back to school. Originally planning for a year of school, it wound up taking 2.5 years before he decided he’d had enough. But he’d saved for only 1 year of classes. So, the second year was all via loans. His parents were originally upset that he’d have to get loans, but because they saw how we were managing my student loans without worry, they eventually understood. And to be honest, it was our decision.

    When we got married, our previously established control and responsibility of our finances was super helpful. We knew that we wanted to have a “controlling stake” (like stockholders) in our wedding finances, so all decisions naturally had to come our way. Since we were so good at paying debt off, we had practiced working towards a financial goal…in this case our wedding. The following year, we bought a car (in cash), the next year, we had a down payment for our newly-acquired house. Practice, practice, practice.

    So, tell your parents to trust in all the things they taught you, and that while you appreciate their concern, you’ve got this. They have to let you grow up, and financial independence is as important as physical independence. You’ll never learn if they don’t even let you try.

    And for your partner, tell him to keep his chin up. Together, you can defend your (financial) territory. And you never know if the shoe will be on the other foot…this could be invaluable experience for you both.

    Good luck!

  • Rebecca

    Not to be too morbid, but after hearing several stories like this recently–make sure that in the case of his death, loan companies can’t come after you for repayment.

    • meg

      Federal Student Loans die with the borrower (do your research, I’m not offering financial advice) but that’s the general rule.

      • Rebecca

        The stories I’ve heard of have been parents paying off student debt from their deceased children, but I haven’t looked into what it could look like with spouses. One family was told by the bank that after they sent in the death certificate, the loan would be forgiven in full, only to immediately start receiving bills. I don’t know the kind of loan, only that it was through Citibank. Thankfully neither my husband or I have student debt, so it’s not something I’ve researched personally.

        • ElisabethJoanne

          It’s pretty common for creditors to try to get survivors to assume responsibility for a deceased person’s loans, even if the survivors are not legally responsible for the loans. Sometimes they just send bills. Sometimes they send additional paperwork for the survivors to sign, taking on responsibility for the loan. My understanding is this is legal, if unethical.

          Just because you get a bill doesn’t mean you’re legally obligated to pay it.

        • meg

          That’s private student loans (hence Citibank, not say, Sallie Mae). Private student loans are almost nothing like government student loans.

      • SomeOther Hilary

        If your spouse (or parent, or great-aunt Ethel) is on your student loans as a co-signer or guarantor, then it is possible that they may have some obligation to your student loans. Checking state and federal law (these things change, obviously) and the documentation associated with your lenders should clear up any questions in that area.

  • My husband and I had quite a bit of debt when we got married, which also made us choose to have a small wedding that wouldn’t get us into more debt. Regardless of whether the debt is responsible or not, if you’re getting married, the debt is no longer just one person’s. Not everyone likes the idea of merging finances, but for us it made the most sense and we did so while we were engaged because my husband was in between jobs and it was just easier to pay what bills we could out of one account. I think the key is communication, and we discuss our finances and budget regularly. We find it less complicated to have “yours” and “mine” when it comes to finances especially – we’re a team after all, so we share a bank account and we share debt and we share the excitement when we pay off our debt. The great thing about marriage is that you have a partner and that you always have someone who offers support and someone you can offer support to.

  • KC

    There’s also the gender-based “can this guy take care of our little girl?” thing that may or may not be going on.

    For what it’s worth, my parents expressed concerns about my husband’s practicality and long-term financial responsibility. Our situations looked very different at the time, but my partner and I have similar short-term financial standards in life (live within our means! save! ramen + eggs + vegetables!), and he has a really healthy work ethic (if it really needs to be done, it needs to be done), so I was not concerned.

    I know this is not the case in many families, but my parents shut up about it once we were married (despite me being the “breadwinner” for several years, which made them subtly unhappy but which they were quiet about; I think they were worried that me being the “provider” would mess up our relationship or cause resentment. It didn’t – we knew what we were going for, and we were each working towards that.).

    My husband got away with small student loans (job plus scholarships plus state university = yay, low student loans) which we paid off maybe within a year or so, so I can’t really help on that.

    I also get that $100,000 is a lot of money, and your parents may think that they can do better on interest rate, repayment plan, whatever, to improve your long term financial prospects, or they may be considering contributing to the payoff plan. My gut response is to still not give them the papers. It did take over three years for one of my parents to realize that our financial priorities are different from theirs (we like a mix of medium-risk/medium-reward and low-risk/low-reward savings; said parent prefers high-risk/high-reward and is stressed about the financial investments ALL THE TIME despite having plenty of money, to which I say, no, that is not what I want to spend my brain on; saved money is there to work for me, not to freak me out). But exact knowledge of financial situations can mainly breed irritation and misunderstanding (them (internally or verbally): why did you buy new shoes when there’s still this much loan??? you: Because I have an interview and need shoes that match the suit. them: aack! on Facebook it looks like they’re in Hawaii for the weekend! They should have staycationed and put the money towards the loan! you: our best friends were getting married in Hawaii. Tough.). If you can, explain some things that might surprise/shock them non-defensively (i.e. going to Hawaii) to catch premature freak-outs, but generally if you can gently redirect conversations to safe topics, they will hopefully eventually learn that this is not their responsibility.

    Anyway, hope it all goes well for you.

    • Your personal situation sounds very much like mine. I’m the breadwinner, the one with savings, and the one with no debt, and my husband (of 6 days!) has student loans and a much lesser income than I do (for now). My dad has been quietly nervous about this situation for years. He frets over the income inequality, over how I’m not being “provided for”, over our plan to let me help pay off his loans. I frequently remind him that he raised an independent young lady who’s been taking care of herself for years, and that should be a source of pride, not anxiety. It’s his fault, really, that I’m in a position to be a provider, not provided for :)

    • meg

      God. The hidden gender stuff. I hadn’t even thought of that (and my issue is I *never* remember to think about that, and then it blows up in my face). It’s interesting, the ways older generations (even when you least expect it) want a male partner to provide, a female partner to not over-provide, the female partner to take on the main domestic responsibility while the male parter takes on the main financial responsibility… or outward social norms to upheld no matter what is really going on.

      Land mines, I tell you.

      • Ros

        It’s especially frustrating when the verbal indications are all to the contrary… you spend years being encouraged to get a good degree/a good job/another degree/a better job/savings/retirement accounts/”you can do anything (everything”/etc… And then the landmines pop up and it’s just… ARGH!!

        I mean: when I was 4, my mom dug her old barbies out of storage (the ones from the 70s were shaped more realistically) and then she knit and sewed blazers for barbie, because barbie needed to go to work. THAT’s the type of upbringing I had. So the gender role explosion over salary roles was seriously a huge WTF??

        • meg

          YES. EXACTLY. There is clearly still more work to do. I guess we better get on that, as a generation.

        • KC

          I sort of wonder if part of the upbringing-training was “make sure they can take care of themselves if they end up single or divorced”, *but* that the expectations for what would happen within marriage didn’t change.

          My mother did not make Barbie blazers (although that is hilarious and also awesome), but the assumption was that I would of course go to college and I was definitely encouraged to look at long-term career viability, etc., so I also was just plain not expecting this one. If we’re making enough and we’re both happy, who cares who’s making more???

      • KC

        YES on the unforeseen land mines. (there were even unforeseen land mines in my own head, let alone other peoples’!)

        Also affecting parents’ view on who-should-be-the-breadwinner: the assumption that an ovary-containing married person will likely stop being a breadwinner for at least “early childhood” years at some point (and will at least be at lowered output for a chunk of pregnancy/early infancy). I suspect most parents are thinking “Yay, grandchildren!” waaaay before most married people are thinking “Yay, children!” and hence the parents vs. couples’ planning cycles are off in addition to the potentially generationally-different wife-takes-care-of-the-kids gender thing. It’s a mess.

        • meg

          Oh yeah, don’t get me started on that, I will stab someone in the face. ALL THE COMMENTS. “You work from home, so I guess you don’t need daycare.” (WHAT? I *work* from home. No one expects David to take the kid to the office and stick them in a playpen all day). “Well, I guess you’ll be scaling back your hours now.” (WHAT? Ask my husband that, you asshole.) “Well you’re pregnant, so I guess you can’t really work.” (WHAT? I’m having a really hard pregnancy and that’s still crap. I mean, if I was on bedrest, but till then mind your own business.) “Really? You’re going to be working? I thought you were more maternal than that.” (STAB BRAIN EXPLODE STAB RAGE.)

          Anyway, it’s a disaster. It’s like none of the gender equality stuff really crossed the parenting and pregnancy divide. Not… really. Just in a pretend way.

          • KC

            Yes, oh yes, on the stabbiness of assumption making. And on the “oh, working from home means you can take full care of a child at the same time with no problem!”. AARRGH. These people need to try to babysit while working sometime.

            From what I hear around, it is getting slightly more acceptable to get part-time daycare or nannying at our-ish age in more and more circles, so that’s a plus/hopeful thing? (imagine how stabby you would be getting if you were doing this 20 years ago? Does that help? Maybe not.) It’s also more acceptable and possible to have more flexible working arrangements, which makes some arrangements more plausible as well. But the default is definitely that if a dent is made, it’ll be made in the woman’s career, not the man’s.

            I think the gender thing on pregnancy/childbirth is less “fixable” because, honestly, from everything I hear, being pregnant is remarkably similar in reducing capacity to having a nine-month flu of varying degrees, or mono, or something. Not everyone gets quite the same productivity/brain output squashing, but it’s at least frequent. The body is doing something *incredibly* resource-intensive. Childbirth is also non-outsource-able, postpartum stuff happens, and then there’s the whole potentially-breastfeeding thing. (regarding which: I find it hilarious and kind of awesome that it used to be totally socially acceptable to hand off breastfeeding to paid help when in the upper classes; harder to find that nowadays, I think…)

            But yes; like some gender equality stuff stops with marriage (men should be able to do laundry for themselves… until they have a wife to do it for them; women should be able to provide for themselves financially… but should stop or should have a husband who makes more than they do), a *ton* more stops with parenting/pregnancy. There is no ironclad reason why it’s the mom’s job rather than the dad’s job to stay home from work if their school-age kid is sick. (times 1,000 other situations, like bringing cupcakes to a birthday party or being responsible for a kid’s clothes being the right size or being the one that pediatricians assume they’re supposed to confirm appointments with)

            But! Otters stacking cups! And other non-stabby things… Hope your day goes well. :-)

          • Liz

            We *just* started looking into part-time childcare because I’m struggling to keep up with workflow, and someone asked, “Oh, Liz, are you planning to get a job?”

            1) I ALREADY work from home, thanksverymuch.
            2) My husband also works from home!

            Cue teeth grinding and furrowed eyebrows.

          • meg

            PART time childcare? That better not be the only thing that’s acceptable, because we both have full time careers, and will have full day childcare! Just shame blasting for childcare for a minute there, because it’s a taboo that it’s really important we get rid of. I was a childcare worker when I was younger, and there is nothing at all wrong with the institution of childcare. It takes a village, after all.

            Also, re: pregnancy. Since I’m pregnant, I very much know the drill on what it does to your body in a huge way, trust me. No second hand info here. That said, it’s never ok for someone to assume that my capacity is limited because of pregnancy, parenthood, or otherwise, unless I offer information in that regard. Otherwise, please treat me as a functional adult. In short: while it may be visible, my pregnancy is no one’s business unless I specifically make it your business. Making assumptions about a pregnant woman’s capacity is a total non-starter in my book.

          • KC

            Re: part-time childcare being non-shameful for women who work at home (or are grad students, or who just plain want some time each week without their kid affixed to them), that’s mostly what I have data on, and at least it’s a start (as opposed to, say, 20 years ago, when I remember part time or full time childcare having a much larger stigma). I haven’t known as many who get full time, so I don’t honestly know what people say about that, but most of my friends are on the time/income scale where part time childcare makes more sense than full time (and where their husbands pick up some of the childcare load as well). Childcare in general seems to be getting more accepted – I just mostly have data on part-time. :-)

            I definitely agree that people should not assume that any specific pregnant woman is having a particular set of challenges or should assume that you just can’t do specific things (which always makes me more inclined to do them, but I am stubborn that way). My point was that the gender stuff in the case of pregnancy has a non-constructed biological effect (that is gender-uneven) helping to boost the socially constructed craaazy parts and that stuff is potentially likely to stick around longer for that reason. Maternity leave can help with some aspects, but the career implications of maternity leave are often not minor even though they should be; it should not be a shaming thing (or an “oh, you are just not Tough Enough” thing) in any profession to take up an agreement wherein you stop work or step work down a notch for a while when necessary for any I-am-a-human reason (taking care of aging parents; pregnant; hit by a truck; surgery; ill), but it is. (Personally, I’m currently very ill with something very funky and know I absolutely must cut back on or temporarily quit work or I won’t get better, but I resist that as a sign of weakness or something and want to take on everything, because part of my identity is/was being able to pull off 14 hour days when necessary and work very hard and stuff and Get Things Done and Tackle Anything. And that’s kind of ridiculous when taken from a long view; I will get more done, lifetime-wise, if I cut down now so my stupid body can heal itself.)

            Oh, gosh. I am an idiot and had not thought about the fact that since pregnancy gets so visible, *everyone* can be making those happy-happy judgements about you (not just work contacts where you might choose to communicate about, say, not scheduling a world tour during your last two weeks of pregnancy or something). Even a single case of “Oh, dearie, don’t lift that watermelon, it’s too heavy for you” would get me stabby (well, probably watermelon-throw-y), let alone the probably continuous stream. So sorry. :-(

  • Katie

    This is my situation exactly. My parents helped a lot with college, so I graduated with very little debt. My husband paid for college on his own and graduated with a lot of debt. At first he was very insistent that his debt be paid with “his” money, and it took him a while to really understand that we are in this together. His debt impacts the quality of both of our lives, not just his. We’re working hard to pay it off, and it is a sacrifice. Not going to lie, it sucks. I sometimes think about what we could be doing with that extra $1,200 every month. But at the same time, I know what a valuable investment his education was in our future, so it’s worth it. I think the most important thing is being able to deal honestly with the situation and to have the ability to communicate and work together to meet your financial goals. (And, I’d like to second everyone who said you should tell your parents to butt out. Though, you might want to ask to see the loan docs, so you have a better understanding of what you will be dealing with.)

  • Cassandra

    Oh my lord, your partner’s student debt is ZERO business of your parents. It would make me so so uncomfortable to know my partner had shared intimate details about my finances and my student debt with his parents. I sort of can’t get past that part. Sure, it’s normal for parents to be concerned about the financial viability of their child’s marriage, but the fact is that it’s *his* debt, not yours, and he is a grown adult, not their child. I also don’t blame your partner for viewing this as thinly-veiled classism. It is.

    I, personally, don’t think it’s appropriate to have one’s partner pay off one’s debts acquired prior to marriage. I have substantial student loan debt accrued from my BA and PhD, while my partner, very fortunately, has none. We plan to merge our finances post-marriage for the most part, but are keeping all debts pre-marriage (ie, mine) separate. Yeah, there will be months when my partner pays my share of the rent or groceries so I can make my full payments, and there will be times that he might pay some of it off in order to help me. But it’s *not* his responsibility, and I really firmly believe it shouldn’t be.

    Laws vary on this kind of thing from state to state and country to country, but I’m not comfortable with my partner sharing my debtload when he has none, and I’m especially not at all okay with my debt being shared with him in the event we divorce. Within our marriage if he assists me with payments or by paying more every day expenses, we’re okay with that, but I don’t think it’s fair to him not to consider the possibility for him to get stuck with my loans if we separate.

    If your partner is still in school, can he look into whether he has enough money at the moment to save $50 or $100 per month to put toward paying off his debt when it’s eventually due? I got *really* mad when I realised how much interest I would pay in order to pay off my debt and quite frankly just refuse to pay the government that much. When I sat down and thought about it, while my finances are very tight, I can cut back enough to put at least $1200 a year into paying off the principle before my loans come up for repayment, meaning I’ll owe less interest in the long-run. Every little bit helps…

    • meg

      See, for me, not helping to pay off my partners debt would actually be a deal-breaker. It’s debt WE are going to carry around for the rest of our lives till we pay it off, and it affects all our other financial decisions (when we take out a mortgage, for example). If he told me it was his to pay off and I couldn’t help, I’d tell him then we were not ready to get married. So that’s the flip side, from a partner without the grad school debt.

      (Yes, by the way, to being clear with each other about what financial details can and cannot be shared outside the marriage.)

      • Cassandra

        Well, we live somewhere where the automatic matrimonial regime involves keeping one’s personal debts separate if they aren’t joint debts for family needs, so to me it’s perfectly normal to keep such things separately – it’s not considered a joint debt under the law. Because we’ll be living somewhere after marriage that works differently, we’re notarizing an agreement that matches the default used where we’re from. I’m happy to accept my partner’s help, and I know he will want to help because he cares for my well-being (including my financial well-being), but I don’t personally think it’s anyone’s responsibility to pay my debts but mine.

      • Yes to the deal breaker!! I know I would have really struggled if my partner had brought significant debt to our relationship. However, I hope that if he had, I could have handled it as gracefully as he accepted my student loan debt. (The day that was “our debt” to handle versus my debt was a big deal to me.)

    • ElisabethJoanne

      I agree with Cassandra. I think the last paragraph of the post should have had a more explicit “in my opinion.” I don’t really know why I agree with Cassandra and California’s Probate and Family Codes on the matter, but I do, and that’s a valid, healthy stance, same as Liz’s and Meg’s.

      As I look at only two more months of arranging my separate finances, and having kept my name, I see finances as where there’s a big “before and after.”

      OTOH, I do see this attitude as putting him in an impossible situation. How else is he going to pay off pre-marriage debt except with post-marriage income, half of which is mine, again, by law? Nevertheless, we have a plan.

      • meg

        All of Ask Team Practical’s are always in our opinion, so we’re not going to offer individual disclaimers on each one. They are opinion pieces where you get to weigh in with your own opinions, that’s the beauty of it!

        That said, for people keeping finances separate, make sure you look into your state law, and possibly a well written pre-nup. Marriage and divorce law usually does not allow for much separation of finances (since combining assets is the foundation for the contract), so without a pre-nup, separate assets is often a fiction. So, make sure you protect yourself if you’re taking this route.

        • ElisabethJoanne

          When I talked about “two more months of arranging my separate finances” I meant “two more months as a single woman, aware that after we’re married our income and expenses will be shared, but our pre-marriage debts and assets will still be separate.” The plan I referred to is in strict conformity with the “default terms” of the California Family and Probate Codes.

          In other words, I’ve looked into it, and on the abstract level, we don’t need a pre-nup. We want exactly the arrangements of the Family and Probate Codes.

          • meg

            Yes! Totally not talking about you (since you’ve clearly done the research), just saying that in general that people keeping finances separate should always look at the law, and protect themselves accordingly.

  • Your parents are being weird. Student loan debt is like mortgages, as someone said above. An investment in the future. That said, if you have now or stand to be gifted substantial assets during marriages, I recommend you review the property laws in your state. If you’re in a communal property state, find out what’s separate, etc. It is a good thing to know, because sometimes what’s yours is mine, and sometimes it isn’t. What really matters is the emotional weight of the assets, and that’s not always something we understand about ourselves in our youths. Speaking from experience, not an inference about your emotional maturity, BTW.

    • Liz

      I love when Lisa tells it like it is.

  • Sarah RG

    When I moved in with my now-husband, we were pretty equal, financially. No student loans or other major debt, and we both had full time, steady jobs. My husband will always make more than me, as he is an engineer and I am a writer/teacher. But it felt equal going in.

    Last year, I quit my stable job in order to pursue an MFA in writing. We also got married that summer. So as we merged finances officially, I realized that I would have to take out loans for the very expensive private grad school I wanted to attend and his paycheck would be footing the bill. I had a lot of guilt about this, and still do whenever we sit down to hash out our finances. But my husband has to reassure me that this is an investment with OUR money in OUR future.

    It’s not that getting an MFA is going to make me get a big increase in pay, like becoming a lawyer or doctor would. There is a slight benefit in salary for teachers who have a graduate degree. But that isn’t the investment he’s talking about. He knows this will make me a better person, that it will improve my quality of life, and in the end that helps both of us and strengthens our relationship as a whole. (He has had to convince me of this several times, because I often feel like a burden.)

    So good luck–finances are tricky and frustrating. I would suggest talking about how you would like to merge finances when you marry, and the earlier you start talking about it, the better. It’s not easy, but necessary. There are many models that are out there, so find one that works for both of you. And be open to tweaking or changing that model down the road if needed. Because life is going to throw you things that you can’t see coming (job loss, health issues, etc) and sometimes what worked before doesn’t work in those situations. And don’t underestimate the weight of guilt he may be under. You may need to reassure him often that you are in this with him. (And on that note, bringing parents into the mix? Forget about it! That would make me feel ten times worse!)

  • Jashshea

    Longer, not on phone comment:

    I graduated from college with about 25k in loans (payoff amount, which includes interest over the expected 10 yr period). I got a good entry level job making about 40k and my payments were within a reasonable range (something like $200/month).

    I’ll pause here and explain that a) this was y2k and b) I was a CS major. Entry level, well paying jobs were fairly easy to obtain (but less easy to keep). I will double pause here to say that although I grew up middle class I was able to graduate from a very expensive college with relatively little debt (parents + scholarships + workstudy covered the other ~125k). Triple pause – I lived in a HCOLA in the northeast.

    So I had a responsible amount of debt and should have had an easy time paying it off. Instead I totally screwed that up. Long story short, I was about very quickly in way more debt than I made annually, got laid off, got a lower paying job and spent a good amount of time feeling scared and isolated about the issue. My biggest irrational fear was that my family and friends would find out how bad a state I was in. About 5 years later I finally broke the cycle and started to take care of business. I ended up getting a higher paying job with a decent bonus structure. I ended up paying off the loans about 3.5 years earlier than I was supposed to (along with all the other debt). It was an amazing feeling to do that myself.

    My story isn’t like your story, LW. I use it as a general cautionary tale to you younger people who haven’t had as easy a time finding good work and to remind you that your fiance needs your support while he contemplates the best way to get out of the situation. It’s likely he’ll eventually see the logic of working on it together.

  • Ash

    It’s also worth mentioning, how do you parents know of his financial situation in the first place? A part forming your new family needs to be creating boundaries with your family of origin. It’s difficult to establish and enforce these lines, after you’ve over-shared all details about your boyfriends personal finances.

    I’m not saying keep secrets, or have your parents in the dark. But be aware how your partner would feel about what you are sharing and- knowing your parents- how they will react.

    • meg


    • Ambi

      ASH, I completely agree with this, and I really really like how you expressed it. I had the same thought, but I was a bit uncomfortable with the other ways it has been expressed in the comments so far, because they seemed too critical of the poster and/or the parents. For some families, it would absolutely be within the norm to talk about things like this. But I think it is a really good point that, now that they are engaged, she needs to actively and thoughtfully set some boundaries. It may be hard for her parents to hear, but I think it would be good for the poster to discuss this with her parents, rather than simply trying to shut down any conversations with them that start to cross those lines. Be up front. Explain that they have raised you well and have taught you to be a smart and independant person, and now that you are getting married your baby family has to stand on its own. They may argue and be upset and they will probably have a very hard time letting go of control (because letting go of control is scary!), but I think they’ll eventually understand and respect that position. Keep in mind that you aren’t only dealing with this specific situation, you’re creating a framework for future interactions too, and I just think they will be much more understanding if you present it right now as a process of setting boundaries and being independant rather than disagreeing with them or ignoring them when they raise other similar issues in the future.

  • I agree with many of the commenters above that his student loan debt is none of her parents’ business. But I’m also noting that DEBT says her parents are “upper-class,” making me think they have assets she may eventually inherit, and that’s why they’re being extra-squicky about her merging finances.

    It’s not an excuse for bad behavior, or a reason to not establish boundaries. Quite the contrary — DEBT may want to formulate her response accordingly, acknowledging her parents fears in a nuanced type of way.

    • Laura

      I tend to agree with this, and want to add that their worry may also be coming from the perspective that, in a way (that is going to come out sounding cold and weird, but bear with me), *she* is one of their biggest investments. Of course they love their daughter and are thinking of her best interest, however misguided they may be, but they may also be considerin what it presumably has cost them to allow her to reach this point in her life, debt free. Which they presumably did to protect her from eventual hardships related to paying off debt. And now that she will be financially bound to someone with debt, they can’t protect her anymore. I’m just saying that, although they clearly just need to learn to let go, her parentsare probably coming from a place of care and protection.

      • meg

        Whew. You may be right, and that is LOADED STUFF.

      • Ros

        That was essentially my mom’s perspective, and fortunately she was able to actually articulate it that way, which went a long way to easing the situation. So, 100000X THIS.

        (Having a psychologist for a mother does have advantages…)

        • margo

          I get this. I can 100% see how the parents of DEBT might feel this way.

          But I don’t think that excuses the parents’ behavior OR changes the fact that DEBT needs to draw a line in the sand. Parents (can/do/should) invest in their kids in hundreds of ways. They feed them healthy foods and give them good educations and provide them with as many opportunities as they possibly can. Parents often invest heavily in teaching their kids their own beliefs, including them in their religious ceremonies and activities and culture.

          None of that would make it ok for parents to act in invasive ways to insure that the adult child follows all the rules and lessons they once had. They can’t tell their daughter what to eat, or what to study. It wouldn’t be ok for DEBTs parents to dictate how she and her fiance worshipped or didn’t, if or when they had kids or didn’t. Maybe they invested heavily in piano lessons because they wanted her to be a concert pianist when she grew up. If she doesn’t want to be one, would they be allowed to call her out on that and expect repayment for all the lessons they paid for?

          I don’t think so.

          So, yes. They could be worried that she is doing something that will take her out of the bubble of their (financial) protection. That’s called parenthood. You can’t protect your baby forever.

          • KEA1

            I want to print out this comment, photocopy it, and give it to *so* many people…”exactly” isn’t anywhere close to enough. %)

  • Jashshea

    Oh, and someone said upchain (can’t find now) something about paying off student loans early increasing your credit (I assume they meant score). I’m under the impression that while defaulting on student loans has a quick negative impact on your score, continuing to pay an SL on time (even if it’s the min) has a very quick positive impact on changing a lower score to a higher one. If your student loans are manageable, you have a mix of other types of credit, AND pay on time, you could have the same or higher score as someone w/no debt.

    The balance of your total debts plays into how much a bank or cc company would be willing to lend you.

    Disclaimer: These are my impressions of how things work and could be wrong.

    • Ambi

      This is also my understanding, and financial advisors often refer to student loan debt as “good debt” because it is usually relatively low interest, you get something great out of it (a college degree and increased earning potential), and paying it off consistently over time will help your credit rating. I have no reason to believe that paying it all off at once or paying it off early would hurt your credit rating, but paying it slowly and consistently over time isn’t a bad thing either, in terms of credit score. Interest, yes (you’ll pay more interest if you pay less each month and drag out the repayment time), but as far as credit ratings go, it is fine. Again, that is just my understanding, so if someone knows better, please feel free to correct us. I will say that I have student loan debt, had major credit card debt, but my credit score is surprisingly good (really good) because I always paid every bill on time every month and made at least the minimum payment. Once I got serious about paying off the credit card debt I paid a lot more than the minimum. And my credit score did improve. But even before that, when I was carrying 100K in student loans and almost 10K in credit card debt (all paid off now! Woot!!), I still had a really high credit score, which I found very surprising.

      • Jashshea

        Um, congrats. That’s a huge accomplishment, lady!

        • Ambi

          Thanks. Paying off credit card debt is SUCH a strange sense of pride and accomplishment. I mean, part of me wants to sing it from the rooftops, and part of me wants to hide the fact that I ever let myself get into so much debt. You know which part wins out, though? The part that has an extra $1,000 each month to put into savings (and do major home improvement projects with) rather than going to a credit card payment. For anyone struggling with credit card debt out there, please please please let go of the shame and guilt and focus on all that wonderful money you will have when you aren’t giving half your paycheck to a credit card company every month!

          • You said it, sister. Eerily parallel experience to yours. I wear my “all paid off” badge with pride.

            I also treat myself to brunch more often. :)

          • Jashshea

            I said it above – when I was underwater, I was terrified that someone would find out. As soon as I started paying it down, I talked about it more. And guess what? Other people (even people smarter than me) have been in debt and gotten out of it. Shame blasted!

    • tenya

      True! When I paid off my student loans and the stupid car loan I co-signed with my ex (altogether less than $8k) my credit score took a serious hit – from Very Good to Okay. It made me so annoyed! Here I thought paying off your loans improved your credit score, but not so much. My husband has a better score, with no credit cards (that are paid on time!) and five digits of student loan debt (never defaulted, though!).

  • KateM

    I struggle with this conversation, mostly because I think that marriage is about merging everything in your lives, your past, your present and your future. Your past mistakes make you who you are, and helped you get to the person that you choose to marry. The whole ” I am willing to take on everything about my partner EXCEPT, or I am willing to let him take on everything about me EXCEPT”. I am assuming everyone here would do anything to support a spouse and a family if one person lost a job, or was injured, or ended up on bed rest for 4 months, why wouldn’t you take on the financial burdens together from the get go? I just feel like money is considered the one exception to the rule for many people. Finances are so important to be on the same page about. I made some money mistakes when I was younger and consequently did some damage to my credit score. I was so scared to tell my then boyfriend about it, but felt that since we were getting serious it was his right to know my financial picture, and frankly, I his. I was so happy when we both knew the full picture and were able to move ahead and set goals together, so we both know what it will take for us to be able to buy a house, and get our finances in order together. Also, because I made the mistakes, I learned a hell of a lot about how to fix them, what I needed to do to make the situation better, how to live with in my means on a small salary, and even though I now make decent money those lessons are HUGELY helpful, and I am better about money planning than my husband.
    Second, I would have been mortified if he had told his parents about it. Our financial situation is completely between us, and that is something I am afraid DEBT needs to learn. Even the best parent will struggle knowing about things that can make their child’s life difficult. It is in their nature yes, but clearly there is some overstepping of boundaries on both side of this. So now in addition to 100k in debt, you have concerned parents and a very rightly insulted fiance who is now going to have to deal with his in-laws disapproval over student loans. DEBT definitely needs to tell her parents to but out. It is no one’s business but the couples.

    • ElisabethJoanne

      One very practical reason to not help with a spouse’s debts is if there’s a good chance they’ll be discharged. Sometimes bankruptcy is really the best long-term solution. Sometimes the borrower’s death is more likely than paying off student loans.

  • If there’s one piece of advice I can give the LW as someone in her partner’s place, it’s to be supportive of her partner and don’t hold his debt against him. I just graduated from law school and have 6 figures in student loans. I feel very fortunate that my fiancé accepts the debt as his own instead of asking me to entirely shoulder the burden. He will benefit from the salary I will earn as a result of my education, so it’s only fair that he also accept some of the burden of paying it off.

  • This video I watched earlier this week helped me put student loan debt in perspective. One big takeaway was that, assuming you have an average (frightening, but still average) amount of student debt, college will be ‘worth it’ over the course of your career if you make $1.75/hour more than you would have made if you had not gone to college.

  • Marina

    My husband had student loan debt when we got married, and I did not. Like your fiance, he felt very strongly that he wanted to pay it off himself, while I felt very strongly that it was OUR debt and affected OUR mutual goals, so should be paid from OUR money. After a lot of discussion here’s the compromise we came to: he put a certain amount from his paycheck towards his student loan, and I put the same amount towards other goals (in our case, saving to have a kid). This way the same amount was going towards both the debt and the savings as would have happened if we’d both paid half of each.

    Things got a little more complicated (as things tend to do) when he was unemployed for nine months. What we ended up doing was I paid his student loan from my paycheck, and when he got a job he “paid me back” by paying EXTRA on his loan. Winning all around, his loan got paid off a lot faster!

    I don’t know that either of those solutions will work for you, but I will say it was important for me to realize that it was quite emotionally important for my husband to feel like he was paying off his student loan himself. And it was important for my husband to realize that it was emotionally important to me to feel like we were contributing to our future as a team. I think once both of you get your heads around those two things it becomes easier to think of practical solutions.

  • CARO

    As the person in the relationship with all of the student loan debt and over involved in-laws, I think it’s vitally important to have a conversation with your parents if they are becoming insistant on seeing his loan paperwork. If you do not have a conversation with them, the situation will only worsen.
    Unfortunately, my husband and I did not have the conversation with his parents. We’ve been together for 7 years. One of which we have been married and only until this past summer did we speak to them about “our financial business is our financial business.”
    My husband and I could not be more different when it came to paying for college. His parents paid and he received many scholorships, meaning he didn’t have to pay a dime. Plus he graduated and went right into his decent paying career. I on the other hand, could not afford to pay anything so I received very little in grant money and took out loans for the rest. I also graduated with a teaching degree at the worst possible time for teachers, in a subject that has been cut back drastically. So I have been working a couple dollars over minimum wage at a part time job over the past two years, which covers just a little more than my loan payments each month. Oh, and we both have second jobs. I clean our apartment complex’s common area floors a couple time a month and he is a wedding videographer on the weekends.
    His parents always seemed to be understanding of my student loans and my inability to find a teaching job. That is until he was doing video for a wedding one weekend and I was over their house visiting with one of his visiting cousins and I overheard his mother. “He works too hard. If he needs more money then I’LL get a second job. He’s doing all of this to make sure SHE doesn’t go bankrupt!” (note: I work one hour less per day than a full time job). Upon hearing this, I ran out the door and cried, screamed, and was angry until I was just plain sad. She texted me and asked me to come back, not apologizing for her hurtful words. I told her that I didn’t feel comfortable. Then I realized that the only way I could ever face her again (which of course I would have to see them again) is if we sat down and had a conversation.
    I went back and immediately she said she was sorry and upset for what she said. I forgave her and, even though it is not her business, I explained to her about my financial situation and how we are handling it. I didn’t tell her the details, but I wanted to put her mind at ease. I wasn’t making excuses for it or saying that I was sorry. I’m not sorry. I wouldn’t give back my education for anything. Even though I’m not using my degree, I still use my education every day. It’s my debt. Even though my husband and I are dealing with it together, it is still my debt. Something that impacts me more deeply than it ever will my husband. And it felt good to stand up and defend it.

    • p.

      Kudos on going back and dealing with your in-laws. I can only imagine how painful that must have been for you, and how hard it must have been to have that conversation.

  • Ambi

    I have kind of hit on this above, but I want to explore it more fully, so here goes:

    I am really surprised by the fact that my own view of my student loan debt as a really good thing, not something I am all that stressed about let alone ashamed of or scared of or paralyzed by, seems to be relatively rare. In my social circle, we are basically all highly-educated professionals with college degrees and, in most cases, graduate degrees and other post-bachelors degrees. And almost all of us have student loan debt. Many of us have quite a bit. But I have never ever heard any of my friends talk about it in the ways that have been discussed here. Yeah, it is a financial responsibility, and we have less cash each month than we would otherwise, but we all tend to view it just like we would our house payment or car payment or the electric bill – it is a necessity, it is a part of life, and in the end we’re happy to pay it because we needed that education just like we need the house or car or electricity. My boyfriend is an example of someone who does not have student loan debt, because he had a trust fund to cover his education, but even his classist family has never expressed any kind of negative view about student loans. In fact, his own parents had them.

    My brother doesn’t have any student loans. He worked his way through college, and it took him almost 8 years to get his bachelor’s degree because he could only take the classes that he could afford to pay for at any given time. Why did he do it this way? Because he has never been a good student and he was extremely afraid of signing up for loans and then not being able to successfully finish his degree, thereby saddling him with all the debt and none of the earning potential. So he did it his way, and I think it was a really really smart decision. Now he is debt free and earning a good salary, and while he has missed out on several years of earning at that rate, he also has been able to put almost all of his earnings into savings from the start because he didn’t have debt. So, that is to say, to each his own, and there are different ways that you can do things. But, I view my student loan payments very much like I viewed my brother’s tuition payments – yeah, it is a big expense, but I have no quesiton that it is worth it, so I’ll pay this money in exchange for my education. The fact that I am doing it after-the-fact and he did it in advance really doesn’t change how I view the financial burden.

    And I think some of my pro-loans viewpoint is colored by the fact that (1) I was absolutely certain about the career path I wanted to pursue, (2) I was confident I’d be good at it, and (3) so far, I have never questioned the fact that I chose the career I did. It just fits me, and I enjoy it, and I’m good at it, and I can make a good living. So, for me, there is zero hesitation about viewing my loans as a good thing. But I guess if you didn’t have that kind of . . . stability? Peace of mind? . . . then loans may be much scarier, as they were for my brother.

    • Jashshea

      I agree with your view on SLs.

      My brother and I are 1 year apart in school. My parents saved and saved for years to send us to good colleges and were very clear with us from a young age that it was an expectation that we do so. I don’t know exactly what their salaries were, but I can promise that the double tuition at e. coast private colleges wouldn’t have been possible for them to swing without loans, merit scholarships, and other smaller subsidies (work study, smaller scholarships). Our educations were expensive and we both graduated with ~20-25k in SL debt.

      I’m eternally grateful to my parents for making it so that’s all the debt I had at graduation, but I believe it was a worthwhile investment in my future career. I learned more at that school than I learned in the classrooms – about 50-60% of the student body was…extremely privileged. I learned how to move in those circles, which is an odd but important life skill on occasion.

      That said, it makes me extremely uncomfortable when people go straight to 2nd degree programs without having any experience in their field of choice. Or, not uncomfortable exactly, but nervous for them – that it won’t work out and they’ll be saddled with a ton of debt and forced into a miserable career path just to pay that down.

      • Ambi

        I hear ya, but I think it depends on the situation. I went straight from college to law school, as did most of my law school peers, but I had already been working in a law firm as an office assistant for years during college, I’d taken several law undergraduate law courses that I loved, and I had a few lawyers in my circle of family and friends that I had watched and learned from (including one who hated it so much she changed careers). So, I basically had a good idea of what I was getting into, and I was lucky enough that it worked out well for me. I will say that I have so much respect for a few friends that dropped out of law school during the first year because they figured out it wasn’t right for them. I can’t imagine how hard that decision must have been, but it is so much better than going through the entire degree, taking on loans, and going through the stress and heartache of taking the bar and starting a career only to decide later that this isn’t the right path for you. So, kudos to people who know themselves and do what is right for them even if it is difficult. I happened to know myself and know that I was absolutely born to be a lawyer. In fact, my boyfriend joked the other day about us moving to Oregon and becoming goat farmers, and my gut reaction was No! I love being a lawyer! Despite popular culture’s portrayal of lawyers, some of us really do love our jobs.

        And I think this is part of why I feel so strongly about student loans. I cannot imagine myself being anything other than a lawyer. This is a huge part of who I am. Anyone who knows me will tell you that I found a career that is a perfect fit for me. So, when I think about the fact that student loans are undoubtedly responsible for allowing me to get here, and that without them I would probably be a much different person in very different circumstances and I kind of doubt that I’d be as happy and fulfilled as I am in my career now . . . well I get pretty defensive of how great they are. The federal financial aid program in general is a big issue that I look at when choosing a political candidate to vote on. More than almost any other social program we have in this country, I feel like it really changes people’s lives and raises entire generations out of poverty. So yeah, I am pretty passionate about it!

    • Ambi, I don’t want to categorize types of debt as “good” or “bad” but maybe we can call student loan debt (when taken on by someone who fairly confident in their career path, finishes their degree, etc.) is “well considered debt”? By and large, I don’t think anyone means to say that student loans are “bad” (DEBT’s parents being the exception of course!) but that debt in general is sort of difficult thing. Despite trying to place debt into “good” or “bad” categories, it really just means that we owe someone something and aren’t fully in charge of the money we make.

      Your debt averse brother must have decided that the opportunity cost for taking 8 years in college to graduate debt free was worth more than paying interest on a student loan. The semi-debt averse me says that I recognize I might need to utilize debt (mortgage, student loan, etc) but that I want out as fast as I possibly can (and forgo some treats to make that happen). Others are forced into borrowing to make ends meet. (There’s also others that just borrow a ton to have everything now. But I’m not sure how to deal with that delicately.)

      Being heavily in any kind of debt can be limiting and I think *that’s* where the “gross,” “bad,” “scary,” etc. feelings come into play.

      • Ambi

        I totally understand what you are saying. And I absolutely get that this is the way many people will look at it, and that that is just fine. All I am saying is that you don’t HAVE to view student loan debt that way. Whether you are cutting a check to the university for tuition or cutting a check to the student loan company, you are still out a whole lot of money, you still don’t have complete control of your money, and ultimately you have decided to give up that money in exchange for an education. I guess what I mean is that I just fundamentally don’t view my student loan debt as “owing someone something” – I view it as paying for my education. I am just doing it now, rather than earlier. But I don’t think it feels like any more of burden than it would have had I had to pay things upfront. For me, and many people, taking out a loan and deferring payment makes life so much easier and so much better. So, in that sense, I just really don’t view it as a cloud hanging over my head; every month when I cut that check I am damn glad I didn’t have to come up with this money before I had a degree and could earn a good salary. Coming up with it now is so much easier.

        So, yeah, I guess you can just say that all debt is scary or gross or bad because you owe someone money and therefore aren’t in control of your finances, but I just flat out disagree. Owing someone money, losing that bit of control of my finances is a small price to pay for what I got in return. Would it have been great to have a trust fund and never to have had to worry about this? Sure. But that is not reality for most of us. So I am comparing pay-your-way-upfront vs. taking out student loans, and student loans are a net positive in my opinion. All the good stuff far outweighs the grossness or scariness of owing someone money. And I have to reiterate that I think it is only “gross” or “scary” if you allow it to be. You can shame-blast that shit and take away the grossness. You can educate yourself about the loans and about your intended degree before you ever take them out. You can educate yourself about what your repayment options are, what your interest rate really means, and what your options are if you suddenly can’t pay. I know everyone doesn’t feel this way, but I really honestly, genuinely don’t view my loans as scary or gross or bad or anything like that. Not that I can’t understand what you are saying – I do – but I think it is important that all voices be heard on this and that other people see that there are some of us out there who have major student loan debt and are extremely happy to have been given the opportunity to amass that debt. Without it, college wouldn’t have been an option. So, I just feel really positively about it. It’s like, if your parents offered to loan you the money to buy your first house. Yeah, it means owing someone money and having debt. But you’d probably also be extremely grateful and happy to be given this opportunity, and you wouldn’t resent paying them back, and you would happily take advantage of the opportunity to put your current rent money towards building equity. I view my loans like that – I’m grateful and thankful to the government for giving me the opportunity and for making my life much easier by allowing me to focus on college when I was in college and to defer paying for it until I had significantly higher earning power.

    • ElisabethJoanne

      One of my corporations professors spoke of student loans as “consumption spreading.” We weren’t borrowing from the banks or the government; we were borrowing from our future selves. I think that’s a totally reasonable lifestyle choice, or even a merrily true fairy-tale: to be middle-class throughout our lives, rather than really struggling at the beginning and living lavishly at the end.

      I see my student loans as a responsibility I took on, eyes wide-open: something like a personal relationship or volunteer work. I did it for a kind of personal fulfillment (to qualify for a job I like), just like I might take on a volunteer project for a non-profit I care about. The nitty-gritty isn’t always fun, but I take great satisfaction in being a responsible adult.

      • Ambi

        Oh, I really love this! This is exactly how I view my loans – not as owing someone else money, but basically as if my younger self borrowed it from my older self!

  • charmcityvixen

    I told my fiance at the beginning of our relationship that I wouldn’t marry him or agree to marrying him until he could a) stop living beyond his means, and b) get rid of any and all leftover debt from his previous marriage (not a lot left at that time, but I was adamant about clean starts and about him learning how to manage his reduced income — child support is expensive and he didn’t realize at first how to live within his means). This seems to be a contrary opinion, however, there was reasoning to it.

    One of my close friends came out of a very abusive marriage where her ex would fly out on these lavish vacations, cheat on her, rack up credit card bills, and then come home and be an absolute pig. When they got divorced, she had to move back in with her mom and pay off the credit cards that HE accrued. I wanted both of us to be fiscally responsible when we get married as our debt will be BOTH of ours. And besides having a wedding credit card that we are paying off, we have very little outside of my car payment in terms of debt.

    I’m saying all this because debt is no joke (in my mind, anyway), and I started trying to prove my fiscal responsibility (HARD FOR ME, LET ME TELL YOU!) to my future husband the minute I knew I would be marrying him. We both cleaned up our act, starting saving, and are getting married in September! I’m so happy for us, and I’m so happy for our early frank conversations about debt.

    • Ambi

      You aren’t alone, and you are right that debt is a very serious and hard subject. My boyfriend and I had similar discussions, and those discussions had a lot to do with me paying off my credit card debt before we got engaged. My student loan debts we see differntly, but as has been discussed at length, that is all very personal based on your specific situation and circumstances. In our case, credit card debt was a deal breaker, but he fully supported my decisions to take out student loans and he is planning to help me pay them when we are married.

    • Copper

      I don’t think there’s anything wrong with what you required of him. It’s one thing to accept that a partner had circumstances in the past that required them to take on debt, but another thing entirely to be ok with them continuing to accrue debt due to bad habits. Him finding a way to stabilize and stop the accrual sounds like it needed to happen whether he married you or not, so pushing him to clean up his act in that regard seems like a positive thing.

    • Natalie

      I am so sorry to hear about your friend! How terrible and what a scary thought :-/

  • JessietheBrit

    Thank goodness, at the moment, student loans in the UK are paid off as a percentage of your earnings, as you earn, and you don’t pay if you’re not getting paid. And it doesn’t show up on credit checks- so it doesn’t affect your ability to get a mortgage. However they keep messing with the system so I fear my kids will one day be faced with these kinds of conundrums.

  • Sarah

    Sad I missed when this thread was hopping yesterday. A question in case anyone comes back and works their way through: any advice for finding a financial adviser? I expect people here have more practical to my life advice for where to start than google.

  • Natalie

    This is a very interesting question, and is definitely something worth bringing up.

    I married a lawyer who had his undergraduate career paid in full thru a generous scholarship, and then had law school half paid for. He still has about 80k in student loan debt.

    Debt is something that, like the author of the question, I never had to deal with. My parents wiped away my student loans for both undergrad and grad school as a way to help me and my husband ‘start off well’ and not have to worry about my loans in addition to my husband’s hefty debt.

    Does it affect our day-to-day? We have only lived with combined finances and under the same roof since we have been officially married 2 months. Our debt differences come up in fights; I essentially have a feeling that there’s some resentment on his end that I do not have student loan debt, and that my parents are financially able to help me (and, in turn, help US) save money instead of throwing it at loan debt (which is, sadly, for most people, a lot of interest right now since rates have been insane for the lasr 3-5 years.)

    My personal opinion, at least for my own relationship at this point, is to say that student loans helped my husband get an amazing job and have a great career, which benefits our entire household—now and for the next 50 years—when we have children; when I plan to stay home part-time to raise our kids. It essentially benefits the entire family unit, so I have done everything I can to help my husband pay off his debt, even though I have struggled to find full-time employment for the last 14 months. In my opinion, it’s a team effort and the burden of paying back loans should be a group effort.

    STILL–on the parental involvement topic–it is very hard to manage boundaries with parents (believe me…I’m the worst at it) but it kind of isn’t their business. That’s my tough-love answer for them. They need to trust you and know that you are old and mature enough to make the right decision for yourself—after all, you will soon be married. The thing I learned is that drawing lines with family early on in a marriage makes things much easier down the road. Otherwise, parents and family never break away in a healthy manner and continue to think that ‘giving advice’ or ‘helping you’ (which is actually meddling in disguise) is normal. When does it stop? When are lines drawn in the sand and not crossed?

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