Student Debt Is Going to Be A Huge Problem for Millennial Marriages


Because it's getting worse before it's getting better

by Maddie Eisenhart, Chief Revenue Officer

black woman at computer with calculator

One of the benefits of marrying young is that Michael and I never had much of an opportunity to surprise each other with finances. We started dating before I was legally able to hold a job, and our bank accounts have been linked in some way or another since I was eighteen. So by the time I graduated college and was staring down my first student loan payment, we’d had plenty of time to reconcile the very, very, very large number on the bill.

Sometimes I forget that massive student loan debt is somewhat of a uniquely millennial problem. For me, it’s always felt like a foregone conclusion. College is expensive, we didn’t have the money to pay for it, and that means you get slapped with loans. A+B=College loans or bust.

But it wasn’t until I started talking with Meg about our respective years at NYU (currently one of the worst schools in the country in terms of both cost and student loan debt), that I was made aware of just how much the game had changed in the six short years between when she went to school and when I did. It’s a particularly interesting case study, since Meg was technically born the last year before the millennial generation started. So even though, day to day, we act and look like the same generation, our financial histories are different simply because of the generational math of when we happened to be born.

Let’s do some numbers, shall we? Between the year that Meg graduated and the year I graduated, a four-year degree at NYU had increased in cost by 11%. But since Meg graduated and now? It has risen from an inflation adjusted amount of $48,000 per year to over $75,000. Not a typo. $75,000. A year. But that’s not the only problem. As tuition skyrocketed, the percentage of the tuition that private four-year schools offered in scholarship money held essentially flat. (Worse, the proportional scholarship numbers at four-year public schools actually got worse.) Which means you end up with student loan debt figures like this one from CollegeBoard:

And granted, while NYU is one of the most expensive schools in the nation, it’s certainly a symptom of a much bigger problem. You can see how these numbers play out nationally in charts like this one, from qz.com. (Don’t even look at student loan debt delinquency charts if you want to sleep at night.)

chart of outstanding federal student loan debt

So let’s say you’re lucky enough to have parents who can contribute $20,ooo per year to your tuition. Assuming the rest is made up in student loans, the difference between Meg’s debt and yours (inflation adjusted) would be $20,000 vs. $55,000, per year.

Which means that, within a generation, student loans have morphed from a manageable expense (the kind that baby boomers love to tell us you can pay off by mowing lawns over the summer) into a financial beast with very sharp teeth. This phenomenon has, of course, been talked into the ground. But what we haven’t discussed is what this phenomenon does to a marriage. Because there is no way six-figure debt (which doubles if you marry someone with their own debt) isn’t going to put some kind of strain on a marriage. So I polled some friends to see how they were managing things. And while most of us graduated before the crazy post-recession tuition hikes, the answers still varied across the board:

One person said they paid off student loans together, but kept the actual debt separate, while merging all other finances:

In our household, while we have significant student loan debt, it’s not enough to feel like we’re drowning in it (at least in relation to our incomes), which makes us feel super lucky. The break down is this: I paid off my student loan debt before we got married, and my partner has grad school loan debt. Since we have joint finances, we pay the monthly payment together, no questions asked. However, when it came to paying down the loan faster, my deal with my partner is that he needed to pick up part-time work to do that. I wasn’t going to put things like my bonuses toward his student loans. Mostly, this was because I had paid off my undergrad loans on my own, and his parents had paid for his undergrad in full, so he’d never had to pay off loans. I felt like he needed the experience in working on paying off loans (faster) on his own. It’s worked out well. While we feel jointly responsible for the loan payments, he has a lot of pride in watching the number shrink.

Also, I should note that because federal student loans attach to the student alone (they are not marital property), I refused to refinance the loans in a way that would attach to me. I’m happy to help pay them off, but if my partner died or we got divorced, I wouldn’t want to be responsible for them.

While another kept their loans totally separate:

My husband and I both have a big chunk of student loan debt and we pay our own loans separately. We’ve discussed pooling our resources and aggressively attacking our student loans one at a time to pay them off faster, but we haven’t put anything in place to make that happen. We still kind of operate as two individuals who split the joint expenses. Also our other financial goals are taking precedence over our student loans, like saving for retirement and for a house. I would like to see us prioritize paying them off or paying them down significantly in the near future.

One talked about the stress that different styles of handling debt can produce:

Today student loans are a non-issue in our marriage: we both have minimal monthly payments (thanks to early ’00s schooling) with low interest rates and neither of us prioritize paying them off sooner than we’re scheduled to. BUT. When we were very early into our dating days, I found out my partner hadn’t been paying his loans for around three years because he was making cash money, and like… dropped off the grid? Once he got a real job, the loan people found him and threatened to garnish his wages if he didn’t immediately pay $800—which was about as much as the vacation we were supposed to go on the very next day cost. My uber responsible loan-paying self had a meltdown in a public place when I found this all out, but to his immense credit, he quietly sorted it all out, hustled the money up from somewhere, AND still paid for his half of the vacation. Oh, and hasn’t missed a payment since.

And then there’s the outlook that most closely resembles my own:

Student loan debt was something that happened for us before we even realized the extent of its ramifications. We now have a ton of it, and no real clue when or if it will ever be paid off. We haven’t had this impact us negatively in any real, big picture kind of way, but we’ve also never tried to buy a house or an expensive car. Our student loan debt even kind of feels like pretend debt, the same way it felt like pretend money when we first received it.

As for me, if I were to get married now, I’d hate for my student loan debt to be counted against me. Taking on my loans was a decision I made when I was a child, before I had any idea what nearly six figures of debt would do to my life. But on the flip side, should we have take responsibility for the financial decisions our partners made alone, before there was a partnership to consider?

But beyond the personal implications, my concern for the rising costs of a four-year education is of the bigger picture: As tuition increases skyrocket, what is student loan debt going to do to the thing we think of as “marriage” moving forward? Because massive debt starts a ripple. We’re already getting married later, having kids later, buying homes later. What happens when you add (two) six-figure repayments to that mix?

Do you or your partner have student loans? How have they impacted your relationship?

*Tuition sources: NYU.edu via the Wayback Machine

Maddie Eisenhart

Maddie is APW’s Chief Revenue Officer. She’s been writing stories about boys, crushes, and relationships since she was old enough to form shapes into words, but received her formal training (and a BS) from NYU in Entertainment and Mass Media in 2008. She now spends a significant amount of time thinking about trends on the internet and whether flower crowns will be out next year. A Maine native, Maddie currently lives on a pony farm in the Bay Area with her husband, Michael and their mastiff puppy. Current hair color: Purple(ish).

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  • Amy March

    Usually the fact that I haven’t found a partner yet makes me sad, but I am really glad I’ve gotten my debt from 130k to 20k on my own so I don’t need to worry about burdening someone else with it. And while I definitely wouldn’t rule someone out because they have student loan debt, and I’m comfortable with the concept of treating it as all our money and our debt, it would be a real struggle for me to accept spending my money on his debt if I felt like he hadn’t been responsible about paying it off without me.

    • Green

      Wow, Amy March, big congratulations on paying down so much of your debt! That’s truly impressive. Any tips for the rest of us just starting to wade into the repayment waters?

      • Amy March

        Nothing special. I was fortunate to get a job out of law school and stay employed. I started out on the 10 year standard repayment plan and have gradually increased what I pay every month so I’m on track to pay them off early. Plus all of my tax refunds go straight to my loans, any bonuses, and a few thousand gift from a generous grandfather. $1500 a month in loan payments hurts, but it’s also automatic for me at this point.

        I would just say start as you mean to go on and think big picture. All the lattes in the world don’t help as much as living with roommates/somewhere affordable.

        • Eenie

          Live somewhere affordable!!!!!!!! Yes!

        • Sarah

          Yes, I get hives when I think of living in San Fran/Portland/basically any West Coast place that sounds awesome. We’re fortunate when can afford to live within a few hours of family though…it’d be very tough to do this if our families lived in a high-priced area.

          • We left Portland last year because we had to start choosing between paying rent on time and… everything else.

        • Michela

          Wow Amy- this is so so impressive. Thanks for giving me some hope we’ll be able to aggressively pay down my loans like we’re planning to. What an accomplishment!

    • anon

      THAT IS AWESOME. I don’t have anything productive to add, sorry. Just wanted to tell you that that is a fantastic achievement.

    • G.

      I’m in a similar boat — single and paid off my loans diligently through my early 30s, and I too think it would be really hard to partner with someone who hadn’t similarly put in the effort to pay down the loans in the same period of time (notably, my age also means that because I’m not a millennial, my student loan debt–including my MA–was a lot less than a lot of debt accrued more recently and interest rates were a lot lower (I think mine were 2.x%). I know there are many reasons potential suitors could have more debt than me and not have been in the circumstances to pay it off, but the line for me would be regular payments over time to bring down the total debt (in part because that, to me, signals a type of fiscal responsibility that I want in a partner).

      • a few

        we refinanced about 3 years ago, when interest rates were crazy low, and still have a 6.x% APR! WTF government?!? And, they are locked in that rate until paid off… not that any place with touch student loans anymore… thanks again, government!

        • Eenie

          If you refinanced it’s not the government that set your rate, it’s the private lender. Did you consolidate? Consolidating doesn’t actually lower your rate.

          • a few

            I guess we technically consolidated and refinanced at the same time, because there were about 6 loans that got merged into 3 loans with starting rates at 8+% each that are now at 6.x% each. Not sure of all of the details, but the government now owns the previous fanny may loans. We have been told that they cannot be refinanced by private lenders. the ones that originally were private lender loans were not able to be consolidated at that time.

          • Duke Alum

            You can refinance with aprivate company (such as SOFI) but you would want to consider the protections you may give up should SHTF.

    • Jessica

      WOW that is so impressive!

    • a few

      I was actually offered this choice, in no uncertain terms, and I chose husband with a mountain of debt over not being with him. I said that we could get married in a courthouse the next day if he needed me to prove it to him! (We ended up having a larger wedding about a year later.) The things we will do for love! And, 4 years later, I would chose him again in a heartbeat!

    • TeaforTwo

      That last sentence makes perfect sense to me. It wasn’t important to me to marry someone who had a lot of money, but it was important to marry someone who was good with money.

      We don’t have private universities in Canada, so the average student debt is around 27K since tuition is so much cheaper. I wouldn’t think twice about a partner who owed that much fresh out of school…a partner who hadn’t made any progress on that debt ten years later, but who liked to travel and drove a new car would send me running for the hills.

    • Danielle

      My husband went back to school this year for a long-term career goal. It’s great, but means we’re getting into debt – will probably be near six figures by the end.

      I pretty much had a panic attack when co-signing on the loans, and get upset anytime I think about it. I am also earning most of our income at this point, and for the next few years while he’s in school.

      It’s a lot of stress :/ Also, we’re not Millennials but on the cusp of Gen X – we’re in our mid-late 30s and this is his 2nd career.

      • Michela

        Good for you for being supportive of your partner even when it’s difficult. I can totally understand how that would be stressful and daunting and panic-inducing. Sending you lots of good vibes!xo

        • Danielle

          Thanks Michela <3

          Sometimes I wonder if it's too much though. We have been going through some hard times recently and the money is just one more thing I am giving to the relationship; I'm starting to feel resentful. (Yes, I know, couples counseling. Just being brutally honest here.)

          • Duke Alum

            Hugs.

          • Danielle

            Thanks. From a UNC alum :)

          • Michela

            That’s what this space is for- brutal honesty and community. I really hope things get better. I have panic attacks about money too (meds help- I’m being brutally honest now), so I really understand where you’re coming from. Hopefully the psychological benefits of his happiness/motivation/enthusiasm for his new career will make the financial burdens more manageable? Either way- sending lots of warmth your way.xo

          • Danielle

            Thanks michela. I also take medicine and it helps so much. Yay for medicine! Thank you, science ???❤️

    • joanna b.n.

      Hmm. My husband married me when I had $30k in loan debt, and willingly took it on as our problem despite the fact that I hadn’t made any progress on it by 25, given how hard it was to get paid more than my basic living expenses. And it made a huge difference to me, since it was (to me) a shameful part of my life, that he embraced it without judgment.

  • Green

    My partner and I met in grad school (which is a whole other thing in terms of student loan debt that is rarely factored into student loan discussions. Grad school is very expensive and does not necessarily equal high salaries!) so the student loan debt worries and questions were discussed early. Truthfully, it is a relief that we both have debt, kind of evens up a crappy playing field. But we’re in this together and working on it together, and one person suffering silently does not make our marriage stronger. That said, no way would we ever merge this debt, the thought of saddling the other one with our tremendous bill in the midst of something tragic is cruel. We’re working so hard to pay things down, and while we’re hanging on and doing okay, homeownership is probably not going to happen anytime soon (ever?). Not to mention worries over how this will affect our future family.

    • Erica G

      Yea we are handling ours in a similar way, not combining the debt and we each pay our own out of our own paychecks, but we are otherwise combining our finances and bills, which makes the process of paying the loans easier on both of us. I have less debt than him over all, but I also make a lot less money at the moment, so the dynamic may switch in the future, but for now this works.

      • Erica G

        Oh and also, we just bought a house. We basically said “fuck it” and decided that as long as we got a home that was no more expensive per month than our apartment that it would be worth it in the long run. So don’t let the debt be the thing that keeps you from buying a home. The bank will certainly look at it, but as long as you aren’t buying a house beyond your means, it can be possible.
        We don’t plan on having kids, so I can’t help you there, honestly the financial burden of kids is one of the MANY reasons I don’t plan to have any.

        • Eenie

          You should also have an emergency fund. When you rent, you are not responsible for any major repairs to the dwelling. So just because you can afford a house that has the same mortgage+taxes+insurance payment as rent was, please don’t forget about the unexpected repair costs (not directed at you, but this is easy to forget about. Renting has extra benefits of flexibility and less risk).

          • Lisa

            So true on the renting front. We could have probably saved $200+/month by buying a house for the duration of my husband’s degree instead of renting. This is hard for me to swallow sometimes, but I have to remember that we’re paying for the flexibility of being able to leave when we want to and to not have to deal with things like the dryer not working or the dishwasher not draining.

          • Eenie

            Yes! Consider that money well spent. We tripled the number we wanted in our emergency savings when we bought a house.

          • Eenie

            Plus our home price is going up (yay?) so our taxes are going up too. We’re paying about $150 more this year than last year per month because of it (his mortgage rolls them all into one payment since it’s through USAA).

          • Kara

            Yay for USAA! Texas property taxes can be a beast, but it was all factored into planning a home we could afford with repairs + emergencies + etc.

            Flood insurance is a must for us, too. We don’t live in a flood plain, but we live in Houston, so there’s always a chance.

          • Jessica

            We ended up with a mortgage about $500/month more than our rental cost, for the same house. I do warn my friends that buying isn’t always cheaper than renting.

          • lildutchgrrl

            It isn’t always, but some circumstances make it worthwhile. There was no way my wife and I could rent a 3BR apartment in the Bay Area, but we are paying slightly more each month (including mortgage, taxes, and insurance) for our 3BR/2BA fixer than we did for our junior 1BR apartment 3 years ago — and very possibly less than any 1BR apartment would cost us now.

          • Michela

            Planning a cross-country move to SF next year. Would love to hear more about your housing experiences!! (I review popular rental websites weekly and I’m freaking terrified).xo

          • lildutchgrrl

            I haven’t been following closely now that we aren’t renting or looking to buy, but the scary articles make their way to my feed. I am inclined to believe them. What’s your main concern?

            I couldn’t ever afford market rate in SF proper; I lived there for a few years after college because my family owned a house out in the Sunset and charged me a nominal rent. For about a year and a half, my best friend since middle school also lived there with me. When I transitioned to the East Bay in 2010, I sublet a room for a month (two?) and then found a 5-person share situation that was dirt cheap — and for a reason, it turns out. (Several reasons, actually. Revolving roommates, upstairs roommate 1 shooting up with friends and having parties, upstairs roommate 2 illegally subletting to someone the rest of us had never met or heard of until he used a key to come in while the property manager was fixing something, upstairs roommates never cleaning their kitchen and rarely doing dishes, personal safety concerns.) The other downstairs person and I joined forces and moved out not much later. I viewed/toured a LOT of places off Craigslist and applied to 3 or 4 that I would have been happy to take — the others cost a little more and I wasn’t chosen even with a job, an okay credit score, and no negative rental history. That is, it was NOT a buyer’s/renter’s market in 2010.

            We found that junior 1BR in a small building for just over a thousand a month IIRC. My girlfriend moved in as planned — 3 people and 2 cats in a small 1BR — and we all lived there for about 2 years. Saved a bunch during this time — I paid off $30k of grad school and also a $3k wedding and more into adoption, retirement, and other savings funds. The housemate moved away and my by-then-wife and I had the place to ourselves as newlyweds (our bed stayed in the living room and the little bedroom became a study and storage). The rent went up every year like clockwork, to the max the landlady could get away with (thankfully not much in Oakland). We were paying $1125 by the time we left at the end of 2014 — other 1BR listings were $1500 or so in the same area. I was prepared to pay up to $2500 for a 2BR place (hopefully a house), and see if we could find another housemate until our first kid was on the way. But then I received a small inheritance from my grandmother, and we were able to buy a fixer-upper instead. The monthly PITI was about $1460 when we closed, and after property taxes went up we’re at $1600/month for a 3BR/2BA. Most months I make a $2000 payment to get the principal down a bit.

          • Michela

            My main concern is simply not being able to afford a 2-bedroom in SF proper. My current multi-tabbed Excel spreadsheet shows we could, but for some reason I’m not trusting the numbers since we don’t live around there and so perhaps there’s some costs I’m unaware of. We could save money with a 1br, but we’re a bit stuck on the 2br since my fiancé desperately needs an office since he works from home (crouched over the coffee table while sitting on the couch in our 1br right now is bad for his back and his morale). We are also pretty set on a 2br because we’ll be 4,000 miles from my family and 8,000 miles from his and want to be able to host family for extended periods of time..

            Maybe we’ll consider Oakland like you mentioned, instead. This is, of course, all very dependent upon where I can find a job, so who knows what will happen.

            Thanks again for all your GREAT info. Can’t wait to share this with my (Dutch!) fiancé tonight, @lildutchgrrl:disqus <3

          • Biding my time

            I mean, if your fiance WFH, you should definitely look into Daly City, South SF, Burlingame, Oakland. If you don’t NEED to live in SF proper, current wisdom says not to.

          • Biding my time

            Real life numbers for you:
            2010 – rented 1 room in 3br apartment, Redwood City = $550/month
            2011 – live in nanny, Redwood City = $0 (they paid $2300 for a 3br house)
            2013 – rented converted studio attached to a house in Redwood City = $750/month
            2014 – (got married) 1br in San Jose = $1670/month
            2015 – 1br in Menlo Park = $2195/month

            Friend is living in SF proper, her 2br apt (shared between 3 people and 2 cats) is $4700 this year and $5100 starting in July. Good luck!

          • Michela

            Literally l-o-l at your “good luck” mere words away from $5100/mo rental rates ; ) Thanks so much for the data points, especially the SF proper 2brs. That’s where we’re looking, and my research shows rates somewhere around $3500, so your info makes me think I need to dig a little deeper.

            Thanks again!!xo

          • Keeks

            We own a house and i would do almost anything to go back to renting. Seriously. Furnace on the fritz, termites, a new fence (have you tried building a fence in a historic district? so much paperwork)… and that’s just in the first 4 months of this year.

    • anon

      It’s also wise not to combine it because student loan debt is not dischargable in bankruptcy. It’s really the one debt that will stick with you no matter what until death so, morbidly, you may as well let it die with someone if that’s the only way to get rid of it. #childofabankruptcyattorneywhopredictedthestudentloandebtcrisisyearsago

      • Lulu

        And I think if you consolidate both spouses’ student loans together, it’s not even dischargable if one dies. I could be wrong– but I’ve definitely heard that you should never merge.

        • Eenie

          Never merge.

        • anon

          Right. If the debt is merged, it’s not separatable, so even if one person dies the loan sticks because it’s impossible to distinguish which debt belonged to the deceased.

        • a few

          I have heard that, too. luckily, they were all his/his parents’ loans and are now all technically in his name. we did this a few months before we got married so that they would all be in his name only.

      • Meg Keene

        YES. YES YES YES. Also, in the case of divorce, you don’t want to walk with your ex-spouses student loans.

  • anon

    I went to a state school on a full academic scholarship. I don’t know if I could have even seriously dated someone who took on six figures of student loans for a private school degree that wouldn’t get them a job that could pay it off in a good economy. I’m not saying this to boast – not everyone lives in a state with a good school (something I feel like other people in my boat refuse to acknowledge), not everyone has a stable enough home life to get the grades and development needed to do well in high school, and life can just generally not work out that well – but I don’t think it’s necessarily an uncommon viewpoint. Financially, when one partner can (and agrees to) help pay loans off, that should lessen the impact, but what if it’s just debt-free/minimal debt folks together and awful exploitative-industry-amounts of debt together? As if there aren’t enough class dividing issues out there already….

    • Erica G

      Most people took on this debt because we were told by parents, teachers, counselors, etc.. that if we went to college we would all be able to get jobs that would pay it off… When I entered college the economy was FINE and the industry I was planning to enter paid well. But when I graduated in 2009, the jobs were gone and all anyone wanted to give me was an unpaid internship. I will also point out that while I was a 4.0 student, my school (also a State school) did not offer full academic scholarships. I was given a nicer dorm room and a $500 stipend for being an Honors Student. Don’t judge someone by their college debt, it is not a character fault.

      • Anon

        I’m not judging them. I also pointed out that it’s not possible or even wise for everyone to go to their state school for a variety of reasons. I also said “good economy” for a reason – plenty of job markets that were stable when we started school were unstable by graduation, but certain degrees will always have an extremely low chance of paying back a mortgage worth of loans, no matter the state of the economy. Finally, I reiterate my agreement that the loan industry is exploitative and takes advantage of the lies parents have been fed by the media.

        The reality is, the lifestyle of dating someone with over $100,000 in loan debt with no real chance of ever paying it off themselves would be very different from dating someone with half that amount.

      • a few

        that is about what happened to me, too. got a few token scholarships for about $750-1000 per semester – still had to pay the other $3500 for tuition and room and board at a state school.

    • But even state school tuition is going up at ridiculous rates. I went to a state school, and my tuition went up 15% every year that I was there and this was in the early 2000s. That’s just tuition. My fees also doubled to pay for things like the fancy new football stadium that opened AFTER I GRADUATED. But I was still expected to pay for it as a current student. Then add in housing (and at my school, living off campus was actually cheaper than the dorms and a meal plan), books, etc and it’s easy to hit a significant amount of debt by the time you graduate.

      If anything, tuition is going up faster at state schools because a lot of states don’t have the $$$ to fund their state schools like they used to, and thus they have to rely on higher tuition and fees.

      • Anon

        Yeah, I actually found out recently that there are no full tuition scholarships at my Alma mater anymore, grades and test scores be damned. :( I’m a little too far out of school to try and court a college student, so it wouldn’t really be a factor even if I were single, but it really made me think – it seems bad right now with almost everyone crushed by debt and only those with deep-pocketed parents or able to get academic scholarships making it out unscathed. What’s going to happen when it really is ONLY kids from wealthy families who can make it work? It’s stressful to think that it’s only getting worse, not better.

        • a fwe

          exactly – my hubs tried, as a white male with average grades, to get a scholarship – he didn’t end up with any. probably still wouldn’t get any now, either.

          • anon

            I’d rather tuition just be free for everyone. You shouldn’t be penalized for being average. The reason I couldn’t see myself dating someone with $100k in debt for a less practical degree is because I don’t want to sign up for spending all my/our money on someone else’s debt with no chance of escape (and, hell, what happens if I lose MY job?). But that same person with less or no debt? Not even remotely the same.

            Then again, I never dated as an adult. Maybe it’d have been different if I didn’t meet my FH in college. I knew he had student loan debt and didn’t even care how much at the time.

      • Kay

        “If anything, tuition is going up faster at state schools because a lot of states don’t have the $$$ to fund their state schools like they used to, and thus they have to rely on higher tuition and fees.”
        THIS. I work at a public university that has the “honor” of both having the highest in-state tuition (which equals debt for most of our students) and the lowest funding contribution from the state government. These are not coincidences.

    • CMT

      I mean, you do you, but it does sound like you’re blaming individuals for what is really a structural problem here.

      • anon

        I wouldn’t personally consider an inability to imagine the logistics of dating someone to be the same as blaming them for something. But then, I never casually dated, so maybe that plays a part.
        To be blunt, I have to worry about supporting my parents who didn’t prepare for their future on top of setting up my own future given the instability of the industry I work in. The thought of voluntarily taking on someone else’s $100k+ debt for a degree that isn’t marketable when the market is GOOD (which is the situation I laid out previously, if you read the comment) is neither a happy or sad thought – I just can’t even imagine it. It’s a neutral thought because I can’t envision how that would work without a lot of anxiety and stress, which is not a relationship goal for me.

        • EF

          What makes a degree ‘good’?

          There are plenty of unemployed engineers. There are Literature majors who go straight into publishing and make money, and philosophy majors who become great policy workers. People look at my degree and say ‘what were you thinking!?’ and I point out the critical reasoning, research, and fine writing skills that have led me to every single job I’ve had.

          I have a hard time thinking there is brightline here.

        • Amy March

          To me it just feels like the kind of judgment we all get to make in choosing a partner- I think it’s actually fine to look for someone with whom you have things in common, whether that’s values, or hobbies, or finances. Not wanting to date someone who differs from you in a significant way isn’t necessarily a punishment or blaming them, just one of many ways you go from entire-universe-of-eligible-people to just one.

          • anon

            I read a comment elsewhere on this post from a user that said she took a comment from her SO about hating debt very personally, even though she rationally knew that it was unlikely to be a personal slight. Based on my FH’s reactions to his own debt (which he has because he didn’t take college applications seriously, and I love him, but I’m not going to lie for him), I’m getting more insight into the emotional stress of carrying student loan debt more than any blog post or article has ever given me. I think once you have your own amount of debt which is scary and feels insurmountable, the idea of separating yourself from someone with a truly inescapable amount of debt just doesn’t work.
            My FH’s debt is something he can easily pay off, even if we weren’t together (because, while there are unemployed engineers, he’s not one of them), but I think he still feels more like people in the red for over six figures for some rando degree their parents made them get just to ‘have a degree’ than me, who shares in his life and lifestyle.

  • emmers

    I had family help, so I had only a really tiny student loan, that I paid off years ago. But my partner did not, so now we’re focusing on his. We’ve only recently started focusing in on it. HIs loan is made up of 5 loans with different interest rates. We recently enrolled in autopay, which has a deal where it saves us a small bit of interest, and we’re also now directing extra $ specifically towards the highest interest rate loan. Small steps, but it’s encouraging to feel like we’re making targeted progress.
    ETA, I also obsessively check interest rate calculators to see how much future interest we’ll save if we increase our monthly payment by whatever.

    • a few

      this sounds like our situation, too. we actually pay on the smallest dollar amount loan with the shorter repayment plan because it makes us feel better when they shrink and are gone quicker. it feels like playing with monopoly money otherwise!

      • emmers

        Ha. I say that it’s our plan to pay off the highest interest rate, but I’m finding that with the federal student loan system, it’s hard to do that. We’re in paid ahead status for all of the loan groups, and apparently we have to remove that if we want to pay extra to one specific loan. It’s confusing, and I just want to make this stupid highest interest rate loan go away first, while maintaining our paid ahead safety net for the loans!

        • Eenie

          I have federal student loans. I make the minimum payment, then about halfway through the month I make an additional payment. Five days later I email the lender (Great Lakes Student Loans) to specify that I want the extra money to go to the loan with the highest interest rate and balance after any fees and interest on the account. It’s annoying and took a couple hours to figure out, but I’m pretty sure you can do this. The money has to go to the fees and interest first, but after that you should be able to tell them where to put the money without losing paid ahead status. I’m paid ahead by over a year right now.

          • a few

            with our loans, ‘paid ahead’ status did not mean that we could skip future payments. we still had to make the minimums each month and could keep sending extra to specific loans. we found the best way to do it was to pay through their app and select which loan you wanted to pay on for the extra payments. (hate great lakes!)

          • emmers

            I will look into this. I made online payments (instead of by mail) for the first time this month, and allocated my payments as I wanted, but then their system automatically redistributed them. It sounds like it will be a process to figure out, but thanks for sharing what worked for you.

          • Eenie

            If they were stafford loans, an automatic payment should save you some interest as well! Call them up by phone if possible and they should be able to answer your questions. Unlike a few, I actually really like Great Lakes as a lender. Their website is awesome, and I’ve never had an issue with their customer service. But it’s not like you get to pick your lender typically. I’ve found there to be lots of “I can’t afford my payments what do I do?” advice versus the very scarce “How can I pay these loans off in the most efficient way possible?” advice.

            http://www.finaid.org/loans/studentloandiscounts.phtml

          • Abby

            Not sure when loan servicer you have, though I’ve heard horror stories about all of them, but I had Nelnet, and their online system made it incredibly hard to allocate to the right group (like you said, I’d allocate how I wanted, then they’d automatically redistribute). I wound up calling their customer service line every time I made an extra payment to force them to reallocate it properly– super frustrating, but worth it in the end. Good luck!

          • Michela

            God I really need to figure out how to do this. Just the other day I was trying to figure out how to put a few thousand dollars towards my highest interest loan (6.8%) and it wouldn’t allow me to pay it except in full. What. The. Heck. Must figure this out.

          • Eenie
          • Michela

            Thank you!!

  • Eenie

    Attended same school. Graduated five years apart. Assumed we both had similar debt (academic scholarships, good paying internships etc.). I move back in with him in January and combine finances. While doing our budget I kept asking for his student loan payment. Apparently he had PAID IT ALL OF WITHOUT REALIZING IT. I sigh as we put $1000 towards mine every month. It’s my debt, but we pay it off jointly just like his car loan and our joint car loan. I have the stupid 6.8% loans which is our highest rate amongst our debt. Once those are paid off we will attack his car loan. I so want to be done with my loans. On track to pay off in three more years.

    • BSM

      We have a similar story. Different schools, same amount of debt when we both graduated, five years apart. The only difference? The interest rates for all of my husband’s student loans hovered around 1%, and he was able to pay them off in a few years (barely had anything left when we met). Mine? All federal loans between 3.4-6.8% that we’re still chipping away at.

      I will yell about this until I’m blue in the face because it makes NO SENSE for the whims of Congress to be the only determining factor of interest rates of federal student loans.

      • Ashlah

        It is ridiculous that you can get a car loan with 2% interest or less, but student loans are 4-7%. Absolutely ridiculous.

        • Eenie

          Yes and no. A car is physical property, whereas your education doesn’t have any asset value. Just future earning potential (and for some people it’s very crappy). It’s frustrating, but I do think student loans need to be treated differently than business loans, car loans, mortgages, etc. I will wholeheartedly disagree with the way the rates are set right now, but I don’t think it’s unreasonable for the rate to be higher than ones backed by property.

        • Kayakgirl73

          My federal Stafford loans had a 9% interest rate. I graduated in 1995 with a BA and 1996 with an MLIS. I’m a librarian so not great pay. It was really tough and college was cheaper back then plus I had a scholarship, grants, need based aid and help from my parents. Things have been hard for a long time. I married late so much less time to pool income and we were both making condo payments with one severely under water. Things aren’t necessarily easy for Gen X or Millennials. This isn’t really directed at any one in particular.

        • I understand your point, but I don’t think it’s ridiculous. With a car loan, the vehicle is collateral that the lender can foreclose on and sell to recoup all or part of the loan balance. Student loans have no collateral, and they’re being made to young people with no history of borrowing and repaying loans. The government subsidizes loans as it is (which I think is actually a huge problem – if the supply of money for college, due to loans, is basically unlimited, colleges have no incentive not to keep raising their prices).

      • Eenie

        I would have had a lower interest rate if I took out private loans instead of stafford loans. Congress sucks ass when it comes to the student loan financial crisis.

    • Michela

      What is it with those 6.8% interest rates!? Whatever happened to student loans being “low interest”. UGH.

  • Gray

    Really good article.

    My partner and I both came to the relationship with a lot of student loan debt. Before we combined finances, I worked my ass off balancing a full time job and part time job to pay off all of my loans within 5 years (I’m SUPER proud of that). My partner didn’t, just paying the minimums and a little extra when he could towards his own loans.

    I hate debt, so when we got engaged and combined finances I said it was a priority to me to get rid of his student loan debt before we bought a house (buying a house was a high priority to him). Our money is completely combined and we are aggressively paying down his debt together. I don’t mind that “my” money is going towards “his” debt… to me it’s about getting our shared financial future in a good place. I find it very satisfying to knock off another of his loans, together.

    This completely-shared-finances approach works really well for us, it makes me feel like we’re a real team in life.

    • a few

      we calculated it out and figured it would take 7+ years to pay off the student loans, and didn’t want to wait that long to buy a house, etc., so we just went in full steam ahead and bought a house with large student loans… not sure if that was the best decision, but we have the house and also will have probably 10+ years more of paying on the student loans. YMMV.

      • Gray

        We definitely could have done it that way, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with buying a house while having loans. But I am extremely debt-adverse, and homeownership isn’t something that is super important to me. So basically our compromise is, okay we can buy a house within 3 years (partner’s goal), but first we pay off all our other debt (my goal), and the math told us it was possible to do both goals if we really tried. So that’s a compromise that worked just for our unique situation, but it wouldn’t be right for everyone.

  • Amanda Kauer

    My fiance’s parents paid for his tuition, and he was able to work to pay for living expenses. My parents could not afford to pay for my tuition, and I had debilitating depression which resulted in the choice between working or passing classes. As a result, he has no student loan debt, and I have about $50,000 left. It makes it a little strange on how we contribute to finances. Even though I make more than him, I pay a lower percentage of the household bills. Mainly because I have a $500/month expense he does not.

  • Alice

    I met my hubby and moved in with him the year that I was applying to vet school. I remember the excitement of getting in, and then being scared that our relationship wouldn’t make it through long-distance/a move to Scotland (where we now live and I go to school). Anyway, somewhere in the middle of that turmoil I got the information for my loans, and just about passed out on the floor when I realized just how much debt I was staring down. I had no undergrad loans (from a combination of well-invested inheritance and tuition exchange from the college my mom teaches at; my folks aren’t rich but they planned well and I really owe them for that). So, we sat down and had a frank discussion about whether or not I should even go to vet school, and also about whether or not hubby would feel ok about me bringing what will be nearly 200k in debt to the relationship (and that’s WITH 120k left from my college savings and living quite frugally–many of my classmates face double that). He only brought around 15k of loans to the table, but was really encouraging.

    It has made it difficult in many ways. One of the reasons that hubby’s family objected so much to our marriage was my future debt (they don’t know any numbers, but they assumed). My own dad, who is in general very supportive, asked me over and over again to reconsider, although three years into my degree he’s back to being proud. And it’s been scary to think about burdening not just myself, but another person with debt that immense. I feel very badly failed by the US educational system, which is a topic for another day, but an occasioanl feeling of doom can also put a real strain on things.

    Difficulties aside, though, going through my grad school together has made us so much better at talking about our finances, financial goals, and personal philosophies about money. Having to make a concious decision to incure six figure debt for a profession that doesn’t usually have the earning potential of, say, cardiology or high-powered legal professions, has been incredibly hard, and we’ve had lots of tears. Three years into school I still feel sick when I think about the debt. But if there is one advantage for us, it has been openness and getting really good at talking and thinking about money.

    • another lady

      I agree that the one benefit to having large debt is that it really makes you be open and honest with your partner and work out any money issues.

  • Heather

    Finally chiming in with my first post – this is a familiar fear.
    My fiancé is just about to graduate law school (yay!) and then once he passes the bar in CA, wants to move as soon as he gets a job. To San Francisco, booming mecca of “the rent is too damn high.” He has over $100,000 in loans, thankfully only federal, versus my just-shy-of- $100,000 from undergrad in federal and private loans. Oh, and we’re trying to get married in October on a $3,000 budget that we’re paying for ourselves.
    I feel like we’re going to run into a huge issue once we move of not being able to pay our loans because we’ll be too busy trying to pay to live out there. We’ll attack loan debt together, that much is clear at least – we’ve discussed multiple times how we’re a team and we’ll go on that adventure together. I’ll know we’ll make it work somehow, but that looming uncertainty of what our salaries will be/how much rent will be/etc is stress-inducing just thinking about it, and we’re not even married and moved yet!

    • another lady

      luckily, you have 6 months, usually, to start paying on the husband’s loans after he graduates. also, you may be able to defer yours or pay less once you move because of lack of jobs or lower incomes. But, you will still get charged interest during that time. good luck with everything!

    • Michela

      Hey! We’re planning a cross-country move to SF next summer (I bet APWers make great neighbors so yay!) and we’re terrified about the rent, too. I’m graduating from grad school next week, which will mean higher earnings in the Midwest where we currently live for the next year and, more importantly, more bargaining power when we move next year. The one way we’re trying to budget for the expensive cost of living while also aggressively paying down my current $60K in student debt is to determine how much money I would have to make for us to afford our current lifestyle here + $3000 rent payment in SF. We plan to live off my income when we move and use my fiancé’s income to pay down debt and save. In the meantime, we hope to pay off $20-$30K of my student loans in the next year while living in our cheap corner of the Midwest.

      Just thought I’d mention a few of our strategies since I already did the multi-tab-Excel-spreadsheet research for a semi-similar situation.

      Hope it helps. Good luck!xo

  • Erica G

    Both of us have a bunch of student loan debt, him more than me because he went to grad school, but I had the worse credit score and the lower paying job. I spent about 3 years working to improve my credit score so I could be taken financially seriously. We have very little savings because so much of our income goes directly to student loans every paycheck. We did just decide to go for it and buy a house, but for years I felt like that was something that would never happen because of my credit score and debt situation. I feel like most people around my age aren’t even beginning to think about marriage and home-ownership because they are trying to pay down their personal debts and become more-or-less financially independent. When my partner and I met we felt the same, until we took a good hard look and realized that if we waited, we would be 40-45 before we could get married and buy a home, which was just silly. We may have taken a bit of a risk, but I feel like we will manage it just fine.
    I think this is the biggest reason people of our generation are holding off on having kids too… we don’t plan to have kids at all, but many of my friends who do want kids are getting to be 30 and still not sure how they are going to swing it financially.

    • another lady

      32 and prego – totally feel like your friends. but apparently, “there is no ‘right time’ to have a baby” – or so the baby boomers say!

  • Sarah E

    I’m fortunate that I never had immense loans, just reasonable ones. My partner had no debt at all, as his job paid for almost all of his tuition when he went back to undergrad, and his parents gifted him the difference after he proved he was serious. Even now, in grad school, his tuition is taken care of thanks to a department that fully funds all students.

    While numbers-wise, my debt is completely manageable– and at this point, within sight of pay-off– it did cause some stress when we were partnered and living together but not married. It took me a year or more to find financially stable jobs, so paying equally towards our bills was an issue, and the student loan payment was mine alone. During one discussion about my loans, my partner made a comment like “I really hate debt,” that I took a little personally. As the only one bringing debt into the relationship and at that point without solid income to back it up, I felt like he was pointing out a personal failing and for the next couple of years I didn’t bring it up and just kept up with payments.

    Once we got married and officially joined all our money, the loans came up again. I told him how bad I felt about it, even though the number was small, and we resolved it (he did not think it was a personal failing, he was perfectly willing to put joint money towards it). Now, it’s all joint money that goes toward the loans and now that our emergency fund is full, we put extra money towards them, too. They should be paid off by year’s end (hallelujah!), so we can move on to saving for a new car.

    I was never overly savvy with my loan repayments, and likely could have deferred payments or adjusted them for the first two or three years out of college. At this point, I’m glad I was paying all I could, and the one huge benefit of the wretched AmeriCorps position I held for a year was the education award, which put me ahead on payments. (I’ll note that I had friends who loved AmeriCorps, I was just working a position that did not suit me at all.) If you have time for a position like that, it could help. I know the program I was in offered full-, part-, and quarter- time positions.

    • G.

      My Americorps experience wasn’t wretched, but it also wasn’t incredible. It did, however, contribute greatly to my a) paying down my debt and b) getting used to living verrrry frugally which also helped me pay off my loans. (I’m in my mid-30s and paid off my loans about 5 years ago).

    • AP

      “my partner made a comment like “I really hate debt,” that I took a little personally”

      I feel you. I brought the student debt to our relationship, and for a while I felt like my husband was judging me for it. And from my perspective, he wasn’t acknowledging his privilege. His parents did a lot to help him and his siblings with college, to the point of buying a house in their college town so they wouldn’t have to pay rent (which was smart, because all 4 siblings went to the same school, so they all lived in the house at various points, and his parents now have an income property in a college town. BUT that’s a far cry from my mom, who sat me down freshman year of high school and told me to start planning because college was on me.) He also had two parents who went to college and knew the ins and outs of applying for aid and saving for kids’ tuition. My parents didn’t go to school and were learning about FAFSA right along with me. All the money I earned working through college paid my living expenses, while his went to building up savings. So there was a lot of privilege at play that had nothing to do with personal failings.

      I don’t think he was judging me, but he was judging debt, if that makes sense.

      • Sarah E

        Yeah, my partner does have a bunch of privilege in that sense, too. I mean, I never saw his childhood when his dad went back to school and his family lived on very very little. However, he came of age and has lived as an adult having his parents as a very secure financial safety net. They are great people and I think they make good role models, but they are also role models with a very nice house and high quality things. So, while my parents earned money fine, they’ve both had worsening financial realities as I aged, while his was the opposite. It’s weird.

        • another lady

          yeah, we probably don’t remember our boomer parents working crap jobs and scraping by with young kids in their early 20’s. we just saw the results of hard work and a great economy in the 90’s. but, we have heard stories of them working in grocery stores and living in a tiny apartment with 2 young kids. makes me realize how fortunately we really are and how we need to hustle to make things workout!

    • toomanybooks

      AmeriCorps education gift tip: make sure to report it as a source of income on your taxes. #truelife #yikes

  • Eenie

    Personal situation aside, I think for my generation the student loan debt is affecting marriage by delaying homeownership (which is something the US laws and culture encourages), which means some people are delaying starting families or not saving as much for retirement. The delay in homeownership is causing rent prices to go up in some areas. Which means even less money to put towards savings. The savings scarcity can cause stress in a marriage.

    • Erica G

      Retirement! This! Student Loan debt is one of the big reasons I don’t have as much saved for retirement yet!

    • Lisa

      It shocked me when I was sitting in a benefits meeting at my last job, and one of the recent graduates honestly asked what the point was of contributing to a retirement fund. I feel like, since there’s so much money going towards loan payments, people look at the leftover amounts and feel like they’re justified in spending it on something fun for themselves instead of reducing their disposable income even more by putting it aside for the future.

      • Keeks

        What! I found that saving for retirement (or at least a 401k) was really easy for me since it comes out of my paycheck before I even see it, it’s out of sight, out of mind. Building up my emergency savings – now THAT has been a struggle since it really does feel like it comes out of my disposable income. (I also realize I have a lot of privileges that make it possible to automatically skim 10% off my income and still pay my student loans.)

        • Lisa

          Oh, yes, the room went dead silent when she said that. In the awkward silence, she piped up, “What?! I know you’re all thinking the same thing!” No, honey, we weren’t.

          I’ve started contributing more and more to retirement in recent years and have opened a Roth IRA as well to supplement my two 403(b) plans. Our guests were very generous at our wedding, and the money we received from them went towards our emergency fund. We were able to top it off at 6 months of living expenses with our tax refund this year, which was an amazing feeling. We don’t have the best paying jobs, but we’ve become much more diligent about planning for our financial future since we were married. I feel like we’re way ahead of a lot of people our age in this regard.

          • Meg Keene

            I think it also just depends on what’s possible for folks though. I mean, we’ve been able to do that recently (in our 20s we flat out didn’t make enough to save for retirement, paying rent was a struggle), but our loan debts are low. I know people with $1,000 or $1,500 a month student loan debts, and saving much beyond the bills just… isn’t a possible thing.

          • Natalie

            yes, we have no savings beyond the retirement program from my brand new job. All of our “savings” (roughly 20% of our post-tax income) each month go toward loan payments.

          • Michela

            This is also true for small business owners/freelancers/artists/etc. who have variable incomes (I know you know this!). My fiancé owns his own soccer training academy. Business is steadily increasing, but he stresses about paying himself extra to afford a 401k/Roth IRA/etc. while also saving for an emergency fund, paying down (my) student loans, and preparing for a cross-country move. His retirement savings is definitely on our to-do list to tackle this year, but for those whose employers don’t make retirement savings easy, it can be difficult to find a way to set the money aside.

        • A lot of companies are making it easier as well. My company now requires that anyone enrolled in the 401k plan has to increase the % they put in each year until they reach 10%, and they increase in 1% increments each year. It just happens automatically when our benefits reset and I didn’t even notice when it happened. I should have and could have changed my % especially since I got a raise but having my company do it automatically made it super easy.

          • Anon

            I wish I were at 10% by now. In my 20s, I don’t think I knew that was supposed to be the target number.

            Actually, I can go change my % any time… adding to the to-do list.

          • ART

            Some of the financial advice I’ve read has been along the lines of “Surprise – 10% is the rule of thumb…for men. Women live longer and spend more time out of the workforce, on average, so they should aim for 12%!” I’ve tried to go by that, but it’s not that easy. Especially when I was paying off student debt, and now that I’m saving for that house/baby/etc!

          • Keeks

            I have mine set to increase by 1% every year! I’d be kind of mad if my company made me do that though. Unless they increased my pay by at least 1% every year…

      • Alexa

        Honestly, I’m in a field where it’s a pension plan and to me those payments and social security payments basically just feel like money gone, because given the current political/financial situation the benefits that are supposed to be accruing will almost certainly be gutted by the time I’m old enough to retire. (Rationally I know that probably makes it even more important to start a private account and it’s on my adult to-do list along with buying private life insurance this summer, but it’s just so satisfying to put most of our extra money towards paying down our condo super quickly, & home equity seems like a much more concrete result…)

        • Eenie

          ROTH IRA! Do it! Through betterment. It’s super rewarding. I currently only do $100/month but it adds up.

          • Alexa

            Possibly a stupid question, but what does “through betterment” mean?

          • Eenie

            Not stupid. It’s an easy way to set up a ROTH IRA. Very low fees. https://www.betterment.com/

          • Alexa

            Awesome! Thank you! :) (Now apw can have helped me on both this & the life insurance issue :) )

          • Eenie

            I found this really helpful from the founder of You Need A Budget http://cdn.youneedabudget.com/img/support/YNAB_Investing_Course.pdf

          • Angela Howard

            Whether you should prioritize Roth or traditional retirement savings depends partially on your current income. If you are just out of school and not making much, it is unlikely that your tax rates will be lower in retirement than they are now, so tax-advantaged retirements savings may make more sense.

          • Michela

            Aaah thank you! Roth IRAs are on our to-do list to tackle this year (my fiancé owns his own business and, therefore, doesn’t have an employer setting up these things for him). Definitely looking into this.

        • Kara E

          Why buy private life insurance? Just income replacement for a spouse/kids in case of sudden death? Whole life insurance isn’t generally a good idea if you’re a decent saver anyway. Fidelity’s a cap1-360’s partner also have good investment things for roths.

          • Ashlah

            Whole life isn’t the only option (we both have term life insurance), and the benefit is that the amount is available right away, not years from now when you’ve been able to save it. If I die right now, my husband gets enough money to pay off our mortgage, pay whatever end of life expenses I incur, and spend time slowly transitioning to a single-income household. It would take me a hell of a long time (and a lot more money) to save that much, and I’d probably die before it happens.

          • Alexa

            Basically yes, because we’re about to have kids. I’m still in the early stages of figuring out what kind/amount of insurance will make sense for us, and we definitely won’t be maxing out the insurance that we could possibly buy, but I don’t want either of us potentially stuck without a spouse/second income and with kids to raise. (And if something happened to both of us I’d want there to be money to go towards the kids.) We have solid savings for our age range, but there’s no way it would make sense to keep that amount of money liquid and it would take a significant time and/or deep financial restrictions to save it up.

          • Duke Alum

            This is slightly morbid, but someone has to pay for the cremation/burial + expense of disposing with your things and executing the estate. In my family that’s a burden I don’t want my parents (or even think they could) bear…

        • Vanessa

          If your employer doesn’t already offer it, add long-term disability insurance to your list.

      • honeycomehome

        Except, if you have private loans with high interest rates, it makes more sense to pay those off rather than invest in retirement accounts because the interest racks up faster on the debt than on the savings. So it may not be fun vs. retirement, it’s debt vs. retirement.

        • Lisa

          This is also true. I know many friend who can barely afford to survive after paying their loans. My experience is that I know people living extremely frugally who can’t afford to save, but some of those same people turn around and splurge any leftovers on luxury items. I know we all need fun in our life, but since many of my comrades can’t see beyond next month’s bills, they don’t see the value in saving for the future either.

          • Anon for this

            I’m highly uncomfortable with this comment and the assumptions you’re making/judgment you’re passing on these people you know and how they choose to spend their money. I’m not sure how well you know their reality, but here’s mine…because with this description, if I knew you, you could very well be talking about me.

            My partner and I are currently renting a place that the owner will LITERALLY tear down after we move out because the only way to make it livable for most people is to re-build from the foundation up. I’m currently spending 1/2 of my monthly salary paying down debt (car payments, student loans, credit cards). I budget obsessively, add to savings automatically every paycheck (my work doesn’t provide 401k or any retirement) and have to save up for at least a couple months to buy a new pair of work pants when I’ve worn a hole in them.

            I’m coming to terms with the fact that I’ll probably never be able to buy a house or property in the city it is necessary I live in to do my job, and that I probably will never be able to afford to have kids.

            I’m not asking you to feel sorry for me. Despite all this, I’ve found about $200 extra in my budget that I faithfully put in savings towards travel.

            Travel makes me happy and it makes my partner happy. In a world where I have to give up some of my lifelong dreams because of realities I both helped create and was thrust into, I need that bright spot to keep me going. It also helps my partner, who suffers from bouts of depression and suicidal ideation, see something immediate to look forward to in his life.

            Travel is a luxury. If I put that money towards paying off my credit cards, they would be paid off about 6 months sooner, I’m not going to lie. But I’d rather be paying off that debt for another 16 months (instead of 10 months; especially considering I’ve been working at it for 5 years now) and be able to road trip through the Pacific Northwest in June and go to Austin, TX in October, than be stuck inside the prison of not being able to do something I love for a few years because I’m being “responsible.”

            Part of responsibility is self-care and mental health. And travel helps keep me sane, focused, and positive. Maybe luxury items help keep your friends with the same thing. And maybe they make a conscious choice to buy them because they, like me, see that $X/month as an investment in their happiness and ability to keep on trucking through a VERY difficult time/circumstance.

          • Lisa

            I don’t judge how other people spend their money. As I said in my comment, everyone needs to be able to enjoy their lives. You do what works for you and your husband. I highly value travel as well and understand the benefits of that. I also place a high value on my personal financial security and not carrying debt. We have similar priorities that are stacked in a different order.

        • Duke Alum

          Just a word of caution – with powers of compound interest, it may make more sense to pay into retirement then student loans as aggressively…

          • ART

            Also one thing to keep in mind is the annual cap on the Roth IRA contribution (currently $5500 for most of us). That means there’s no opportunity to catch up later in that investment vehicle – that’s why I convinced my husband to open one last year despite having taken on debt to start a business. Even if you don’t max it out at first, getting that money in there earlier is worth something.

          • Abby

            @disqus_UkLMsZ6TNz:disqus I know I’m a day late here, but can you please explain how contributing to a non-matched retirement plan that nets you an annualized rate of return of approximately 1.5%* (over the last 3 years) makes more sense than aggressively paying down federal student loans accruing interest at 7.8%? I’m genuinely asking. Because student loan interest compounds too, just in the other direction, and by my math, I don’t understand how this advice makes sense in terms of long-term net worth with these available rates. Since I hear this advice all the time I would really like someone to explain where my math went wrong.

            *yes, I know that this retirement growth rate is quite influenced by the market dip late last year and that super-long-term it’s supposed to even out, but the risk does factor in here– student loan interest is guaranteed to charge you that high a percentage no matter what, so it makes mathematical sense to me to shorten the time period that interest rate applies.

          • Duke Alum

            Good question, and one reason why everyone’s situation can be a little different based upon their own financial picture. 7.8% is very high, and you’d be hard pressed to beat that in investing for retirement (though, if your employer matches, I wouldn’t pass up “free” money either.). That said, I had 7.8% student loans and refinanced after graduation to ~2.5-3.5% (SOFI and DRB Bank offer competitive rates). I also have an investment account managed by Betterment that’s averaged significantly higher returns than my company’s 401(k), so I divert most of my retirement savings there and use my company for the amoutn that they match (there are some tax consquences, again individual picture and at certain amounts this might not make sense). And, of course, every dollar that I invest is another that I then earn interest on (in the same principal that every dollar outstanding on student loans is one that earns interest). The 1.5% seems particularly low returns even for the past three years, and of course over the long run your returns will be higher. Though it’d be hard pressed to average 7.8% on the market.

            Hope this makes sense – I will say that I had a meeting with a personal financal planner that I found to be helpful. That combined with reading a ton of the tax code (I’m an attorney) + personal finance literature lead me to believe that it’s not always best to prioritize paying back low interest debt over saving for retirement.

          • Abby

            Thanks! Sounds like we’re in quite similar boats, actually– also an attorney, and a lot of my friends have had great luck with SOFI–I was just too paranoid about losing the federal protections to commit to refinancing. I opted to be as aggressive as humanly possible with my loans and just get them done before too much interest accrued instead, but that only worked because of a lot of luck in other aspects of our finances (and my willingness to live as ascetically as possible until the debt was gone). Luckily my paranoia only screwed me out of a few years of retirement-savings-prioritization, but now that I’m actually actively working on retirement savings, Betterment is a great tip! I appreciate it.

        • EF

          yup. which is why I make more than minimum payments on my 12.75% (!!!) interest rate loans before anything else.

      • another lady

        The one major benefit is if your company provides an employer match program – If so, do the minimum contribution % to get the employer match. It’s like free money that turns into more free money later! My husband’s company providers a full $ for $ match at 6% or higher, so he does 6% and gets an additional 6% from the employer at the end of the fiscal year. If he were to leave the company, he would get to keep the full 12% in his retirement account!

        • Lisa

          The company where I was working before would only match 1%, and you weren’t vested until 3 years so it was more of a token gesture than anything else. Badtown U doubles my contribution up to 5% so, while I’m putting in 5%, they’re adding in 10%. However, I’m not vested here until 3 years, and we plan to be long gone at that point. I wish I’d get to take that money with me!

          • Ashlah

            I hate vesting schedules. My workplace has a graded 6 year vesting schedule, and early on, the idea of being here that long made me super depressed. But now I only have one year left until I’m fully vested, and I’m much more content in where I am. If I could have avoided the anxiety that came from the existence of the vesting schedule altogether, though, that would have been nice! (Of course, it did exactly what employers want it to do, which is to make me feel like I’d be a fool to leave them, so).

          • Eenie

            One company I worked for matched all of 2% and had a five year vesting schedule. I basically assumed I would never be seeing that money lol.

          • Keeks

            My company has the exact same match & schedule, so at 4 years in I am 75% vested. I took a look at the actual number I’d be leaving behind at this point and it was only like $1.5k. That’s… not enough incentive for me to stay another year. I’ll just ask for more at the next job!

          • Eenie

            Just FYI, it’s really hard to negotiate the matching and vestment schedule. You’d need to look for a company that offers better benefits from the start.

          • Keeks

            Oh yeah, those packages are usually standard across the company. I meant, I just bake that number into the salary number I am willing to accept. They don’t even know it’s there. :)

      • Her Lindsayship

        I’ve read this is a super common feeling right now among young workers. I’m in this boat myself – I do put money aside in savings every month because I’m terrified of the idea of actually zero savings. But given the option to have my employer match contributions to a 401k or match some of my large, painful, currently-looking-at-9-more-years student loan payments, I would not hesitate!! I’m hoping so hard this catches on: http://studentloangenius.com/

        The sad thing is, I work for the University where I accrued all my debt. And of course they STILL call me asking for donations on the regular.

        • Lisa

          My first job out of grad school was as a program assistant at the same institution where I’d gotten my degree. The IT guys and I referred to it as the “tuition repayment plan.”

        • Vanessa

          On the first donation solicitation I received after graduating from law school I sent it back with a letter saying “I won’t have my debt from this institution paid off for approximately X number of years. Don’t you dare contact me again before then.”

      • Meg Keene

        I mean, if they even HAVE money left over to save, right?

      • EF

        I don’t save for retirement, and I probably think about it just like that grad. I don’t want to wait to travel (within some reason) or LIVE until my student loans are completely paid off. I’d like to enjoy some of my youth — and foster homes, college, and law school weren’t allllll that enjoyable (mostly because I was so hungry all the time!). So now, I pay my student loan bills, and I’ll have the loans paid off in 8 years, but I also put aside a couple hundred a month towards travel. And I’d rather have that than a retirement fund. (particularly, to be honest, as my epigenetics says there is a very good chance I won’t live to retirement age. I’m not just wasting life till then.)

      • Kay

        I’m almost ashamed to admit that I share the view of the recent graduate, only I graduated in 2008. I’ve never made more than $20K a year, but many of my classmates have never found full-time work in their fields, so I’m just glad to be working in my chosen field (education). There’s so little money left over after loans and bills that I can either decide to put $50 in the bank each month or go out to a movie and get a couple of sushi dinners. Now that I’m 30 I’m thinking more about retirement, but to be honest, saving $600 a year (before interest and all that, true) is not going to save me in retirement. I understand the desire to spend money on something you’ll enjoy now when you otherwise live a very strict and meager life.

    • Lulu

      And then it all collides with your biological clock. I sometimes tell myself our hypothetical kids will be really humble and grounded since they would conceivable share the tiny second bedroom in our tiny apartment.

      • Lisa

        This is something I’ve considered as well. I’ve realized that I don’t love the suburbs where I grew up and am considering the idea of raising kids in a more urban location. If that happens, it’s likely there will be less space to go around, which means kids might end up sharing a bedroom. I suppose that wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world, though I know introverted childhood me would have absolutely hated that.

        • Lulu

          I also wonder if delayed childbearing is going to result in siblings that are on average closer together in age. What if never remembering being alone limits introversion?! That would be such a bummer.

        • JenC

          My husband is an introvert and shared a room with extrovert of a younger brother. He’s fine, he survived the teen years as well as anyone survives them. He would put his headphones on or just dive into a book and nothing much has really changed. Which is the same thing that little introvert me did/does and I who was an only child for most of the time and had a huge bedroom to myself.

          • Alanna Cartier

            Introvert me shared a room until highschool. I would just read elsewhere.

      • a few

        people have shared bedrooms and full houses for generations – think of farm families with 10 kids all living in a small farm house. they were definitely not all getting their own rooms!

        • Anon

          I never had my own room until I was an RA in college. Having your own room is a privilege, not a right.

        • Lulu

          Oh totally. My dad was one of those farm kids, albeit with “only” six kids. It is for sure a shift from the McMansion-centric thinking and Regina George set-ups of more recent times, though!

        • Kara E

          Yup – my grandparents had their first three children while living in a basement studio apartment in Chicago.

    • Natalie

      We are delaying both home ownership and kids as a result of my husband’s student loan debt. If we weren’t putting 20% of our income toward paying off his debt, we could afford to save for a house down payment and pay for childcare. It sometimes makes me very angry.

      • Michela

        Solidarity, sister.xo

    • Michela

      I’m like, half laughing half crying reading this because this is 100% me and my fiancé.

    • joanna b.n.

      This this this this this.

  • irishelf

    This is such a great topic! My husband and I meet in law school, and have the debt from this. We went to our state’s school and don’t have undergrad debt so we’re better off than some of our friends at least. On the day to day the debt doesn’t impact us too much. We both have good jobs and have been slowly making progress towards paying them down. However, its impacted us in a big way in that we don’t feel like we can afford to have children. In our state daycare costs an average of $1500/month and we have literally no idea where we could scrounge up that amount each month. Even if we only paid our minimums each month we wouldn’t have that much and we certainly can’t afford for one of us to stop working. By the time we have them paid off we’ll be in our mid to late 30s. Neither of us are really thrilled by the potential problems of trying to get pregnant at that age or all that interested in adopting so we’re considering forgoing children all together, though my plan is to adopt as many rescue dogs as possible if we’re not having kids ;-)

  • Corinne

    Something that seems to surprise people when we bring it up is the tax and income-based-repayment implications of getting married. Adding my salary to my husband’s would have effectively doubled his monthly income-based loan payments. We can get around that by going the “married filing separately” route on taxes, BUT that means he can’t claim the student loan deduction on his taxes, which ended up causing him to owe additional money this year rather than getting any kind of refund. It wasn’t a scary amount that he had to pay, and it’s definitely outweighed by the benefit of not doubling his monthly payments, but it’s something to consider!

  • toomanybooks

    Yup. I’m lucky enough not to have any student loans to deal with (seriously, every time it pops into my mind or comes up at all I think about how grateful I am), and while my fiancée makes twice what I make, she does have student loans. I don’t know anything about credit or buying houses but I’m worried that we’d have a harder time buying a house after we’re married because then we’d have the same credit? (Again, I don’t know how it works so if someone else does, I’d looooooove an explanation.)

    • SR

      Hey! Studying to be a financial planner so I thought I’d answer your question. There is no such thing as a joint credit score — you and your fiancee will always have separate scores even after marriage. There are joint things (like credit cards, mortgages, etc.) than can affect BOTH of your scores, however. When you have debt, paying those loan payments on time will help maintain a good credit score.

      • Lulu

        But for a mortgage application, they take the lower score when they set your rate and points. The bigger issue would be how student loans affect your debt-to-income ratio.

        • eating words

          That’s helpful to know as my wife and I start to look at houses.

          • Lulu

            I said that so declaratively though I’m about 90 seconds into my first mortgage application process. But that was my very recent experience! They ran credit reports on each of us, took each middle score of the three credit bureaus, then took the lower of the two of us. For debt-to-income, they look at your other credit obligations– car loans, student loans, credit cards, etc– then figure that adding a mortgage (and taxes and insurance) onto that should at the highest put your debt at around 43% of your income. Based on what mortgage they think you can carry, they’ll tell you how much they’ll pre-approve you for. Then you can take your pre-approval letter shopping!

          • emmers

            We also found this to be true. I had a higher credit score than my partner because he was using most of his available credit due to credit card debt. We helped raise his score (and thus qualify for lower mortgage rates) by doing some credit card balance transfers to me. My score fell some, but was still higher than his. But I know that the mortgage people can get cagey if you’re making a lot of changes right before you buy, so this would be better to do in advance.

          • Eenie

            And you can request for a lower preapproval amount! Just because the bank thinks you can afford it doesn’t mean that’s the mortgage your should take out! My husband was preapproved for an amount and he made them lower it to his highest price range that he felt comfortable with.

          • another lady

            we also did this. our realtor actually suggested having the bank give you a couple of letters with lower amounts so that you can make offers with your pre-approvals and not look like you are low balling them as much. ex: you want to buy a house that is listed for $150K, you offer $140K, but the preapproval letter says you are pre-approved for $210K – other realtor/current owners now know that you can pay way more than $140K and counters at $150K. on the flip side, you have the same situation, but give them a pre-approval letter that lists $145K, and they assume you cannot afford more than that and either counter at $145 or accept a lower offer! Happened to us – we didn’t even know the upper end of what we were pre-approved for because we just told the bank that we wanted a house for x amount, and got that amount on the pre-approval.

          • ART

            Ooooh, I’m stealing that advice. Thanks!

          • Eenie

            I would suggest only letting your realtor know the lower amount as well. A good one won’t push you past your limit, but they work on commission.

          • lildutchgrrl

            I was preapproved for $300K, which was more than I felt comfortable stretching my budget to, so I went looking with a $275K high point in mind. After a couple weeks of really seeing what was out there, I had a frank conversation with my realtor and said I was really more comfortable around the $230K mark. We found a really good deal — listed at $180K as a short sale, and paid $196K once the owning bank got around to appraising it ($295K then, and higher now just a couple years down the line). With the extra line item for contractors’ fees (a Homestyle loan that allowed us to borrow funds to fix it up), it came out under $210K.

    • Greta

      Just to add on to this as a person who just bought a house… My husband doesn’t have any student loans, and I do in a not insignificant amount. But guess who had the higher credit score? me! We were actually within 20 points of each other, so they were pretty close, but my student loans definitely didn’t hold back my credit score – I think most banks/mortgage companies consider them “good” debt – whatever that means.

      • MaryElise

        Yes, I can back this up too! My husband and I just bought a home as well. We both have student loan debt but he has a way higher amount since he has attended grad school and I did not. Student loan debt seems to be considered good debt, like Greta said, as long as you haven’t defaulted on it. My husband had an amazing credit score and mine was just slightly lower. Banks actually like to see that you have ideally three lines of credit and that you have a history of good repayment on them. So having some debt isn’t exactly a bad thing as long as you keep it all in good standing.

  • toomanybooks

    $75,000 PER YEAR THOUGH!!!!!! It’s criminal!

  • Sarah

    Really interesting piece, especially from an outsider’s perspective. Here in Australia we are currently having a debate about negative gearing, which predominantly advantages baby boomers owning rental properties. This has effectively locked millennials (such as my finance and I) out of the housing market. I don’t mind renting per se, but when you can only ever get a one year lease and there’s nothing stopping the landlord from raising the price it gets pretty stressful. Previously we lived chose to live on the other side of our city where the rent was cheaper, but this also was a cause for stress when my fiancé developed depression and we were a 45-60 min drive from our main support network.
    Millennials I know who do choose to buy generally only have a tiny deposit and are up to their eyeballs in debt. I know many problems even relatively small amounts of debt can cause in relationship, let alone $1 million amounts.

    • Anna

      I totally hear you about the housing/rental market in Australia! We currently live in the US, but my fiance is Australian and recently got a really fabulous job offer back in AUS. However, he ended up taking a lower-paying job in a mid-size city here because we couldn’t figure out any way that we’d ever be able to save up enough for a down payment in AUS given the rental market and outrageous house costs. And that’s saying a lot, given that we’ve been living in the outrageously expensive San Francisco area for the past 3 years.

  • Alisha D.

    My debt is a very, very real thing in our marriage. I got a Masters Degree from an expensive public university right out of yndergrad, without really understanding the impli

    • Greta

      I think part of your comment was cut off, but I feel you. I made not necessarily a “poor” choice, but I really didn’t think through what debt would do to my life, what it meant for me, what the long term implications are. I work in a high school and many of our seniors just had college decision day. Whenever I get asked my opinion on where they should go, I always tell them to think real long and hard about debt and what they are willing to take on. It’s no joke! Unfortunately, we ask 18-year olds to make these decisions without fully formed brains so yea…

      • Alisha D.

        I have students who work for me at the library, and because I’m young (er) they always seem to ask me for college advice. I feel like I’m always drilling into their heads – do what you love. But take on as little debt as you possibly can. It does affect your whole life. We have had a few students say they want to go into the same field and I have such a hard time with it! How do you be encouraging but also say “don’t do it! There are very few full time jobs and even less that pay what you’re worth!” The whole thing is just so discouraging, and the problem feels so huge.

        • emmers

          I feel like there should be more emphasis on having at least one “practical” major, and then doing what you love for your second major or minor. It’s good to do what you love, but as you say, sometimes there are sooo few full time jobs in what you may love that it can really bite you in the ass if you have huge student loans in a really specialized degree.

          • Lisa

            I wish sometimes that I had majored in something else that I enjoy doing like graphic design or computer science. Something “marketable.” My “useful” major was Spanish to balance out my “dream” major of vocal performance. I didn’t really have a good grasp on the fact that, while being fluent in Spanish is useful, it’s not going to be the reason that most places want to hire me.

          • emmers

            I majored in things I liked, but if I had to do it again, I’d totally add on something computer sciency or business-y. I just had no concept of the kinds of things you can actually get jobs in, and what that translates to, salary wise. I ended up doing OK, but it was more luck than anything!

          • AP

            I had no concepts of what careers existed, period. I knew lawyer, doctor/nurse, preacher, secretary, teacher, service industry, military. All other fields seemed vague and out of reach. I’m realizing that was likely due to class- I just didn’t have exposure to a wide range of adults in a wide range of careers.

          • Lulu

            Same. I can remember all the go-getters hustling to talk to the consulting firm recruiters and just thinking, “But I don’t even know what ‘consulting’ MEANS.”

          • emmers

            This so much! When I graduated from college, I really had no idea either. And we were middle class, but I grew up in a small town, so it was those obvious options, and that was about it. I feel like I have only started to get a better idea now, a good 10 years out of college.

        • Amy Sigmon

          Yes. This. I majored in Theater Studies, with no minor, because I took so many theater classes I didn’t have room in my schedule for many other classes. I was just such a focused 18 year-old, and I have a huge support system who backed my acting dreams. I graduated at 22 completely burnt out on theater with no idea what I wanted to do, or what I might be good at. I wish I had explored more options in college, because I might have been led to something else I was good at.

        • Yeah, I enjoy my grad school/Ph.D life, but if I did college again, I would probably have aimed at being an actuary and stuck with my math major because I would have been good at that too, and am starting to realize more that I like nice things that money buys, which I didn’t realize as much in college when I was starting out. But also, it took a long time to realize that I value geographic stability more than the quality of my job (I love my job so much but I am not willing to move to wherever to pursue academia. I am moving home after grad school if I can convince my husband). (I am perfectly willing to work a less-ideal job for other benefits.) I wish I had thought more about money in college. (I did to the extent of carefully calculating

      • Alice

        It’s hard, even in grad school when you’re more of a real grown-up. If I had gone to work in a research lab with my biology BS and no student debt, I’d probably be much better off financially. But I have desperately wanted to be a vet my whole life, and I got into vet school. I really do believe that I belong here, but I’m also aware that I’m seriously jeopardizing our financial future by doing so. Where do you draw the line? I know I’ll have a job I love, which will also give me a lot of options and other things that I want. But I’ll also probably always feel like I made not the best financial decision.

        • Greta

          yes, its so hard! Do I need a masters degree to do my current job? no. Would I have gotten my current job without a masters degree? Probably not, given the job market of where I live and the competition to work at my school. So, do I regret getting my degree? no, of course not. The friends I made, the experiences I had, it has greatly shaped a big part of my life. It brought me to the city I currently live in, helped me fall in love with my field, and so many other things. But, but, but… such hard life decisions. When I’m struggling with these things, I like to read the ghost ship essay on dear sugar, and think about my favorite quote these days: “There was another life I might have had, but I am having this one.”

    • Alisha D.

      I literally just got an email today that my federal loans are going up because I made more money this year and my husband is no longer unemployed. LoooooL I need wine. Or whiskey. Definitely whiskey.

  • knolan12

    I came into my relationship with significant debt ($60k, $10k which my dad is paying down on top of his parent loan so I’m just paying my government loans). My parents paid 2/3 of my college education between cash and parent loans. I ended up getting screwed over by having my $8000/year grant taken away and having them divorce my senior year of college.

    I’ve always treated my debt as something that will always be apart of my life and never wanted to that to take precedence over something like buying a house or having babies. My boyfriend came into our relationship with zero student debt and a significant chunk of savings (turns out his parents have better money foresight than mine ever did haha). I was up-front with him within the first six months of our relationship about the debt, but I’ve always been adamant that the debt is mine alone. I’ve never missed a payment, and while they’re currently deferred, I still make $200/month payments on them (I couldn’t afford whatever they were asking me).

    We do have a vague plan for my debt (I’m returning my car at the end of its lease in October and will be putting the ~$200/month towards student loans) which will help. He’s also have offered to help with my payments numerous times. His view of it is that we’re a team, and if my extra cash is tied up in debt, it’s going to affect us as a whole. I’m still not comfortable with the idea, especially since he’ll be the one that’s buying us a house (though I’ll of course help with the mortgage payments).

    I think it’s a matter of pride vs. practicality. Either way, I still refuse to let my loans dictate my life.

    • another lady

      I am your husband in this situations – once you are married, I would suggest pooling your money and making a budget that pays both the mortgage and loan payments all at once. It doesn’t make sense to me to have my husband be in major debt and making minimum payments for $25+ years, while I save money. for example, he is being charge 6%+ on each loan, while I make maybe 0.2% on saving accounts and who knows how much in the stock market. So, he is ‘saving money’ while you are accruing interest and longer payment time.

  • AP

    I’m worried about what it will be like trying to help my future kids pay for college. I don’t want to personally go broke on their education, but I don’t want them saddled with tremendous debt either. I went to college right at the cusp of the upswing in tuition, and luckily I went to undergrad on a full scholarship. I took out a small loan for post-grad, which I was finally able to pay off last year. My husband got by on a combo of scholarships/fellowships and parent support. So now we’re debt free except the house and planning aggressively for financial independence. The thought of potentially jeopardizing our retirement to pay for our potential kids’ college tuition is terrifying. (Honestly, we’re on the fence about kids right now, and this doesn’t help…it also doesn’t help when members of his family say that not having kids is selfish, but that’s a whole other story…)

    • Lisa

      This is something I think about a lot when my husband and I talk about kids. I know there will be new additional expenses for things like insurance and basic necessities, but what will college tuition look like in 20-25 years? How can we start planning for that? My parents were incredibly generous in their financial support of me (I had some scholarships, and they covered the rest), and that’s a gift I want to give my children as well. However, I have no idea how we’ll predict what to save.

      • AP

        Right? My in-state tuition was something like $40K total for 4 years, including room/board. That I can wrap my head around. But $40K a year?? Or more?? What about more than one kid? That’s a *huge* dent in our retirement plan.

        • Lisa

          This is where we need the “Exactly!” button again! I feel like the rate of inflation has to stagnate at some point and that this tuition bubble is going to burst just like the housing one. But how do I adjust for that? And let’s assume we have 2 kids at $40,000/year without scholarships. Theoretically, we’d need to be putting away $1500/month (or $750/kid) just to be able to afford college some day. That might not be as insurmountable in the future, but with that number, we definitely could not save the requisite amount for our children’s education now.

          • AP

            <3<3<3 the Exactly! button

            I guess the idea is to just start saving, with the intention that it could go toward college if we have kids, and then retirement if we don't? We've just started focusing our attention on saving for retirement and feel like we have sooo much catching up to do. It just feels like a lot.

          • Eenie

            I simply don’t plan to save for my entire child(ren)’s education. I am setting myself up for a good retirement knowing that in the long run that will help both of us. I hope we will be able to help, but I also hope that this stupid bubble pops and education costs are more realistic.

          • AP

            I think this is where I’m falling, as well. I imagine we’ll save what we save, and set a dollar amount that we can put toward our kids’ college. If they choose to go somewhere more expensive, they can make up the difference.

          • Elizabeth

            I think that’s entirely reasonable. My parent’s helped hugely with my college expenses, but when I was looking at applications in high school including MIT their response was basically ‘you know we’re not paying for that right?’ It wasn’t a great feeling at the time ‘surely if I could get it I deserved to go, right??’ but I understood it then and I understand it even better now, and I don’t at all think it was a bad call.

          • chrissyc

            I’m in this boat, too. Mostly because it’s what my parents did, and now that they’re reaching retirement age, I’m incredibly grateful to be paying my student loans rather than figuring out how to support them financially during retirement. So I want to do the same with my children.

          • Eenie

            They don’t give out loans for retirement (and the associated costs of growing old)…

          • chrissyc

            Exactly.

          • Meg Keene

            Yeah. Worrying about your parents in retirement is pretty much the worst. We just got through that, and I’d never put my kids through that for their college. It’s just… it seems nice. But it’s not.

          • Megan

            That is how my parents approached it. They also recognized that we were strong candidates for financial aid and decided against setting up college funds for us. It worked out in the end that they were able to pay what the FAFSA determined was the “parent contribution” for the first two years and I paid for the “parent contribution” plus the “student contribution” for the last two years. I was able to get grants from my (private, four year) college (they are committed to meeting the financial needs as determined by FAFSA through govn. loans and university grants) which left me with $15k in stafford loans when I graduated. All in all I was really lucky to have had that experience and was able to pay off my loans in 3 years after graduating.

          • Elizabeth

            One thing my parents told me they did was they kept setting aside the cost of childcare for each of us after we were out of it, into a college fund. Not necessarily any easier to find that money, hah, but at least it set up a habit and continued it.

          • emmers

            That’s such a great idea!

          • THAT is a wonderful idea!

          • a few

            great idea – hard in practice – child care in my area is $200+ a week for a baby ($800-1000+ per month). The hope is to have a second child by the time the first is 2-3 years old so that the first kid is out of the baby rate and slightly ($150-$175 per week). At our current salaries, we will be lucky to afford one kid in daycare!

          • Kara E

            There’s a reason a lot of my friends who had kids younger had a parent stay home or waited until the older kid was in K to have a second. Here, that’s relatively cheap childcare…

          • Alexa

            My parents managed to finish paying off the mortgage on our house just before I (the oldest) started college and then put what would have been mortgage payments towards college. It’s a potentially ambitious goal and certainly not a guarantee of anything, but I’ll admit it’s something I’m shooting for.

          • Michela

            We’re currently investigating 529 plans. The idea of putting away child care costs after the kids are in school is a GREAT idea!

      • Our conversations about our son going to college always start or end with, “Well, this is assuming the system is anything like that we have now.” It’s scary to think we could be making plans for a future that could be so, so different for our kid.

      • NatalieN

        There is a program, I haven’t looked much into it, but I will when we’re closer to having kids. Where from what I’ve read you can buy tuition for your kids in ‘today’s’ dollars, and even if tuition increases between now and then, you’ve essentially pre-bought X number of years or quarter or units worth of tuition at a rather extensive list of colleges if you kid gets into one or more of them. and if your kid doesnt get in, or doesn’t go to college to can withdraw your money, no harm no foul. The only loss would be if tuition rates declined from today, or if you lost out on interest you could have earned on that money if your kid doesn’t go… I think. Like I said, haven’t done tons of research, but I think that’s how it works

        • Cellistec

          Yes, I think what you’re talking about is called a 529 plan, and savingforcollege.com has a comparison tool for various states’ versions of it. Not exactly a turbo-charged solution, but it can’t hurt, right?

    • emilyg25

      We prioritize retirement above all else. Once that’s in a place that we’re happy with, we’ll put some money aside for college. It’s important to me to pay a substantial portion of my son’s undergrad education, but I still want him to kick in some too. (My parents made us pay 15%. My dad’s parents made him pay 50%, but my folks recognized tuition had ballooned so much.)

      Most important, we’ll encourage him to think carefully about his options. Trade school, first two years at a community college, state school, time off if he needs to develop focus, etc. will all be on the table. We’ll have lots of conversations about debt and career options.

      • AP

        This is the approach I can get behind. I’m also ok with helping to finance other things besides college, like starting a business. We have friends who went into contracting and the trades, or started concrete or carpeting businesses right out of high school that are doing incredibly well. I’m not convinced college is the only way to go. I think the ongoing conversation part of it is key.

        • Lisa

          This is where my husband and I fall, too. We want to encourage our hypothetical kids to explore all of their options, which include trade schools, community colleges, and gap years. College isn’t for everyone, and we want them to make the decision that’s best for them and their skills.

          • Michela

            My Dutch fiancé thinks it’s insane that the trades get so little respect in the United States. College is not for everyone, and people can make great money working in some trades. Those working in the trades are just as respected in Europe as are college grads. Two of my brothers-in-law became chefs instead of going to university and make more money than we do and love their jobs! I wish we could respect the trades/specializations/art as much as we do university. At least the three of us will begin the trend, eh?

      • anon

        My parents are barreling towards a bankrupt retirement due to poor financial planning. From that perspective, a solid retirement account for yourself is the best gift you could give your children.

    • Amy Sigmon

      The only reason I’m not freaking out about saving heavily for our kids college education is because my parents have told me they plan to pay for their grandkids’ college expenses. I’m in the Millennial situation where I grew up more upper middle class than I will live for the rest of my life, because my husband and I, combined, will make less than my Dad, alone, made. I’m grateful that we can afford a nice, modest home, where kids will share bedrooms, like people mentioned earlier. But I will also echo that I’m fiercely hoping the education bubble will burst sometime in the next 16 years.

      • Eenie

        I hope it bursts after my loans are paid off and before my kids take any on ;)

    • Ashley

      I also think about this, and how my experience with loans and education will change how I approach the subject with my kids. It was a given that I would go on to college, even though I wanted to be a dancer and didn’t necessarily need that education, and though we couldn’t afford it. Also, I waited tables and bar for over a decade and could easily be making as much as I make now as a therapist, without any education beyond high school. If I was happy doing that, it could be a viable career, moving up to management after my body couldn’t take it anymore.

      I do not think I will push college on my kids. Of course if that is what they are passionate about, we will make it happen. But if they want to take some time to figure out what they want to do, maybe go back later, I’m totally cool with that. I really hate the message that you can’t take time off after high school or you will never go back to school- so not true and just puts kids in the position of having 6 figure debt before they even declare a major.

      • emilyg25

        My husband’s and my experiences also change how we look at this. He has a bachelor’s degree but has always worked blue collar manufacturing jobs, eventually rising to something at a desk. His degree never made a difference in his work. He also sees how in-demand some skilled trade positions are. You can make a lot with certain associate’s degrees!

        • Michela

          Totally with you. A friend of mine barely made it through undergrad- taking several classes over and over when she couldn’t pass- just to get a Nutrition & Science degree she didn’t need. She makes the same as a personal trainer with a degree as she would without, and now she’s got the student loans on top. Oy.

    • another lady

      I have put the kibosh on this until our loans are paid off. I am not ‘saving’ for the kid’s college while we are still pay for the hub’s college loan. And, the cost of child care is not helping the loans get paid off or the child’s potential education funding.

    • Her Lindsayship

      I did an internship in Germany during college, and my colleagues there thought I was joking when I told them my tuition was over $40,000/year without room and board. “How does anyone afford that??” they asked. “THEY DON’T!” I answered with a little shriek of a laugh.

      Turns out college in Germany is essentially free. There are many reasons this works for them, reasons that the U.S. is not about to embrace, but I definitely think my future kids will receive at least a little bit of pressure from mom and dad to consider Deutschland! (Helps that he’s from Germany of course, but shoot… I don’t even speak German and I wish I’d gone there.)

      • Lisa

        Germany is also opening their universities to American students for the same rates as their citizens! I wish that had been an option when I was in college.

        • Aubry

          Many other countries are doing the same, and many are english speaking universities! Thankfully I am in Canada where we have better things happening, but this might still be a great consideration!

      • kara e

        I studied at a German university for a year. It was certainly a good experience, but my small liberal arts college gave me a zillion time better education (even the large state school where I went to grad school was a smoother route to a degree – probably with a similar end result). There’s a reason students in Germany spend at least 5 or 6 years (at least) getting a degree.

  • Another issue with the student loan debt is the race and SES factor – Black & Latino students, along with folks who grew up at a lower SES are much more likely to need loans to get through school. When the economy declines, they are also much more likely to lose their jobs and take longer to find work. That puts them at an even bigger economic disadvantage and it has a trickle down effect in their finances, because its harder to save for a house or save for retirement or raise children when you have these student loan payments that you can never ever ever get rid of.

    • Lulu

      They are also often preyed upon by the unscrupulous for-profit colleges that do a lousy job of supporting them in earning a degree, let alone a degree with significant value in the marketplace. And while the for-profits are generally the worst, higher ed as a whole has a LOT of work to do in better supporting first-generation students and those from low-income families so that they can persist through to actually get their degrees. Kids who take on a year or two of debt but don’t finish often end up with outcomes that are really lousy and really unfortunate.

      • emilyg25

        Yeah, that for profit bar in the chart is truly shocking. So unethical to prey on the most vulnerable populations like that.

      • THIS FOREVER. I was just talking to my husband about it last night. We both came from intensely lower SES families, and I was a first generation college student (his mom went after her military service, so she was well into adulthood as a college student). We were talking about absolutely no one – our parents, the schools ,the financial aid counselors, orientation leaders, etc – actually explained the repercussions that come with student loan debt. I know that it’s ULTIMATELY on us as the people who signed up for the loans, but we neither of us had any financial know-how or anyone to ask.

        • emmers

          I mean, a lot of people start this stuff when they’re 18, when the government doesn’t even trust them with the decision of whether or not to buy alcohol. I know I wasn’t at a point to understand any of this when starting college!

          • Lulu

            And I was lucky enough to have two engaged, supportive– if not particularly informed or well-off– parents. Even getting the information to apply for federal aid can be hugely daunting to a kid in a precarious or tense (or worse) family situation.

            But I do think the tide is turning! There is a huge shift happening in high schools where they see getting kids to and through college as their central mission. It seems obvious to people who grew up in schools where that was always the expectation, but in urban schools that used to graduate only half their high schoolers, it’s revolutionary. And there’s more and more pressure to shed light on the colleges that are and are not doing right by kids. The Department of Ed released an imperfect but important college scorecard that lets you drill down on institutional graduation rates and outcomes for Pell-eligible students.

        • eating words

          Yes! My wife is a first-generation college student, and absolutely no one explained the ramifications of student debt to her, or gave her decent advice about how to make the most of her college career. It’s appalling how deeply we fail smart, ambitious young people.

    • La’Marisa-Andrea

      Also: the same students MUST get college degrees to get even the most basic of jobs. College if you want to make a decent living is not optional for black and latino people.

  • LJ

    My husband and I both have debt. Most of mine is debt from my grad degree. An excellent degree choice because it’s in a super employable field and one of the fastest growing professions in the US. His is from undergrad and has been deferred while he’s been getting his PhD (why do they pay for that and not a master’s? I digress). Paying off my loans on a 10 year plan has been important to me. I’ve reduced my loans substantially in the last few years, but now we are running on single income (mine) while he job hunts.

    I have considered loan consolidation for a lower interest rate as my loans are 6.8% and 7.9% which is a crime. But I have left them all as federal loans so that if something were to happen to me, my family wouldn’t be saddled with $70k of debt. Maybe when it gets lower and I get increased life insurance. We handle student loan payments like any other bill. We pay rent, we pay utilities, we pay loans. All together. It works for us this way.

    It would be nice to put that $500-1000 per month towards saving for a house, especially because we just moved to a super high cost of living area. I think that tough too because in our respective fields, while they’re are a ton of jobs, they’re all in more urban, expensive areas: Boston, SF, Seattle. It’s just life.

    • Eenie

      THIS! Although I don’t think you mean consolidation but refinancing. You can consolidate, but it just averages your current interest rates together and doesn’t reduce them. I haven’t done this because I have some loans below 4% and want to do minimum payment on those suckers once my big loans are paid off. Refinancing means you get a private company to pay off the loans and they give you a new loan for the lump sum with a reduced rate. I’ve looked into it and passed for the same reasons (federal loans come with perks). Although I don’t think your family would be saddled with them, you just aren’t guaranteed deferment or income based repayment if your employment situation changes.

  • Rhie

    I have a second job on top of my full time “real job” solely for the purpose of paying down my student loans, all grad school… and really I’ve done pretty well because I went to an in-state school and lived in a housing co-op both years that saved me I can’t even imagine how much, but still, there are days when I get home from work and turn around to work some more and think, really, three more years of this…? Sometimes it just gets you down.

  • savannnah

    I graduated from a good state university with no debt since my mother worked on the faculty there and I then went to an international grad school in Thailand and paid my own way since it was about $7,000 for the two year program. My fiance on the other hand, did two years of college, dropped out with about $10,000 in loans and then eventually made it to a vocational associates degree program which got him the job he has now and another $11,000 in debt. Combined we make about 140K and that $21,000 initial debt scared me a lot. We are both working to pay it off as fast as possible and have it down to $15,000 this month. He seems much less bothered by carrying that balance for a few years than I am and is thinking about going back to get his bachelors. We’ve had a fair few fights about taking on additional loans for school and especially living expense should he quit his job. We still haven’t settled on how to move forward.

  • Jessica

    I was just thinking about debt this morning. I graduated from undergrad with a lot of debt, and my husband has zero debt because he chose to join the military when he was 20. This has allowed us to buy a house, and his bonus from the last resigning of the military contract is going to home improvements. We do income-based repayment for my loans, and will not use his bonuses to pay off my student loans. He puts about the same amount of the monthly loan payment into his retirement fund. Unfortunately, it will take a lot of discipline once the loans are paid off for me to ‘catch up’ to his retirement fund.

    I feel very fortunate that we don’t have double my debt, and debt is what is making me not think about grad school at all. Like, laugh at people who suggest it to me.

  • a few

    My hubs brought $80,000+ in student loans to the marriage party. (I was lucky and my parents were able to pay for most of my college). He had 2 years at a tech school for an associates degree, a few years of working with minimum loan repaying, and then 5 years at a public university for a bachelors degree with previous loan deferment (ps: they keep charging you interest during deferment. his loans almost doubled in that time that he ‘didn’t have to pay them’!). He/we have been working to re-payment for 4+ years now. We have paid off the associates degree loans and have about $52,000 to go. The remaining loans were refinanced as much as possible (under his name only) and 2 are on 10 year pay off plans and the 3rd is on a 25 year pay off plan. We attempt to pay extra and get them paid off sooner, but with a house and a baby, that’s getting pretty tough. We essentially have 3 mortgages (house, student loans, child care) each month. His baby boomer parents have been wonderful about helping us out with a portion of the re-payment, but they have 3 kids who all went to college and they should be planning for retirement, not paying off their kid’s debt! Once we all finally refinanced the loans out of his parents’ names, his parents’ credit was freed up to do other things. I think this is making a huge impact on all 3 generations right now (baby boomers, gen x/y, and millennials). Many baby boomers will be delaying retirement and other large purchases to help pay off their kids’ student loans. Our current generations will be paying these loans of for … decades… or not paying them and going into default with the government. Some people hope that the loans will eventually be forgiven (good luck with that!) and others just assume that they will be paying on them for their entire adult lives! I just hope that we are not actually still paying on them when we are 50!

  • Erica

    Seeing the title of this article reminded me that we’ll have to start paying off my husband’s student loans next month. We moved recently because he got a kickass job, but I don’t have one yet. (Phone interview in an hour, actually!) We’re doing well right now on just his income, but in a month we have to start making payments. Luckily, I didn’t have any student loans, and he went to a state school, so his is… manageable. Thank goodness we live perfectly comfortably on his income because that means we can throw most of mine into savings and his loans.
    So far his loans haven’t impacted our relationship at all, but we also haven’t had to make payments toward them. I don’t feel weird or resentful about using “my” money to pay off his loans because we’re a team. When he took an extra semester and had no scholarships, I gladly used my savings (leftover scholarship money of my own. What what.) to pay for the semester so he didn’t have to take out more loans.

    • AGCourtney

      Hope your interview went well!

      • Michela

        Same! Let us know how it goes! : )

  • JT

    My husband and I met during undergrad at a public state school. We had both been admitted to more prestigious (expensive) schools, but had both chosen the state school because of a full ride scholarship. Financial responsibility was one of the things that cemented our relationship. We’ve been able to afford and save a lot more than our peers throughout our 20s and now in our 30s because of this one decision.

  • Lisa

    We are incredibly fortunate to have had parents who could contribute to our educations. Between scholarships and their help, the only loans we have are from my husband’s undergrad, and those total about $30,000. We paid off the Sally Mae loan with Christmas money in 2014, which was the best feeling ever. I’ve started socking away money while my husband’s loans are deferred for his doctorate, and we should have enough money to pay off at least half without touching our emergency fund.

    I know we are incredibly lucky to have escaped this crisis mostly unscathed. I have watched too many of my friends take out tons of loans to attend school, only to graduate at the height of the recession and need to move home because they couldn’t afford to pay any bills other than their loan payments. So many have been underemployed, working several part time jobs, just to make ends meet. I think this informs how my husband and I view college — we will support our kids if they need to pursue it to follow their strengths into a career but we want them to explore other opportunities that might be available to them as well. (If husband hadn’t gone the way he did towards a doctorate, he’s 99% sure he would have been a mechanic instead.) There are so many options out there that I feel like people didn’t even consider because the idea of college as the ultimate goal was drilled into everyone’s heads from a young age.

  • Mary Jo TC

    My husband and I met at our private college and graduated in 2006. We both were lucky enough to have roughly equal amounts of debt, about $15k each, thanks to scholarships and grants on my side and family on his. We’ve always just considered the loans as one of our monthly bills, and not even the worst one. We pay them with joint money but they’re still under our separate names. When we sold our first house this past summer, we looked at the loans and decided to pay his off with money from the sale. We picked his because it had the highest monthly payment, though the amount was lower than mine and the interest rate was in the middle of my 2 loans. We were trying to lower our monthly bills to accommodate the higher mortgage on our new house. I’m really glad that our student loans haven’t been a source of resentment or conflict between us. They haven’t kept us from buying a house or having kids. They’re just a fact of life. But the situation might have been entirely different if we’d been born even 2 years later.

  • Ashlah

    I feel relatively fortunate (which is a sign of how shitty the tuition situation really is). I graduated with $18k in debt and my husband graduated with $30k. I got a decently-paid job right out of school and aggressively paid mine off in three years (all tax refunds, bonuses, raises went to my loans). I immediately offered to help with my husband’s debt too. He felt a little weird about it initially, but ultimately we both understood that it was best for both of us to pay down this debt faster. I did ask him to increase his payment some, and said I would match it. In the end we were paying $800 a month, and finished paying them off a few months ago.

    We both worked during school, went to our in-state public university, and had some scholarships. Boomers and others who think student loan debt only happens to irresponsible people are not paying attention. Unless you come from a family who can pay for your school, you will have debt, and it will affect your ability to save for homes, retirement, babies, etc. We actually did buy a house before our debt was paid off, but only because our friends were selling, and with a very small down payment. We have to pay PMI, which makes our mortgage a few hundred dollars more expensive than it would be had we been able to save up for a down payment before purchasing.

    • another lady

      now you could take the $800 a month and make extra mortgage payments until you get to the % equity you need to not have to pay PMI anymore, if that is worth it to you (we only pay like $30 a month in PMA, but my in laws pay $200, so YMMV)

      • Ashlah

        Well, right now the $800 is going towards our baby fund (cost of birth and leave for both of us), but increasing our mortgage payment is definitely on the horizon!

        • Alexa

          Make sure you know the percent required to cancel the PMI (usually owing less than 80% of the value of the property) and keep track of when you do hit it, because if you hit it early it doesn’t automatically cancel. (Jumping through the hoops of canceling our PMI once we payed off enough of our mortgage was probably the most “adult” thing I’ve done in my life, but apparently doing it significantly ahead of schedule is uncommon enough that even the people at the bank had go go through multiple levels to figure out how to make it happen.)

  • Michela

    Currently 10 days away from graduate school graduation and staring down the barrel of $70K in student debt from undergraduate + graduate school- this is so timely, Maddie!

    My fiancé graduated with his undergrad in the Netherlands, where he is from and where college costs a few hundred Euros a semester and everyone lives at home. Thankfully for me, my partner is super understanding about my student debt and we intend to pay it off together. In fact, we just put my entire tax return and his bonus check towards my loans and now we’re down to $60K! One impact student loans has had on our relationship is that I feel very guilty about my fiancé “helping” me pay the loans that are obviously all mine. However, we operate much like Meg’s household- a socialist environment where everything is pooled- so it would be difficult and weird to pay student loans separately when all our finances are merged. Does anyone else with uneven student debt feel guilty? Or, if you’re the partner with fewer loans, do you feel a bit resentful?

    On the bright side, this has impacted our relationship in an odd, sort of positive way in that we’re already discussing how we’ll help our kids pay for college someday. The current plan is to match whatever scholarships they earn as a way to incentivize unborn-kiddos to earn good grades and be involved in their communities without just handing them a blank check and running the risk of raising spoiled kids. Had we not experience such hefty student loans as a couple, I doubt we would be discussing plans for something literal decades away.

    Just want to say a big kudos to everyone paying down student debt, however you’re doing it. In many ways, I think of my student debt as a privilege (especially since 80% of it comes from graduate school), so that is a helpful reminder for me when I put $3,000 towards paying it down when I really really wanted more makeup from Sephora.

    Best of luck everyone! It’s so so difficult, but also very rewarding.
    xoM

    • Stars

      “Does anyone else with uneven student debt feel guilty? Or, if you’re the partner with fewer loans, do you feel a bit resentful?”

      My partner has a lot of debt from grad school, while I’m almost done paying mine off. I kicked my arse for the last 15 years to try to make my loans go away and I am almost there. As for him? He’ll be 40 by the time the loans are gone. We are talking about me helping to pay down his massive chunk loans together, if only for the peace of being debt-free sooner.

      He makes more salary than I do, so sometimes it’s hard not to be resentful. If I were to put my money into his loans, it might mean that I don’t get to go out and spent money on fun things, while he still will. We are drafting up some ideas about how to make the deal feel fair, and many of the better-feeling ideas involve him picking up more of the tab on other things as a form of sorta-kinda paying me back.

      I feel guilty for not being more selfless. I feel like an ass because I’m not comfortable with just saying “Here’s all my extra income. Because love is about sacrifice, right?”

      In the end, it seems like it helps to remember that marriage changes us from two separate “I’s” and into a “we”. Our marriage signifies us working as a unit to accomplish our life goals together. We’re going to want that vacation to Bali a lot more that we will individually want that video game or that pair of sneakers.

      • a few

        pooling your money into one pot and paying everything together, then giving each person the same amount of spending money is the easy way around this. There is no way that I would give a % of my income to pay my hub’s loans, but then not get to do fun stuff while he does because he makes more money – nope! but, if you put all money together, then pay stuff based on both incomes, then give each person the same amount of fun money, that would seem more fair to me!

        • emilyg25

          This is how we do money and it’s awesome. I have student loans; he doesn’t. We pool all income and all debt.

          • Ashlah

            We just switched to that model this month! I’m really excited to see how it goes!

          • Lisa

            We did this a month or two into YNAB, and it’s been really successful for us. I hope you find a solution that works for you!

      • Amy March

        If the plan is you pay off his loans while he carries on spending, of course you should be resentful!! Paying off his loans needs to be part and parcel of a whole budget that makes sure you are both being treated fairly.

        • a few

          right, and if he is just spending willy-nilly – why is he not using that money to pay off the loans faster!??

      • Michela

        I totally feel you on this. Your statement about marriage transferring two separate “I’s” into a “we” is 100% what I am adjusting to when I say I feel guilty about my partner “helping” me with my student debt, for the exact reason you cited- you didn’t come into the relationship with much debt so why should you “suffer”. On the other hand, if roles were reversed, I wouldn’t want my partner to feel guilty or burdened by debt if I was able to help, ya know? Aaaah so complicated.

        Also- here’s the marriage as mini-socialism post from Meg that I loved. Even if you don’t pool finances completely, it’s a great reminder about why teamwork is essential for partners (obviously I need to remind myself!):

        https://apracticalwedding.com/2012/03/combining-finances-marriage-wedding/

        Thanks for giving me your viewpoint!

        xoM

    • LP

      We do not pool all income/all debt. Before we moved in, we decided there would be expenses I paid, and expenses he paid. He’s in charge of paying his student loans and his car. I’m in charge of paying rent/mortgage, health insurance, utilities, my car, both car insurances, and extra fun stuff. This has helped me be less resentful because basically, I’m living the same way I would be had I not decided to move in and eventually marry him, other than a little extra added health insurance (which is hardly noticeable, because I work in the healthcare field, so I get awesome benefits). This also gives us the freedom to pay loans off early. Right now we estimate it’ll be ~3 years more, for a total of 4 years of paying loans. Not too shabby! It works well for us, although he does feel guilty at times because he would be without home if he paid his loans the way he is now and we weren’t together. But I couldn’t care less, these are the cards life dealt us with, and we are so much more fortunate than most people!

      • LP

        Also, if we decide that one of us (more than likely him) wants to stay home with kids, we know living on one income is totally doable. Which is awesome practice!

      • Michela

        That’s how I feel, too. At the end of the day, however terrifying and heavy these loans feel, it is a privileged problem to have. Thanks for reminding me : )

        Good luck paying off the rest of your loans!! You are so so close.

        xoM

    • chrissyc

      Congrats on your almost-graduation! About your question about guilt / resentment: When my husband and I joined finances, I had significantly fewer student loans. I don’t mind that he brought in more debt; I would mind if I felt like we had really different qualities of life. Personally I wouldn’t enjoy having money to blow if he were scraping by every month. And I would definitely feel resentful if I were pinching pennies to pay off “his” loans and he wasn’t making similar sacrifices.

      Large debt or not, I think the biggest factor to prevent financial resentment is to communicate priorities and align your budget(s) to those priorities.

      Also, I think it’s great that you seem to feel okay regarding your student debt (talking about it as a privilege in some ways, particularly in connection to grad school). I think a significant part of the student loan battle is all the guilt that can be associated with taking on such a huge debt. As great as the the financial burden may be, the psychological burden can be even greater and more challenging to overcome. So you seem to be in a good place!

      • Michela

        “I don’t mind that he brought in more debt; I would mind if I felt like we had really different qualities of life. Personally I wouldn’t enjoy having money to blow if he were scraping by every month.” You sound just like my fiancé! And that’s the “marriage as mini-Socialism” talking- why should one of us suffer when we can both work together to avoid the suffering. A rising tide lifts all boats, right? Regardless, it’s still tough for me to feel like a burden, which speaks to your point of the psychological burden of loans- you’re totally right there. Thanks for reassuring me!xo

        • Abby

          The rising tide metaphor is a great one to apply to this situation– as a fellow grad school debtor who married someone with no debt, I felt super guilty letting my husband help pay off my massive loans. But in the end, (1) his contributing really kept me on track with my own commitments, because my guilt/competitiveness forced me to make sure I was putting in more than he was (or at least my fair share, see the quality of life issue); and (2) with compound interest being what it is, him helping shaved 2-3 years off even my most aggressive do-it-myself repayment plan. We’re now 100% debt-free, far sooner than I ever expected to be, and it feels SO. DANG. GOOD. All boats are way better off now than if he’d left me on my own like I wanted him to. Congrats on your graduation, and best of luck with everything! It sounds like you’re completely on the right track.

          • Michela

            Thank you, Abby <3

  • CMT

    My boyfriend and I haven’t talked about finances much yet, since we’re currently not even living in the same place. I want to ask how much student loan debt he has (and talk about how much I have, too) but it’s awkward and I haven’t figured out how to bring it up yet.

    • EF

      $1000/month is about where I am. It’s tough going, especially when people don’t get it because they think your job pays ‘enough’! But way to go for making it work!

  • ktmarie

    “Our student loan debt even kind of feels like pretend debt, the same way it felt like pretend money when we first received it.”

    This is exactly how it felt for me. My husband and I were lucky to both come out of school with only ~$40k combined debt and have good paying careers in industry so we paid it off relatively soon, but looking back on it, I didn’t understand the ramifications of my decisions as I was graduating high school at 18 and just learning how to be (somewhat) financially independent from my parents. It all seems kind of pretend as you say, but then it becomes insanely real when you finish school and that’s terrifying.

  • LP

    So, I’m one of the extremely fortunate few whose parents were able to contribute 20k a year to my tuition. They were up front that this is how much they’d be able to help, not a penny more, and did so for myself and my siblings. We were to pick a school, and if we needed loans, they’d help us navigate that, and if not, it was covered. Smart little 17 year old me did post-secondary enrollment in high school, and graduated from a state school in 3 years with no debt due to my parents contribution. With scholarships and the school I selected, and my post secondary enrollment, I actually ended up saving around 10k in the long run. One thing my mom did to save for our education was at the end of every month, she’d look at her receipts and see how much she saved on things at the grocery store, etc. and would put that savings into an account for us. She did this from before we were born up until we graduated. It was a small amount of money each month, but it added up over 18+ years.

    My soon to be husband, on the other hand, did not have parents who were willing to contribute. His father is the VP of a pretty well known company in our area, and his mom drives a Mercedes, so due to his parents’ income, he did not qualify for subsidized loans. 4.5 years later for him and he has 65k in debt, with a ridiculously high interest rate.

    Now, as frustrating as it is to be marrying somebody who has so much debt, I am so incredibly proud of him for how he’s handled it. In the 6 months since he’s graduated, he’s already paid off 10k. This is how we are handling the debt:
    -We are living almost entirely off of my income. I pay for all the expenses aside from his car payment. It sucks. We are poor. But it’s doable. We still get the occasional nice thing, and his debt will be paid off quickly.
    -We did the move back in with your parents thing for a year. Again, it sucked, but it saved so much money which is why he was able to pay so much off already.
    -he’s a teacher. You better believe he’s getting a summer job and every dime of it is going into those damn loans.
    -We are considering staying in the house we live in now with our roommate after getting married for a little while. We have a great relationship with our roommate, and the rent is cheap. Also, roommate came with a dog who I would hate to give up! I’d love any APWers who have had post-marriage roommates thoughts on this and what their experience has been.

    As for how this will effect our generation, we have already decided that we will most likely only have one child because of tuition. We both feel pretty strongly that we should be contributing a good chunk of tuition to our children, so one seems doable financially.

    • Michela

      We do the “living on one income” thing too! My fiancé owns his own company. He pays himself very little, but does make quite a bit of cash, although it’s variable and not to be counted upon. We save all of his paycheck towards an emergency fund and use his cash to pay off loans. We paid off my $10,000 used car in six months, paid for our honeymoon in full, and just put $10,000 towards my student loans in the past month. We live in a really small one-bedroom apartment (which sucks for my fiancé who could really use an office), we YNAB every purchase, shop at Aldi, buy our movie tickets at Costco, etc. It’s not miserable, but it’s not easy, either. Happy to see someone else has adopted the one-paycheck system! It’s definitely a high-impact strategy for paying down debt.

      Way to go you guys!xo

  • Ashley

    I relate a lot to the feeling of waking up one day with 6 figure debt and suddenly realizing the impact… I graduated high school in 2004, so things were just starting to take a turn, and my parent’s didn’t know what they were doing. Plus I was the youngest of four so my mother didn’t have more dependents at home- the youngest always get screwed! Though we didn’t have a lot of money (hence zilch family contribution) I did come from a white educated family, and was privileged enough in this way to think “of course I’m going to college, and of course I can go wherever I want (private school in NYC) and I’ll just figure out a way to make it happen”. Tons of private loans (ouch) and federal loans later, I started to pay the consequences- literally.

    My fiance is now in school, and has been with me through grad school. I anticipate adding his debt into the collective pile of bills, because I see him getting his education as a contribution in itself- a way to make more money (maybe), and to ensure he can do what he wants to do, adding to his, and thus our and our children’s future happiness. He feels the same way about my substantially larger debt. Grad school was the only way to make a reasonable amount of money in the mental health field, and the only way for me to do what I wanted to do.

    Lets just hope the current loan forgiveness programs stick around, and maybe we will be debt free in the next decade!

  • Kara E

    There’s some other generational differences too (dh is older gen x, I’m middle, and my younger brothers are solidly Millennial): expectations of what you pay for during the college experience. For me, no cell phone (until post grad school – though many of my friends did), no car during college (and beaters long after I could “afford” better), and some seriously cheap living let me go through without too much in the way of loans. And that was pretty much the way all of my friends lived too — by my youngest two brothers, most of their friends had lots of “stuff” and lived, well, pretty nicely. We all worked during the summers – though for my youngest brother (a full 10 years younger than I am) it was important that he had an internship (fortunately, his were paid)– whereas my dh (6 years older than I) worked on a road crew and I did stuff like lifeguarding and nannying – none of which impeded our abilities to get good jobs and careers started. We have a young family friend where we currently live who has managed to pay her way through grad school through some major self-sacrifice, but I know it’s really a struggle with both her professor’s expectations (like “why /can’t/ you drop everything to come at this day/time) and her classmates expectations (like why can’t you go out and party with us).

    • another lady

      for some schools and programs, you are not allowed to have other jobs (student teaching, law school, etc.) and some others require internships, unpaid usually, to graduate and find good jobs. I actually had to quit my paid jobs for the last 2 semesters of college.

      • RJ

        I don’t know of any law schools that don’t let you work while attending. I worked 20-30 hours per week in law school.

        • Angela Howard

          My SIL’s law school STRONGLY discouraged working during 1L.

        • Amy March

          Some of them recommend that you don’t work, in particular for your first year, but I don’t even know how they would go about prohibiting it.

      • Yup! As a PhD student I wasn’t allowed to have another job. While PhD’s in the sciences are paid, you make just enough money to live on the poverty line. And for that, you give 6 years of your life working 60+hours a week. Joy.

    • NotMarried!

      Yes. We had a saying when I was in law school – you can either choose to live like a lawyer while you’re in school – and like a law student once your graduate during repayment. OR you can live like a student while you’re in school and like a lawyer once you graduate.

      Of course, this failed to account for so many variables (a tanking legal economy, for one; steriotypes about how certain groups of people live, for another). But I think the idea is solid.

      • Kara E

        Pretty much. I think I paid off 12K of debt (which is very admittedly not much compared to what it could be – thanks mom and dad!) in a little less than 2 years (with a job that paid in the 40s). I vividly remember the day I realized that I could write a payoff check and still have my emergency fund and “life happens” fund intact. I also put every little pay raise into my 403b account, so I just had to keep living at the same level (better than a grad student, but not, apparently commensurate with what I “should” do). I only just realized that most of the people I know with nice cars don’t actually own them, just lease.

  • emilyg25

    I very much hope that the way adults counsel the young people in their lives is changing to better match reality. I mentored a first generation, high need high-school student, helping her apply to colleges. She was between BU and Northeastern. She really preferred Northeastern, but the difference in aid packages was staggering. At BU, she was looking to graduate $20k in debt, vs. $80k from Northeastern. I sat her down and outlined what my own student loans were, what I had to pay every month, what that meant to my larger budget and ability to do things like live without roommates. I could not in good conscience let her take on that debt without giving her the full picture of the consequences. She chose BU.

    • emmers

      Yay!! Go you. Life changing!

    • Lisa

      That is so much more information than most of us had at her age. Thank you for giving her the tools to make an informed decision!

    • Natalie

      When I was in high school I wanted to go to Cornell, but I had a full scholarship offer from my (very good) state university. My dad sat me down and basically asked me if I wanted to spend the rest of my life worried about money and paying off debt, or if I wanted to get just as good an education for free. I’m so grateful to him for making debt sound terrifying to my naive 16 year-old self. It upsets me that so many high school students are encouraged to take on huge amounts of debt with no one to warn them against it, to explain the ramifications to their lives ten years down the line.

      • And you two are both so lucky that you had people that understood the ramifications of student loan debt. A lot of minority college students, who are first generation, didn’t have that, myself included. I am thankful that I was able to graduate with “only” $30K in debt, but still, had no clue what I was getting myself into when I signed those documents at 18.

        • Natalie

          Yes, exactly. I was hugely privileged. I wish with all those fancy-paper brochures and info about aid, colleges were required to provide info on how long you’ll be paying off that debt (the way credit card companies now have to on credit card statements). They make financial aid packages sound free, when in fact, tens of thousands of those “free” dollars will need to be paid back. With interest.

        • Ditto! For me, as first generation minority student, it was my family’s dream that I even got into a good college and got decent scholarships. FAFSA and their bullshit “this is what your family can contribute” was bogus and so it was loans and 2 PT jobs for me in order to make college work.

        • EF

          yuuup. when i was counseled, in 2005, i was literally told ‘you’re smart, you’ll get a job right afterwards – just go to the best college now and the job will be there at the end!’

          I went to BU for 2 years, ended up $60K in debt. The economy crashed, I couldn’t get approved for loans, and I transferred (to…the ivy league, which was cheaper). It’s hard to explain to people now that the world just looked really, really different in 2005, and having next to no one who’d gone to college, it was hard to figure these things out.

    • Michela

      What a kind thing to do, Emily. Last month my sister was contemplating a transfer to a cheaper state school because she was overwhelmed by the debt at her private university (despite having great scholarships). One of the ways I tried to help was by telling her my total debt, what our monthly income is, and how much of our take-home pay goes towards student loans. I truly believe the lack of concrete understanding leads young people to make poor decisions. Good for you for laying things out clearly!xo

    • Duke Alum

      THIS a million times. I’m a huge advocate for personal finance on a “real” level (as in, this is what type of housing you can live in if you graduate with the average salary for X profession with Y debt, this is the car you might drive, etc.). When I was 18 I had a hard time connecting the dots of the “monopoly” money student loans and my real life adult finances.

  • Kalë

    As a younger, squarely-millennial reader, this article is immensely timely. I’d like to applaud APW for this content and suggest more like it. For me, understanding student loans, debt, interest rates, retirement accounts is a huge learning curve – one that I was never taught by my parents. I would love to see a “Finances for Dummies” article or series for others (please, let there be others!) like me who don’t know what APR or 401ks are, or how to find out about investments, matching contributions from employers or how much, exactly, I should be saving each month. From reading other comments above, it seems like many contributors are both older and more financially literate than I am; which is both awe-inspiring and intimidating.

    • afheg

      I think they did this type of things with an ‘adulting’ series last year or a while back… insurance stuff and investing comes to mind. anyone have links to those… Buller, Buller…

      • Lisa

        The insurance articles were what finally got me around to buying life insurance for my husband and me. I learned so much from the adulting series!

    • Alexa

      APW’s articles on “money” and related things—which includes some stuff like insurance and investing—can be found here: https://apracticalwedding.com/category/money/

      There’s also a category called “The Hard Stuff” that is a more eclectic mix but includes a lot of adulting-type topics: https://apracticalwedding.com/category/the-hard-stuff/

      • Kalë

        Thank you! Those should help get me started… I’m embarrassed at my lack of financial literacy but didn’t really know how to figure it all out. Hopefully things will get less overwhelming the more I learn.

        • Alexa

          Sure! One of my favorite things about APW is that it tends to be a couple of years ahead of where I am in life stages (wedding planning, then financial stuff, now looking at kid stuff), which is really useful. The archive is pretty extensive, but it’s super useful.

    • Eenie

      Not quite for dummies, but this is a really good place to start.
      http://cdn.youneedabudget.com/img/support/YNAB_Investing_Course.pdf

  • Keeks

    My husband and I are living proof of the millenial/gen X divide. We both graduated from the same grad school with similar amounts of debt, but he’s 10 years older than me. The rate on his loans is 2.8% while mine is 6.8%. Also, he took a 20 year repayment schedule while I have the standard 10 year repayment schedule. Sooo that means that my monthly payment is 3x his monthly payment, and since he has a 10 year head start in the workforce & salary, his payment is such a tiny part of his income that it’s just… nothing to him.

    Before we joined finances, he would get really upset that we couldn’t share costs “equally” and I suspect he thought I was bad with money. I even got some mansplaining that if I would just consolidate and do IBR/PAYE then my monthly payments would be lower. It took a worksheet from studentloans.gov to prove to him that I’d pay $10k more in interest over the life of the loans so no, I was NOT doing that just to make his life easier. It sucks to have a payment the size of a very nice BMW every month, but I’d rather do it now than when we have kids & daycare too.

  • Vanessa

    We’re not married yet, but it has definitely impacted our discussions about how and when we will get married. My parents didn’t help me pay for undergrad or law school, so when I was finally done with school I graduated with $220k, most of it at the usurious 8.5% grad loan rate. I work in state government (doing something I love but earning peanuts) so I’m on an income-based repayment plan – which means that at this interest rate, I’m not even coming close to paying the interest that accrues every month. In the 5 years since I graduated from law school, my debt has grown to $280k.

    That’s why I’m doing public service forgiveness. I’ll need to stay in government for another 8 years, but then my loans will go away. At this point, there’s no possible job I could get that would pay me enough to pay them off. Otherwise my partner and I would be seriously considering running away to open a B&B in Costa Rica.

    • Lisa

      This is what happened to my doctor friend. She’s so tired of her residency, but since she has six figures of student loan debt from med school, she has no options but to stick it out until the loan forgiveness kicks in. It’s such a tough situation. :(

  • Her Lindsayship

    “Our student loan debt even kind of feels like pretend debt, the same way it felt like pretend money when we first received it.”

    I’ve seen a number of people responding to this line in agreement and lamenting that we are forced to make these decisions when we’re so young, and I just want to offer a different perspective… I had no school debt until I was 24, because I went to community college off and on. So when I finally decided to go to school full time and get a degree, I had several years of supporting myself and more wisdom or whatever under my belt than the average freshman, but I STILL chose to go to a ridiculously expensive private university that would result in a ton of debt. I can’t say I regret the decision, because well what’s the point, I’m in a good enough position now and steadily paying down the loans. But I just didn’t feel I had much choice. It was either go to this really good school (which did offer me some scholarships thank the lord) and come out with sizable debt or go to a state school, still come out with debt, and have a degree that the world was telling me would be less valuable. I chose the expensive option and I’ll be paying for it for a good while.

    But I don’t think I chose it in ignorance, and I don’t think all 18 year olds do either. They’re doing what society has told them is the path to success. And it’s messed up and it needs to change, but I don’t think it’s a completely stupid thing for them to do, given the constraints of the environment. I guess what I’m trying to say is, be kind to your teenage self. ;)

    • RJ

      I totally agree with this. I was 16 when I went to college and completely knew what I was getting myself into, which was massive amounts of stress about student loan debt from the day I started undergrad to the day I paid I finished paying it off 12 years later, but also the higher earnings that the name brand got me a much better chance at.
      My husband and I paid for the same number of degrees (BA, MA, and JD), but he did his all at his local state university, so came away with probably 1/3 of the student loan debt I did, but also lower earnings than I had, less than 1/3 of what mine was when we met. To this day he doesn’t understand why I’m so happy about my undergrad choice and I don’t understand why he’s so happy about his, but they worked out for us, and so we were happy to each pay off our own amounts. My takeaway is: to each, his or her own – experiences and debt.

      • Michela

        Were his lower earnings the result of his local state university education? This is an important point to consider when choosing universities- I went into business and knew that, provided I had a high enough GPA, my university wouldn’t matter much three years after graduation. But this certainly isn’t true for every profession and should play a role in the decision making process. Great point!xo

  • KM

    Stick with the 10 year repayment plan. You will never have as few expenses as you have now.

    I graduated from a top grad program in Spring 2009, right after the economy crashed. It took most of my classmates six months to find a job and many of us were underemployed. My first salary was $32k/ year, and I was paying around $1000/month on the 10 year repayment program ($94K in debt.) The monthly payment was literally half my salary but I lived cheaply and made it work. A year later I got a better job w/ a clear path to a much better salary. I’ve used a few bonuses to pay off different little loans and am now down to $30k.

    The alternative: My grad school BFF did one of the income based repayment (IBR) programs and has been paying interest only (or less) for the last 6.5 years. His loans are now BIGGER than when he started ($120K). His salary is also much better now, but that could bump him out of the IBR program.

    Or…don’t take on student loans. Pick a trade and become an apprentice, or do two years of community college, or get scholarships. I do think (hope?) the tuition market will correct over time, since it’s becoming way too expensive for normal people to afford.

  • AmandaBee

    This is timely – the fiance and I just merged our finances today, or at least started the process, and were trying to figure out if his loans and my (nearly paid off) loans count as a shared expense. We’re leaning toward yes because it benefits both of us to pay them off, especially when we eventually want to buy a house together. I also think of education as something we both benefit from, just like my grad school expenses will one day contribute to my ability to get a decent job. It’s definitely a weird conversation to have though, especially when the person with more debt isn’t the main earner.

  • Megan

    I graduated in 2010 with about $25k in student loan debt, which actually makes me feel like I was pretty lucky. It’s interesting to read a lot of commenters saying something along the lines of not wanting to burden their partner with their debt. That’s a perspective my now husband had when we first talked about getting married (he didn’t have any student debt). As the person with the debt, it was hard to avoid the perception that *of course* I would think my spouse should help pay when I’d be the one benefitting. But that dynamic really felt uncomfortable to me. My degree led me to my career/salary potential. My partner is benefitting from any raises/promotions I get, which ultimately wouldn’t have been possible (or much more difficult) if I didn’t have a college degree. Plus, there’s really no way for me to “separately” pay back my loans without it impacting my partner. If I’m paying $600/month to loans, that’s $600 I don’t have to contribute to our household budget for things like a nice home, travel and joint savings.

    In the end, we wound up combining our finances and recently paid them off in full! Although I didn’t do it on my own, it’s still been an incredibly freeing feeling to be completely done with student loans!

    • chrissyc

      Congrats on being done with student loans! That’s awesome.

      I feel ya–I really don’t understand the attitude of not wanting to help pay your spouse’s student loans when you are benefiting from them (or at least the education that the loans provided). Obviously some couples keep their finances completely separate, and in that case I can understand paying loans separately.

      But I don’t understand combining incomes to pay the bills, then being upset over the very things that made it possible for your spouse to have that job that contributes to the household income. I have an acquaintance who complains regularly about her husband’s huge debt and how it’s unfair he brought that into marriage when she had no student loans. Funny thing is, she’s a housewife and is dependent on the income from his high-paying job that he only has because of his (albeit, expensive) graduate degree. It makes no sense.

      Maybe my view is skewed though, because to me, more loans = more education = better job. Maybe it’s harder to rally yourself to help pay your partner’s loans when they paid for school that didn’t help secure his or her current job.

      • Megan

        Even when couples keep their finances completely separate, I have a hard time wrapping my head around your income/debt NOT impacting the other. If you make a relatively similar amount of money, I can see how it works, but if the balances are off at all….it’s very tough. My spouse has always made more than me. If you split the bills 50/50, and Spouse A makes $24k per year and Spouse B makes $100k per year, you have to live a $24k lifestyle to make it feasible for Spouse A. But then what the heck does spouse B do with the extra $75k per year?

        I know some people manage to make it work, but even 6 months into marriage, everything feels so intertwined, I have a hard time imagining how it could be separate.

    • Michela

      100% this.

  • AGCourtney

    A combination of luck/circumstances and personal effort have put me in a really great position with regards to debt. I grew up *poor*, and like everyone else in my neighborhood, I got pregnant at 17. Unlike everyone else in my neighborhood, I got a 34 on my ACT without studying. (99th percentile score, for those unfamiliar.) I was sure about the baby, I was sure about college, but I wasn’t sure about the father, so I emailed my admissions counselor at the liberal arts college I’d been accepted to and he connected me with a non-profit in Minneapolis that provides income-based housing and a quality child development center for single mothers going to college. With the help of that and public assistance programs, I was able to devote my energy to kicking ass at school instead of panicking about making ends meet. (Not that there still wasn’t stress – just not as much as there could have been.)

    And so I did. I graduated summa cum laude in three years. I worked at the library, I worked as a research assistant, as a supplemental instructor, as a tutor. I figured out ways to pocket a bit of the travel stipends for the three conferences I presented research at. Every single penny of that income went toward paying off an unsubsidized loan I had to take out freshman year and, once that was paid off, toward tuition to stave off further subsidized loans. I received $137 a month from public assistance; $100 went toward the rent not covered by section 8, about $20 went to the electric bill, and that was basically that. I managed to graduate with about $12,000 in subsidized Stafford loans, which is not bad at ALL considering I went to a private liberal arts college.

    The exception to putting everything toward paying for college was the child support. I received $300 a month, and that was direct deposited into the savings account, untouched. I was thoroughly determined that this would be a down payment for a home – my biggest life goal.

    Last summer, I graduated from college, and we were actually able to buy a house just before the market really picked up – and I married my daughter’s father last fall. I paid off my latest, highest-interest loan as a sort of Christmas gift to myself, leaving $9,000. We took Meg’s article on marriage as mini-socialism to heart, so both our incomes go into a joint account and all bills are paid from that, including my student loans – and we pay more than we have to on that. I felt rather guilty about having it come out of the joint account, but my husband sensibly waved this away. He attempted a class or two of community college out of pocket, but that didn’t pan out, and he has a decent sales job that he’s great at – so thank goodness, we just have mine with which to contend.

    We both receive a set equal monthly allowance, and I was originally planning on putting almost all of it toward my student loans, but I’ve ended up putting it toward much-needed dental work, along with a second job, which has been well-documented on happy hours. Once that’s done, though, those loans are going down. I thrive on chipping away at money goals and I’m so grateful to be in a position that allows me to do so – a lot of people would be just as thrifty if they could, but are in situations where that just isn’t possible.

    One day I’ll write a short comment on APW, but today is not that day.

    • Michela

      Way. To. Go. Can you hear me slow clapping from the Midwest??xo

    • Hannah B

      that is downright inspiring

    • Lisa

      What an amazing and inspiring story. You have so much to be proud of! And what a great role model you are for your daughter, too.

    • AGCourtney

      Aww, thank you, everyone! You all inspire me, too. <3

  • seh

    Getting married next week. For us, the student loans has been one of THE largest, on-going conversations we’ve had in our five year relationship as we discussed marriage.

    He went to grad school and I met him during his last year there. I was lucky to get out of undergrad debt-free. The biggest hurdle for me in our relationship has been realizing how much debt I am “choosing” to take on by marrying him, even though it was his choice to go to grad school before I was even in the picture.

    He’s done a lot of progress over the last few years to pay it down – and I’ve agreed to help where I can (which was a whole other process for me to work through) – but we’re just now getting below the $100K mark. Being early-30s with that kind of debt while living in an expensive city (where the heart of our industry is located), makes for a challenging way to plan a future. It’s a very stressful burden and whenever I think of it, it makes me very bitter and angry towards my elders. We’re going to have debt for several more years unless a miracle happens.

    • Michela

      Sigh. This sucks… Hopefully things will look up, particularly since you’re both so committed to paying off the loans. Getting below 100K is a big step!

      But really I’m just commenting to wish you a happy wedding next week! Sending lots of good vibes your way (for the debt and the big day).xo

      • seh

        Thank you both!

    • EF

      I feel you! We live in one of the most expensive cities in the entire stupid world, and while london is great and all….

      but also recently hit below the 100K mark! Wooooo, 5 figures, not six! congrats to you, I know it’s tough when rent is a lot of the monthly budget.

  • Hannah B

    I just think of ours as a mortgage. He went to NYU for grad school, I have a Masters in Music that I paid nearly in full for the first year and got an assistant ship for 2/3rds the second year. His made sense to get, mine should have been delayed til I was at a level where I could get scholarship (no one told me to wait to go to grad school until it was funded until I was ALREADY THERE/ask me another time to rant about the ethics of arts school admissions/I get mad at myself for having gone). Still, we’re at around 175k? Something like that. It’s such a big number I can’t fathom it. We both pay a little a month because we’re on IBR, even with combined incomes, though I want to pay it down more aggressively. If we get a Trump presidency, who knows how long the IBR program will be around. We’re fairly comfortable but I also never expect to buy a house really. Hubby kinda freaks out about it sometimes, but I’m just kind of blase. What can we do other than just pay the required amount and hope it never gets that large? It is what it is. We need Elizabeth Warren to succeed and at least slash interest rates on student loans. I think losing the 7% interest over time would generate more than 7% investment in the economy.

  • Kara Davies

    My husband finished his university days long before we met, and paid off his school debt completely. I chose to go to a community college and paid upfront for each term. It wasn’t worth going into debt for $3-4k every year!

  • Sarah

    I’m late to this, but I’ve worked in university administration for over 10 years and recently attended a session on “Generation Z Goes to College.” this newest gen (born 1995-2010) has several very interesting traits, and one is a higher likelihood of saving. Many of them watched their families experience the financial crisis while they were small kids. Not sure how this translates when they enter higher ed (some are starting to now) but interesting to think about: http://genzgoestocollege.com/

  • Elinor

    This conversation has scared the living daylights out of me. As an Irish person, where the college system is essentially free (yippee), the vast majority of people live at home with their parents. Lots do move away but it is normal is to continue living at home if you live within commuting distance.
    I never thought that I was naïve, and I did know that college in the US was expensive but this is life-crushing / dream-smashing debt. HOW does anyone afford anything? HOW do lots of people still justify college? Suddenly all those beautiful college campuses don’t seem so shiny any more.
    I know that in the UK, there is a lot of rhetoric at the moment really questioning the financial benefit of university. The sands are starting to slowly shift there, whereby middleclass people are not socially pressured into attending ‘uni’ just because they can afford to pay off the loans after. Perhaps the US will follow suit in time?

  • Suzanne Lewis

    APW always speaking my mind! I was lucky enough to get through grad and undergrad with no debt through my military service (and that’s some shit to deal with). I specifically didn’t want a militsry husband which also mean a man with grad school debt. Granted, he got even more debt when he said yes to my wishes to travel (which led to our proposal on the last day of our 4 month trip one year ago today at Machu Picchu!). So we’ve had so good bit somewhat stressful talks about our plans since debt makes me nervous, even if it only is 32,000 and we both are back to good paying jobs. So I’m chipping in 15,000 right now and he feels he can tackle the remaining 18,000 over the next year. Hell gradually pay me back as he can and since we are planning for a baby in a year or so and I may go back for another grad program to eventually get a higher paying career, I feel that I’ll have to lean on him sometime in the future. And isn’t that what marriage is about? Supporting each other towards our goals and working through things together?

  • DS

    My partner chose to take out student loans to finance other things (a car, “college experience”) and not actual college credits. I hustled through college; financially (jobs and summer jobs and side jobs, with an extra helping of jobs) and time-wise (because I realized less semesters of tuition= more affordable).

    I had a bit of money saved up (because I opened a savings account rather than a retirement account) and we discussed killing partner’s loans before marriage. I couldn’t justify trading my literal life savings for what I viewed as my partner’s college fun. Although we are paying more for the debt, the “life savings” money was not emotionally available for that bill. We found success when the conversation was centered in questions like:

    1- What are the feelings you have about money and (this particular) debt?
    2- What are your individual and collective goals?
    3- What solutions allow you to manage 1 and 2?

    It was important to address that I felt it wasteful, immature and irresponsible to take out student loans for more than the cost of tuition and books. This was a “me” feeling. My partner’s feeling (and actions) were different; doors that were opened due to the lifestyle those funds supported were “worth it”.

    Neither of us could force our financial values upon each other. We needed to discover that my feelings prohibited me from spending my cash to resolve that debt, and develop an ongoing conversation about how to move forward as a team. That involved conversations about financial values and goals, and a periodic review of finances. Sometimes tears too!
    It’s hard work. This is an important topic to discuss.

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  • Ashley

    I would love to get married when both my partner and I are financially stable, but that seems laughable. As a vet school hopeful, I’m staring into the mouth of a 250,000 dollar loan monster. My boyfriend is former military and the GI bill is his way through school, but for me it’s all loans. The sad part is I’ve known this would be my financial state since I was in middle school…..I came to terms with my future debt so long ago it feels like it’s always been there. This is what it means to he a millennial

  • Cay

    This is definitely something future hubby and I discussed. He’s doing the community college to university track, so right now he has no student loans, everything is covered via grants (and when he transfers to one of our public universities it’ll probably be very similar), and my parents are middle class, so I got no aid, only loans. I am also applying to medical school, which will add at least 150 grand of debt. We’ve had that conversation on multiple occasions and sorted that we would live off of one income while the other would be used for savings and loan repayments (once I start residency).

    It makes sense in theory, especially since we both are in school for jobs that pay relatively well, but we’ll see how it goes in practice lol

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