Before I was married, I never gave much thought to debt in marriage. I didn’t have any debt, and I just expected I would marry someone who didn’t have any either. I figured I would marry someone who was wise with his money, like I had been with mine.
That just happened to be the case. We married and started living happily (and frugally) ever after. Six years later we had six figures of student loans that we can call our own.
Thankfully, debt in our case has been pretty straightforward. However, in many situations debt complicates and corrupts relationships. Financial problems are a leading cause for divorce, so I think discussing debt in marriage is worth our time.
Let’s take some time to discuss how we define debt ownership in our relationships.
YOURS and MINE
We all bring strengths and weaknesses to our relationships, both financial and otherwise. While it’s common to merge accounts that are in the black, some have different feelings about combining accounts that are in the red. I know of couples who go into their relationships each with their own debt. Spouses work separately to each pay his or her own debt off.
Sometimes the one partner that brought debt into the marriage strives to pay it off alone for years without the help of the other.
YOURS and MINE Becomes OURS
In other cases, couples pool their debts as they would their assets. They work together to pay off their combined debt, then move on to other financial goals. Even when one of the spouses is debt-free, he or she helps to carry the burden of debt for the other.
OURS by Mutual Consent
In a comment recently, a reader talked about me working to pay off my husband’s debt. That took me by surprise. While the loans are certainly in my husband’s name, I always refer to them as our loans. Together we have undertaken over $100,000 in student loans to put him through law school, but those loans also fed and clothed us and put a roof over our heads. Those loans allowed me to stay home with my little ones as I had always planned to do.
We are in this together. They are our loans.
OURS Not by Mutual Consent
On first glance, you’d think that once you’re married that all future debt is shared. When you’re on the same page financially and have mutual goals, then what is ours is probably clear. It’s less clear who bears the responsibility when one spouse develops habits that rack up debt without the other knowing or against the other’s judgment. What about when communication fails and trust is broken? Does the ownership of the debt change? Should it?
It’s Your Turn!
As in all Debt Discussions at Six Figures Under, it’s time for you to share your experience and opinions. Let’s learn from each other to improve both our finances and our relationships. Here are a few questions to get you thinking.
- Did you (or will you) think about who is responsible for debts your spouse brings with him or her?
- As a couple, do you (or did you) consider your debt separate or combined?
- What are the benefits and drawbacks of labeling your debt as yours, mine, or ours?
- Is one method (combining or keeping separate) healthier for relationships?
- Does the best method change depending on the type of debt?
Linked to Thrifty Thursday at LWSL, All Things Thursday