I have been following the questions posed by Chase Bank back in February about average couples. It is pretty much about love and money. I answered the questions in my head, but not on here because I found one question that I wanted to dig into deeper. If you are interested in learning some other personal finance blogger’s answers, then check out Girl Meets Debt, The Frugal Path, The First Million is the Hardest, Money Life and More, Money Beagle, and Reach Financial Independence. Now that you have gotten a feel for what others think, I want to break down one of the questions. Here it is.
Would you offer to pay off your spouse’s debt?
I have been having an internal debate about this question. There are some people on the side of a simple yes. They would pay off their spouse’s debt if they had it. They feel that their money is together. Some feel it is part of being married.
I, on the other hand, don’t know what I would do, but I lean very much toward no. I think this question is conditional. Let me explain my reasons below. If you didn’t know, I am married, so don’t even try to go there if you disagree with me. I also talked about this with my wife, so I am not just spouting off without talking to my wife. That would be crazy! 😉
When I would offer
After thinking about this for some time, I think I would pay off my wife’s debt if she had lost her job. If she doesn’t have a job, then I wouldn’t allow her credit to be destroyed over a few minimum payments. On this subject, I would expect my wife to go find a job, no matter what it was, in order to help with the debt. I don’t feel that I would take it over completely for a long period of time.
I would also pay off debt that was medical related. It is hard to deal with any medical expenses, because they can be so high. Usually, these expenses are incurred in dire situations and are hard to deal with. I am not a complete ass, so I would offer to help here.
Disclaimer: Any debt that we incur together would be paid off together.
When I wouldn’t offer
Since I am really on this side of the fence, I would not offer to pay off debt most of the times. If you have credit card debt, car loans, personal loans, student loans, or anything else, I wouldn’t offer to help. The reason why I say this is because you aren’t teaching any lesson when you offer to pay down debt. Yes, we are talking about love and relationships, but there still need to be lessons.
If you got into a ton of debt and weren’t paying but the minimum, would you learn a lesson if your spouse came in and helped you pay it? I think NO! If you incur debt before you meet your spouse, then it still needs to be responsibility. If you are reckless with your money before getting into a relationship, then you should never expect your partner to come in and help. That is just delusional thinking.
I know there are many out there that think when you get married, your money should be together. I am not one of those and neither is my wife. We have multiple bank accounts and only have one joint checking and one savings account. This is how we work and it works awesome for us. We set it up this way because you never know what the future might hold. I don’t want to think of divorce, but if it did happen, we both have a higher likely-hood of keeping our personal money than you do if you pool your money. The other reason why we do it this way is for security. We have different accounts which make it harder to take everything we have. I even have accounts in different banks.
My Internal Debate
You can see that I have been having an internal debate about this issue. There will be some that think I am crazy, but that is perfectly fine. Sometimes I wonder if I am just thinking crazy, but then I realize my wife is on the same page, and that really all that matters. I am here at Debt Roundup to teach lessons. When we get into debt, we need to learn how to get out of it. You should never expect your spouse to come in and save you. That should be the last though in your mind. If you got into the debt, you need to get out. No one should get a free pass in life and if you are expecting others to pay your debt, then you need a reality check.
So, that is how I feel about the question and I want to know what you think. Am I a bad person? Would I be a horrible spouse (FYI, I treat my wife very well)? Would you take over your spouse’s debt?
Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net
I think it should be seen as a joint debt, I mean everything else in a relationship is shared and you take the good with the bad. This is just something else you get to deal with together.
I still think it doesn’t teach any lesson. Let’s say you work very hard to achieve a high net worth, but when you marry someone and they have $50,000 in credit card debt, why should you be expected to help pay that off. You played no part in the debt and you teach your spouse no financial lesson.
Late to this, but am doing late night searching on this issue.
My husband has recently fessed up to secret debts of $20k. In the space of a week I have given him $10k of my savings to pay some off, and have transferred most of the rest into my name on 0% deals. Prior to this, our finances were our own business, but I’d told him my level of savings because I wanted to buy a car and get some work done on our house. He lied to me about his finances.
I had no choice but to bale him out. As long as he was trying to manage his debt alone, he was failing. He had passed the point where he could get 0% cards, and he was barely making minimum payments. That’s one step away from not meeting his half of the mortgage payments, and then his problem really is ‘our’ problem. If he sinks, we both sink. If he was paying $800 per month in interest to a credit card company and never paying off the capital loan, it makes sense for me to take on the loan and for him to pay the $800 to me. The debt is cleared quicker, the card companies make less money, we keep our house.
Is he learning a lesson? Well, it’s midnight, I’ve gone to the spare room again because I can’t bear to be near him, and I’m researching how to keep the house in a settlement if I choose to end the marriage. Yeah, he’s learning a lesson.
Thank you for stopping by. Sorry to hear about your circumstances that caused you to read my article. Here in the States, there are ways to work out a divorce when the marriage was built on some lies. You would be able to keep your money and let your husband keep his debt. I don’t know about how the laws work in the UK though.
I do see where you are coming from. That is a very difficult scenario to be in. I probably would have done the same thing for my wife, but then again, we knew well in advance about each other’s issues. We spoke and speak about our finances with no problems. I am sure my wife would have helped me if I was struggling to get it together, but she would probably make me pay her back.
Also, there are times here where you could keep your money that you had prior to marriage. I don’t know how much of your savings you had before marriage, but you would be able to keep it and then would have to split the rest. You might be able to work around that because he lied about his financial situation and hid it from you. That changes the circumstance quite a bit.
I wish you the best with your situation and I hope you get it solved. Good luck!
The worst lesson you didn’t learn is that when you divorce , all her debt would be attributed for you to pay and not to her, especially if she has little or no job. That is what marraige does – it legally merges all your assets and debts into one marital property. So, doing what you do is useles (UNLESS you signed a pre-nuptial or post-nuptial agreement). Otherwise, the hardest lesson is yet to be learned when you will divorce and lose all your savings due to the debt, which you never even did.
I guess you didn’t read the post or my comment (the comment is from a woman who is in the UK) because the debt was mine, not hers and it’s been paid off for years now. We have no debt, so your argument is relatively useless. You’re also stipulating a divorce is coming with using “will divorce” so that’s much appreciated.
My approach is also not useless. This isn’t about legal stance in the eyes of marriage. This is about someone taking responsibility for their personal actions, especially when done before marriage. Read the details and you’d figure that out pretty quickly.
I don’t see how you couldn’t help a spouse pay off debt. Your finances are essentially merged when you get married, whether you formally do it or not; your spouse’s money is your money and vice versa. If one of you is in debt, the other is. At least that’s how I view marriage. It’s not one person’s problem, it’s both your problems because you made a vow to be together.
It is easy. I don’t see the money that is in my wife’s account and she doesn’t see mine. This was money that we had before we met. We pool our resources together, but that doesn’t make her responsible for the $50k that I racked up. That would be ridiculous to think that she should play a part in paying it down with me. Why have two people worrying about money when you really only need one. The best way she helped me was by motivating me, not paying it down.
I agree with you. Marriage is a uniting bond but you are still two seperate people. I think some money needs to be pooled together but there needs to be seperate money as well. If my husband would have racked up a lot of debt I would leave it up to him to pay it off. Like you, if he lost his job or was having a rough time I would help out.
Thanks for chiming in Alexa. You are correct about being two separate people. I am would be there to help if the times got tough, but I don’t want to be the only answer.
However, if you are in a common property state any debt incurred by your spouse is legally your obligation too. In which case teaching them a lesson might not be worth being stuck with the extra changes that you will be also responsible for.
I played off my partners debt and it gave him both a clean slate and wake up call. It’s much easier to pick up better spending habits when you don’t have old dept looming over your head.
You are correct there. In my situation, I incurred debt before we were married, so it wasn’t her responsibility. There are only a handful of states that are “common property”, but that still doesn’t do anything about why the debt was incurred. I don’t have a problem with people paying off their spouse’s debt. It isn’t for me as I think there is a valuable lesson in figuring out how to pay off your own debt. People who are single don’t have the privilege of having help paying off debt, so why should married people get such a privilege. This is the same as telling people if they need help paying their debts, then think about getting married.
I think you’re a bad person Grayson…Lol! 😉 Seriously though, good and thoughtful response. I would tend to agree that if the spouse is in debt and doing things like not paying the minimums then I would likely not help pay off the debt. I think that might really be representative of a larger problem which could possibly derail the relationship. That said, if they were actively working to pay off the debt and doing all they could then I would gladly help to the extent I could. I think a lot of it, for me at least, comes down to the attitude of the person with the debt. If it’s something like “I have learned my lesson” and working like crazy to pay it off then I’ll be their biggest proponent and do all I can to help. If it’s the opposite, then we obviously have something to talk about and work on.
Of course you do John! I felt like sparking the debate today. Why not? As I said, I think this question is why more conditional than people think it is. There are too many circumstances that could swing me to one side or the other. Oh money, why are you such a touchy subject?
Grayson, you’re such a selfish SOB 😉 Well thought out response here, even though I disagree. I wrote a post about combining finances several months ago, and it set off a firestorm too.
IMO, once you are married they are shared debts – especially if they are student loan debts as that income will be used to help the family as a whole. If not, I think you’re giving yourself a financial out – which signifies underlying relationship problems. If you have major problems with the way somebody handles money prior to marriage, the best course of action probably is not to get married until those issues are resolved.
I knew you thought so Greg. No problem that you disagree. I like thoughtful conversation and conflicting view points. What I still want to know is what you would do with your loans and debt if you didn’t get married? If you were single, how would you continue to pay them off? You can’t think of getting married as a way to have someone help you because that is skewed thinking. You still have to think of how you would pay off the debt if you didn’t get married.
When Greg was in college the second time, he was broke. He had to work at a pizza joint just to barely make ends meet and he still didn’t make enough to cover all of his bills. And since he was a full time student and doing an internship, he couldn’t get another job. I picked up his credit card bill. I didn’t mind at all, actually, since I was working full time. We got engaged shortly after that and I worked to save money for our wedding. We didn’t want to start our marriage off with debt.
Now that we are married, Greg makes significantly more money than me. I’m not resentful about helping him out and he’s not resentful about the fact that he makes nearly twice as much money as I do.
We are a team. His debt is mine and vice versa. My problems are his problems. We also share our successes. That is what marriage is. Telling your spouse that they are on their own with the problems, whether it is debt or something else, is not the kind of marriage that I would want to be in. Just my two cents.
I might not have worded my discussion well. I wouldn’t ever just say “too bad, your fault”. That would be insane. My wife helped me with my debt by encouraging me. I paid it off because I racked it up. I didn’t expect her to join in or help because she had zero part in creating the situation. The best thing you can do is let them know that you are there to back them up if they need it, but don’t go out and offer it right up because that doesn’t teach any lesson. If I knew that I could rack up credit card debt and then just ask someone to help me pay it off, why wouldn’t I just go do it again? I am all about lessons here. I appreciate your valuable two cents Holly.
Why would I need to teach him anything? We are a team, partners- not adversaries. I don’t need to teach him any lessons, only to assist him with our joint financial goals. =)
Don’t teammates always teach each other in order to become better? This has nothing to do with adversaries and creating enemies. This is just a simple question about relationships and money. I love the debate this has created though. What a way to start a Monday! I always learn things from my wife and she learns from me. That is why our relationship is so strong. We teach each other and we learn.
I think it just boils down to the fact that every relationship is different. Greg and I support each other, but I don’t really need to teach him anything. We both have strengths and weaknesses that we bring to our relationship, and the combination of all of those qualities is what makes us strong.
But to each their own. I don’t regret helping Greg when he needed it and I also enjoy living a nicer lifestyle because of the education that he attained while I helped support him.
I have recently married and am considering finally paying off both my and my husband’s debts with an inheritance, after having both worked toward paying off our own debts individually previous to this, and maintaining great credit standing, thankfully, to our jobs.
I am in agreement with Holly, but I would like to add another potential MUTUAL benefit to the spouse-debt payoff.
“Who’s-debt-is-it” aside, I would like to ask why one wouldn’t want to take advantage of paying off the debt principal and avoiding all the financing fees if possible? Depending on the line of credit, that could be a LARGE financial advantage for the marriage. The interest you would be spending in paying off your debts over time instead of quickly paying off the principal and saving could be invested in college funds for future children. I plan to do this; I have asked my husband to agree to a conditional payoff of sorts. I will pay off his debts if he agrees to allow me to invest the money saved in our children’s futures…before they are even born. Investing in their future is far more valuable to me than having my husband learn a long-term lesson. Plus, he has been actively paying his debts down and his credit is now in better standing than it has ever been – with my encouragement (and occasional harsh word when he goofs up. I’m not perfect either.)
I think he’s learned enough, and it’s time to make those financing fees work for us.
First off, thank you for taking the time to stop by and comment on this post Stephanie. It’s by far my most controversial!
To answer your question, I was always taught to own my mistakes and take charge of fixing it. I created my debt before I even met my wife. I grew that debt when we were dating and even shortly after we married. That debt was purely on me and not from student loans or medical debt. It was stupid purchases and trying to fund a business I started before I knew her. While the interest savings could have been good, it turned out to be much better for her to put money into her 401(k) instead of my debt due to the market timing. I played the balance transfer game during my debt repayment and saved a ton in interest alone.
I’m not saying that paying off your spouse’s debt is a bad thing. I just wouldn’t do it myself depending on the debt and how it was amassed. The main reason is I believe one needs to own their mistakes and come up with a plan to fix it. If they can’t then they seek help. I don’t seek help until I need it. This method has not only taught me how to be self-sufficient, but also provided me with the knowledge to make money beyond my job. My desire to get out of debt drove me to go beyond just saving and paying debt. I created streams of revenue that helped me pay off my debt, save money along the way and start investing. I’m sure I wouldn’t have done the same if I knew my wife would have just jumped in and payed off my debt. Again, this is just personal preference and by no means this works for everyone or how everyone feels.
Great internal struggle here. Let me add fire: what if you could get a job that paid off her debt faster than she could alone, if she helped you with some tasks to make it easier for you to maintain the higher-paying job. Would you go about it that way?
Fire is good. I don’t know if that would change my position. I probably would save the extra money and if she ended up struggling to pay the debt, then I would jump in and help. I would encourage her to keep paying the debt, but I would let her know that I am there to help out financially if she really needed it. I don’t want to be the first answer, I want to be the last.
I have debt and my boyfriend does not. Even if we ever got married, I would not want J to help me pay my debt. I accumulated it before I met him and it just wouldn’t be fair to ask him to help. He does help me unofficially in other ways by paying for most of our groceries and entertainment so that I could put 50% of my income towards debt repayment each month 🙂
I knew you would be with me on this one GMD. My wife did the same thing by taking me out to dinner to celebrate the little goals that I achieved. This are what I like to call encouragement, which is just as good as the money. When you offer someone encouragement, you are providing them something more important than just the cash. It shows that you are there for them in more ways than one.
I am one of those who believe when you get married, you are a team from then on, and you pick your partner wisely, sometimes they have made past mistakes and you work together to handle those mistakes.
I had about $10,000 in debt before we got married, and sold my condo to move into his house. The condo was sold while we were on our honeymoon, and the profit from that sale erased all debts on my side, plus put a little extra into the coffers to help pay down his student loans. Yes, technically it was MY money, because it was MY condo. But if you look at it that way, then you have to see that I was moving into HIS house.
Before we were married, we each had an account at the same bank. Rather than close each account to open a new one (there were many auto-pays attached to his account), we connected them and put each other’s name on our original account. But we have joint credit cards, joint ownership of the new house and cars. Everything we have is ours, except underpants. Those are still his and hers.
But you said it best, your wife agrees with you, and that is all that matters. Average Joe, that was a nice bit of gas for the fire!
Thanks for stopping by Mrs. 1500. I don’t know if I would want joint underpants either. I still think my clothes are mine because I wouldn’t be able to fit in hers :). As you said and as did I, both my wife and I agree and that is really all that matters. It doesn’t make us bad people, but if we agree with each other, then we can move on to the next thing. Also, now that we are married, any debt that we incur, we work off as a team. We both have car payments, but they are not joint. My wife got her car by herself and I got mine. We didn’t need co-signers because we both have excellent credit. We also want to make sure we can afford “our” things on our money. If I can afford my car, then I know that I won’t have to ask her to pay it.
We also have joint credit cards, but only two joint accounts. We set things up that work best for us. I am often called a pessimist (only that I plan for the worst, but still hope for the best), so I always plan things out for the worst, so I am rarely surprised by anything. We setup our finances as a plan for the worst and it worked for both of us to do it this way. While I wouldn’t ever want the worst to happen, if it does, we have the necessary framework in place to move on.
I think different things work for different people. Me and W have always treated everything as one, and most of our debt is in both of our names anyways.
Any debt in both of our names is automatically taken care of in a joint fashion. As you said, different things work for different people. I just like hearing the varying opinions. No one is wrong and that is what personal finance is all about.
This is a tough question, and thank you for posting, cause it really got me thinking. Prior to reading your post I would have said flat out “If you are married it’s a joint debt, so you should pay down your wife’s debt.” After reading I agree, by paying down your spouse’s debt it doesn’t teaches good behavior.
Having said that, what are your thoughts on situations where one spouse is making considerably less than the other and their income is just going towards their debt and not any of the joint finances?
I guess at the end of the day there is no silver bullet, and takes communication between both sides.
Thanks for the great post
Great question Gary. First, we would need to figure out how they got into such a bad debt situation, where their entire income can only cover their debt payments. That is probably another issue for another day. I would probably take over the joint payments for the regular bills and still have the spouse make the debt payments. This is still teaching a valuable lesson and keeping the bills paid up. I am helping, but just not on the debt payments. I would probably ask that they find a way to make more money, but that can be a tricky situation.
Thank you for the mention Grayson. There is no way I would take on my spouse’s beer money debt from college, but you make a good point about ruining their credit, especially if you want to apply jointly for a mortgage. I would probably pay off their debt before getting the mortgage and have them repay a bigger % of the mortgage. Couple debt consolidation 🙂
Nice and interesting thought Pauline. A couple debt consolidation could be a way to do it as long as both are on the same page.
Good point of giving lessons to your spouse.
For me, I will recommend to pay off the debt jointly. Sacrifice first the materials things in order to cut down the debt.
In my case, my spouse gave me a lesson. She encouraged and I paid off the debt. Thanks for your input Walt.
Lol – try telling a divorce lawyer your finances are mixed because you have a separate checking account. No prenup? Your mixed, you might as well stop heamoraging interest payments and pay that down now, cos its all mixed up.
I am not in debt anymore, so this is not an issue for me. I have seen many situations that the spouses were able to keep their money that was separate before the marriage. It all depends on how good your lawyer is and how amicable the divorce is. You are just talking about the money, but this is more about a teaching opportunity.
Any money/debt you have before the marriage is yours alone, regardless of a prenup.
It’s what happens while you’re married that applies to you both, that is unless you have a prenup.
Everyone should get a prenup – I don’t care what you’re situation. It’s funny that we have insurance and protection is so many areas of our lives, but most people don’t protect themselves in the biggest business agreement there is – marriage !
While not romantic and seemingly pessimistic, a prenup settles all issues before they arise. Because once they do, it’s a big mess to figure out who gets what. Divorce sadly is a very real possibility – look at the divorce rate. Better figure it all out beforehand.
Thanks for the comment Andrew. I agree with you and that is why I took care of my own debt because I created it before we were married. Interesting points on the prenup.
I mostly agree with your view on the situation, but I am also unmarried. My boyfriend does have massive amounts of student loan debt, so if he and I were ever to get married I would want to focus on living off my income and have his income go toward paying off his loans. I have a pretty strong aversion to debt and would seek to get rid of it ASAP even though it’s “his debt.” I also want multiple bank accounts when that time of my life comes.
Thanks for your feedback Erin. I appreciate your viewpoint.
I think your position on paying off debt is internally consistent because you practice partial pooling. Actually, the most consistent would be to have completely separate finances and not help with any debt under any circumstances. My husband and I have a different view of marriage in that we share all of our money completely – doesn’t matter who earned it, who spent it, whatever, it’s all ours.
As for paying off a spouse’s debt, my husband and I are using the money he saved before we were married to pay off the student loans I incurred before we were married. Student loan debt of this amount (<20k$) doesn't give us pause as we went to the same college. It's "good debt" and I didn't do anything different than him to rack it up except being born into a different family with fewer resources to pay for college.
Because I think married couples should have joint money and pay each other's debt, I would discourage a person from marrying someone with whom they do not agree about how to handle money at least 90%. Get your differences worked out BEFORE marriage so that you can be joint after! For instance, if I were in a relationship with someone with major credit card debt, before getting married I would want to see him reformed – get his spending under control and be aggressively working to pay off the debt. Once the behavior has changed permanently I think that is enough of a lesson that I would use my savings to pay off the debt. After all, you can continue to aggressively save together (more lessons) to replenish the savings that went to the debt.
Oh, and I wrote a post on this topic quite a while ago explaining my view in more detail – it’s from a different perspective of whether to delay marriage until you’re debt-free.
Thanks for the follow up with the link. I am sure this will help others thinking about this.
Well thought out response Emily. I think you should definitely not marry someone who you are not financially compatible with. You need to be on the same page because it can be hard to change a mindset and that can put a damper on a marriage. This is why this concept works for my wife and I. We are on the same page. This would need to be discussed before getting married, but you should do that with all finances anyway.
We have a joint account because it makes it super easy to deal with budgeting. We have been doing it for 5 years and it is like clock work. I don’t need to watch over my wife’s money to make sure she is spending it on the right things. That is not my role in the relationship. We do discuss our joint account and making sure we are on the same page with how much we should deposit.
My husband and I keep the debts we acquired prior to marriage separate. His income supports me entirely in food and shelter so that 100% of my income can go towards paying off my massive student loan debt. It works for us. We have a joint checking and savings account where the bulk of our money goes but we also have separate accounts we don’t use often. Any debt we incur from here on out, for the most part, will be joint. We used my credit card last year to make a trip out to California to visit his family and he’s going to help pay that off. Neither of us are fans of debt so we don’t see ourselves getting into anymore after what we currently have is paid off. Check out my website link if you want to read more about my own debt & marriage post.
I think your ideals fall in line with mine. If we used my credit card to pay for a trip, we would both pay it off together. It makes sense that way, but I see where you are coming from regarding your pre-existing debt.
I think we’re on the same wavelength in terms of paying off debt and different types of accounts. Maybe I’m a bit cynical or have seen too many divorces, but I would want personal accounts in addition to joint accounts just so it wouldn’t get messy if we didn’t work out. Also, being the one in debt, I wouldn’t want my significant other to pay for my past mistakes.
I am with you on that Anna. There is just too much divorce these days.
I answered yes to that question, however my wife and I have been together since we were 17. All of our debt has been accumulated together.
I suppose that if I were to marry someone who was unwise with money, I may not pay off their debt (although I’m not sure we’d be married financially or emotionally).
That makes sense Justin. You and her created that debt together. Since that is the case, then it makes sense to pay it off together.
I am helping my wife pay off her debt. She’s still in school (for her master’s), but I’ve paid off over $30,000 of her student loans so far. But I don’t think of it as me paying off her debt. I consider it us making a financial choice to attack that debt so that we can enjoy our long future together.
We put $5,000 in her Roth IRA last year even though she had no income. It’s not a gift from me to her, it’s simply our priority to save for the future. Everything is going to be done together, so we’re not putting up any barriers.
Those are great priorities to have. I don’t see anything wrong with how you are doing it, I just don’t think that way. You and your wife are on the same page and so is my wife and myself. That is really all that matters, as long as you both are on the same page.
I think for me the only debate would be is how strong is the marriage. If it seemed like things were not going that well then I wouldn’t offer. If things are good, then I would offer. As you mentioned in your post that some people say yes because it is a part of marriage. I do not want finances to be the reason I get divorced. Plus for me it is pretty easy because the debt we both have was incurred together, well for the most part 😉
It makes it easy when the debt is incurred by both of you. I never thought about the strength of the marriage at the time.
I was lucky that my wife and I entered marriage without debt. If either of us had significant debt, I would want a prenup to take care of it. In this age of 50% divorce rates, you need to protect yourself.
That is a good place to be. I agree with you there. If you think of just the shear numbers, then half of the individuals commenting on here could be divorced later down the road.
This is a tough question. I’ve been married 23 years so any debt we have now (just mortgage) is our debt. But if he had created his own personal debt – that is so much tougher. On one hand, we’re married and a team, but on the other hand he needs to own it which means paying it down himself. There are so many possible scenarios where i would lend a helping hand and others where I would tell him to suck it up in the most loving way possible. 🙂
That is what I am saying. This question is so loaded and conditional that it is crazy. I don’t think it could truly be an easy yes or no.
This is a hard one. I see everybody’s point, I guess the only way to avoid this is to really get to know your partner before you commit with something this big.
Right on point there Marko.
If I was an adult meeting my husband I would feel the exact same way as you, but I think my husband and I are different because we’ve been together since we were kids (15) since we’ve lived together (before I graduated university) our monies have been joint since. It was what worked for us, we each contribute equally to our household and me pursuing further education was a semi-joint decision. Since all the bills are paid from our account I guess he helps? Or we could say all my pay goes to my debt while he covers living expenses or whatever, however you want to slice the cake.
This makes sense. You incurred the debt when you were together, so it works that you both pay it off. I am glad this works for you and I would do the same thing.
Very thought provoking post Grayson and a really tough question to answer. I don’t think I could stand by and force my wife to pay off her debt so she could learn a lesson. (She probably wouldn’t have married me if she thought I would do that. And if her debt issues were that bad, I probably wouldn’t have married her in the first place.) When I married it was for richer or poorer, to share in the benefits and struggles of marriage. To leave the debt payoff task up to my partner seems selfish and inconsiderate. Also seems like it leaves the door open for other relationship issues to arise that could negatively affect the marriage.
I am always here for the thought provoking ones. I wouldn’t consider it forcing one to pay debt. This is not a prison camp. Luckily, my wife and I are the same page, so it wouldn’t be deemed as selfish or inconsiderate. What works for us doesn’t work for everyone. I think the main lesson to be learned here is to think more about this question conditionally.
Hypothetical: Would you pay off your spouse’s debt if they had a gambling problem? Let’s say it started 10 years after you were married. Would you pony up the cash to pay down their debt because you feel that since you are married, their debt it yours? That’s what I love about this question, it is so loaded.
Once we married, there was no more, “yours or mine, his or hers”, there was “ours” so any debts that came in or are incurred during the marriage are coming out of the same blissful pot no matter who pays it. We both earn a wage and the wages go towards the necessary debts and retirement funds etc.
I believe talking about money when dating is imperative because if you don’t want to have any $$ surprises after the wedding you better know before the wedding. One partner might not care, but the other might have a big problem with debt. Neither of us had debt going into the marriage, we talked about money when we were getting to know each other as friends first. Everyone is different though.. it’s just one of those personal opinions again. Cheers!
Thanks for your feedback Mr. CBB! I am glad that you are on the same page as your wife, it makes things much easier, doesn’t it?
I also answered those questions on my blog. Like you, there are situations where we would pay off each other’s debt but in most cases (especially when it was debt for stupid purchases) we wouldn’t pay each other’s debt. In one case, my husband did pay off one credit card but I paid him back. I had a loan with a 29.9% interest rate and he had a balance transfer rate of 0% it just made sense. I paid him back within a few months and now we back to square. Each couple has to decide what works best for them and what makes them feel closer to “equals”. Good post 🙂
Just food for thought, but maybe people who don’t want to pay for their “spouse’s debt” shouldn’t marry a spouse who has debt? Or should wait to marry until the debt was paid off?
I wouldn’t be thrilled to pay my spouse’s debt (if I had a spouse and if the bf had debt ;-)), but if he had responsible debt (student debt, not gambling debt or debt for buying flatscreen tvs) I’d help him pay it off.
I think you need to look at debt as a joint effort. What happens if you are maxing out your retirement and your spouse is paying off student loans or something? Would you only get to enjoy retirement? Now if one of you is spending behind the other’s back, I think that’s a very serious issue. If you could get past it, then I would still make it a joint effort to pay it back, but behavior would have to change. I just think when you get married whatever you make or whatever you owe is joint. My husband and I have separate accounts, but we are working toward paying off all of our debt, regardless of who brought it into the relationship. I did not feel like that early on, but we are both on that page now.
I would have to say that when it comes to debt within the marriage there is a difference between credit card debt (that was racked up due to wanting material things clothes, technology, a new car etc. ) and student loan debt. One was done through irresponsibility and the other was done through necessity. Though I think you raise a good question about the overall topic, I do have a problem when you say that you feel the need to teach your spouse a lesson. I honestly don’t believe there is any lesson to be learned through student loan debt beyond the fact that it is a necessary evil because going to college is equated with making more money in the long run.
Don’t get me wrong, I can understand a spouse putting their foot down about not helping pay on credit card debt, because there is a lesson there and I won’t help my husband pay on his. Yet, my argument doesn’t come from my belief that I some how deserve help when paying my debt back, but I do find it interesting that there is in some way a belief that people who have student loan debt need to “learn” from a preconceived notion that going to college was a mistake that needs to be paid for.
Great reply Chelsea. I don’t feel the need to teach my spouse a lesson, one because I was the one that had the debt, not her, so technically I was taught a lesson. My wife provided me with something far more superior than money, and that was encouragement. I created the debt, so I needed to step up and pay it off. What if you weren’t married and you had credit card debt, or student loan debt. Who would you want to help you with it? You created it, you should be the one responsible for paying it off. You are not doing anyone a service by asking them to help them pay off your debt. Their name isn’t on it. They technically don’t have to pay off anything that doesn’t have their name on it. While they can provide assistance, shouldn’t you be the one responsible for figuring out a way to pay it off without help? This being married thing makes it sound like you are better than single people because you have someone that should be helping you pay down debt. That is a ridiculous notion. Single people have to battle in the debt trenches by themselves and have to get over the debt mountain on their own. They shouldn’t think that if they get married, then someone will help them. No matter if you are married or single, if your name is on it, then you need to own up to it.
Higher education used to equate to a higher paying job, but that notion has been taken through the ringer in the last few years. Education no longer equates to a good paying job, now you have to have experience. While I don’t think student loans and credit card debt are the same thing, why would I need to be responsible to pay off your student loans if I didn’t meet you in college? I didn’t force you to take on loans to get an education, and I surely don’t have my name on those loans. No matter what happens in life, whether you are married, single, divorced, or whatever, you still have to be responsible for you. You borrow it, you pay it. This is the problem with our society, we expect help from others when it is not their issue. There is nothing in marriage that says we have to join finances and pay each others debt.
I never said college or student loans were a mistake, but there is always a lesson to be learned when you have to pay off debt. You learn many things when you pay off a large amount of debt and it usually changes you for the better. That is a lesson, none the less.
The biggest cause of divorce these days is money. That is usually from differing view points or crazy amounts of debt. My wife and I are on the same page with our money views and we don’t have mountains of debt. Finances will not be a reason we get divorced (if we do) because we have created a unified financial view.
I’m late to the party but will comment anyway. This question is hard to answer because I really think you have to be in the situation to answer it. I always figured I would do the his, hers, our money approach to marriage. Everything gets lumped together and each month you get an allowance to spend as you wish, no questions asked. This would be where any previous debts would be paid from. the person with no debt could enjoy their money the way they want and the other person would still be able to pay down their debt. After the debt was paid off they could use the money for whatever they wanted. The only debt I would include in this though is from CC’s because getting into CC debt is almost always due to foolish spending. I think college is important and so school loan debt repayment I would want to repay from the “ours” account. My boyfriend doesn’t have any debt so my plan when we get married is to just have allowances so if he wants to blow it on computer parts and I want to buy an expensive purse neither of us will get mad at the other. I purposely dated guys who are on the frugal side and had minimal debt. I’m not sure I would have ever dated someone with loads of debt whether it was from CC’s or SL’s. I have always been upfront pretty early on in a relationship with what my financial status was at that time.
Great response Kasey. Better late than never. I think that if you are upfront with your significant other, then you will always be good to do. My wife knew about my debt and knew how I wanted to handle it. We are very open about our finances and don’t get surprised by things that might come up. This works very well for us and that is really all that is important.
You are right about this question being hard to answer. Each answer is different and that is ok, because finances are different for everyone. There is nothing wrong with that at all. Do what works for you, not what works for someone else.
I would help out my spouse if he had debt because eventually it would affect me. I do think that before marriage the couple should work together/separately to get their finances in order so that when they get married they have momentum towards paying off all their debts which would eventually affect the both of you when you’re married.
Thanks for your feedback Michelle. Getting on the same page prior to marriage is a must.
There is something I did not hear mentioned which I believe should have been, regardless of the position about paying for a spouses debt. The thing I did not hear is whether or not:
1. The issue of the debts was discussed and worked out before getting married or not?
2. Attitudes about money (and monies) in general discussed and worked out prior to marriage?
I have heard but am unsure that most marriages that get strained do so related to finances. So this should be something people learn to do as a routine taking care of business sort of matter (like car/health insurance, etc…) before heading into a marriage where, at least legally, finances are considered to be joint in most cases.
Hello Randy. That topic is usually discussed a lot in the personal finance realm. My wife and I spoke about debt and money before marriage, so we were on the same page. I believe that it is imperative that you discuss finances and debt before you tie the knot. That will set the tone for the marriage.
Honestly, it’s to each their own! I’ve helped my husband pay off his debt. I guess I didn’t think to deeply about it (maybe I should have?) but when we got married I knew about his debt, and I tackled it with him. Now I’m working and he’s in school. I know when he’s finished we’ll have to pay back the med school loans, but in return, I know he’s going to work hard for our family and take excellent care of us. So for me, it’s not a big deal. It’s a fact of our relationship. But, I can definitely see where you are coming from too. As long as both people are working hard and responsible and one isn’t just hanging out and being lazy, I think it’s cool to work towards the goal together! 🙂
Thanks for the feedback Cat. You and your husband talked about it prior and knew about it. We did the same thing. I think that is important to be on the same page.
My husband offered to pay off my student loan debt ($20,000, not tax deductible as I incurred it as a student in Canada) when we got married. He had $20,000 in his savings account and he thought it was a bad idea to continue paying interest on my loans (low saving rate). Also, since we file our taxes jointly, he saved roughly that amount in taxes over the past two years of our marriage (I make about $40k and he makes several times that amount). Also, we both maxed out our 401ks. I guess we were in a unique position since he has the money saved. But, if our roles were reversed, I think I would definitely do the same for him.
That is awesome that your husband had that much in savings. We weren’t in that situation and still aren’t, so that is why we chose a different route. Glad you were able to come to an easy decision.
Our house sale closes next week, our marriage was legally separated a month ago. I paid off his credit card debt within a few months because I viewed the interest as a waste of “our” resources. I paid off both of our car loans, most of our living expenses to support him finishing his master’s degree and then while he aggressively paid off his student loans, and I paid for the down payment on our house, then any remodeling we did over the past 10 years. During our separation discussions he made it clear that I should have put that money into my retirement savings, because he refused to acknowledge my financial efforts. I missed a few red flags when we were courting: he blamed his ex wife entirely for all their credit card bills which lead to his bankruptcy; he hated and disrespected his mother; he repeatedly promised to quit smoking but never got to it; he thought he had $30K in student loans for his masters degree, but it was actually closer to $45K; he insisted on using his tax refund check on a trip to Hawaii, rather than considering dealing with his credit card debt. I didn’t discuss my choices to use my savings and higher income to pay off his personal debts, so when the marriage started to deteriorate, my financial efforts were dismissed as disrespectful to his choices. When the recession hit and the bottom dropped out of my industry, I managed to keep my business and our household operating out of my savings accounts for 2 years until they were exhausted, while his income increased to 3x mine. He refused to contribute a larger share than mine towards our (modest) household expenses. He spent increasing amounts of money on his personal pleasures that I didn’t join him in (motorcycle, helicopter ski trips, expensive cross-country family visits, new gun collection and hobby, expensive cigar habit, and more). I worked at a local farm in trade for food for us, kept the household running, cooked and did his laundry. And I made discouraging efforts to market my business. I kept my business open and paid myself enough for a thrifty living, but it was a lot less than I was making when he courted and married me. And when I started asking him to trim expenses I paid for, or to at least stop adding expenses to his cell phone and such, he blew up at me. I’ve spent the last 15 years living an illusion, and I’m so happy to be almost out of the financial quagmire of this marriage. He had no idea that 90% of our spending were on his extravagant choices. Now I’m able to save again.
This is quite the story Marcia. Thank you for sharing it with me and my readers. Your situation would be one where I wouldn’t pay down the debt of my spouse because they obviously have a spending problem. Good luck with everything, but I am sure you will succeed once it is all said and done.
Everyone is responsible for one’s own debt but as spouses if you share bed, then you share debt and revenue as well.
I appreciate your opinion, but I do not agree. Just because you are married, does not mean you have to share debts. I don’t see any logical reason why you would expect a spouse to pick up the tab on debt that you incurred when not with them. If you spoke with your spouse before you took on debt and they agree to it, then it is a different story.
The biggest issue here is that many expect others to help them out, but if you created the mess, why should someone else pick up and help you? Married or not, you have to take care of your debt because it is ultimately your responsibility. You signed on the line and if you did it before you were married, then you need to own up and take care of it. Spouses should be there to assist only if asked, but they shouldn’t need to provide assistance just because they are married to you.
Huh. This is interesting. I’ve always thought my hubs and I have a system that many people would consider weird, in that our finances are not completely merged (we have shared savings, but not shared checking…we take turns paying some bills and some bills I always pay while others, he always pays). It’s a bit strange, but it works for us. However, despite our lack of merged accounts, I most certainly would help him pay debt. His earnings and spending most certainly affects me, and mine him, so we help each other out! I’m surprised to hear that you feel differently on this subject.
Thanks for providing your opinion on this one Becky. I am not saying that I won’t help out, but I won’t come out and give money. I would expect my spouse to try and pay down the debt, but if they are having a problem and can’t do it, then I would step in. That being said, you have to remember that I was the one in debt in my relationship and I didn’t want help because I created the debt, not my wife. I don’t think it is fair how people can expect their spouse to help pay their debt, especially if it is created before meeting. If you create debt together, then it should be paid together.
Hi! I haven’t read all the other comments but I think your post neglects to mention that one spouse’s debt cuts into your potential spending/saving power as a couple. What is being paid monthly towards the debt is a loss in current spending or future savings.
I’m not married yet, but my boyfriend has always viewed us as a team when it comes to finances. Before I met him, my student loans were deferred and I was living above my means. He knew about the amount of my student loans from the very beginning. These days, I’m contributing 30-35% of my net monthly income to my loans, as well as any windfalls like my tax refund. My boyfriend makes double my salary so he covers most of our going out expenses while I pay for groceries and cook for us to save money by eating at home. When we move in together later this year, he will probably cover most of the living costs which means that maybe like 80-90% of my monthly income would go towards paying down my loans. The faster the debt goes away, the faster we can use my income for joint savings and retirement!
So while you may not want to actually pay your spouse’s debts, you may want to HELP OUT in other ways. I refuse to accept any money from my boyfriend for my loans and my debt will still be my debt after we get married. At the same time, I understand his view that my debt is like a bad opportunity cost. Also I think our system only works if you don’t split everything 50/50.
Thank you for your comment. It is much appreciated. Of course debt cuts into potential spending/saving power, but that is not the point of the post. My point is that if you are incurring debt before you are married, then you need to take that debt on by yourself and pay it off. It is not anyone’s responsibility but your own. I was the one with debt coming into our marriage, so this one is much more personal than just me saying that I wouldn’t pay my spouses debt.
My wife helped me out by encouraging me and that was what I needed to get out of debt. One thing that many people forget is that if you are helping pay off your spouses debt, then that means you are not saving for retirement or anything else. That means that you can’t compound earnings. There is no way to regain lost interest. Our way worked for us because my wife was still funding her retirement at her regular pace and I was paying down my debt. Not only were we growing money on one side, we were also shrinking it on the other.
It is important to point out, which I probably should have is that I transferred balances from card to card to keep 0%. That means I was paying nothing extra on the debt. This enabled us to actually grow money with my wife throwing her money into from retirement accounts. I was spending my money on debt. If we both spent money on my debt, then she wouldn’t be growing her money. That is just financially irresponsible.
Our system works very well for us and there are actually many that agree with me and some that don’t. I am cool with that because I know that finances are entirely personal and each situation is different. There is no rule of thumb for paying down spouse debt. I made sure that our marriage would not revolve around money because I took responsibility for my poor actions and we ended up much better for it.
Oh I totally agree with you! Thank you for sharing your story. My boyfriend still contributes the max to his 401k and other savings/retirement so he is not taking any personal losses to help me out. I wish I could throw my student loans onto a 0% balance card. 🙂
Good luck with it all S. I really appreciate you stopping by to comment. I have enjoyed the debate that this article created. Good luck with your student loans.
Grayson, I didn’t read/see this post the first time around, so when I saw it mentioned on the comments for the Mother’s Day roundup, I just had to go back and read it, b/c you and I are generally on the same page, but I’m a big advocate (usually) of combining finances totally when you marry. I tend to agree with you about making sure your spouse has learned their lesson about debt though – otherwise the results for your finances and your marriage could be disastrous. The other thing your post and these comments brought to mind was several people I know of, my own mother included, who got completely ripped off financially after a breakup – all breakups they never expected to happen. That situation left my mom raising 3 kids on $300 a month child support and a $250 house payment. I can’t help wonder that if she had stocked away a bit of money of her own, even as a stay-at-home-mom, if that would’ve helped our situation not to be such a dire one. Different reasons, maybe, but all the same result: be a team but protect yourself financially. Thanks, Grayson, for having the courage to speak your opinion and stand by it.
This article was a fun one to write for me because I am passionate about my position. This might not work for everyone and that is perfectly OK. It just don’t understand why a single person doesn’t have a way to have someone else help them pay debt and that is ok. If you are married, why does your spouse have to become responsible for your debt? If you had that debt when you were single, then you would be responsible for all of it. Married or not, if you created it before, then you should take care of it. I appreciate your opinion on this Laurie.
I’ve read many of these responses, and please allow me to just state the following:
Just because someone has “debt,” does NOT mean that it was because the person was irresponsible, wreckless, or carefree.
I had two surgeries when I was 20 years old, a full time student, AND worked two part time jobs on top of living on my own. I had private insurance that covered 80% of surgery costs, but I was still left paying over 20,000 out of my own pocket. In order to finance and pay for my surgery initially, I charged it to Care Credit–a credit card that had me locked in at a 29.9% interest rate. Yes I said it: 29.9% just in INTEREST.
My boyfriend, and now fiance, soon to be husband knew of these expenses from the beginning. He is an accountant and makes DOUBLE what I make and has more than enough money in his bank account to pay off (at the time of the discussion) the remaining 7,000 to prevent paying such a high interest rate on that amount. My fiance had and has that in his bank account. I even offered to pay him back every dime of what he gave me, even GIVING him interest—- just as long as he would go ahead and pay care credit off so I wouldn’t keep doubling my debt in interest.
This created a huge argument– and one that left me feeling alone and unloved, even though he is very good to me and does love me very much. But I still couldn’t (and can’t) to this day, understand why he didn’t help me when he had every ability to. And these surgeries were medically necessary.
And so, how would you all feel if this were the case?
Welcome to the site Hannah. Thank you very much for providing this background with your story. I am sorry to hear about the medically necessary debt. I know all too well about Care Credit and how much interest they charge. I too had to use them, but it was for surgery for my dog.
Either way, I can’t speak of why your boyfriend/fiance didn’t help you pay off the debt, but the one thing I would ask is what would you have done if you didn’t have a boyfriend/fiance? What would you do with the debt if you were still single? Would you continue paying it off or would you ask someone else to help you?
My main point in the article is that one, these situations are difficult to deal with. Each person/couple is different, especially about money. Second, I think people need to think about what they would do with the debt if they weren’t married. How would they handle it if they didn’t have a significant other to help them? Not everyone is married or even with someone and there are more people in debt than there are married couples. This is my main point.
Now, to your question. This would be difficult to deal with. If I was with you when you had the surgery, then I would probably give you an interest free loan if I had the money, but expecting you to pay it back.
Pay it off. Some people are good at enjoying themselves, spending beyond their means and racking up credit card debt. Others are prudent, cautious hardworking souls. The main reason we have prudent responsible people is to pay off all the indescretions of the spendthrifts. The prudent one isnt’t having any fun with their savings, they should give it to someone who will enjoy. If its a spouse all the more reason, however this can work for anyone. The great thing is that the person having the fun likely doesn’t care about the debt and how it gets paid off, so no remorse or guilt. The prudent one is able to have that worry and guilt build up inside them forcing them to meet the debt payments or go deeper into anxiety and depression. That is the way things are and a very natural economic model.
Great comment. Thank you Jack!
Pay it off. Her debt is my debt, and mine is hers.
Now, clearly if one spouse is running up debts all over the place and the other is diligently saving, there’s a larger issue that needs to be discussed and worked out regarding priorities and budgets.
But, I ran into this myself before I married. My wife still had a balance on her car loan. I paid a lump sum payment to get rid of it early. After all, we were getting married and expecting a child. if she has a 7% rate car loan and I’m just sitting on cash in a savings account, then we’re _both_ losing 7% that we don’t need to.
Thanks for your opinion Chris, I really appreciate you taking the time to reflect on this post. I treated my debt as my own because it was done without my wife being a part of it. It also taught me that I was responsible for my choices and I needed to face them. I treated the debt like any single person would. They don’t get to push their debt onto anyone else, so why does someone that is married get to?
I believe this is something that should be discussed with your partner before getting married or even moving in together. I only had one credit card that I owed and student loan money but now I am in a relationship where I find myself in more debt because I find myself spending money on items that we both need along with trying to figure out my other personal finances. I make less than my significant other and that is always the argument. What he does not get is that when he constantly buys I end up having to sacrifice myself paying off my own debt (paying more than the minimum) to help with our other financial obligations such as fixing the place up or buying groceries. I am seen as the person who complains where as I read “lesson learn” in the article. It would be great if I had help. I am great with paying off items but when a monkey wrench is put into the situation it is hard to do so. Especially when the significant other fails to understand.
I agree on that point now Jane. I didn’t talk much about my debt with my wife, but I also took care of it on my own. I am sorry that you have arguments about money like that. Though I make more than my wife, I never use it as a bargaining chip.
What do you do when the amount of debt a person has is over 170k in student loan debt and you know that even with a full time job they will not be making enough money to substantially pay it off? (BTW The interest rate alone will be 900 a month.)
I get that the lesson needs to be taught and that for you your wife offered encouragement. Yet, what if encouragement is not enough, and having the option of the other person simply finding a way to increase their income to meet the rate of the loan payments is not possible? What if the person cannot handle their debt on their own?
Your underlying argument is “how would you handle your debts if you were single? My question is what if an individual is unable to pay for their debt, not because of financial irresponsibility but because it is too much and surpasses their income by a large margin. NO ONE in this entire thread addressed this issue.
What do you do? Do you not marry them? What if they are young and at the beginning stages of their career but still the pace at which their field pays out (advances, bonuses, promotions) does not match the breadth of the loan?
I know that we each have to be financially responsible for ourselves, and that is how I live. I actually agree with the way you and your wife live financially and I hope to mostly replicate that when I get married someday.
However, my gf of 5 years who is about to finish law school at a school that is not highly ranked will have this debt of 170k. She also plans on working in the public/govt sector which will not pay that much. I know that these loan payments will crush her, and if married her would crush us. I am also at the beginning stages of my career making a little more than 65k a year (which will rise a good amount each year) and I have 28k in debt. I know that even if I wanted to take the financially supportive role, i would ruin myself financially and probably resent her for robbing me of life opportunities such as buying a new car soon, having kids within 5 years, buying a house, and seeing the world.
I know love trumps all, and that people will argue that “you don’t know the future or her earning potential” but I am a realist, she will likely have a first job that if lucky pays her 65k and will not be earning enough money fast enough to compete with the monster loan. Also, one thing to consider is that much of her future earning potential is already negated by the debt, so that even when she makes more, the only difference will be that the IBR payments will become higher. Marrying into that kind of debt (which is also highly unbalanced on her side vs mine) seems like it would literally negate everything I’ve worked for financially. I also could not and will not sacrifice 10-12-15 years of my life to struggle with debt.
Be honest, what would you do, stay or leave? And remember this is all student loan debt, vs earning potential, and the effect on life goals.
This is one of the hardest decisions of my life.
Holy crap Mike. Thank you for leaving such a detailed comment. This is a very hard thing to answer as what I would do is very different from what others would do. First off, this shows that law degrees are over priced by leaps and bounds. That needs to change. Second, in order to make this work, someone needs to get a second job. It is not about extracting more money from a current job, but actually securing a second job. That income can slowly bring down the loans.
Depending on the type of loans, there are programs which only allow a certain percentage of income to be dedicated to student loan payments. I think it is 10% or something like that. If she goes into the public sector, then if she pays set payments for 10 years, the rest get wiped away. Yes, it is 10 years, but if you can’t afford to pay them back, then you will be paying them for a long period of time.
I wouldn’t say don’t get married, but I would say wait until the debt is gone. If you want a wedding, then it is going to cost a pretty penny. They are not cheap, but you can lessen the blow. I would just wait until the debt is down.
As I said, the only real way to handle this debt is to get a second job. That is the only way it will work. It will be hard work and stressful for a long time, but it will work.
Best of luck to you Mike!
My husband and I have been married for just over 2 years now, together for 10 years total. I have had the same job at the same company for 15 years. He has worked at over 14 companies in the 10 years I have known him. He was doing subprime loans at first and was doing well, but was not good at saving money. When the housing market crashed, he stupidly got talked into doing Real Estate. After blowing $100K of his late Aunt’s inheritance to pay bills and buy dumb things. He refuses to get out of the finance field as he says it is his dream job, but he is now at a commission only job as a Loan Officer. He has been overdrawn on his bank account for a month and a half. All of our finances are separate–we have nothing joint. The house and loan are in his name. I also had a pre nup done when we got married.
I don’t’ feel I should go thru my entire savings to pay his bills-when he is capable of getting a job, he just is stubborn about it. After much pushing and arguing, he has a offer at Walmart to work part time for $9.70 an hour. At least it will be something coming in. He can still play loan officer and hope that a loan will close now and then.
Part of me feels horrible for not paying everything but I have worked hard to get a great saving account and 401K. I have excellent credit. I have a feeling if I started paying his bills, it would continue and I would lose everything I have worked so hard for.
I don’t want to think about divorce, but it has come to my mind a few times when I am really stressed–which seems to be more and more often!
I don’t know if I would feel bad Marie. I am not trying to knock on your husband, but he needs to get his act together real damn quick. His spending is out of control and it is bringing you down. I would do the same as you. I wouldn’t help him out of the mess he continually puts himself in. You have worked hard and he seems to be riding your coat tails. I think it is unfair. That being said, I do think you two need to work this out with some help. He needs some help with his money problem.
I can’t relate to your approach. When I married my husband, I was unaware of his debt (apart from his student debt). Turns out that (in addition to his student debt) he owes $23K, $18K of which is judgement debt. All of it is medical debt that accrued after his divorce and before he got disability benefits (and health insurance). Sure, I was pissed when I found out about it, more so because he hadn’t told me (and because he hadn’t gone to court to challenge the judgments) than because it existed. Would I have refused to marry him if I’d known? Hell no!
He’s not taken on any more debt since then, and as he’s on disability now, and working a minimum wage job 3 days a week (earning under the threshhold for losing his disability benefit), he’s not in a position to pay down the debt. But he’s not irresponsible with money – his debts didn’t arise because of that, they arose because he had medical problems and was uninsured at the time (and yes, because he didn’t deal with them aggressively at the time and attempt to get them wiped).
I have a small amount of savings which, with careful negotiation, I think can pay off the debts and clear his credit report. (Well, at least have his credit report indicate that the debts have been settled). But should I? You say no. I say yes.
Pros – we can move out of our shitty 1 bed apartment where the apartment manager turns a blind eye to the fact that my husband lives here too (technically he should be on the lease – but with his credit record, he wouldn’t qualify), and rent somewhere nice. We could even buy a place of our own, with me as the mortgage owner. (We can’t do that now, because his judgments could place a lien on any property I buy, because we’re married so despite not being in a community property state, he is deemed to own half of any property I buy). So until his debt is paid off, I suffer too, living in a crappy apartment, and we can’t plan our future together.
Also, this way he can put a small amount of money into our savings account each month, which we can use for future vacations / big purchases / deposit on a house. Sure, he could use that money to pay off debts and I could put more into that account, but we like the fact that by both saving each month (the amount differs according to our incomes) we’re planning for our future together. I think that regular saving is a good money habit too – a better one than paying off debt, which has a finite end.
Cons – um, none. Well, okay, it depletes the savings that I had before we were married, which were for my retirement. But unless we get divorced, (and if I was thinking that we might do, that would indicate serious problems in our marriage) those retirement savings are our retirement savings.
That’s OK, not everyone can relate to my approach, but it worked for me and my marriage. You have to do what you feel is right for your situation. I just worked my situation in a different way. I wish you and your husband the best with killing the debt.
In our finances, we have worked on paying off the smallest debt first regardless of whose debt it is. It just kind of worked out that way. And we do the snowball method.
Whatever method works for you is good with me!
I have helped my husband pay off debts. He just kept getting into bigger debt. He is a huge risk taker and he does not believe in working hard. He is always looking to make big, swift money. He has a truly brilliant mind and has made big bucks with his bold business ideas several times, but he has also lost big. Unfortunately the latter outstrips the former by far. His urge to make big bucks can cloud his judgment and apart from brilliant decisions, leads him into really stupid decisions too. He gets into debt to finance his ideas, or to spend big or even just to indulge a whim. On the other hand I am risk averse and a saver. Once, when he was in big debt, he helped himself to a big chunk of money I had put away towards retirement. I found it really hard to shake off my sorrow and feelings of betrayal. Even after that incident I voluntarily gave him almost my entire pay heck a few times because I could not bear to see him struggle with debt. And then, I could do it no more.
I love my husband. I want him in my life always. But I don’t want to enable him, and in the process let his debt break me. I have worked very hard to build back a retirement fund. I am almost 50. I am willing to be the sole provider for a lifestyle my earnings can afford, but I am done paying his debts.
He still refuses to listen to me on financial matters. He has not changed.
I have worked through my bitterness. I have reached a point where I have no regrets for the past. But if I had to live my life over I wouldn’t help him with debts right from the very beginning.
My husband is a wonderful, interesting, loving person. His big weakness is debt. It took him a while to accept that I won’t help with debt anymore and I won’t let him have access to my savings. Now, he has come to terms with it. I would have walked out if he had put pressure on me financially. I would not have stopped loving him and I would have always left the door open for him to come back, on the terms that his debt is his. I refuse continued reliance on me to work hard, give up all dreams of retirement or financial security, while continuing to bail him out.
Thank you for sharing your story. It will resonate with many. I hear what you are saying. While you love your husband, you paying off his debts just enables him to not change. This is when my idea on handling debt comes in. Your husband needs a harsh reality check and going deep into debt and you not helping might be it.
Best of luck to you and this situation.
…. Word of advice here. If you are more concerned with ensuring that your spouse “learn a lesson” than just helping out, you will definitely be headed for that divorce you’ve so carefully prepared for.
Thanks for assuming I’ll be headed for divorce. I appreciate it. I’ve been happily married for 8 years and we don’t have any fights about money or debt. We has humans need to learn from our mistakes, in a relationship or not.
I am recently married. In the first month I learned my wife has almost 200k in debt. (Student loans, and credit cards)
I have sold things I own to help pay down the debt and attempt to put us in a better situation to long term. My immediate response was to give my income to pay down the debt
I’ve tried to get extra jobs on the side to again help with repayment.
Her family doesn’t think she should have to take a sale job or work else where to get ahead of this.
Starting to feel frustrated a few months in.
What would you do in my situation (I don’t think she can afford the house or car without help)
Has she worked extra to earn more? Looked for side jobs or other means to find more money?
To be honest, if you’re already $200k in the hole and these things aren’t affordable without help, they have to be removed from your life.
My husband who I’ve been with for 8 years recently informed me that he’s 22K in debt due to making “emotionally based trades” in his desired new profession of becoming an Options Trader. He did all this behind my back, and with $500 now left in his checking account, he wants me to pay off the debt with him paying me back over 3 years. I feel terribly betrayed, as we have a mortgage and a 6 year old child. He completely committed FINANCIAL INFIDELITY. So, what would you do? Pay it off or tell him to figure it out on his own?
Thanks for sharing Stefani. Your husband is a grown adult that needs to own up to his poor decisions. Look, he won’t get sympathy from me since I basically hid debt from my wife (wasn’t my wife at the time). When I make a mistake, I own up to it and fix it. What would be his plan if he was single and had that much debt? He can’t use the excuse that he is married and his debt is your debt. Tell him you’ll be there to support him emotionally, but financially, he needs to figure it out. You can back him up if there is a big issue, but don’t be soft here. You need to hold firm on what you think is right.
I am dealing with my husband on this. I was completely honest with him about my debt when I met him and he saw that a year after we started dating I got sick and had to pay medical expenses out of pocket because I was out of a job. He has not helped me with any of it. When we married he went 1/2 with me on the wedding and said that only that way would he even agree to a wedding. He has a lot of money in savings and doesn’t touch it even for himself… he did put a down payment on a car for me because I got a better job and it was 1 hour away and the car I had was old and used up and proved to be unsafe, even per the mechanic’s opinion. If not I would not have been able to work…so he had no choice! And even then he put it on his credit card. I won’t say the total amount he has in savings but its quite a bit… and he knows that I am working around the clock to pay all and any of my debt and my monthly expenses on time, sometimes falling back and not being able to pay it all due to other circumstances that come up, and he doesn’t offer to pay any of it. He also has me pay for 1/2 of the household expenses on top of that. its his house we moved into when we got married and he did not put my name on the title of it out of fear that it will become marital property in case of a divorce. Sorry, Grayson…but i DO disagree with you. When you marry someone you become a part of their life and therefore their journey…and if you see your spouse struggling, working two jobs, all to try to reduce debt and stay afloat, and you have THAT much money, and you don’t offer to pay any of her debt off…but ask her to pay you for living in her home…at that point, you cease to be a husband and you are more like a landlord. If watching your spouse struggle financially while living with you doesn’t move you to compassion to taking out money from your large bank account to assist her and make both of your lives better, then you didn’t marry for love. There must be other reasons. Just my take. If I saw him struggling like that, and I had what he has…he wouldn’t even have to ask. Yes, this is a problem brewing in me right now. I keep it all in though…and don’t tell him anything in order to not argue about it.
That’s not a problem that you disagree with me. Many do, but the one case in point I come back to is what if you didn’t marry? What would you do? Would you expect someone else to come in and help you pay off the debt? Money and love are two different things. Two very different things. Money often muddies love and causes more conflict that love can’t solve. We have to stop thinking that marriage is some sort of “get out of something” card where if we are in trouble (our doing), then we should expect the spouse to bail us out. That’s not how life works and if we can think that way, then we should just tell all people with debt to marry someone else with money to get them debt free. That’s ludicrous thinking at best. I’m sorry you’re dealing with these issues, but my marriage went through this (I was the one with debt) and I took care of it. It was my issue, my mistake, and I learned a hell of a lot more than if I were to take a bailout. That’s all I’m saying.
By the way, my wife and I were on our mortgage, so we were joint owners. I think you might be really angry at your husband to see where he is coming from here. We all have to do our part in a marriage and just because one has money, doesn’t mean we should expect them to keep everything afloat.
What about this scenario? Both second marriages. Husband knew way before marriage that wife, being a single mother of 3 had debt. Got married, No offer to pay debt. In 3.5 years of marriage, I have moved for his job changes (with 3 kids) to 3 different states, different homes. Leaving a career in Real Estate behind. Got my Real Estate license in 2nd state so that I could sell the house in state no.2 so that he could take another job and move us to house/city no. 3. I took no commission on either house sale/purchase. That was missing 30,000 of income I could have had. Finally got back into Real Estate at place no. 3 but have very little income, other than child support to get my hair done, buy anything for myself, etc. Husband has about half a million in cash. Wife has less than 10K in debt. Husband feels he is going to teach her a lesson and not pay anything, yet she has moved 3 times in less than 4 years and it has been hard to work with packing house, selling homes, etc. Interest is building up on the card. Also, for our taxes, my 3 kids are used as deductions, but I don’t get any of the tax refund. How is this teaching me a lesson when I see he has so much cash, and I have nothing, have put my life and my kids on hold 3 times for his job changes? The only thing it is teaching me is that we are not a team and I am getting pretty bitter. I don’t agree with your side on this, but I know that all circumstances are different and maybe you would think differently if the situation were different.
I think the husband in this scenario is a little extreme. We can’t always think about how much the other person has in cash (or wherever the money is). This is irrelevant because we usually expect those with more money to help other people when it’s not their responsibility. One thing most don’t realize is I was the one in the debt in this article. I made more money as well, but had a good amount of debt, so I didn’t expect, nor want my wife being responsible for something I created. Same with this husband, he didn’t create any of the debt, but I do think it’s extreme that he shares no tax refund, nor pays for anything. This debate is really only about paying off debt incurred by one person before the marriage. We HAVE to be responsible for the actions we take to get us where we are. We CAN NEVER expect to be bailed out by someone else, no matter if through marriage or not. If we think this way, then we should expect people to get married just to get their debt paid off and that’s for the wrong reason.
I recently married and my spouse wanted to help me pay off my personal loan taken out from my parents. He sent a payoff cashiers check but my mother refused the check and sent it back because “the loan was in my name.” Does it matter what bank account the payoff check comes from?
I don’t believe so. They only care about what account it applies to.
I absolutely agree with you. Unless there are dire circumstances such as job loss or medical bills, I would not pay off the debt. Marriage is not a parent/child relationship where one must pay off the debt of an irresponsible child. I would never expect it of my husband nor he of me. I would question the love and commitment of a spouse who has run up debts that they are unable to pay as well as being unable to contribute to the common good of the marriage. The shame and burden is on them.
You and I are on the same page Laura.
If you were at the table and gambling, would you gamble with your money or your wife’s or as a team? That would decide for me how I would pay my debt.
Think about it. My wife and I place everything in one joint account, and trust each other not to over spend. If we gambled, we’d be gambling with our money together. However, for the first 9.5 years, we kept separate bank accounts and we’d end up overdrawing money from the bank account at least 3 or more times in a year. At one time (….the last time), we did it together and it hit us by about $260.00 for stupid miscalculation of payments due to the weekends and payments did not go through until Monday. After that we decided to be joint. Plus she was hiding money from me to send to her family and shopping sprees without my knowledge, and I was out buying things she would not approve of.
The question is about trust, not money! How much can you trust your wife to do the right thing with the credit card after you pay it off for her? Do you trust each other now?
Don’t say, I trust her if you cannot get a joint account and be open to all money flow and manage as a team.
If you can not manage as a team, pay your debts off first and work on being wealthy for yourself. Then she will always be by your side. Otherwise, work as a team and pay the highest interest off first. This is hard to do if you are the bread winner. You both have to be on the same page to make the choice to pay a spouses debt off. Else, one is in power and the other feels they owe something and may get hurt that you are being too kind or go out and spend, because…. I HAVE MONEY ON MY CREDIT CARD! Go with your gut feeling not your thoughts!
Maybe pay half and ask her to pay the other, if your not joint account.
I would definitely not do this if not married. Not smart!
My debt is from being a single mom prior to my marriage (daycare, back to school expenses, medical, etc). I can’t find a way out without help… I even Uber,, but still have to meet my contribution to the home. My husband makes 2 times over what I do… My debt is his monthly income, yet I’m drowning alone 🙁
I’m way late on this, but as the spouse that came into the marriage with student loan debt, I saw it as my own responsibility to pay off. My husband offered multiple times, even before we were married, but I was not under any hardship and was paying it off just fine without help. I didn’t see it as his responsibility to pay off debt that I accrued and I believe that even more so if it’s credit card debt or something seen as more ‘negative’ debt.
I would say the only situation I would see spouse’s helping each other is medical debt or some other emergency situation. Certainly not debt the other person willingly took out.
I am reading this tonight because I am frustrated. I am newly married, just turned 60. I have never paid credit card interest. My late husband and I agreed on this when we were 20 years old getting married. Never did, if we didn’t have it, we didn’t get it.
Well now here I am. Married a guy that thinks it is healthy for credit score to pay interest and carry debt. When first married, I paid off three cards for him. not bad 6000. he is carrying 10,000. on other card. I decided to hold off and see how his paying down goes. Not good. I gave him a solution tonight. He said, I could pay it down but just face it, I could pay it off but I will ensure debt again, because when we decide on a big purchase you will want me to pay my share. He just does’t get it. You don’t buy it util you can afford it.
I so wish I would have kept my 6000. and used it much more wisely. I agree with you. It doesn’t help them. It grows to resentment on our part. Maybe once in awhile someone will be so grateful but more then not, the habit will carry on. They have to want it. think I will sleep on couch tonight sense we aren’t speaking…. Boundaries….
I wish you the best of luck with your situation.