Guest Post: Actionable Ways (and Challenges) to Deal with Debt as a Married Couple
Hey Folks, James here.
Thanks for the patience and grace you’ve shown me as I’ve been tied up dealing with my father’s passing. (Cleaning up an Estate sucks, but doesn’t have to.) I’ve got some great stuff planned for this site and hope to be back at it shortly.
In the meantime, please enjoy this guest post from my blogging friend Dan. Along with his wife June, Dan runs Dinks.co, sharing what they’ve learned on their way to financial freedom as a Dual Income No Kid family. If you like this post, head over to Dinks.co and say hi.
Entering a marriage with debt and acquiring debt as a couple can cause plenty of tension & stress. Yes, getting married is exciting, and you think about all the things you want to do together, such as buying a home and taking vacations, but all of that comes at a cost. When debt exists before the nuptials, baggage is being brought into the marriage. You can decide to deal with this baggage together, but it is going to require a lot of communication and understanding.
My spouse and I brought debt into the marriage, so buying a car or home and other goals took longer to achieve. We made the mistake of not discussing this in the beginning, so it haunted us.
Knowing what to expect, coming up with a plan of attack to tackle the debt, and determination can go a long way toward making sure a couple isn’t more stressed about money than necessary. The past certainly caught up with us and forced us to take a stand.
James: Learn how to talk about money without fighting!
Dealing with Old Debt
Without a doubt, old debt that existed before the marriage needs to be dealt with. One strategy is for one spouse to be responsible for their own debt until it’s paid off. This can make it ideal to not open joint accounts until the debt is gone. Once you get married, you’re not necessarily liable for your spouse’s debt. If your spouse has bad credit, it is best to preserve yours because your credit could be the difference between buying a car or house and not having those things.
Simply put, you’re not responsible for your spouse’s past debt, but this changes once you get married. If your spouse owes something, creditors can try to get you to pay up. While old debts belonging to your spouse won’t show up on your credit report, the efforts to collect on the debts could fall into your lap.
The best way to deal with old debt is to sit down and review what is owed by both of you. Determine your income, where you can cut other costs, and how much time is needed to pay off old debt before venturing into the world of new debt. This way, you can communicate your goals and work together to find solutions.
James: Want to pay off all your debt the way Andrea and I did? Check out this guide!
What to Do with Student Loan Debt
This one is pretty common for young couples. If one spouse has a lot of student loan debt, even if their credit score isn’t the one being considered, it can prevent the acquisition of new credit.
This happened to my spouse and I when we tried buying a home the first time.
There are a couple of ways to handle collective student loan debt. You could start making additional payments on the student loan with the highest interest rate; this would be a great way to take advantage of your double income. As a couple, you may want to consider obtaining a loan to refinance debt at a lower interest rate; this move will help you save money in the long run (though you need good credit to qualify). These are just two ways, but you could also take a look at income-driven repayment programs if you’re really struggling to make payments.
Battling Credit Card Debt
Another issue is credit card debt from before the marriage. We’re all young once and get excited about getting new credit cards. It can be fun to buy now and pay later, but it has its consequences. These consequences could end up impacting your future marriage in ways you didn’t think.
There are a couple of popular ways to eliminate credit card debt. One way is to pick up a balance transfer credit card. The main point here is to get a low-interest credit card that allows you to transfer a balance from the high-interest card. This would help you save money on interest while paying back the debt. Another way is to consolidate your debt with a personal loan which could be the move as a couple. If you resolve to pay down this debt together, then consolidating could be a great way to attack this goal together.
Looking Forward to Mortgage Debt
When you reach that point where you can buy a home, it’s time to make the biggest investment of your life. The home you buy could be where every future milestone in your life occurs. Your children could grow up there and always consider it their home even when they have homes of their own. Those are all happy thoughts, but what isn’t so happy is the thought of paying back hundreds of thousands over 30 years. This is oftentimes a new type of debt that couples get to experience for the first time together.
When talking about the mortgage with your spouse, make sure you talk about the interest rate, term, and whether you want a fixed rate or a variable rate. Something to keep in mind about a variable rate mortgage is that the rate is going to be cheap at first, but it will become more expensive over time. It’s great starting out, but it can be punishing and cause strain in your marriage later if the monthly payment amount exceeds what you can comfortably afford.
The most important way to deal with debt in a marriage is to talk about everything. It’s amazing how many details can be thoroughly evaluated when a couple sits down and dissects them together. Come up with a budget, adhere to the budget, and enjoy the fruits of your labor and good communication. Over time, you will be glad you came up with actionable ways of dealing with old and new debt.
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