Love vs. Loans: How Student Debt Sabotages Relationships

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Disproportionate student loan debts add an extra layer of difficulty to young couples trying to figure out joint finances.

For many millennials, love and marriage come with a hefty, and often stressful, piece of baggage: student loans.

Money and financial disagreements are the biggest cause of divorce in the United States, according to The College Investor. As most married couples can attest, it’s difficult enough to figure out joint finances without having the added complication of student loan debt, especially if one partner has significantly more debt.

Debt sometimes even prevents couples from getting hitched. A National Foundation for Credit Counseling survey found that 54 percent of people would either not marry until their partner’s debt was paid in full (37 percent), marry but not assist their partner in paying their debt (10 percent), or end the relationship all together (7 percent). The remaining respondents (46 percent) said they would proceed with getting married and work together to pay off the debt.

Dora Gicheva, an assistant professor in economics at the University of North Carolina, recently researched how things work out for couples trying to settle down and marry while shouldering large student loan debts. According to a report in The Atlantic:

“There are a couple of previous economic studies that find student loans to affect other areas of graduates’ lives, for example their career choices, so it seemed reasonable to expect marriage decisions to be affected as well,” says Gicheva. Her research found a negative relationship: $10,000 of student-loan debt decreased the probability of marriage by 3 to 4 percent, with the effect diminishing with age for women but not men.

Dealing with disproportionate student loan debts is a challenge in itself for millennial couples. The difficulty is exacerbated when couples can’t agree on how to deal with debt.

“Conflicts arise over money personalities: who’s the spender, who’s the saver, who likes to track their spending down to the very penny, and who is more of a flier — meaning they just let what happens happen,” certified financial planner Karen Carr explained to The Atlantic. “Just because you do things differently and just because you go about saving or spending or paying down debt differently doesn’t mean you can’t exist within the same couple. You don’t have to change the other person.”

One of the biggest hurdles to dealing with finances, including student loan debt, is to talk about it. For tips on where to begin, check out “10 Money Matters to Discuss Before Marriage.”

Find out more with “10 Things You Should Know About Joining Finances.”

When I got married, I had about $27,000 in student loan debt and no credit cards. My husband had no student loans and a few thousand dollars in credit card debt. We talked extensively about our finances before we married.

After we said “I do,” we joined our savings and checking accounts, which alleviated most financial disagreements we had before we got married because we could see what money was going in and out of our accounts. The transparency helped.

Have student loan debts caused problems in your relationship? Share your comments below or on our Facebook page.

Stacy Johnson

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