Debt your partner has can be a cause for concern. When it comes to love and money, of course you and your significant other love each other, but you also want to know where the other person stands financially. Debts brought into the relationship could affect your financial well-being and ability to reach milestone goals in your life together. Here are some tips on getting out of debt as a couple:
Hash It Out
When it comes to talks about your financial situation, you need to be 100 percent upfront and honest. “When it comes to financials it can be difficult,” explains millennial money expert Stefanie O’Connell. “In fact, you may even have trouble being honest with yourself. But you can’t start moving toward a better future until you know exactly where you stand, so tackle it together.”
As hard as it may sound, you’ll need to lay everything out on the table. “Each person should share information about all their debt—whether it’s from credit cards, student loans, medical expenses, or loans from family,” recommends Valerie Rind, author of the award-winning book Gold Diggers & Deadbeat Dads. This includes what debt you have, the amounts and interest rates, and the repayment plan. It’s also important to express any concerns you have.
Rind suggests ordering your credit reports from each of the three major credit bureaus. You can order one for free at AnnualCreditReport.com. “You’ll emerge with a clearer understanding of what the true state of your finances are and can plot a path forward, whether together or alone,” says Rind.
Know Your Partner’s Attitude Toward Money
Most couples fight about money, it’s kind of unavoidable. You may be aware of your partner’s spending habits, but how well do you know their attitudes toward money? Is your partner frugal to the core, or are they more indulgent and perhaps reckless when it comes to their spending? Did they grow up in a well to-do household where money was not an issue, or were they raised feeling deprived? Understanding how your partner’s upbringing and experiences shaped their current attitude toward money can help you come up with a debt repayment plan that’s rooted in empathy.
Pay It Down With a Plan
Will you be tackling the debt together, or separately? This is completely up to you and your partner, and what the other person feels comfortable with. If you do decide to tackle the debt together, will you be paying it off in a communal sense, or will each partner be responsible for paying half? Map out a course of action, and figure out a timeline as to when you want to achieve this by. Just make sure that your plan is realistic financially. It’s also key that you’re on the same page with the plan.
“You don’t want one partner feeling like they’re the one making all the concessions and compromises on behalf of the other,” says O’Connell. “Remember, it’s a joint venture with a shared goal and a mutually beneficial outcome.”
‘Til Debt Do Us Part
If you’re considering tying the knot or are already married, you aren’t usually responsible for debt your partner incurred before marriage. The rules, however, vary by state. If you live in a “common law” state, which is most states in the U.S., you won’t be responsible for any debt your partner has before you get married or during the marriage. This changes if you are a co-signer, open a joint account, or add them to an existing account.
If you live in a state that employs “community property” laws, on the other hand, you and your partner are legally responsible for debts incurred during the marriage. This is regardless if the debt is under one person’s name. Debt you had individually before getting married, such as student loans or credit card debt, doesn’t necessarily turn into joint debt. It can vary according to the laws in each state. A prenuptial agreement can help clarify things.
Your partner’s debt doesn’t mean having to run in the other direction. And although talking about money can be a tricky thing to navigate, it’s essential to a healthy long-term relationship. Openly communicating and coming up with a plan to tackle the debt can help you be more confident about taking on debt as a couple and ultimately in building your life together.
If you would like help or have any questions on how you can pay off debt, you can contact a nearby credit union branch.