I turned 27 this year, and my mailman started delivering more wedding invitations than bills. It sounds lovely, except that those damned lacy invites end up costing more than the bills! My opinions of showers and gift registries aside, all this nuptial nonsense got me thinking: Is it safe to get married when one partner, or both, has a lot of debt?
In Love? Got Debt? Look Out!
Given that money is routinely cited as a leading factor in divorce, I think couples considering marriage need to proceed with caution whenever debt is involved.
Personally, even if I wanted to get married this year and everything else was right, I wouldn’t do it because I still have way too much credit card debt.
Now, would I worry about my student loans? Probably not, even if I had gone to grad school and had a big tuition bill to repay.
Conventional wisdom says that education is an investment. I might not even worry about an auto loan – assuming it was affordable in the first place. But all credit cards, personal loans, and anything else must go.
If you are thinking about getting married but haven’t brought up money with your partner, you must. If you don’t, and subsequently don’t sign a prenuptial agreement, your debt will become your spouse’s debt, and your spouse’s debt will becomes yours.
When Marrying With Debt Is OK
In some cases, when you and your spouse have been completely transparent with each other, are in similar financial situations, and have similar financial aspirations, it may be OK to marry with some bad debt, even without a prenup, but only if – after being brutally honest with each other – you are on the exact same page financially.
Even still, people change, and the unexpected can happen, which is when one spouse’s whopper credit card bill or lack of savings can trigger resentment in the other.
My Advice for Marrying With Debt
If you want to get married but find yourself (or your future spouse) still in oodles of credit card debt, take these steps to ensure the situation doesn’t set your marriage up for failure:
Talk Money – Don’t even think about marriage until you have discussed everything financial: Your incomes, your debts, your assets, your goals, whether you like to save or spend, and how you want to handle money after marriage (separate accounts, joint, or both?)
Try to Start at $0 – If one of you has debt, try to pay it off before getting married. Not only does it make financial sense, it will make your new life that much more meaningful to be rid of the burden of debt.
Postpone Marriage, If You Can – Consider postponing marriage by a year or so to work on your finances. If you already live together, it shouldn’t be much of a sacrifice. If not, invest time now in earning additional income so that when you do marry, you will be in a better financial place.
Get a Prenuptial Agreement – Prenuptials sound so cold – as if you expect the marriage to fail – but they serve to protect spouses in marriage too, not just afterwards. For example, signing a prenup can make sure debt collectors can’t go after your spouse’s assets for a debt you owe, or vice versa, whether you are still married, or not.
Keep Talking – Perhaps the most important step of all, never stop talking about money. Don’t let your spouse be surprised to hear about a large purchase you made, or a credit card you opened. At the same time, if your spouse spends more than you, don’t freak out every time he or she goes to Starbucks. Life is about choices, and marriage – at least when it comes to money – is about compromises.
Are you – or were you – married to somebody who hid debt or other money problems? Are you planning to get married but taking steps to prepare your finances before you do? Let me know!