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Are You Marrying Into Debt? What to Do

Sep 9, 2013 Jennifer Williamson, Distance Columnist | 0 Comments

Maybe you’re one of the lucky ones—and you managed to escape college with minimal student debt. But you fell head over heels in love with someone who wasn’t so lucky. It might not be the most romantic thing to think about what the financial consequences would be for you to marry someone with a lot of debt, if your debt level is low—but it’s both smart and practical.

In some states, one spouse’s debt is legally considered both spouses’ debts—and even if you divorce, you could be considered liable for a portion of that debt. In some cases, this is true for both same- and opposite-sex partnerships; in others, it isn’t.

States with community property rules include Arizona, Idaho, Nevada, Louisiana, California, Texas, Washington, New Mexico, and Wisconsin. In Alaska, you can choose to make your debt communal, but it’s rare for people to do this. In most cases, however, the only debts that are considered communal are those taken out during the marriage—so if your spouse’s student loan debts were taken out before you got married, you won’t be taking them on legally. There are some exceptions to this, however, depending on your state.

So let’s say you get married, and while you’re married, your spouse goes back to school.  He or she takes out a loan to pay for college. Then you get divorced. Then your spouse (or your ex at this point) loses his or her job—and can’t pay back the loan. If you live in a community property state, your ex’s creditors could come after your property, even though you’re divorced—and even though your ex’s name isn’t on the title to that property. The same may not be true, however, if your ex-spouse took out the loan before you got married.

Before you get married, you can sign an agreement with your significant other that stipulates your debts and income will be treated separately under the law. You can also draw up a contract with a specific lender that states it will not go after the spouse to get your debts repaid. Negotiating a prenuptial agreement like this can be more emotionally difficult for some couples—but it might be easier to get your spouse to agree to this than to get your lender on board.

It should be noted that once you are married, your credit score does not merge with your partner’s—so your credit should stay the same, regardless of how much debt your partner has. However, your credit report will show every account with your name on it—including joint accounts shared with your spouse, loans for your spouse that you’ve cosigned on, and your spouse’s name on any of your accounts if he or she is listed as an authorized user of that account.

If you’re the one taking out the new car loan and other household loans because your credit is better, this will ultimately affect your credit score. If you cosign for your spouse on that new student loan because of your better credit, it will also appear on your credit report—and possibly affect your score.

True love is supposed to conquer all. And if you truly love someone, you shouldn’t decide not to get married just because of this person’s debt from a traditional or accredited online degree. However, it’s important to know how that debt will affect you now and in years to come—in every scenario you can plan for. Have an honest conversation with your spouse (or future spouse) about their student loan situation, and at least you’ll know what you’re getting into.


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