The ring is on your finger and you said yes! You’re ready to spend the rest of your days with the love of your life. You’ve committed to them entirely and have decided to overlook their faults and accept all their quirks. Just one question, though: Have you also accepted your fiancé’s debt?
Money—and especially debt—isn’t the most fun or sexy topic to talk about, especially when you are in the middle of planning a wedding. But for some couples, learning how much debt their fiancé is bringing to the partnership can come as a shock.
That’s why it’s essential that you’re open and transparent with one another about all debt starting immediately, explains Andrew Chen, chartered financial analyst and founder of hackyourwealth.com. “It's better to have that hard conversation before you get married because you’re making a commitment for the long haul,” he says.
Here’s a look at how to talk to your partner about their debt, how to understand where they’re coming from, and how to make a plan together for your future.
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Get all the details.
How much do you actually know about your fiancé’s financials?
Step one to understanding one another’s debt situation is to sit down and have a discussion about money. This should be done at a time when both of you are calm and ready to tackle it. (It shouldn’t happen after an argument or when one of you is hangry, for example.)
Asking questions can help get the conversation started, says Chane Steiner, CEO of Crediful.com. “Before marrying someone, you’ll want to ask about what their debt situation looks like,” she says. “You’ll need to get all of the details before deciding if getting married before clearing up some financial debt is the right move.”
You’ll want to find out:
- How much total debt do they have?
- Is their debt accumulated from student loans, credit cards, other consumer debt, and/or medical and hospital expenses?
- How many credit cards do they have, and what is the balance on each?
- What is the repayment plan? Is it long-term or short-term?
- What is their credit score?
She also recommends talking salary if you don’t know exactly how much your partner makes yet. You shouldn’t feel bad asking about their income, either.
“It doesn't make you a bad person to ask how much someone makes, and it doesn’t make you a gold digger to want financial security,” she says. “It’s important to know how much each other makes and know how much has to be devoted to things like debt, retirement, and savings,” she says.
Have some empathy, too.
As you discuss debt, you’ll want to try to put yourself in your partner’s shoes. Remember, they may be embarrassed or ashamed about their debt situation so try to be as empathetic as possible as you talk about each other’s finances, says Kassandra Dasent, a financial wellness expert who helps couples understand emotional awareness around money.
“Talking about money and debt can be difficult and some people may feel vulnerable as a result,” she says. “By practicing empathy, it communicates to your partner that you care about their emotions and are willing to listen without being judgmental. This approach leads to constructive conversations and solutions in order to begin married life on solid financial footing.”
Chen says it is also helpful to get a full picture of how your partner feels about money beyond the numbers.
‘The really important conversations to have about debt with your partner should be about their mindset and behaviors when it comes to debt and money,” he says. “If they made bad money choices in the past, but have since ‘seen the light’ then those past mistakes like a bad credit score or high debt, they can be fixed over time. What is harder is if the other person's mindsets about money are ingrained and inflexible and likely to further the debt spiral. “
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Is their debt really my debt?
Wondering if you’ll need to pay off your fiancé’s student loans in addition to your own? Likely not. In general, most states don’t require one partner to pay or be responsible for any debt the other partner acquired before marriage. But take note that some states do consider any property and debt as shared once you’re married.
After you’re married, your spouse’s financials and debt will impact any joint accounts or shared credit cards. (You’ll likely be responsible for anything they charge.) Their credit score could also factor in one day when you are trying to buy a house or car together.
If you have any questions about if your partner’s debt becoming your own after you get married, you should set up an appointment to talk to a financial advisor or even an attorney, if needed.
How To Move Forward
Once you have a better understanding of your partner’s financial situation and their feelings and habits around money, you can start to think about a plan moving forward.
Chen recommends encouraging your partner to write down all their debts so they can see it in one place. Then line it up to your combined monthly budget (if you have one) and making a plan to systematically pay off the debt, starting with the highest interest rate debts first.
“Encourage your partner to pay off as much debt as possible before the marriage so you can have a fresh start together,” he says. If that means pushing back the wedding by a few months, it might be a sacrifice worth making.
You can also start to think about if you can help your partner in the future. “You should think about whether you are willing to shoulder some of your partner's debt after the marriage by co-paying it off with them, but be explicit about it with them rather than leaving it unspoken,” Chen recommends.
Finally, if you aren’t willing to shoulder any of the debts and prefer to keep your financials completely separate, you can still offer emotional support and non-monetary resources like financial guidance and education to your fiancé when you can, Dasent says.