Any discussion about sharing a long-term future with your partner has to include a talk about what you’re bringing into that future—whether it’s your adorable rescue terrier, or your not-so-adorable $20,000 in outstanding credit card and student loan balances.
So as discussions of shared apartments and shared marriage vows start happening, be sure to chat with your future or new spouse about how you plan to share your finances as well—debts included.
Learn How Your Partner Handles Finances and Debt
As you plan toward your shared goals, whether it’s buying a home or financing a wedding, money will naturally become a part of the conversation (and so will credit scores). So use those discussions as an opportunity to initiate a more comprehensive financial dialogue and address how you can make progress toward your desired future goals as a team.
Revealing your own financial history and past money mistakes can help your partner open up about their own financial history, debts and all.
Once you’ve both come clean with your full financial histories, it’s time to make an action plan for how to move forward. As for what that means for your respective debts, there are a number of approaches.
Before deciding on any approach, it’s important to talk to your partner about how they got into debt, and what, if anything, they’re already doing to address it.
These conversations can give you important insight into the way your partner thinks about money.
For example, outstanding student loans that your partner is steadily paying off can be seen as a smart investment. Or a medical bill accrued during a job loss they’re working overtime to pay off can be seen as a temporary hardship.
But a retail credit card with a balance that continues to balloon as more and more purchases are made and more payment deadlines are missed could be an indicator of a more pressing and persistent financial issue, which can be emotionally difficult for your partner to cope with as well as financially trying.
In other words, finding out the story behind your partner’s financial habits can provide important insight into their values and money philosophy, and whether those values and philosophies align with your own.
Should You Pay off Your Spouse’s Debt?
If you find your values do align and your partner’s debt is just a temporary measure that they’re already addressing, your next question may be, should I help my partner pay off their debt?
Before you think about saying yes, be sure your own finances are in order. If you can help without putting yourself into debt or wiping out your own emergency fund, you might consider helping your partner with their debt.
You could start making the payments out of a joint checking account to potentially pay down the debt quicker with two people contributing.
Be sure to also consider the worst-case scenario. No matter how in love you are today, there’s always a chance your relationship might not work out long-term, so consider how you’d feel if the relationship ended after you paid off all of your partner’s debt.
If you’re married, you may have more protections in place should such a circumstance arise, but if you’re not married and the relationship ends, you want to make sure you won’t regret putting a solid chunk of your money toward your partner’s debt.
This isn’t to say you should never help your partner pay off debt, but be sure you’re being honest with yourself about the risks before making a commitment to help.
Another thing to consider as you and your partner discuss debt payoff plans is how your respective debts could affect your ability to achieve your shared goals. For example, if you’re newlyweds trying to buy your first home, and your partner has a large debt balance, helping them pay off that debt can help you both qualify for your new home.
So if you do decide to help your partner pay off their debt, it’s important that you clearly communicate the terms of your assistance, and that you both continue to be involved in the process. Be clear about how much you plan to contribute and how much you expect your partner to contribute and celebrate your progress together.
Are there any circumstances under which you would stop assistance—for example, if they don’t keep up with their portion of the payments? Will you pay off your partner’s debt with expectations of being repaid? There are no right answers to these questions, but they’re all important things to discuss and agree upon with your partner before you consider paying down debt on their behalf.
You may ultimately decide that it’s best for your partner to pay off their own debt, but that doesn’t mean you can’t help in other ways.
How You Can Help Your Spouse with Their Debt
By paying more of the shared bills, for example, you may enable your partner to put more of their money toward their debt payments. You can also model good money habits for them and share your financial savvy through smart spending and savings strategies.
You can even create a budget with them that helps them prioritize their debt, and point them towards resources like debt consolidation that can help them organize their debt and even eliminate higher interest rate debt like credit card debt, saving them hundreds—or even thousands—of dollars. Use our debt consolidation calculator to estimate those potential savings.
If you both have debt, you may also decide to consolidate your debts and pay them off together. This allows you to streamline your debt repayment into a simple, singular budget line item that you take on as a team.