Debt ties a knot around some who want to say ‘I do’

Dealing with debt is often the first issue couples should tackle

Kansas City StarSeptember 22, 2012 

  • Tips for twosomes Whether newly married or not, here are some ways to avoid money minefields: •  Track your spending and keep a budget. •  Come up with spending and savings goals. •  Designate a bill payer to manage household expenses, but make sure the other person is involved and knows what bills are due. •  Keep separate credit cards to maintain a separate credit history. It will make it easier to get credit in the event your spouse dies or you divorce. Source: Jean Chatzky, on about.com

— Newlyweds have always had to deal with a load of sometimes painful money issues when starting life together. Now, rising college loan debt has made it even more challenging for couples to get off on the right foot.

After all, who wants to start a marriage with somebody who owes $100,000 or more to a bank or the federal government?

Ann Hakan, who specializes in relationship counseling in Kansas City, sees evidence that burdensome student-loan debt has caused some couples to forestall marriage.

“It seems more that (debt) just delays the relationship,” Hakan said.

Besides the average $27,000 in student loan debt, many young people also owe thousands of dollars on their credit cards.

Hakan said she has noticed younger couples who are dating are keeping their financial information separate from each other longer. Sometimes the person in debt won’t talk about money issues until the loans are paid off.

Hakan said debt was less of an issue in a relationship when it had been accumulated while working toward a professional degree where future earning power could make it easier to pay off loans.

But if someone in the relationship doesn’t think the other person is working hard enough or being realistic in paying off the loans, that can raise a red flag, she said.

Lack of communication is often the underlying issue, experts said. Dealing with debt is often the first issue couples should put on the table when dating gets serious. Knowing what you are about to get yourself into can help you decide how to deal with credit problems.

Arguments about money have always hampered relationships. A recent survey by Chase Card Services and XO Group reinforced the notion that money was the No. 1 cause of conflict between couples, especially while planning their wedding, starting married life and deciding when to start a family.

So the first years of marriage can set the tone for financial and marital bliss.

For Matt and Rachel Kendrick of Kansas City, student-loan bills were common knowledge among them and their friends at the University of Missouri-Columbia.

The Kendricks, who began dating in their freshman year in college and were married in 2009, said they eventually started having conversations about their spending habits and financial priorities. By the time they were married, they were on the same wavelength.

Matt said their debt probably didn’t affect their decision to get married, but it had spilled over into other life decisions.

The couple have made it a priority to eliminate as much of their debt as possible before entering another phase of their lives, such as raising children.

“Finances are a huge thing to think about when building your life together,” Rachel said.

Your money personality

Sandi Weaver, a financial planner and president of Financial Security Advisers in Prairie Village, Kansas, said young married couples need to understand their money personality.

For example, is one person a spender and the other a saver? Does one handle the finances more than the other?

Weaver said couples need to figure out how to deal with money and financial problems before they say “I do.”

“A lot of young couples don’t even talk about it,” Weaver said of couples’ financial situations. “They just think love will figure that out, but it doesn’t.”

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