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My boyfriend and I have been together for several years. We have never lived together in the same place, but have spent time together at each other's places. We're pretty serious now and I have student debt I've never told him about. I've never talked about money to him because I felt we weren't serious and it wasn't his business. Now that we are serious, I feel I should let him know just in case its a deal-breaker for marriage. I don't like the debt either and it's a lot and I want to get this out of the way without it turning sour.

I'm afraid to reveal the debt because its over $100K. I don't think he has any debt because he didn't attend college. I overheard him tell a friend he makes six figures so I feel he may judge my debt.

How can I tell him about this debt without him feeling negative toward me?

  • 1
    Also it might be useful to clarify, if you are worried about the dept per se being a deal breaker, or the fact that you have such dept and never have mentioned it before to your boyfriend? – dhein Nov 14 '18 at 8:16
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    Have you been paying this debt down? Do you have a clear path to get it paid off? Did you finish the degree and put it to use? – Kat Nov 16 '18 at 1:35
  • Are you planning to join your bank accounts or work after your married? – user13972 Nov 19 '18 at 16:23
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I think you're correct to want to have a discussion about this before getting married as the best way to avoid misunderstandings that might aggravate the problem.

That being said, I'm sure you're having a number of conversations that look to the future of your life together: kids or not, and if so how many, where to live, etc. etc. Either during one of these discussions or as a separate one you can tell him you'd like to discuss financial planning. As part of that, you can ask about his debts, disclose yours, and discuss any other financial obligations (such as contributing to family) and how all of this impacts your financial future. You should also discuss your general ideas about borrowing and managing money so that the two of you can come to an understanding. This will ultimately make your marriage stronger and more likely to last so long as you can generally agree with each other.

I'll mention that in my unscientific observing of friends who've had one partner in the marriage that had significant debt, I only know one couple who called things off, and in their case it was part of a larger problem that the two had extremely different ideas on money (one was as cheap as you can be and the other was a spendthrift). Everyone else I've known - including people with financial careers - has had debt as really low on the scale of whether or not to marry someone, but of course people differ and this is IMO an extremely important conversation to have for any people that want to have a life together.

4

In my opinion, how he feels towards you depends on how you address the debt that you have. If it's something that you have been ignoring and have not focused on paying off, then that could be a serious issue for him.

I don't know the circumstances of your debt, but that amount might cause negative feelings regardless, depending on how he treats his own finances. What I would do is explain the debt and acknowledge that it is an issue, and explain to him the steps you are making to pay that debt off.

How you treat that debt, and the type of effort you make towards paying off that debt would play a large role in how I perceive the debt. If you were in debt, still spending above your means, and not making efforts towards furthering your career, then that would be a huge red flag for me. On the other hand, if that person was making concerted efforts towards paying that debt, then it would be less of an issue.

4

"Financial Reason" is one of the top 10 reasons for marriage collapse. So obviously you don't want to get there. You wish to be as transparent as possible about your debt and articulate it properly before you're getting married. The higher the transparency and the communications between you two the better chances you'll have to overcome any obstacles including this one.

You mentioned that this is a student-debt so you have a very strong case here. First, it's not about you taking a long trip around the world and spent every possible credit card because that will signal him that you're not responsible. The truth is that this debt is an 'investment' for the future - your future; so this is how you need to present this matter.

Put yourself in his shoes, this is something very hard to swallow, it takes few years to return this lumpsum and it comes on the expense of many other things so don't expect him to clear this issue immediately and everything is back to normal. Tell him that you truly hope this is not a deal breaker for the both of you and articulate what you have done so far to close this debt.

Allow me to present 2 possible outcome in the event you get married and you can share this with him:

  1. Best case scenario: You guys get married (congrats) you both work your butt off to return the loan and you live happily ever after.

  2. Worst case scenario: (I know, nobody likes to talk about it) you get married, you guys work very hard and manage to pay the debt in full (or partially). Somewhere along the journey, you decided to split for whatever reason. Since he was actively working to return your loan - he has the right to have his portion back.

To be fair, and this is something that you want to consider with him - have a prenup that explains this issue in details and the possible outcome (worst case scenario). Consult with a lawyer with him show him that you don't take him for granted.

In any event, you don't have to be ashamed in investing in your future and if you properly explain WHY you have it and propose a solid strategy how to return it, I bet he'll be there for you.

One (small) tip: since marriage is a 'partnership' simply single him that you're very serious about this debt in terms of:

John, I don't think we should go on this vacation - I want to clear my debt first.

or

Maybe we should skip this restaurant tonight in favor of a great meal at home.

  • He has the right to have his portion back? Huh? I don't think I've ever seen anything like that. Moreover, being owed money from someone in serious debt is not as good as it sounds. – David Thornley Nov 16 '18 at 20:44
  • @David Thornley check prenuptial agreement tuition.io/2013/04/… – ProcolHarum Nov 25 '18 at 14:18
4

I've been on the other side of this situation with my now-husband. We didn't talk about our finances in detail until we’d been together for a couple years and started seriously planning to get married.

You’re probably aware (but just in case, and for the benefit of other readers), that US student loan debt is... really not great. It can’t be discharged in bankruptcy and there are very limited situations in which you might have some of it forgiven. With the amount you mentioned, you're probably looking at sizable monthly payments, which will impact your budgeting, savings rate, and ability to qualify for other loans (e.g. a mortgage).

So, two main questions to think about first:

  • What is your plan for paying off your loans?
  • What have you and BF talked about as a plan for your future together? Is what you've discussed actually viable, given your debt?

When you feel prepared, let him know you want to talk. Depending on your relationship, you might tell him the topic beforehand, or just ask him to set aside some time. This will help set the stage that it's a serious conversation and ensure you have plenty of time to discuss if needed.

Since you’ll undoubtedly revisit the topic of budgeting in your relationship, I’d suggest keeping this initial conversation focused on simply laying out your situation. Explain your plan, show that you’re taking this seriously and being responsible. You don’t need to get into the nitty-gritty of exact numbers if you’re not comfortable with that, but at least saying what you’ve said here - six figures - is probably descriptive enough for your purposes at this stage. (Don’t be too vague, though! My SO only said at first that it was “a lot”, and I was a bit shocked finding out later just how “a lot” it was, because I had never been in so much debt myself. If your boyfriend didn't go to college, he may not be aware of what "a lot" of student loans can be, either.)

Then, listen. He might be disappointed or sad, he might want to share something about his own finances, he might roll up his sleeves and help you make a budget. This really depends on his personality and how disruptive this news is to any joint future plans you have, so I can only advise you to be patient and calm with answering questions he might have. Either way, it will likely be a learning experience for both of you - and financial compatibility is extremely important for long-term relationships, so that's a good thing!

(Personally, I reacted with all of the above -- obviously it wasn’t a dealbreaker, but it was a bit of a rude awakening. I had been imagining and daydreaming about how we would get married and buy a cute little house together in 3-5 years, so I was pretty disappointed when I found out that wasn’t going to happen. So it’s great that you’re having this conversation now, so you can set realistic expectations.)

Given that your goal is just to let him know about your debt, and that you aren't currently financially entangled, I wouldn't advise asking him to reveal his financial situation during this conversation. If he volunteers, that's one thing, but it could come off very poorly (prying or even opportunistic) to inquire during this same conversation. Instead, save that for another time when he feels ready to share his side too.

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