January 16th, 2013
Should You Help Your Partner Pay off Student Loans?
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**Today’s guest post is contributed by Shannon.**
Student loans, we’ve all got ‘em. And if you don’t, you probably know someone who does. So what do you do if you’ve managed to avoid and/or pay off your student loan debt – but your significant other hasn’t? Should you help him or her pay it off or should you let them tackle it on their own? The answer to this is in no way straightforward, so let’s dive right in!
How Serious Is Your Relationship?
For starters, you definitely wouldn’t want to help pay off the debt of someone you’ve only been dating for a few months. Regardless of your own financial situation, it just makes more sense for your own future and the health and balance of the relationship to wait until you see a future together before you start merging your finances.
Let’s assume that you’re serious – and maybe even married – for argument’s sake. Since couples take varied approaches to their finances even after they’re married, you’ll want to align your decision with the financial boundaries you’ve already set. Do you have joint or individual checking/savings accounts? Are you combining some of your money for mutual future goals or are those separate? If you’re going all in on your finances together (joint goals and accounts) then this may be an easy decision to help pay the debt off. But if you’re keeping everything separate or if you’re doing a combination of joint and individual accounts and/or goals, then you’ll have to prioritize where paying off the debt lies in your goals together.
How Much Does This Impact Your Future Goals?
The next thing to consider is how the student loan debt impacts your mutual and individual goals. What would you be doing with the money if not putting it toward the student loans? Have you already set yourself up with an emergency fund, a retirement account, and anything else to make sure your own future is intact? If you have done all this and feel that this debt is impeding on your future together (i.e. for plans such as paying for a wedding/having children/relocating), then talk to your partner about helping him or her pay it off to see if it makes sense for the both of you.
Remember – there is a possibility that your partner doesn’t want help and would rather pay it off on his or her own. If that’s the case, you need to respect those wishes. Try to understand your partner’s point of view because you don’t want him or her to develop an insecurity within the relationship due to debt. If your partner feels that you’re judging him or her for having the debt or trying to make him or her feel guilty about it, then you’ll have a hard time moving forward in discussions (and maybe even your relationship).
Multiple Ways to Help
If you decide that you’re not at a point in your relationship in which you’re ready to contribute financially, but still feel scared of your partner’s debt, remember that there are other ways to help! If your partner is open to advice, why not sit down together and strategize a payoff plan? Take a look at your partner’s budget and see if things can get moved around to better focus on the debt payoff. You could even talk about the possibility of your partner using his or her talents to earn extra money – or to energize his or her career path and earning potential.
Once you’ve gone over the budgeting and earning potential possibilities, look for other ways to cut down on interest due and loan repayment time. Automating biweekly payments on the loan are a great way to start! The way this works is your partner would sign up for biweekly payments, split the monthly payments into two, then pay them every other week instead of once a month. This is equivalent to one extra payment a year and can take years off the life of the loan – without making a big impact on your partner’s monthly budget!
You should also explore government programs like Income Based Repayment, look at consolidation, and even research if the lender gives a break on interest for loans in which the payments are automatically withdrawn (check our Student Loan Debt resource center for more ideas). The fact is, there are many ways to cut down on the life of student loans that many people don’t even know about. Helping your partner strategize alone will make a huge difference in this debt payoff!
Whether the Answer is Yes or No, Communicate
When it comes to dealing with debt as a couple, communication is absolutely imperative. Debt may not drive a wedge between the two of you, but not communicating about it certainly can! So no matter if you decide to help your partner pay off his or her student loans, if you just talk strategy, or if your partner decides he or she is more comfortable going it alone, talking about it before a decision is made is key.
So long as you both understand how the other feels and where the other is coming from, then this is something you can get through together. You can use the ReadyForZero Relationships and Money resource center for advice and information. Don’t let the debt come between you and your future happiness!
Shannon is the Community and Customer Support Manager at ReadyForZero, a site dedicated to helping Americans manage and pay off their debt – for free.
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