What Happens When You Marry Someone with Extensive Student Loan Debt?

For the past several decades, the cost of attending college in the United States has risen relentlessly. Even more worryingly, workplace demand for holders of four-year degrees and graduate-level certifications has grown at a rapid rate as well. Most employers now require their skilled workers to have some form of post-secondary educational credentials. High school graduates who lack special skills or training are finding it increasingly difficult to obtain gainful employment. In this competitive job market, workers must be more qualified than ever before.

In the face of this immutable economic reality, millions of American students have collectively taken out hundreds of billions of dollars in student loans. Although these loans are designed to finance the high-quality degree programs that students must complete in order to find gainful employment, they come at a considerable financial and social cost. Borrowers who can't find decent-paying jobs within a few years of graduating from college may find themselves deep in debt to their student lenders. This is creating a slow-motion social crisis that has forced many thousands of young people into bankruptcy.

What's more, student loans appear to have a devastating personal cost as well. Evidence is mounting that ongoing student loan debt is a principal cause of marital strife and divorce. If you're planning on marrying someone with an extensive burden of student loan debt, you'll need to take several steps to protect your financial and emotional health.

You should avoid combining your personal finances with your spouse's before thinking through the ramifications of such an action. It's perfectly acceptable for a financially-healthy married couple to maintain joint bank accounts, mortgages and retirement vehicles. However, marriages that involve a financially-unhealthy spouse may be a bit more complicated. Until your spouse gets his or her student debt load under control, it would be unwise to combine your bank accounts or credit cards.

Since it can be difficult for indebted consumers to secure credit cards or auto loans, it can be tempting to serve as a cosigner for your spouse. Unless you're willing to cover the cost of the obligation for which you're cosigning, you should resist this temptation. If your spouse's student loans become too expensive and necessitate a credit-destroying default, you'll be left to pay for any outstanding credit cards or loans that remain on his or her ledger. If you refuse to do so, your credit may suffer as a result. Such disagreements often lead to serious marital problems.

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