This post was written by Jana Lynch, founder of the Bloggers Helping Bloggers Mentoring program and owner of the personal finance blog Daily Money Shot, where she talks about money, life, parenting, and makes obscure pop culture references. You can also stop by and say hi on Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest.
I often joke that my punishment for not finishing either undergraduate or graduate school with any student loan debt was to marry into a whole lot of it. Okay, I admit it’s not a funny joke but it is true. While I was fortunate enough to have my parents and scholarships pay for both of my degrees, my husband was not so lucky. And while he worked his ass off in college and graduate school to pay for his education, it just wasn’t possible without the help of loans. When all was said and done, he was conferred with over $40K of debt the same day his was conferred with his Master’s.
So that was both a happy and sad day.
Prior to our marriage, I had no idea just how much his debt was. I mean, I knew he had loans since I watched him fill out the paperwork and listened to his conversations with his friends, fraternity brothers, and housemates about the loans but the actual amount was a mystery. And quite frankly, it was none of my business. So I didn’t feel the need to ask. But then we got married. And our finances were combined. And his debt became my debt. And then I found out the number. And maybe I freaked out a little bit.
It’s not that we had a fight about it; I was just in shock because I couldn’t understand how he could incur so much debt, especially when he worked the whole time. Then he explained it to me which helped. I listened and when he was done, I didn’t really have a good response except to say that I wanted it paid off before any of our future children started college. Fortunately, he agreed with that.
So that was good.
But marrying into that kind of debt comes with a special set of challenges. After all, going from $0 to $40K with a simple, “I do” is tough to handle. If you’re not buckled in and prepared for it, it can cause a huge accident.
Here’s a few ways I recommend handling marrying into a large amount of debt:
- Be honest about your feelings. I don’t resent my husband’s debt. I really don’t. He did what he had to do in order to fund his education and I am proud of him for that. Additionally, his education has offered him a number of career opportunities that he would not have had otherwise. But making that payment every month still hurts, particularly as it prevents us from achieving some of our other financial goals. I’ve told him this and he gets it. He’s not angry with me for feeling the way I do. What helps is that he hates the debt as well.
- Work as a team to pay it off. Just as we did with our car payments and credit card debt, we decided to work as a team to pay off this debt. Although I have no control over the repayment plan he selects, we do discuss any extra payments we anticipate making and we’ve jointly established a time frame for eliminating the debt (hopefully within the next 5 years). Working together makes the goal more attainable and neither one of us feels like we have to tackle the mountain alone.
- Be supportive. My husband knows that he came into the relationship with a lot of debt. If I continually berate him for it, it’ll just cause friction in the marriage and anger towards me. That’s not really healthy for either of us. Instead, I choose to support him in his endeavors to work to pay it off (and help when I can). When he gets upset with the circumstances the loans cause (especially after spending too much time on Facebook), I remind him that we don’t know how his friends are affording all they do. I remind him that not all of them had to go what he went through to get a college education (and Master’s degree). I let him know that we’re doing the best we can and that, eventually, we’ll finish paying it off. I’m pretty sure he appreciates this tactic.
While I certainly can’t understand what it’s like carrying around the burden of that kind of debt, having it thrust upon you is really no picnic either. But my actions and attitude in this situation are really the only things I can control. The debt will still be there regardless of how I act. So I might as well work with him to get it paid off instead of against him.
KK’s readers, have you married into any sort of debt? How did you handle it?
**Note from KK-I’m so pleased for the first Guest Author here on Student Debt Survivor to be Jana. She’s such an accomplished blogger and such a kind friend. She’s been nothing but welcoming and helpful to me as I’ve embarked on my blogging journey.**
Image: Ben Sutherland