Every marriage requires a few adjustments. For some couples, it’s living together for the first time. For others, it’s blending two families. For me, it was the fact that my husband had six figures of student loan debt when we walked down the aisle. Combined with my debt, we started our marriage with about $150,000 of debt.
Sadly, we aren’t an anomaly. Most millennials expect student loan debt to be a part of the equation when it comes to dating and getting married. There are millions of student loan borrowers who owe more than $100k, and an increasing number of who owe upwards of $200,000.
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For some people, that level of debt might be a deal-breaker in a relationship. According to a recent Personal Capital survey conducted by The Harris Poll, a partner’s debt is a deal-breaker for 24% of men and 32% of women.
If you choose to marry someone with six figures of debt, there are a few steps I’d recommend taking to start your marriage and your finances on the right foot.
Talk About Money Early and Often
My husband and I didn’t shy away from talking about money when we started dating. We didn’t force the conversation, but we also didn’t avoid the topic. We knew about each other’s debt situation long before we got engaged. These conversations helped to avoid any surprises later on.
Now that we’re married, we still talk about money often. I manage the finances, but we communicate often about our current financial situation, our upcoming spending, and our long-term financial goals (including becoming debt-free).
Read More: Financial Tips for Couples At Any Stage
Avoid Placing Blame
When one spouse brings debt into the marriage and the other doesn’t, it’s easy to place blame. After all, it’s a fact that if we didn’t have six figures of debt, we’d be able to spend that money on other things. But by playing the blame game, all you do is build resentment.
Everyone brings some form of baggage into a marriage. Just because my husband’s baggage is financial doesn’t make it worse than anything I brought into the marriage. I would rather approach everything as a team.
Decide Who will be Responsible for the Debt
There’s no one right way to tackle debt as a married couple. When my husband and I got married, we combined finances and decided that we’d pay each of our debts together. That seemed the easiest for us and will help us to become debt-free the fastest.
But our strategy isn’t right for everyone. Plenty of couples choose to keep their finances separate, and each spouse is responsible for paying off their own debt. If this strategy works best for you and your marriage, then it’s the right choice for you.
The most important thing is that you make a decision one way or the other and discuss it together. Otherwise, it might create an awkward situation that’s just lingering, waiting to be dealt with.
Look for any Quick Wins
Paying off six figures of debt isn’t a fast process. We’ll be paying off this debt for years. But as soon as we got married, we looked to see what quick wins we could get right away.
For example, my husband had a private student loan with a high interest rate. It was making it nearly impossible for him to make a dent in that loan. Our first order of business was to refinance it, which will save us tens of more than $10k over the life of the loan.
Other quick wins to look for could include doing a balance transfer on any high-interest credit card debt or paying off any debts with a small balance.
On Daily Capital, one Personal Capital financial advisor, Brian Cocos, CFP®, and his wife, Lindsay, shared how they paid off six figures of student debt while saving for retirement.
“What worked for me might not work for everyone,” he said. “Know what you can and can’t live without. Debt repayment isn’t everything.”
Create a Debt Payoff Plan
I can’t stress enough how important it is to have a debt payoff plan, especially if you have more than just one debt account.
There are two popular methods to follow. The debt snowball is where you start with your lowest loan balance and put all of your extra money toward it each month. When that debt is gone, you put all of the money toward your next smallest debt. As you pay off more debts, your money snowballs into larger payments.
The other debt payoff method (and my personal favorite) is the debt avalanche. Rather than prioritizing the loan with the smallest balance, you prioritize the one with the highest interest rate. You can end up saving a lot of money on your debt payoff journey.
Once you decide on a debt payoff method, I recommend deciding how much you can afford to put toward debt each month and adding it as a line item in your budget. In the moment, it will be easy to talk yourself out of making extra debt payments. It’s a lot easier if you commit to a number and stick to it.
Once you make your payoff plan, you can use the Debt Paydown feature in the Personal Capital Savings Planner to help you track your progress.
Find a Balance
Paying off six figures of debt is no small feat. Unless you have an extremely high income, you’ll likely spend years paying it off, even if you tackle it aggressively.
Knowing this, it was important to my husband and me that we create some balance in our budget. Yes, we want to be debt-free. And I don’t want to give the impression we aren’t taking our debt payoff plan seriously. We put more money toward debt each month than I made in my first job after college.
But we don’t put every spare dollar we have toward debt. We want to be able to travel and enjoy our life along the way. While paying off debt, we saved for an RV and hit the road traveling full-time. That money could have gone toward debt instead, but we’re also making room for fun.
Ready to figure out your own plan and pay down debt?
Personal Capital compensates Erin Gobler for providing the content contained in this blog post.