When Should You Have “the talk” About Student Loans and Other Debt in a Relationship?”

Opening up about your finances to someone else can be a hard conversation to have, and knowing when to broach the topic can be even harder still. However, money is one of the biggest stressors in a relationship so consider starting to talk to your partner about your financial goals early in the relationship. By all means, surely not on the first couple of dates, but once you can fathom a future together, one that would eventually involve comingling of finances, then it is a good time to start.

If you are still in the early stages of a relationship, you might consider sharing general information, for example, talking about how you had to take out student loans to help pay for your Master’s Degree and that you are working on paying off a couple credit card balances. That will open the conversation up for your significant other to offer up any tales of student loans and other debt they may have themselves.    You will want to be open and honest about your financial situation along with being nonjudgmental about your partner’s.

Keep in mind that some people may have more difficulty accepting other types of debt (credit cards, auto loans, etc.) as compared to student loan debt. Student loan debt may be viewed as an investment in your future, while other debt may be viewed as frivolous spending. Conversely, student loan debt could have a larger, longer term effect on your financial goals. For example, if you have a large amount of student loan debt, you may carry this monthly debt payment far in to your future, forcing you to forego other purchases and wants.

If you are considering taking steps that would involve both of your finances, such as going on a vacation together, moving in together or sharing financial responsibilities (joint accounts) you definitely should have the “talk”, and be more specific about your financial situation.

For an example, you may share that you owe approximately $50,000 in student loans of which $40,000 is federal loans and $10,000 is private loans.  Since you work for a qualifying not-for-profit you qualify for the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) Program and an income driven repayment plan, meaning your monthly payment is low so you have been allocating extra funds to pay down the $25,000 in credit card and vehicle loan debt.

You may consider asking if your partner is current on their payments for loans and other debts, or are they past due/delinquent.  Inquiring what their repayment game plan is for their debt can also provide insight in to how they are at managing their finances. From there, you both can determine what the best plan of action would be for your finances as a couple. If you need help establishing an action plan for debt repayment, find an NFCC member credit counseling agency.

In closing, disagreements surrounding finances can turn an otherwise great relationship on its head, so it’s best to ease in to the conversation when the time is right, so you can slowly get on the same page when it comes to finances in an effort to avoid catastrophic disagreements down the road.

About the Author:

Sonya Goins-Singletary is a counselor at Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Buffalo, Inc.  She has been a NFCC Certified Credit Counselor for over 22 years and a certified housing counselor for over 17 years.  She has 25 years’ experience helping individuals reach their financial goals.  She is an experienced financial literacy educator, and has served in many capacities within the organization.  Currently, Sonya is the leading reverse mortgage counselor within the agency, and serves on the Housing Organizations United to Serve Effectively (HOUSE) committee in Buffalo, NY.

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