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What to Do If Your Partner Has Too Much Debt

We're thrilled to present this smart LearnVest story here on Savvy!

It’s happened. You’re engaged, and you’re thrilled to be planning your wedding.

But you've also found out that you’ll be marrying into some serious debt, and there’s something new to plan: your debt strategy. Before tying the knot, it’s important to decide how you’ll handle your partner’s debt and how you’ll protect your marriage from any more debt in the future.

How Much Debt Does Your Partner Have?

Before you take any action, assess the situation. Find out how deep into debt your partner is. This will be important as you decide how the debt will be handled. For instance, your strategy may be different if you’re dealing with massive credit card debt as opposed to low-interest student loan debt.

Who Should Pay It Back?

Not all couples will handle debt in the same way. When it comes to finances and marriage, there are many options, and paying down debt is no different.

  • He who made the debt, pays the debt. If you and your fiancé decide to keep finances separate, he’ll be the one paying back his debts, just as you’ll keep hacking away at your own debt, if you have any.
  • Lend a helping dollar. Typically, one partner will be better at managing debt than the other. If you’re the saver in the relationship, you may decide to use some of your savings to help your fiancé with his debt.
  • Two bank accounts are better than one. Another option is to tackle the debt together. Your partner will continue making payments on his debt, and you’ll contribute what you can on a monthly basis, possibly shortening the debt repayment time.

Whichever strategy you choose, it’s important to discuss the options and come to an agreement together.

Read on to find out how to protect yourself.

Should You Protect Yourself?

In some cases, you might want to take measures to protect yourself from current and future debt. Some of these actions include:

  • Signing a prenuptial agreement. A prenup can help in the unfortunate case of divorce. While some consider prenuptial agreements an expectation of failure, others think about it like insurance. You’ll agree on the division of property owned prior to marriage. This is important, since property like cars and homes can help when it comes to repaying debt. (Find out more, read this.)
  • Avoiding joint credit. If your fiancé has particular difficulties with credit card debt, you can choose to keep your credit cards separate, and never apply jointly, since a joint card would affect both yours and your partner’s credit scores.
  • Setting up automatic payments. If you do have joint accounts, make sure you use a failsafe, like automatic payments, to
  • Putting balance alerts into place. This is another smart move for joint credit card accounts. With some credit cards, you can set up text or email alerts to be sent when your card is reaching a predetermined spending limit. Check with your credit card issuer to see if this is a service they offer.

How Should You Prevent More Debt?

Agree on a policy of honesty when it comes to talking about finances. Avoid getting into future debt problems by talking about your financial goals and struggles. Decide on a strategy. For instance, talk about when you should consult your partner before making a credit card purchase. Should you talk to each other before a $100 purchase? Before a $1,000 purchase? Set your own limits so that expectations are clear from the get-go.

Finally, check in with each other often. Honesty isn't just about telling the truth when you’re having a hard time, it’s also about keeping your partner in-the-know on a daily basis.

By taking these steps before you say “I do,” you’ll start your marriage off on the right foot financially.

Credit Karma™ is a completely free credit management service that provides free credit scores, financial education, and personalized savings recommendations. It's a service that helps more than 3 million consumers realize the everyday cost savings of having a good credit score.

Image Source: Thinkstock
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