Couples and Money

Should I Pay My Significant Other’s Debt?

In a perfect world, we wouldn’t have to worry about student loans and credit card debt when dating, but credit score dating has become a real thing. Once you are past dating and in a serious relationship, things get even more complicated.

Should Finances Be Taken Into Account When Dating?

We all know that money is often a cause of divorce. The statistics are a bit tough to find, but the best numbers I could hunt down said that the likelihood of divorce for couples that argue about money at least once a month is 30%-40% higher than couples that don’t argue about money. More arguing? Couples that argue about money daily are 160% more likely to divorce.

So when anyone says that love trumps all, it is simply not true. In many cases, money is the leading reason for a split.

So when dating and in a relationship, money philosophies should be taken into account.

Present vs. Long Term

If you are in a relationship and your partner has a similar philosophy about money to you, you should be in great shape. Sometimes people have different situations that lead to credit card or student loan debt, but if current habits are good and in line with yours, I think you have a great money relationship situation.

The biggest problem is if you think about and treat money differently. If you are a big saver, live on a budget, and avoid credit card debt like the plague, you are going to be in rough waters with a partner who lives on credit card debt.

So when starting the money and relationship discussion, focus on habits and long term goals. The best predictor of future behavior is current and past habits. That is why banks use credit reports and credit scores to decide whether to give customers a loan.

Current Debt

If you are compatible in the long term, don’t be discouraged by debt, but be realistic. If your partner has student loans and a solid degree, that is not an indication of future trouble. If your partner has a big balance on their Nordstrom and Macy’s cards, that is likely a red flag.

If their current debt is manageable and reasonable, there is no reason to be scared off from a relationship.

Should You Pay?

If you are dating someone, and not married, you have no real financial tie to your partner. Even if you live together, you shouldn’t be paying your partners debt if your Facebook status is “in a relationship.”

Once you are married, things change quite a bit. At that point, under the law, your finances are pretty well linked. Your finances are legally combined and your future responsibilities are shared, even if you don’t actually share your bank accounts.

If you are married, and don’t see any reason that you would ever split in the future, I don’t see the harm in helping out. At that point, you are linked together in lifetime journey, and it is probably best for your future together to go into it all as a team. And, once you are both debt free, you can focus your money and attention on the more important things in life.

What Do You Think?

Should you pay your girlfriend’s/boyfriend’s debt? How about your spouse’s debt? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

Image by by Smabs Sputzer / flickr

22 thoughts on “Should I Pay My Significant Other’s Debt?”

  1. I think it depends on a number of factors. Me and my significant other are not married but live as though we are (we are not religious and to us marriage wouldn’t change a thing), and we have had joint financials for 6 years and everything has worked out fine for us. We work on our finances together and I wouldn’t change a thing.

    1. That is an interesting way to go Michelle. Do you ever worry about the legal implications of being in a relationship with combined finances but not a legal marriage? (the courthouse kind, not the religious kind)

      1. No, I don’t ever worry about the legal implications. We are currently engaged and are getting married next year. We’ve only waited this long because we’ve had a lot of family deaths (I don’t know how else to say that) and wanted to wait to plan a wedding until things slowed down. Celebrating marriage in a time when the rest of our family was grieving just didn’t seem right to us.

        1. P.S. I probably should have said that all of our debt is debt that we accrued together, so that is probably different than accruing debt before a couple even started dating.

  2. I wrote about this a few weeks back and took a lot of flak for it, but I am on the fence. There are a number of reasons why I wouldn’t pay off my spouses debt and some why I would. In my article, I lean toward no, but I was in debt when I got married and I didn’t want my spouses help. It wasn’t her problem and it made me feel better about myself because I created it and I paid it off.

      1. I would always offer my wife support, but I wouldn’t go right out and say I am going to help pay off your debt. I think it is irresponsible to think that our spouses should help us pay off debt that we incurred without them. I needed to take responsibility for my irrational spending and putting that debt on my spouse is not right in my mind. As indicated in my post, it all depends on the type of debt.

  3. Emily @ evolvingPF

    I agree that what matters most is the type of debt (did you get into it ‘responsibly’ or not) and whether or not your long-term outlook matches in terms of evaluating whether to marry a person in debt.

    My opinion is that marriage should mean joint finances and that joint finances means your savings and debt and income and whatever are all held in common. If you have savings that can pay off debt, you should. That’s how it worked for my marriage – right after we got married we earmarked my husband’s savings for paying off my debt. Before that point we kept our finances completely separate.

    Obviously other people have other opinions, but my view of how to handle finances is an extension of my view of unity in marriage.

    1. That is a great description that I totally agree with. I see a married couple as a partnership in all parts of life. But I could also see one partner being put off by paying for their husband’s/wife’s debt. Which is why I wanted to see what the readers have to say! Thanks for sharing.

  4. If they’re significant enough to marry, then yes you should help them with their debt. And since your finances are legally joined, you kind of have to.

    On the other hand I don’t think I would marry someone who is toting around substantial debt unless they have a real good reason. “I had to buy that Coach bag.” guarantees that I will probably never marry them as our financial goals are probably anything but aligned.

    1. Ha ha, I totally agree. Consumer debt from unnecessary purchases would scare me off from a relationship completely!

    1. That’s a very black and white way to look at it, and a good one for most people. You might be surprised to hear how often people help pay off their boyfriend’s/girlfriend’s credit cards or student loans.

  5. You should definitely be ready and willing to help pay down debt. It doesn’t mean paying it off yourself, but usually paying off debt is a good long-term decision for you, not just for your spouse. Eventually it will free up money to be spent on other things.

    I think it’s kind of selfish not to help out and pay down the debt. I am helping my wife pay down her student loans (I am working and she’s about a year away from getting her masters in speech pathology), and I can’t wait to make more lump-sum payments to drive that number way down!

    1. Were you already married when she started to accrue the debt, or did it come with her in the beginning?

      It is true, if you think of your money as one, it is a great idea to get ahead of the debt so you can do great things together in the future.

  6. No when you’re dating. If you get married you’re one unit at that point and should help out and combine finances. However, if it is your second or third marriage and you’re older it might be different.

    1. That looks like the consensus opinion amongst the commenters. I would be curious for someone who helped pay a boyfriend’s/girlfriend’s debt to share their story.

  7. No way that anyone is obligated to pay the debt of someone while dating. If a person tries to guilt another into paying such debts, he or she would be selfish in my opinion. Be careful out there!

    1. I would have to agree with you, if they got into the debt on their own, they should get out of it on their own. (unless you’re married of course)

  8. My girlfriend has around $12k in debt, most of which is made up of student loans and dental bills. She has about $1.5k in credit card debt but hasn’t used credit for many months before I met her. She has been trying hard to pay it off but it’s difficult as she’s not making very much. We love each other so much and trust each other, so now that I got a really good job making 3x+ more than her, I’m helping her pay it off. Now I expect her to pay what she can too but since we are looking forward to getting married I feel it is in both our best interests to be in the green before planning our wedding and starting the new chapter of our lives. Also for the fact that it would take her alone almost five years to pay it off, taking into account interest. That pesky interest is the main reason I want to help pay it off. So in short, I wouldn’t do this for just anyone, or even a date, but if you really love each other and show mutual responsibility, then I believe it can help strengthen a relationship.

    1. Hi Alan, that is very generous of you to help out your girlfriend with her debt. It sounds like you are planning to stick with her for the long-run, and in that situation it could make sense to help her if you plan to get married down the road.

      What motivated you to help with the payment before getting married, when you finances are legally shared?

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