When committing to get married, debt often takes a seat at the forefront and brings unwanted thoughts to the couple’s mind. If one or both of the engaged spouses is still a student, questions may arise, such as how the marriage will affect student financial aid and housing situations. These tough conversations can cause anxiety and stress in the relationship, especially if the couple is not already fully committed. Having children involved only fuels the stress of a relationship riddled with student loan debt. In the wake of President Biden’s extension of the Student Loan Payment Pause, a more permanent solution to student loan debt is still on the Senate table. Now let’s look at how your student loan debt can affect your marriage and family plans.
Student Loans and Family Planning
According to Victoria J. Haneman with the Creighton University School of Law, increasing student loan debt has pushed the age of marriage back from 23 to 27 for women and 26 to 29 for men. Haneman states that student loan debt has risen from an average of $29,000 in 2013 to $37,172 in 2016. Due to this, a 2014 study showed that the rate of Millennials who will marry before the age of 40 has reached an all-time low. This is, in part, due to the idea that marriage itself can present financial burdens such as the merging of property, credit score, healthcare, and childcare.
While previous studies have shown that women with a high school education or less were most likely to get married, the opposite is true now. Allison Linn with CNBC explains that as of 2013, 60% of college-educated women were married. These women make up 60% of childbirths to married couples and are less likely to have more children than women whose education tops out at a high school degree or an equivalent.
Who Is Responsible?
Fortunately, student loan debt taken out before marriage is considered “individual property” and will affect your credit score. Student loans do not transfer to your partner once married unless the couple specifically co-signs on the debt, effectively making it both of their burdens. A benefit of doing so is that splitting the bill can erase the debt quicker, though this is unlikely to prove helpful for married couples where both partners have their debt. However, student loan debt taken out while married can be considered “community property.” This varies by state, and you can learn more about community property here.
Types of Payments and Financial Counseling
It’s recommended for students of any age and relationship status not to take out more loans than the expected annual salary of their post-graduate career. Financial counseling can help educate students on personal and joint credit, debt forgiveness programs, payment plans, and family planning. While financial counseling can reduce students’ stress and improve academic success, it is just as important to receive counseling quickly. Studies suggest that students who waited too late to enroll in a financial counseling program or speak with a financial advisor were more likely to discontinue university education. This is especially important for students who are responsible for funding their education, have a high amount of debt and/or general financial stress, or are immigrants/first-generation Americans/college students.
Types of payment include the standard 10-year Repayment Plan, where borrowers pay a consistent amount of money over ten years to pay off their debt, but there are also income-driven repayment plans. With these plans, borrowers can dictate their monthly payments based on their annual income. This can be done using both individual and joint income for married couples. If a borrower files for a federal income tax return with a spouse, the payment plan will be based on the couple’s joint income. For the joint-income method of repayment to be optimal, only one partner should have student loan debt. If both partners have debt, this will factor into the overall payment based on the combined debt of both spouses and will take longer to pay off. If you are interested in learning more about income-driven repayment plans for couples looking to file separately or together, look here.
Student loan debt is one of the most common types of debt in the United States and can put a considerable amount of stress on couples looking to advance their relationships and combine their futures. Financial counseling and educating oneself on state laws are recommended to combat the problems that may arise from student loan debt. Finding an existing payment plan that works for you and/or personalizing your payment plans to accommodate you and your spouse’s annual earnings can help pay off the debt in a reasonable amount of time with minimal interest rates and credit damage. In a time where marriage is considered a luxury, largely in part due to the anxiety and financial burden brought upon by student loan debt, it is more important than ever to educate oneself on how debt can affect not only your financial stability but your relationship stability as well. If you are struggling with student loan debt and looking to get married, there are options available to help you.