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Is Debt a Relationship Deal Breaker?



Being in love is magical. But it’s not always easy. Money is, unfortunately, one of the most common causes of relationship issues. Debt, in particular, can be contentious in relationships. But is debt a relationship deal breaker?

How much debt is too much debt?

The answer to whether the debt is a deal breaker will differ for everyone. To determine your own answer, consider thinking through a series of questions. Asking yourself how much debt is too much for your partner can be an important factor to consider. For most of us, debt is a part of life. So you may be okay with your partner carrying some debt. With that, there may be a threshold that you’re not comfortable crossing. However, that threshold may not actually be a quantitative number. It may be relative to your partner’s assets or – even more abstractly – whether they seem to be managing it effectively. You also may be more comfortable with certain kinds of debt than with others. For example, you may not be as concerned about student loan debt your partner borrowed to get a high-quality education as you would be about massive amounts of credit card debt. Considering what debt looks like in your partner’s life can help you determine what you’re comfortable with.

Is debt indicative of other personality traits?

In many cases, carrying substantial amounts of debt or managing debt poorly can have underlying causes. Sometimes, debt can be a result of overspending or living beyond one’s means. This can often relate to addictive personalities. Or, even more simply, if your partner got into debt by simply not paying attention to their charges, this could be indicative of a lack of financial literacy, of complacency or of disorganization. Additionally, if your partner has been hiding debt from you, gets defensive if you bring it up or refuses to talk about it all, you may want to consider what that means about your partner – as well as for you and your relationship. While you may not want to be actively seeking out negative traits in your partner, understanding that debt can be a red flag for other parts of your partner’s personality can help save you from more heartache down the line.

What’s the plan?

Your partner’s debt will likely seem like a bigger obstacle if your partner doesn’t seem to be doing anything (or even thinking about doing anything) about it. However, on the other hand, if your partner has a plan to get out of debt and appears to be taking the necessary steps to achieve that, you may feel more confident in their understanding of the situation and desire to improve. In some cases, your partner may want to have a plan but not know where to start. Communicating with each other about these hang-ups can be productive in helping you decide your comfortability with the situation.

Will it affect our future goals?

Substantial amounts of debt can have long-lasting and far-reaching impacts. Debt can affect the borrower’s ability to qualify for a mortgage, a car loan, and new credit cards, just to name a few. If you’re dreaming of starting a family, owning a home, or buying a new car in the near future, your partner’s debt could hold the two of you back from achieving your goals. Debt can also impact planning a wedding if the two of you are financing the wedding (or even portions of the wedding) on your own. It’s important to consider how you feel about potentially having to delay your plans or to shoulder more of the financial responsibility yourself.

Am I responsible for the debt?

In most cases, you are only legally responsible for your partner’s debt if you are a joint account holder or co-signer. However, in community property states (Louisiana, Arizona, California, Texas, Washington, Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico, and Wisconsin), any debt you accumulate as a married couple is the equal responsibility of both parties, even if the debt is only in one person’s name. For married couples seeking divorce in every other state, the responsibility for any joint debts is determined in the divorce proceedings. However, in the eyes of the creditor, accounts that have both partners’ names on them are the joint responsibility of both partners. Therefore, even if one partner has been deemed responsible in the divorce proceedings, the other partner will still be negatively impacted if the debts are not being paid off. Additionally, in the unfortunate event of your partner’s debt, you will be responsible for paying it off if you are a co-signer (not joint account holder) on any of the deceased person’s accounts. While it may seem grim to think about divorce and death, knowing how your partner’s debts could impact you in worst-case scenarios can help you determine how comfortable you are with the situation.

Can we work through it together?

By no means does debt have to be a deal breaker if you’ve thought it through and accepted the situation. Many relationships can absolutely withstand the challenges that debt presents. You can be your partner’s support system as they work through their debt. This doesn’t mean you have to provide financial support if you’re uncomfortable doing so. But you can provide emotional support and guidance, if your partner is open to it. As with any obstacle in relationships, the most important thing is to be open and honest with each other about your feelings and concerns. By creating a dialogue and productive collaboration, working through debt could actually strengthen your relationship rather than destroy it.

Love and money tend to go hand-in-hand, for better or worse. Having a partner that’s carrying a substantial amount of debt most certainly has the potential to put a strain on a relationship in a variety of ways. Therefore, it’s up to you to determine what that means for you. When it comes to your relationship, only you can answer whether debt will be a deal breaker.

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