His debt, Her debt, Our debt

by Erika Torres

When you get married, does his and her debt all of a sudden become our debt? Perhaps if you decide to keep separate checking accounts, it’s a lot easier to keep debt separated. But if one partner has a lot of debt, and another partner has minimal debt—will they begin to resent each other for the big disparities in disposable income?

How do you manage debt in a marriage?

Eric and I had minimal financial conversations before we got married. It wasn’t until after three months of marriage and consistent months of spending more than we made, that we finally sat down and got serious about our finances.

We quickly realized we were going to have to make some serious life changes in order to pay down our debt. Between Eric’s credit cards, my car loan and my student loans, we had a hefty amount.

And while we made decent incomes separately, we were much more of a financial powerhouse together. It never even occurred to us to separate it between his and her debt. Granted, I doubt Eric would have been as motivated to pay off his credit cards if it weren’t for me forcing us to make the payment each month, but to each his own.

On the other hand, I’ve known couples who kept their finances and debt separate and I could see how that would work too. Perhaps there would be less resentment or jealousy because each partner is responsible for their share of the bills and are responsible for paying off the debt they each incurred prior to getting married.

The argument for paying off debt together is that you’re now married and a team, what’s his is hers and what’s hers is his. On the flip side, each person should strive to not bring debt into the marriage and if they do, they should be responsible for paying off their own debt they incurred prior to the marriage.

It’s a bit too late for us to change our debt paying strategy. We’ve paid off debt and are in the home stretch of paying off my student loans. I won’t say there haven’t been any battle scars though. Sometimes we really disagreed on how we should handle our finances and how aggressively we should pay off debt.

But we’ve made it through.

Did you combine debt when you got married? Do you plan on combining debt when you get married?

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C October 29, 2012 - 6:54 am

Oh, we combined everything, but I still tend to refer to it as “his” and “mine”. He lumps everything together and tells me to handle it how it needs to be handled. Maybe this doesn’t work for everyone, but I’m a tight-fisted miser and he’s a devil-may-care spendthrift, so I’m (mostly) in charge of the money but he does force me to have fun once in a while. 🙂

Sean June 22, 2012 - 7:08 am

My fiancee Jen and I are (I like to think) ahead of the game. I’m an accountant and a HUGE numbers guy. We are getting married next June. We already have (the amount I am budgeting for) 40% of our wedding saved for. Meanwhile I have already considered it OUR debt. We still live with our parents and don’t have too much in savings as of now besides our wedding fund, so meanwhile we are also trying to surpass the wedding amount and use that as a down payment on a duplex (plan on being a landlord). We have a pretty hefty debt amount ($97k, but it’s a $13k car loan and the rest is student loans, so all “good” debt). I have already started working on paying off our loans, one at a time so that we can both enjoy getting closer to a debt free life. I make more than Jen on a monthly basis but it turns into I pay most of our bills and save a little and Jen ends up saving a lot so it all balances out. We have a good thing going and are completely open about our money. 🙂

P.S. Just found this blog a few days ago and love it. It gives me an awesome perspective for my fiancee and I. Thanks!!

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Jeff March 8, 2012 - 4:48 pm

My wife and I merged accounts as soon as we moved in together. I think that was a mistake. I think when your dating you shouldn’t be blending accounts. I was lucky and my wife eventually became well, my wife. I think when you marry everything is joined…even debt.

Jackie March 8, 2012 - 10:42 am

We didn’t combine debt (or our other finances either) for that matter when we married, with the exception of us both being on the mortgage. But we have an extremely similar outlook when it comes to money, and we both worked on getting our individual debts paid off. Now we’re down to the mortgage and whittling away at that.

Amanda @ Newlywed Trek March 8, 2012 - 7:20 am

I had no debt, he had a bunch. But now it’s our debt. We live off his income and use my income to pay off debt (after first building a large emergency fund, which was a good thing since he’s lost a few jobs).

SB @ One Cent At A Time March 6, 2012 - 9:09 pm

When my wife starts earning, we will keep our finances together. Its lot lesser effort I guess.

Kristin March 6, 2012 - 7:31 pm

We combined right away. My husband is in the army, so being an “army wife”, I originally didn’t work because we had to move right away. He took on my student loans and credit card payment, but that’s the way saw marriage and money. It’s “ours”, not “yours and mine”. When I did get a teaching job, and now especially with the extra deployment money we’re getting, we’re able to pay IT ALL OFF. Well, hopefully 95% of everything by the end of 2012.
Your story is quite inspiring, and I love reading your updates.

kim March 6, 2012 - 9:16 am

We combined, though it was a struggle! We both had student loan debt, and he brought in a little consumer debt. I paid off the consumer debt because interest was building and was dragging us down. It took awhile for DH to come around; he didn’t like me paying off his debt.

Technically we each pay our own student loan, but it really doesn’t matter because really it’s part of the larger budget. It just makes DH feel better/more in control that he initiates the payment. Every 6 months or so we throw a few grand at one of the loans, funded from savings that we both contribute to.

If a couple has a budget and don’t treat debt as “ours,” it still will be an “ours” because it means one contributes less since their money is going to the loan instead of bills/savings.

John | Married (with Debt) March 6, 2012 - 8:52 am

We didn’t combine finances for a few years after marriage, and I look at those as wasted years. Granted, we weren’t serious about debt payoff, but once we became a partnership, we made great progress.

Kay Lynn @ Bucksome Boomer March 6, 2012 - 6:03 am

My husband had no debt (other than mortgage) when we married and since I did have it plus two kids, we kept our money separate and that’s where we are nearly 17 years later.

Now that my debt is gone and the kids are grown, we want to start bringing our finances together — make it easier when we retire.

thedatinghusband March 5, 2012 - 7:41 pm

The only debts my wife and I had coming into marriage was her school debt. I was ready to help her pay it off, but she insisted that since it was because of her choices she wanted to work until it was paid off. We combined our bank accounts after marriage, and we have learned that sitting down and making a budget each month keeps us on the same page. We don’t really do the his and hers thing. We do allocate a certain amount of money for each of us to use as desired. We have found we can make our finances do a lot more for us by doing this monthly budget setting goals and both working to follow the plan.

Jai Catalano March 5, 2012 - 5:23 pm

I have some debt that I told my wife I was going to take care of. She said to me she would help I said no. So far I am doing it by myself even though I am married. Maybe it’s a man thing or maybe it’s stupid but when I pay it off I can then ask her… why didn’t you ever help me? 🙂

Adrienne March 5, 2012 - 4:06 pm

We combined debt when we got married. I suppose we just figured what’s mine is ours now. Even the not-so-fun stuff 😉

Amanda March 5, 2012 - 3:56 pm

We definitely view our debt as “ours” regardless of who accrued it prior to the wedding, and we are both on board to pay it off as quickly as we can. However, in addition to our joint checking/savings (EF and new car fund, since T’s car is totally living on borrowed time) we each have our own checking accounts and our “allowance” (tiny, btw) and any side income we make can be added to our personal accounts. So far, so good!!!

jolie March 5, 2012 - 2:37 pm

We are separate finances. I was still in school when we got married and He was always in overdraft. I needed to be sure that the money for tuition and rent etc was there when I needed it. We just never quite got over the split accounts. We divide up the bills semi proportionally but do not share accounts. I often wonder what it would be like to be with someone and we were financially compatible and could share.

Kellie March 5, 2012 - 7:52 am

My husband and I each had a bit of our own credit debt when we got married. We also each have a car payment and I have school loans. He is still in school so we will get that bill in a couple years!
We combined our money and not until 9 months after marriage, we realized just how many “little payments” we had. Since June 2011, we’ve kicked $10K of debt and are on our last major credit card.
We sometimes have arguments because I am very eager to pay off our debt ASAP but he just sees that fact that he gets paid bi-weekly but still has no money to show for it. We are definately making sacrifies to pay off our debt, but it will be worth it!

Lisa March 5, 2012 - 7:45 am

It sounds like you and Eric are doing things the smart way! Right now, my bf and I live together and we have a joint account just for apartment expenses (rent, cable, electricity, etc.) which we each contribute a certain amount to every month. Other than that, we have our separate accounts and separate personal bills. If/when we decide to get married, I’m not sure what we’ll do about combining debt and income. There is fairly decent income disparity between us and he has a lot of pride on the matter of paying off his own debts. We’ll probably keep things somewhat separate, but I’m all for the whole “team” mentality of marriage so eventually I’m sure we’ll slowly move toward a more combined way of managing money.

Hannah March 5, 2012 - 6:42 am

When we got engaged we each had some credit card debt (he more than me) and I had car debt. We both agreed that by the time we were married, we would only have student loan debt. It felt so good paying off the credit card and car right before starting our lives together as our student loan debt was roughly equal (and since I’m in my PhD mine are all in deferral for years still). We even visited a financial planner before getting married to get his take on everything, which was a pretty smart move on our part as he brought up a lot of topics to discuss before tying the knot!

DCSquared March 5, 2012 - 6:40 am

Yes it is all now OUR debt!! And we are in the process of paying it all of!! YIPPEE!!!

newlywedsonabudget March 5, 2012 - 11:49 am

glad to hear some excitement about paying off debt!! 😛

Tanner March 5, 2012 - 6:25 am

Well, first of all, I guess I should say I don’t intend to ever get married/coupled-up (ha-ha, I know. But really, I’m serious). Second, if I had debt by the time the coupling happens, I don’t think I could stand the thought of having more debt than my partner and combining. If my would-be partner had equal or similar amounts of debt, I would combine and pay them off as if they all belong to the same unit/person (using snowball or avalanch method). Combined finances just make sense, and talking about it would be key/important. Not an every day reminder of where the finances stand, but maybe a bi-weekly, per pay check, or monthly finance recap. Just like with any good habits, it has to be established and enforced even when they get boring.

Emily @ evolvingPF March 5, 2012 - 5:38 am

My husband and I agreed before we got married that he would use his savings to pay off my student loans (our only debt). Everything going forward is joint.

I actually have a really hard time understanding how couples refrain from combining finances completely once they are married, assuming that they have long-term goals together. I guess I haven’t peeked into enough PF blogs running that system. Or maybe it’s that my husband and I make so little money that we don’t have room for expenses that aren’t common (i.e. we don’t pay ourselves “allowances”)!

Leah @ The Miracle Journal March 5, 2012 - 4:42 am

I was so ashamed of my debt that it never occurred to me that anyone would be willing to combine finances with me until it was completely paid off. It was one of the blessings of my relationship with Mr. Blue Eyes – as soon as we started talking about making a life together, he told me immediately that whatever was “mine” in terms of debt would become “ours”. I was shocked and it took me a while to accept it. Then he started working numbers and I could tell he really meant it. The relationship didn’t work out, but I’m left with a much different view of how relationships can work.

Ideally, I’d love to not bring debt into a new relationship. But if I’m blessed with a relationship before I’m blessed with a debt-free status, it will be okay.

I recently produced the Bridal Guide for the newspaper I work for and did a piece about combining finances. I thought some of the expert advice was really interesting. Here’s a link to it: http://www.themiraclejournal.com/marrying-your-financial-futures/

KendraD March 5, 2012 - 3:52 am

We talked finances well before getting married. Due to our long distance relationship, we started talking in February 2010 about me moving up to where he lived. That was going to be a 1500 mile relocation from a big city where I had two fabulous jobs to a small town with next to no employment opportunities. At the time I had 6k in credit card debt, a car payment, and student loans. When I moved up there in July 2010, I had 4k on my cc, had traded the car so I no longer had payments, and of course still had the student loans. We knew that my moving was going to require us to combine finances and debt even before we got married.

My husband only had one loan at .5% interest, so we’ve tackled “my” debt first. But we consider it our debt. So far we’ve wiped out the credit card and over 2/3 of my student loans. We should be knocking out the last of my loans by the end of the month. Then it’s just paying down his loan.

I’m definitely a proponent of combined finances and working as a team.

Michelle March 4, 2012 - 10:31 pm

We have everything combined. It works better for us that way.

frugalportland March 4, 2012 - 7:43 pm

I’d really like to marry the boy I’m dating, which is part of why I’d really like to be 100% out of debt before that happens.

shannon March 4, 2012 - 6:40 pm

We have already combined our finances after several financial conversations. I think everyone is different though. You are right, much easier to pay off the debt as a team:)

Daisy March 4, 2012 - 6:26 pm

The boy & I aren’t married yet, but we’ve been together for five years and living together for 4, so we’re as good as married, haha.

I have been paying off my debt all by myself, and will continue to. Boyfriend has never had any debt, and I couldn’t fathom forcing him to live frugally because I bought a new car or wanted to go to school. However, if he had debt, I think I’d totally be cool with combining forces and kicking it in the butt.

Megg March 4, 2012 - 6:13 pm

Money, sex and children are the 3 things married couples argue about the most. We talked about all 3 (well, not really sex, I guess) before we got married and have STILL argued about all 3!
I brought into our marriage some credit card debt, student loans, and a car loan. Geoff knew about all of that, so it wasn’t a surprise. All of it was regularly being paid off. We paid off my car, and the credit card is going to be paid off in August. The student loans will be there forever because I went to grad school.
I also brought into our marriage unemployment, because I moved out to where Geoff was, so there was no way I was paying off my debts without his help. We’ve just accepted it, and accumulated some debt together, and work on it together. But I’m really glad that we talked about it before we got married.

newlywedsonabudget March 5, 2012 - 11:42 am

I guess couples will always argue about it even if they’ve talked about it beforehand! We haven’t argued about kids yet, but I am sure we will when we have them!

eemusings March 4, 2012 - 5:56 pm

I hope to be debt free by the time we get married.

T has about $4000 to pay off, but it’s not accruing interest, so not urgent.

He also owes me some money, and is paying that back (that is in essence our wedding fund).

I’ve also paid off debt of his in the past when he lost his job – had to be done.

Little Lamb March 4, 2012 - 5:42 pm

Well I won’t have any debt if I ever head into a marriage (again), unless I end up buying a home. I think if a future partner had debt he would have to have it paid off or being going at it gazelle intense prior to me walking down the aisle. It’s just to much of a burden. I would be having serious finance talks before considering marriage as well. Just from lessons learned.


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