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What to Discuss When Marrying Someone With Debt

Joanie.Demer

Finally, it happened! Your beloved got down on one knee, mumbled something charming and popped the big question! Now you’re basking in that new engagement glow while sipping on celebratory flutes of champagne, perusing endless bridal magazines and getting carpel tunnel syndrome from clicking through thousands of bridal gown photos online.

I’m sure you’d rather talk to your betrothed about potential honeymoon locales and whether you want Sinatra or Snoop Dogg for your first dance, but you must have a serious talk about money before you say “I do.”

I hate to be the one to burst your fairytale bridal bubble, but someone had to. You must ask the tough questions now, or forever hold your peace. It is absolutely crucial for a healthy marriage that you are well aware of your partner’s financial health.

Talk To Your Partner

Yes, talking about money is uncomfortable, but if you are mature enough to get married, then you are mature enough to talk finances. In a non-accusatory way, ask your partner about his financial health. Ask questions such as: Are you in debt and if so, how much? What’s your credit score? When we’re married, do you expect me to help you pay back your debt? How do you plan to save money for our future? Likewise, this conversation is a two-way street where you’ll also need to disclose your finances to your partner. Remember, honesty and open communication is always the best policy.

Create a Plan For Debt Repayment

Once you two get married, how are you going to deal with each other’s debt? Discuss a debt repayment plan with your betrothed. Some options include:

  • Sorry, but you’re on your own, Honey: Agree that your partner will be completely responsible for the repayment of his debts.  Only his earnings will be used to pay back his creditors.
  • We’re in this together:  Agree to help your partner with his debt by using some of your savings or earmarking some wedding checks toward his debt repayment.

Create a Debt Prevention Plan For Your Marriage

Once married, how are you and your spouse going to avoid incurring future debt? What are your financial goals? What is your household budget? Should you check in with each other before large purchase (and what do you consider to be a large purchase)? What percentage of your income do you think should go into a savings account?

Liability For Debts Incurred Before the Marriage

Generally, you are not liable for debts incurred by your spouse prior to entering into the marriage. However, it is important to remember the following things:

  • If you partner has debt and his credit score is trashed, then do not jointly apply for a credit card since his low credit score can also bring yours down.
  • Think twice before opening a joint bank account. If your spouse’s creditor garnishes his wages, then the creditor may have the ability to take money from your joint account, even if some of the money is from your own paycheck.

Debts Incurred During the Marriage

Your liability for your spouse’s debts that were incurred during your marriage depends on whether you’re living in a state that follows community property rules or common law property rules. The community property states are Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Washington and Wisconsin. In Alaska, you can make an agreement to follow community property rules. All the other states are common law states. Generally, if you live in a community property state, then debts incurred by one spouse during the course of the marriage are owed by the community (the couple).  Thus, you’re liable. If you live in a common law state, then you are usually not responsible for paying back your spouse’s debts that were racked up during the marriage, unless the debt was incurred to pay for a family necessity. Remember, every state has its own nuances of the general law, so make sure to check your state statutes for legal specifics.

This has been a guest post by Lisa from Miami, FL
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