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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5 thoughts on “What to Discuss When Marrying Someone With Debt”

  1. I think that this is a wholly one-sided argument that makes debt sound, well, bad.  I got engaged a couple years ago to someone that had never had debt.  I have student loans, a car loan, and a mortgage — All reasonable debt, all at low interest rates, and all that I can afford on what I make.  Plus, being a CPA, I understand how to manage and budget and not over-spend.  Unfortunately, he tried to encourage the whole debt reduction plan and whatnot mentioned above, and finally couldn’t get over that I had debt.  It was too scary for him.  Responsible borrowing isn’t a bad thing; credit abuse is another.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Watch out for old men that wanna get married.  Most are looking for one of 2 things: a ‘nurse’ or a ‘purse’!

  3. Anonymous says:

    My boyfriend and I have been together since I was 17 and he was 20 (we’re 25 & 28 now). When I turned 20 it seemed with what little credit I had, credit card companies were sending me offers, and I took on any that accepted me, and learned the hard way credit cards are horrible lol. After charging up $500 (not much but at 20 with no job, it was a lot!) my boyfriend took my cards and I was forced to get a part time job because he refused to pay for MY debt. I respect that (though at the time I was angry) and now anything we choose to buy we have agreed becomes our own personal debt, except for anything child/health related.

    We do share some debt, like when we were getting financed for our house we were approved for a pretty good amount. When we were looking at houses in that price range it just seemed kind of silly, we would be paying for things that either were not important or cost less to improve ourselves then just buying it ready. We bought our house for 30% of what we were approved for and so far have been able to buy, fix/remodel, or repair without putting both of us in debt. Even though we do not plan on getting married, ever, we have a “contract” of sorts that we agreed to for the debt on our house and made a plan for resale and such. After you get married, or before whichever, think about these things
    when it comes to major finance decisions. Remember also that just
    because you have a high budget doesn’t mean its necessary to spend it!

  4.  I don’t understand why people get married and have seperate monies …. But that is a whole other discussion … If your gonna get married try getting married debt free or help your spouse get out of debt

  5. Anonymous says:

    When my husband finally talked me into getting married, I made a deal with him that he was no longer allowed to spend money on me and instead focus on paying off his debt. He agreed but when we found out I was pregnant we sped up the wedding and got married with debt hovering over our heads, we were almost out of the hole when the ex girlfriend that he helped buy a car stopped making payments. His name was first on the loan and she was the cosigner since that was the only way she could get a car. It caused several fights and she eventually gave up the car but ruined my husband’s and my credit. We are trying to rebuild still several years later but it did have a huge impact on our lives and us trying to get a house. Get the full story before you share in the credit disaster.