How to Manage Debt as a Couple When Only Your Partner Has Debt

Stress around money can cause serious problems for couples, and even contribute to divorce. If you’re in a committed relationship, it’s important to understand how to communicate about your finances, talk through money issues and work together to learn how to manage debt, create savings and achieve goals.

But what if you don’t have any debt to manage — and only your partner does? Whether you keep your finances separate or hold everything jointly, your partner’s debt could impact you. Here’s how to deal with the situation.

Keep Lines of Communication Open (But Leave Out the Judgment)

The most important thing you can do when understanding how to manage debt as a couple — regardless of who actually holds the debt — is to talk about it. Be open and honest, and look for solutions for the future instead of focusing on what went wrong in the past.

You both need to look at the facts: How much debt is there? How much are monthly payments? What are the interest rates? How long will the debt take to pay off and how much money is available each month to put toward the balance?

As you lay out the details of your partner’s debt, avoid judging. Shaming or harassing your partner won’t solve the issue.

Be Realistic About the Support You Can Offer

Your first instinct may be to help your partner financially. Maybe you want to take the cash you have in the bank and use it to pay off their balances, or perhaps you want to pay a higher percentage of your shared living expenses, so they can put more money toward paying off their debt.

While these may be feasible ways you can support your significant other, be realistic about your own financial situation. You may not have the means to take care of this problem for them. And if you keep separate finances, your partner may need to deal with the actual repayment on their own. You can always offer emotional support and help them come up with a solid debt repayment plan to help them get started.

Again, this is why communication is critical. The definition of what’s “fair” will vary from couple to couple. Brainstorm possible solutions and be honest when sharing what you think is fair and what’s not.

Look to the Future

Avoiding taking on more debt in the future may be even more important than paying off the existing debt your partner brought to the relationship. Look at the reasons why your partner has debt.

Was it from student loans that helped them get an amazing job that will provide a long-term high income? If so, they used debt as leverage to create a better financial situation. But if the debt came from chronic overspending and maxing out credit cards, that’s a different story and requires a conversation about a change in mindset, habits or even lifestyle. Remember to keep your focus constructive and not critical.

Bring in a Third Party

Talking about money can quickly become an emotionally charged situation. If you’re not sure what your best option is when deciding how to manage debt with your partner, consider hiring a fee-only financial planner who has a fiduciary obligation to you.

A third party can objectively look at your situation, evaluate your options and help you and your partner come up with a strategic plan to pay off debt — including the best ways for you to support that effort, financially or otherwise.

While it can be difficult, taking the steps to manage debt as a couple is well worth the stress it will save in the long run.

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