Love and debt: Not a good mix

Couples need to be on the same frequency when it comes to finances, debt management

By Barbara Pierce

“I just told my fiancée how much I owe on my credit cards and he’s in a panic!” my friend Claudia said, sobbing. “David’s afraid he’ll be responsible. I’m afraid he’ll want to call the wedding off! What can I do?”


“I hear that often,” said Patricia Laino, executive director of the Women’s Business Center in Utica. “Couples getting married, or moving in together, and one has more debt than the other. Usually it’s the woman who has more debt.” It is best to contact an experienced lawyer if you are wondering how to avoid a credit card debt or other financial crisis.

Getting on the same page financially is crucial to being happy and having a long-lasting relationship. When you get engaged or plan to move in together, as your lives begin to merge, that’s the time to talk about finances.

Don’t spring a major financial conversation on your partner. Instead, schedule it so you both can come to the table prepared mentally and emotionally.

As a couple, it’s important to have a clear understanding of where each of you is financially. Money won’t buy happiness, but it can sure cause serious conflict in a relationship. Money is a central part of any relationship. Talking about money with your partner is important.

This discussion can be awkward or difficult, but doing so now can save you a lot of heartache later.

“The big thing is don’t let love get in the way,” said Laino. “That’s what people do. They’re in love and think they can work it out.”

“Separate your finances totally — he has his debt; she has her debt. Each of you works on your debt independently before the marriage. Get your debt paid off before you marry, because you do assume your partner’s debt once you’re married. If you’re already married, see an attorney.”

“A couple came to me for counseling,” Laino added. “She was $25,000 in debt: Boscovs, dress shops, Barnes & Noble, Macy’s. He had less than $1,000 in debt. When they marry, he has to assume her debt. It’s not going to work; it could kill him.

“If there’s any real discrepancy between the amount either of you have in debt, see an attorney. Maybe even have a prenuptial agreement. Most attorneys will give you advice at no charge.” If you are feeling overwhelmed by debt issues, you can file for bankruptcy which will come with an automatic stay order. You can learn what an automatic stay is here and see how it will prohibit any creditors from taking any action against you.

Heed this advice

Debt can come in many forms, like being fallen behind on student loans. Here’s some advice for getting out of debt:

— “Live below your means to get out of debt,” recommends Michelle Shauger, investment adviser, regional vice president, Primerica Financial Services, Rome.

“This is most important; everything else circles around this. Many have housing costs that are way too high, and a car payment that is too high,” she said.

If you’re in debt, the fastest way to get out of debt is “debt stacking,” she explained. Choose one of your debts, the one with the highest interest, and throw all your extra money toward it. Pay only the minimum payment on the others. Once the one with the highest interest is paid off, then work on the one with the second-highest interest, throwing all your extra money toward it, and so on.

“Many people make the mistake of overpaying on all of their debts,” she added. “They have four credit cards and overpay on all because they know you have to pay more than the minimum or you’ll never get out of debt.

“But the fastest way to get out of debt is to make the extra payment on only one; when it’s gone, then work on the next, then the next.”

“Minimize your expenses,” Laino said in terms of what should be the first step to getting out of debt. “The best way to do this is by paying cash. Don’t use a credit card.”

There are serious downsides to using a credit card. It does influence how much we spend. Using credit cards dulls the “pain of paying,” say researchers. Shoppers who use a credit card spend more.

“You don’t need all those credit cards,” suggests Laino. “I only have one.”

“Have a budget,” advises Shauger. “Create a budget, then discipline yourself to live within it. “Realize you can’t have everything. You have to make conscious decisions about every purchase.”

”And stay away from the mall!” added Laino. “If you must go, pay cash!”

A need is something you have to have, something you can’t do without. You “need” food. You “need” shelter. A want is something you would like to have. You “want” ice cream. You “want” a bigger house.

If you want to get out of debt, you may have to go without some of your “wants.” It’s not that tough, but it is very, very important to your financial health.

Debt doesn’t have to be a deal breaker when it comes to marriage. With some honest conversations, good planning and an understanding of how you’ll handle finances — individually and together — you can mitigate the challenge of debt and build a strong relationship.

Shauger offers financial wellness workshops to businesses, school and churches at no cost. See or call 315-225-4481.