"What's mine is yours" is the motto many newlyweds take into their marriage. We usually refer to positive aspects of our lives and possessions when we say this.
But sharing isn't always a good thing, like in the case of student loan debt. If you get married, your debt enters the marriage with you. It's important to know how your debt could impact your happily ever after.
Your income-based repayment plan could change
When you get married, you can file your taxes jointly or continue filing individually. What you choose to do impacts your student loan debt if you take advantage of an income-based repayment plan.
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Filing jointly can reduce your tax bill, but it increases your household income. And household income is what these repayment plans use to determine what your monthly student loan payment is. A higher household income could mean a higher monthly student loan payment.
Your new spouse could be responsible for your debt
Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Washington, and Wisconsin are all community property states. If you get married and live in one of these locations, your spouse must handle your debt should you die.
Your spouse could also be responsible if you default on your loans, or if they cosigned with you. Should you default, you're initially liable to repay the debt in full. But if you can't make payments and collections agencies can't garnish your wages, they could go after your partner.
But there's good news for borrowers of federal student loans. This debt dissolves in the event of your death.
Your lender won't require that your loved ones repay the loan. There still could be consequences if you default or fail to make payments, though.
Your debt is still your debt in most situations
There are some extreme situations — like death or default — in which your spouse could bear the burden of your student loans. In most cases, however, your debt is still yours to deal with even after marriage.
If either of you bring liabilities to the marriage, talk about these issues before you tie the knot. It's important to set expectations and make your wishes clear.
Will you both work to pay off the debt together? Will you keep separate finances until all debts are repaid? It's important to determine who handles what within the context of your marriage. You should also decide how you will (or won't) help each other.
It might be helpful to work with a fee-only certified financial planner. You can find an expert through the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors or XY Planning Network.
Working with provides an objective third party is really useful when you and your spouse sit down and talk finances. A planner can give an outside, unbiased opinion and help guide you as you create an action plan and set goals to become student loan debt-free.