Student loans and marriage can be a tough combination, especially for engaged or newlywed couples. Student loan payments can add extra stress and costs that make it harder to save for your future together. In fact, one study found that 21% of student loan borrowers say they’ve delayed marriage due to student debt.
Marriage also brings in legal concerns as spouses commingle assets and share financial responsibilities. For example, you might be unsure if either of you will become responsible for repaying the other’s student loans after marriage.
To help you navigate this issue, we’ve answered some big questions couples often have about student loans and marriage.
Is a Spouse Responsible for Student Loans?
Many married couples have a “what’s mine is yours” mindset, but does that also apply to student debt? Fortunately, the answer is no—at least, not when it comes to the legal responsibility for the debt in marriage.
Debt that exists before a couple gets married, including student loans, is “individual property” and remains the sole responsibility of the partner who initially borrowed it. The other spouse cannot be compelled to repay this debt.
Another clear-cut case is if you co-signed student loans with your partner. It doesn’t matter whether you took these out before or after marriage or if you’re the co-signer or primary borrower. You’re both be equally responsible for this student debt.
Things can get trickier, however, if you or your spouse take out solo student loans once you’re married.
The specifics of who owns student loans taken on during marriage can vary from state to state, as each will have its own laws about what’s considered community property. Student loans borrowed during the marriage, for example, might be considered marital property with shared responsibility if you’re in a community property state.
If you have a complicated student debt situation or specific questions about how your state’s community property laws affect student debt, consider consulting a lawyer. They can give you the most complete and specific advice for your situation that’s in line with local regulations.
Do Your Partner’s Student Loans Affect Your Credit?
Another common concern is how student loans and marriage might factor into your credit. When you get married, you continue to maintain a separate and individual credit report from your spouse. Your credit history file or score won’t be affected by your partner’s debt or credit history once you’re wed. So, if you have student loans, you don’t have to worry about them having a negative impact on your spouse’s credit history. These student loans won’t be listed on your spouse’s credit report.
The exception to this is if you and your spouse have any shared loans or accounts, including co-signed student loans. In this case, these jointly owned debts will be listed on both of your credit reports, along with payments on these loans. To avoid potential dings to your credit, make sure you’re both keeping track of these debts and that they are getting paid on time.
Will My Student Loan Payments Change After Marriage?
If you have private student loans, getting married won’t change the monthly costs of this debt. The same is true of federal student loans on repayment plans not tied to income, such as the Standard 10-Year Plan.
However, income-driven repayment (IDR) plans—like those available on federal student loans—set monthly costs based on the borrower’s income and family size, rather than the size of their debt. When you get married, these core factors can change, along with your monthly payments.
Specifically, an IDR plan might use both your and your spouse’s combined incomes to set monthly payment amounts. See below to learn when that will or won’t happen.
- If you’re married and filing joint tax returns, your joint income will always be used to calculate monthly payments.
- If you’re married and filing taxes separately, IDR payments will be based only on your individual income.
- The exception to this is the Revised Pay As You Earn Plan (REPAYE), which uses your combined income, regardless of your tax filing status.
When IDR payments are calculated with a joint income, they also consider both spouses’ federal student loans. So, if you and your spouse both have student loans, your IDR payments could be lower to account for what your spouse owes.
How couples choose to file taxes affects much more than just monthly payments on an IDR plan, including eligibility for certain tax credits and overall tax liability. Make sure you weigh all considerations before deciding whether you’ll file jointly or separately.
How Will Student Loans Affect Our Family Finances?
Outside of concrete concerns about student loans and marriage, you and your partner will also need to deal with how debt affects your partnership.
First, do a full review of this debt together: List the balances, types of student loans, interest rates, and monthly costs. Talking through the details of the student debt can help each of you get a better handle on the situation.
From there, you can discuss how these student loans affect your choices about combining finances as a couple. For example, do you want to tackle this student debt together? Or will the partner who owes the student loan take full responsibility for the payments?
Whatever you decide, these student loans will have an impact on your joint financial situation and goals. Bring that up and see if it might be a good time to update your student debt strategy to better your financial situation.
If you both have a goal to be debt-free, for example, you might make a plan to pay off student loans faster. Perhaps the current payments are unaffordable—you as a couple can talk about how to adjust your budget or lower student loan payments to better manage them.
There may be an emotional side to this student debt, whether it’s shame, resentment, frustration, or even indifference. Work through these feelings to make sure student debt isn’t a source of conflict or disconnection.
Manage Student Debt To Keep Your Marriage Strong
As you manage these loans, talk with your partner about how finances are affecting your feelings toward each other.
Student loans can be a burden, but the financial pressure from this debt doesn’t have to carry over to your marriage. By working proactively and as partners to deal with your student loans, you can find an arrangement that strengthens your finances and your union.