Spouses Debt - Burden?

Updated on August 28, 2013
J.S. asks from Georgetown, TX
19 answers

How would you handle a situation where one spouse has credit card debt and the other does not? A friend of mine told me she and her husband of 10 years made it a priority to pay off her credit card debt using their joint account when they first got married. She acquired a large amount of debt before they got married.

On the opposite side, I have another friend whose husband considers her debt – her responsibility and that she is making him and their family sacrifice by not being able to take vacations/buy bigger place because of her debt. Her debt apparently came from bad financial decisions which now she is working to pay off. She feels pretty bad about it but at the time she didn’t understand how bad her debt could get or that it would affect anyone other than herself - apparently her parent's always used credit cards and had a huge amount of credit card debt. She also feels like he doesn’t give her credit for understanding and agreeing with his views and that she has always taken responsibility of her debt by paying on time and more than the minimum.

I told her I can kind of understand how her husband feels but then I can also see that she is trying and is making progress and I feel bad that it seems like he holds it over her head. I then think back to my other friend and other couples I know that took on each other’s debt together. What are your views/similar situations?

I should add that he apparently told her he loves her despite her debt because he realizes that some of that stems from how generous she was/is and that’s one of the many reasons why he loves her – it’s just sometimes he just feels weighed down by something that he didn’t create.

edit - he did know about the debt. Like I said, he said he loved/loves her despite the debt but it does cause him stress should something bad happen to either of them.

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answers from Hartford on

Have them read Dave Rasmey's book the Total Money Makeover. Once you are married you become one therefore there is no mine anymore and you need to work together as a couple to pay it off debt or save.

6 moms found this helpful


answers from Minneapolis on

I know a lot of people manage their finances differently but for us, we manage them together. You are partners in life. So if one loses a job they don't get any money? Or because one person happens to have a career that doesn't pay as well they shouldn't enjoy the same as the other? Who pays for the kids then? I think people are afraid/unwilling to make the full committment that comes with life as a family.

3 moms found this helpful

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answers from Chicago on

My hubby is paying off my student loan. He sometimes gets pissed off about it, but mostly it just is what it is. He married me knowing I had 30k in student loans. They will finally be paid off next year.

When we married, we joined everything. I had furniture, pots and pans...and debt. He came from Ireland with one bag of clothes. His savings and my housecleaning supported us for a good 9 months before he finally got a job. It was hard, but we made it... We are partners in all things, even the other persons debt :-)

9 moms found this helpful


answers from San Francisco on

For me, when I married my hubby, I married him debt and all. We work together to pay off any debt - mine - his - ours. Because we are a team, what one does affects the other so we make decisions together and suffer the consequences of bad decisions together. There is no "I" or "U" in team!

I understand that her debt may have been hers prior to the marriage, but in order for the new family unit to move forward, IMHO, he should help her pay off the debt.

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answers from Washington DC on

It's just the price of admission to being married.

5 moms found this helpful


answers from San Antonio on

Well we look at our marriage as a team sport, either we play together and work together and practice together, OR...what is the point?

My husband had some school debt when we met, and we both acquired more student loan debt while married....we keep it separate only because if (God forbid) one of us dies the other is not stuck with the whole amount like if we consolidate it together.

We acquired some IRS debt due to an error that was completely my fault...and a big fine and penalty, and interest, and paying the tax on top of that...and my husband told me, "well honey, we all make mistakes and we will figure out how to pay this off". And we are working to pay it off...

I don't think he should hold it over her head that she was in debt when they married...if he knew about it and she promised (and has kept that promise) to not spend like that any more...work together to pay it off and move on.

5 moms found this helpful


answers from New York on

My husband had a huge amount of debt when we met. We didn't marry until he had paid it off. I urged him to NOT declare bankruptsy but to do the right thing and pay back his debotrs. He had been buying appliances for his girlfriend (at the time) and expensive stuff for his parents (trying to buy their love I think). So he went to one of those non-profit creidt counseling places, they bundled his debt and negoitated the repayment terms and he spent the next 2 years paying off $30K. If we wanted to go out to dinner I paid. When I wanted to go on vacation I paid for most of it. But when we married he had a clean slate, we bought a small house within 3 months of our wedding - and now, more than 20 years since we met he's got an outstanding credit rating (709 I think).

If your friend got married and her husband knew about her debt (she didn't hide it) then he needs to realize they have to clear this out together. I'm all for personal responsibility - but if it's holding them back as a family then they work at it together as a family. We all have baggage that we bring into our marriage...

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Boca Raton on

OK, I'm quite annoyed with husband #2 in your question. When you go into a marriage with full knowledge of someone's debt, imho you have waived the right to complain or "hold it over" someone. That is ridiculous.

If you don't like your prospective spouse's financial situation or habits there is one very simple remedy: DON'T GET MARRIED!

My husband and I view our financial lives as one. For better or for worse.

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Chicago on

When you marry you marry the person and take on all their baggage ... you should hope you know it all before taking it on.

My step sister married a man and found out with in a week that he was 150k in debt, she makes 250k/yr. They figured it out but it put a strain on the first year of their marriage, especially because she got married because they were pregnant. They worked thru it and all is well, but I agree that you take the person and all their "baggage."

As a couple they may want to seek financial counseling to come to agreement if it is causing strain on their marriage and effecting their family. Basically if they argue about finances frequently I suggest seeking a financial counselor - a new perspective may be found there.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Los Angeles on

I had a bit of debt when we got married. We paid it off quickly.
Our debt (if/when we have/had it) is OUR debt.

How nice that he is happy to sit by and watch her struggle while every month it's costing them BOTH.

In short--he's a dolt. He's happy to reap the benefits if "two can live as cheaply as O." but he's Teflon as far as her financial obligations? Uh-uh.

He's not a man I'd want as a partner.

Oh--as for your friends excuses? It's really quite simple: most people know better than to use credit for things they don't have the money to buy. My 10 year old knows that!

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Dallas on

My husband had a huge amount of debt from school when we married. I knew about it, and he already had a plan of attack to reduce and pay off. With that said, we took it on as a team. When we got married, we took on each others burdens and joys. That's what marriage is about. Everything became OUR responsibility. Not because he wanted me to pay it off, but because we wanted a whole union. OUR money paid the debt off very quickly, and it was a good experience for us in a young marriage.

Unless she hid the debt or accrued debt without his knowledge as they were married, he has no right to be mad. He knew before hand and during.
Holding anything over a spouse's head is a really crappy and manipulative move...and a terrible thing for a marriage.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

My husband is older than I am and was married twice before. The second marriage left him with a lot of debt. I knew about it, but we got married. We spent 3 years paying that off and bought a house. Now we have combined debt as well as my huge student loans that just hit in the spring (hellp $600 a month payment!!). We both pay them.

He did run up one credit card a few years ago without my knowledge. Was I pissed? Absolutely. Did I make it his responsibiltiy to pay? Sure did! But I took it over after a few months because I manage the money in the house. It is our debt, even though I got few benefits from him spending it - but a judge would make it mine too. We are working on getting all of our debt paid off, our savings built up, and of course paying for the next cruise - because even people who don't have a lot need a vacation!

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Jacksonville on

I don't understand a spouse punishing a spouse over a debt like you describe. No matter if they tackle the debt "together" or not, the funds to pay it are still coming out of the money that would otherwise be spent on the family as a whole, right? So what is the point of keeping it separate?

It is just a way to do exactly that: keep things separate. Not a great way to start off a marriage, in my opinion.

I had some debt when we were first married. Husband did, too. His was student loans, mine was not. We both worked hard to pay it ALL off. It was OUR debt.

Back to your friend. Sure, he may feel weighed down by a debt that he didn't create, but the only way to get out from under that is to get it paid off! So why drag out the process? Work to get it done and then they are both out from under it.

If his issue is really that he has a problem with her way of handling money (that's what it sounds like to me), and he is concerned that the behavior that created said debt is going to continue, then they need to have a sit down and discuss money directly. Not couch it in a bunch of drama and guilt over something else.
They need to come to some sort of agreement about how they will spend money and how they will (or won't) use credit. If they can't come to an understanding on their own, then they need to bring in a financial planner or therapist to discuss what money means to them and get a plan in place for going forward.
I'd recommend they start with something simple, like Dave Ramsey or something. It isn't for everyone, but he does a good job of describing the different ways (and often misconceptions) people view money which determines how the spend (or save) money. It can be very eye opening in that regard.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Raleigh on

There's many facets of partnerships that go along with being married- family, social, and yes- business. This may seem shallow, but I looked at my husband's credit report before marrying him. I have impeccable credit (never bounced a check in my life) and I wouldn't want to assume any unfortunate surprises. Money problems can destroy a marriage, so I wanted to make sure that wouldn't be a factor starting out.
Luckily, his credit was good and I knew I was assuming his student loan debt, which we consolidated together for a lower rate. But honestly, if his credit were bad or he had debts that we wouldn't or couldn't afford (he was still a student at the time), I probably would have just continued to live with him and not married him. Life is just much harder and there are many more obstacles in your path when your credit sucks, such as buying a home or car. I would have just bought the house myself and let him live in it!

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Columbus on

Personally, I think any debt, except of course a car or mortgage, should be paid off before marriage. If not, then the person owing it, should pay for it. I went into a marriage with a mortgage and when we got married, we both paid toward it since he moved in. Then when we sold it, the money went toward our new home.

If someone has problems managing money before marriage, what's going to make it any better AFTER marriage? I don't think it's fair to make the spouse pay for someone else's mistakes.

Now if the credit card debt was because of being laid off, hardship of some kind, then that's a different circumstance. If the spouse wants to help pay it off, then that's up to them. BUT if it's debt just because someone feels they have to have the latest EVERYTHING, then NO, the spouse should not be held responsible.

Good luck!

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

so husband #2 (your husband maybe?) is a "parent" instead of a partner? wow....if he loves her (you) in spite of the debt - he needs to stop holding it over her (your) head and figure out how to pay it off TOGETHER.

She didn't HIDE this information from him prior to being married. So he knew about it. He needs to stop being a PARENT and start being a PARTNER.... they need to work on it together.

I understand him feeling weighed down. So what is he going to do to take the weight off? BI**H and moan about it or sit down and get a plan in place? I would HOPE they get a plan in place and stop with the blame game - it's not helping anyone.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Baton Rouge on

We each handled our own debt. Whatevedr debt we had before getting together we did not hold the other responsible for. Debts we accrued as a couple, we paid off as a couple.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Boca Raton on

i couldn't go with option 1 or 2. none of us had debts. but i had savings. and i gladly shared. now he shares. marriage is what you make of it.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Beaumont on

I can not see what other people posted, but my thought is that you can learn from other people and empathize with other people but it is ultimately not your problem and you should not take it on or worry about it.
Just to have an opinion, I would say that the only way to get rid of it in any kind of timely way that it does not affect the whole family would be for both people to work on ending it together and make a budget moving forward that prevents it from happening again. Otherwise it will drag on forever.
If someone continues to run up credit card debt in the future now that is a different story. I got separate accounts from my husband because he refused to put himself on a budget or make any long term goals that included anything besides hunting and fishing (his hobbies). I basically worked to pay for his hobbies. That is a whole other issue. Use your energy to work on your own marriage and your own issues and do not take on other people's.

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