We all strive for happy marriages. When matters that lead to tension get in the way, we try to smoothen it out.
What happens when your spouse, unbeknownst to you, brings debt along with them into your marriage?
It might not be something you initially consider when committing to your partner. Who bears the brunt of it and how can you avoid it becoming a strain on your marriage?
Let’s talk about debt, what it is, and tips on what to do when a spouse brings debt along into your marriage.
What is debt? The two types of debt…
We split debt into two types.
There is healthy debt. Healthy debt is a common occurrence. We accrue regular debt via student loans, mortgages, and more.
Then there is unhealthy debt, which is debt that happens due to a deeper issue. Unhealthy debt is not from the regular day-to-day expenses but rather from an abnormal amount of spending.
The source of unhealthy debt can be a person with a spending habit, a financially naive adult, etc.
In this case, the only way to fix the debt is by fixing the source of it.
How to tackle healthy debt.
If the debt is healthy and due to a good and beneficial cause, it is straightforward.
Put the debt into your monthly budget going forward. As soon as the debt is part of your budget you can focus on having enough funds to pay towards it every month. Then, the debt will slowly shrink. In addition, you won’t need to cut out a big chunk of money at once to pay it down.
To put it sweetly, healthy debt usually pays up for itself. How so?
If your spouse has debt from student loans, that means they ultimately received a good education for that money. Good education leads to a better paying job which covers up for the debt.
The same goes for a mortgage. You dig up a down payment and put your mortgage forth every month, but at the end of the day, you’re investing in a house. Owning a house brings a great sense of security and is well worth investing in.
How to tackle unhealthy debt.
What if the debt you are hit with is, unfortunately, what we consider unhealthy debt?
First of all, you can pay off the debt just as you would with any other debt. Put it into your budget as we discussed earlier and make sure the funds you have available can cover your budget.
However, paying the debt alone will not solve the problem. Unhealthy debt stems from a deeper issue that needs to be fixed. If your spouse brings unhealthy debt into the marriage, such as from an excessive amount of luxury items, you will have to help your spouse tackle that core issue.
Otherwise, your spouse may keep bringing on more debt and you may be going in a circle of debt until the issue is taken care of.
Here’s how you can save your marriage and resolve the issue that brings on unhealthy debt.
Be in it together.
Once you identify what the cause is of the unhealthy debt, you and your spouse can head straight into putting that bad habit under control.
However, remember that before heading that way, whatever steps you take to get over this chapter, it is of utmost importance for both of you to do it as a team. You and your spouse are in this together, not one against the other. Put in an effort to be on the same page as each other.
Supporting each other throughout the whole ordeal will make the experience easier to go through. Besides, though it may seem difficult at the time, you might surprise yourself when later on, you look back at this time period in your marriage and see how it brought you closer together as a couple.
Go for professional help.
Now, for ideas to get rid of the spending problem.
Firstly, professional counseling can be life-changing.
If paying a few visits to a financial coach will put the spending habit at bay, do it. You and your spouse will be given the tools to lead lives of controlled spending habits. You won't have to keep going in circles where huge amounts of debt are always part of the equation.
Go to the coach or counselor together, as a couple, so that your spouse feels you are loyal and in it together.
Another step you can take to fix the core issue of the debt is to budget better. Creating a budget and sticking to it can definitely ensure you don’t spend more than you can afford and that you avoid unhealthy debt.
Work out a realistic budget plan.
By creating a realistic budget plan, you are evaluating your total income versus your average expenses. Once you have it all clear, you can create a budget that fits your income so that you can realistically keep to the budget.
Make sure you and your spouse both agree on the budget plan so that you’re happy to keep to it without feeling resentful. The spouse with the spending issues will hopefully catch on to spending within boundaries.
There may not be lots of room for “just-because” purchases.
Cutting back on those “just-because” purchases can create more room in your budget. How easily do we buy items that catch our eye or items everyone else is buying? Being aware of spontaneous splurging is important to stay within your budget.
Here’s how you can identify whether to go for a specific purchase or whether to hold back on it.
A need that is not met will get stronger. A want, on the other hand, if not met will eventually become less important to you, until you have little desire for it. For example, if you deny yourself of food, your hunger pangs will become unbearable. Your need for food will not relent.
While on the other hand, you can live without getting the expensive, luxury watch you want.
Think about it, is the purchase you‘d like to make a need or a want?
We can come to the conclusion that you might be better off working on ignoring a “want” item so that your budget remains intact.
You can make room for luxury items.
But who’s to say you are forever deprived of exciting stuff? Here’s how you can plan ahead for purchases for luxury items. You can actually work on making it a part of your budget. When it’s part of a calculated plan it’s harder to go out of control and spend irresponsibly.
If you have your heart set on a new sofa, you can set aside a few hundred dollars of your budget for a few months until you’ve saved up enough for the purchases.
You can plan ahead just the same for a vacation. Instead of deciding from one minute to the next that you’re throwing a couple of thousand dollars for an impromptu vacation, plan ahead. Make space for some hundred dollars a month in your budget until you save up enough for your well-deserved vacay!
Strategies for paying up your credit card debt.
Now that your spouse is hopefully in a better place in terms of spending and budgeting, we can safely assume that the core of unhealthy debt has been targeted. Next, you can move on to actually tackle the debt that piled up.
Here are some ideas to get rid of the debt.
Transfer the debt to a 0% APR credit card.
When you have credit card debt, most of your minimum payments go towards the interest on the card. This can be as much as 24.99% of the balance.
By transferring your credit card balance to a card that has 0% APR, which is literally a zero-interest credit card, you cut the interest off your debt and you’re left with the balance amount only.
The Citi Simplicity and the Diamond Preferred are both cards that offer 21 months of 0% APR on balance transfers and 12 months 0% APR on purchases. Another option is the US Bank Platinum card that offers 20 months of 0% APR on purchases and balance transfers.
No more paying extra on interest, just focus on the actual debt.
Refinance your credit card debt.
Another action you can take to make paying up your credit card debt easier is to refinance your credit card debt. To refinance your card you can apply for a personal loan with an unconventional lender. The loan can be used to pay up your credit card debt at an often lower interest rate than that on your credit card.
The loan will also allow you to combine your debt in one place rather than having it scattered over multiple cards.
Refinance your home.
Lastly, if you own a house you can refinance your home to get extra funds to pay off your debt.
When you refinance your home, you get a cheaper interest rate on your mortgage. These rates are always cheaper than the interest rates on a credit card. This creates room for you to access extra funds which you can use to tackle your credit card debt.
You don’t need to fear your monthly mortgage rate going up when you refinance your home since the loan will simply pay itself out over more years.
Here’s to a happy, debt-free marriage!
With over a decade of experience Chaim has been a Financial Advisor and Finance Expert providing resources to help build credit, manage debt, and provide guidance to financial stability. He is the mastermind behind Help Me Build Credit, where he has made it his personal mission to make financial literacy accessible and effortless with tools that help empower people with their financial decisions.