It's no secret that most Americans carry some kind of debt. But we often don't think about how those hefty bills affect anything beyond our bank accounts. It turns out that big debt such as student loans can put a big dent in our plans, including our ability to get married.
A recent survey of U.S. adults, conducted by the Boston-based nonprofit American Student Assistance, found that 21 percent of respondents, whether male or female, are postponing marriage thanks to their seriously big school loans. And 28 percent says they are pressing pause on starting a family until they pay their debts down. "The findings indicate that despite the fact that millennials view parenthood and marriage as more of a life priority than career and financial success, many with student debt seek financial stability before marrying or beginning a family," the report states.
The fact that so many couples would put off tying the knot while they pay down debt is no surprise to Elle Kaplan, finance expert and founder of LexION Capital. "Ultimately, plenty of marriage goals are tied to couples' finances as well as their emotions," she explains. "Just as you'd want to make sure you're on the same page about having kids, you'll want to ensure you're both eager to eliminate debt so you can afford them. What's just as important as the debt details is that partners are able to work together to pay it off."
If you're faced with choosing between paying down debt or paying for an engagement ring or a wedding, Kaplan encourages you to look at why you or your partner are in debt in the first place. "Is this debt is a one-time obstacle, or stemming from a behavior that will happen over and over again?" she asks. "Having student loan debt, for instance, is understandable. But if your would-be-spouse goes into credit card debt monthly at the mall, that's a major red flag."
That being said, debt isn't necessarily a deal breaker, nor should it mean that you must automatically put off your plans to marry. "If couples can come up with a game-plan to tackle debt, it can bring them closer together and closer to their relationship goals," Kaplan says.
Whatever you do, don't sweep your debt under the rug so that you can move forward in your relationship. "By treating debt honestly, and looking at it as something to tackle to enjoy a future together, couples can move on to doing better things with their lives," Kaplan says.