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Can My Partner’s Student Loan Debt Affect Me?

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Talking about student debt with a partner can feel pretty unromantic and uncomfortable, especially if it’s a new relationship. However, an estimated one-third of adults from the age of 25 to 34 have a student loan, according to the Center for American Progress.

To begin the student debt conversation, keep an open mind and remember that the conversation likely goes both ways. If you’re asking your partner about their student debts, you should be prepared to acknowledge anything you owe yourself. Then, run through the following questions to get the full picture of what your partner’s debt looks like and the impact it may have on your relationship and individual finances.

How much does your partner owe?

Obviously, $5,000 in student loan debt is very different from $20,000, and it’s important to know the extent of your partner’s debt before moving forward with the conversation. Take stock of the interest rates on your partner’s loans. Also, ask your partner how long they expect to be paying off the debt and whether they’re making the minimum payments each month or working on a more substantial payment plan.

Take note: Under the CARES Act, enacted by Congress in response to the 2020 Coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic, the majority of federally backed student loans have been automatically placed on a temporary forbearance from March 13, 2020 to September 30, 2020. Borrowers with loans that qualify may still make payments on what they owe if they so choose. Privately held student loans do not qualify for the same automatic suspensions, and borrowers should visit studentaid.gov’s resource center to learn more about whether or not they qualify.

Once you know what your partner owes and how much debt (if any) they’re paying off each month, discuss whether there are changes your partner might be willing to make with your relationship in mind. This could include refinancing their loans to obtain a lower interest rate or changing their payment plan so that they pay the loan off more quickly. You can review the payment plans available for federal student loans at Studentaid.ed.gov.

Can you be liable for your partner’s debt?

If you are unmarried, you are likely not liable for any of your partner’s debt and vice versa. A partner’s debt also generally won’t affect your own credit scores unless you cosign a loan or take steps to refinance the debt together. Depending on what you decide as a couple, you may still choose to take on some responsibility for paying off debt, but this is unlikely to be legally binding.

On the other hand, if you’re married and the student loans were taken out after your wedding, the liability may change slightly depending on where you live. In most states, assets and debts accumulated while you were single remain separate, and any debt acquired after marriage is only owned by the individual whose name appears on the loan. This means you will most likely not be legally responsible for any of your partner’s debt, whether they accrued it before or after you were married. However, if you live in one of the nine “community property states” both spouses are liable for debts and assets acquired after marriage. Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Washington and Wisconsin all follow this policy, making the conversation about debt even more important if you live in one of these states and plan to marry your partner.

Could your partner’s student debt affect your future financial life?

Realistically, even if you’re not legally liable for your partner’s loans, they will likely still have an impact on your future finances together. For example, if you and your partner are paying back significant student loans, you won’t have as much money for other things, such as a down payment for a home, a child’s college fund or a retirement fund. Further, you’ll have less to pay toward utility bills and other shared day-to-day expenses. This might mean that you have to pick up the slack in these areas for your partner, or at least factor their debt into any major financial decisions.

In the case that you and your partner want to buy a home, student loan debt might come into play. If your partner has missed payments on their debt, for example, their credit scores could take a hit and make it more difficult to secure a mortgage.

If your partner is struggling with significant student loan debt, the most important thing you can do is address it head-on rather than pretend it doesn’t exist. Create a mutually agreeable repayment plan and have regular discussions about paying back what’s owed. It can be helpful to schedule recurring conversations to keep an open dialogue and ensure that student loan debt doesn’t have a negative effect on your relationship or your finances.

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