Say No! 7 Reasons Why You Shouldn't Get Married if You're in Debt

by Kentin Waits on 12 December 2013 6 comments

Few things in life bring as much joy as an impending engagement and marriage. The anticipation, the planning, the celebration — the promise of marriage — bring out the very best in friends and family. But for young couples in debt, that promise can be soured by the realities. If marriage is part of your short-term plans, here are seven reasons to avoid tying the knot until you're both debt-free. (See also: How to Stay Married for 29 Years and Counting)

1. Debt Is Stressful

Though the realities of marriage are often clouded by the rosy blush of love, the logistics of partnership can often be a challenge, especially for younger couples. Sharing a space, building relationships with in-laws, and managing new demands on your schedule can be stressful at times. Why add to it by bringing a load of debt into the marriage too?

According to the results of a survey conducted by The American Institute of CPAs, money is the number one topic that couples fight about. Money conflicts outrank fights about kids, career, household chores — even sex. With eye-opening insights like this, getting off on the right foot financially is a big step in the right direction.

2. Weddings Are Expensive

The median price of a wedding in 2012 was $18,086. That means that 50% of couples in the U.S. spent more that $18,086 on their weddings and 50% spent less. Faced with those numbers, being debt-free in all other financial areas, can help couples save for their wedding and avoid tapping a line of credit just to say "I do." (See also: How to Save $5000 on Your Wedding)

3. Marriage Takes Money

Don't assume combining households will always be a money-saving move. After the florist is paid, a piece of the wedding cake is frozen, and the thank-you notes sent, your expenses as newlyweds are just beginning. You'll probably need a larger apartment or want to purchase a starter home, be tempted to buy a few key pieces of new furniture, become more social with other couples, or need another car for separate commutes. And it all takes money. Couples who are in the best position at the start of their marriage realize this beforehand, erase their debt, and are ready to invest in their future from day one. (See also: 9 Expensive Things New Homeowners Don’t Prepare For)

4. Babies Happen

In spite of our best intentions and most meticulous family planning efforts, sometimes babies just happen. And though these new additions to our world are wonderful surprises, they carry a host of new expenses and financial obligations. From diapers to formula and from childcare to clothes, those little bundles of joy cost a bundle, too. Couples who choose to marry only after they are debt-free are much more prepared to handle whatever the world throws (or the stork drops) their way. And as with any partnership, that kind of positive beginning can sometimes make all the difference in the world. (See also: How Much Does It Cost to Raise a Child?)

5. Debt Can Be a Sign of Deeper Issues

Not all debt is created equal. Some debts are the result of circumstances beyond our control; a sudden job loss, health problems not covered by insurance, and other emergencies can put us in the red in short order. Other debt is strategic and constructive; taking out a loan to invest in property or to get a specialized education to qualify for career advancement usually makes perfect sense.

But chronic debt can be an signal of deeper issues like compulsive behavior, lack of fundamental fiscal understanding, or misaligned goals. It's important to understand how you or your partner's debt originated, how you each feel about it, and what each of you intends to do about it. Without this basic information, it's impossible to know if your marriage will be a new beginning or the start of a lifetime of debt servitude and financial struggle. (See also: 5 Money Questions That Couples Should Ask)

6. Debt Is Shared

Any debt held before marriage is the responsibility of the individual who incurred it. But since most couples typically combine accounts and share expenses, old debt has a way of draining new budgets almost immediately. Over time, paying down our partner's debt can build resentment and replace marital bliss with marital stress.

7. Debt Is a Lasso

At the risk of sounding cynical, I have to include this important reality: Sometimes marriages don't work out. Every couple hopes to defy divorce rate statistics when they walk down the aisle, but often in spite of their best intentions and efforts, it's necessary to part ways. Though debt shouldn't prevent a divorce, it often does. Heavy financial burdens and debt can be a lasso that keeps couples tied together and stuck in unhealthy relationships for years. It sounds starkly pragmatic, but it's true: Being debt-free before marriage (and working to avoid high-interest consumer debt during marriage), can make transitions like legal separation and divorce much easier. (See also: How to Rebuild Your Financial House After a Divorce)

Granted, money might not seem like the most romantic topic, but it's an essential one for couples to discuss thoroughly. Paying off debt, getting on the same page financially, and establishing clear and common goals for the future can help set you and your significant other up for a lifetime of success. And when you think about it, isn't that pretty romantic after all?

Were you in debt when you married? What advice do you have for young couples trying to pay off debt before their big day?

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Guest's picture
Sierra

In college, I made the decision not to get married until I had paid all of my student loan debt—then I met my current boyfriend. We've been dating for almost four years and moved in together a few months ago, so I've definitely been thinking about our future together. While I'd love to marry him tomorrow, I know that bringing debt into my marriage would add unnecessary stress. I don't have any consumer debt (no credit cards, no car loan, etc.), but I still have about $15,000 in student loans... so at this rate it will be at least another 5-7 years before I can pay that off and we can get married.

Of course, if we did get married it would not cost $18,000! I have never been able to understand how people can spend that much money on one day of their lives. I'm perfectly content with a courthouse wedding. :)

Guest's picture

I had $40,000 in student loan debt and $2,000 in credit card debt when I married a debt-free man. It was no problem for us. I was upfront in insisting this was my debt and he didn't need to dig into savings. We pool our money, true, but I worked my regular full-time job to pay my minimum payments. THEN, I took on as much freelance work on nights and weekends as possible, and sent every last dollar of it to those loans. They were paid off in two years and were never an issue for us. It's about your personality and expectations. I knew it was my issue, and I came up with a solution, while still being part of a couple.

Guest's picture

My husband paid off his credit card balance before asking me to marry him (luckily, it was only a few hundred dollars). I took it as a very good sign.

Oh, and we're celebrating our 25th anniversary next year.

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Audrey

Your wedding costs as much as you want it to. If you're living together unmarried you're only missing out on possible tax benefits. Babies, stress, shared fiscal responsibility (you can sue someone over shared debt even if you're not married) exist in most modern relationships. It's much more important that you can discuss your debt and finances openly and honestly with your partner before you do get married or otherwise long term committed (i.e. buy a house together).

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RCCal

This is ridiculous. We were up to our eye balls in student loans so we had affordable $4k DIY wedding we paid for ourselves. We asked for contributions in lieu of gifts so we could afford a honeymoon. In fact, getting married helped us work together to pay off debt. Tackling the financial issues at hand, whether married or not, is one of the most important things you can do to help a relationship. Ignoring them and not getting married is not the answer.

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Liisa

My husband and I married when I had a decent amount of debt (that I was already working to pay down before I met him), but thankfully we have very similar values regarding money/lifestyle and have been committed to paying it down ASAP. It has caused tension at times to be sure, but it has also strengthened us. We had a very inexpensive wedding, are happily renting and are living a very no-frills life until we are out of the red, enjoying life immensely in the meantime! No regrets as it would have meant waiting years to marry, but your advice is very sensible and I think for most people it is right on! :)