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Dating Advice #12 - Financial Decisions

May 8, 2009 | by Rosie Einhorn, L.C.S.W. and Sherry Zimmerman, J.D., M.Sc.

"I like him, but does he know how to manage his money? And will I get stuck holding the bag?" Our advice team gives the word.

Dear Rosie & Sherry,

I am dating someone I really like, and I think he'll make a wonderful husband and father. He has great qualities that I admire and respect, strong morals and ethics, and is kind, giving and sensitive to my needs. I'm also very attracted to him. We enjoy many of the same things together.

He feels pretty much the same way about me, and he wants to get married.

One major issue is holding me back, however. He owes $80,000 in school loans. I'm sure that many professionals have similarly large student debts, but I wonder how this impacts a marriage. How secure should a person's financial situation be before leaping into marriage -- or should you just have faith that everything will work out? He's not working for a major firm, but is trying to make it own his own. I believe in him and think he can do it, but I worry about money nonetheless. I'm trying to be sensible, but I don't want a great guy to slip by.

Alice in New York

Dear Alice:

Money is a big issue in every marriage and each couple must address a variety financial before they get to the chuppah.

What about student loans specifically? They are a fact of life for thousands of young adults, and if they are being repaid according to a plan, there is no reason why a couple with student loans cannot get married.

The two of you should look at the loans as an investment that will be repaid over a relatively short period of time, but will reap benefits for decades to come. Then, reach an understanding how these loans will be repaid, amongst the repayment options being offered. If you are ready to become engaged and he has not yet chosen an option, do it together, since it will affect you both. Then, make sure that you follow that choice, and don't look back at your original decision.

True, the loan repayments will affect your lifestyle, but without the loan he probably would earn much less to begin with. The obligation will be repaid after a relatively short period of time, and you can use the way you deal will this issue as a model for dealing with other major expenses and obligations you'll encounter during marriage -- e.g. mortgages, kids' educations.

Everything you say about the man you are dating leads us to believe that the two of you have all the ingredients for a happy and enduring marriage. However, if you had told us that he had $80,000 in consumer debt, our answer would be very different. In such a case, you would face two challenges: a payment schedule involving double-digit interest charges, and a spouse who probably cannot manage money. Your intended would have to acknowledge this difficulty and would have to learn how to live within his means, which might require help from a financial counselor. The two of you would then have to establish a financial plan for your marriage that would enable him to pay off the debt, control spending, and learn to save.

One word of legal advice. Generally speaking, pre-marital debts don't become joint legal obligations once a couple gets married, even though their combined incomes are used for payments. Pre-marital debt can turn into a joint obligation, though, if at some time in the future the couple pays it off with the proceeds of a new loan taken out in both of their names. If you are marrying someone with any significant pre-marital debt, both of you should sign a prenuptial agreement that will protect the debt-free spouse from having to pay the other's pre-marriage debts in the event of death or divorce.

Rosie & Sherry

Dear Rosie & Sherry:

In an earlier column, you advised a reader to bring up the subject of marriage and commitment on her own, since her boyfriend never discussed it. I'm in a similar situation and I'd like to know how to initiate such a conversation and get it going. How do you discuss the subject? What do you say?


Dear Meredith:

As a general rule, we advise marriage-oriented men and women to only date people who are also dating for marriage. Practically speaking, it's awkward to raise this subject when you first meet or start to date. However, telling your goal to everyone who helps set you up will encourage them introduce you to people you are on a similar track.

You can open the subject less directly by explaining the reason why you are dating: You hope to find the man you will marry. This approach lets you explain your goal, but doesn't put him in the uncomfortable position of being identified as the object of your intentions -- before you know if he shares your goals.

If he admits that he won't be ready for marriage in the near future, run to the nearest exit and spend some time nursing your wounded heart. Do the same if he tells you he'd like to get married someday, but doesn't see that happening for 3-to-5 years. Cut your losses now. Trust us -- you'll save yourself a bigger heartbreak in the future and a wasted investment of your time and emotions.

On the other hand, if he says that he's also dating for marriage or that he hopes to get married within the next year or so, the two of you can discuss the possibilities of a future together. Mention the qualities he has that you admire and respect, and talk about other positive aspects of your relationship. And wonder if he shares many of these feelings. If he does, you can handle the rest of the discussion on your own...

Rosie & Sherry

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