Would you dump someone with too much debt?

We’re talking about relationships and managing debt with Ruth Hayden, personal finance educator and consultant, at 10:20 tomorrow on The Daily Circuit.

We wanted to talk about this issue after an NPR piece which featured Portland, Maine art teacher Rachel Bingham. She was dumped four months into a relationship and her boyfriend cited her $80,000 student loan debt as one of his reasons.

“He said it scared him,” she recalls, “that it really made him anxious. And he just did not want to take on my responsibility.”

That made Bingham angry because she had never asked for his help. She says she has been very responsible, diligently making her loan payments.

Although you aren’t liable for your spouse’s student loan debt, it could still hold you back financially from the things you might want sooner rather than later: a house, children, vacations.

Have you thought about the debt of the person you’re dating? Do you discuss financial issues before things get serious? Is it enough to end a relationship?

Share your stories and ask any questions you might have about relationship debt. Hayden might answer your questions on air tomorrow.

–Emily Kaiser, associate digital producer

  • Julie

    I ended a relationship over debt. I was fretting over $200 on a credit card one night when my boyfriend said he really didn’t know how much debt he had. Moreover, he didn’t seem to think he needed to know because he made the minimum payments each month.

    Well, those red flags got me hounding him to dig out his bills. We found he had over $20,000 on credit cards and a boat loan in default. Mind you, he was only 23 at the time and hadn’t been to college. His debt was all about toys.

    The idea that I spent my youth balancing two jobs and classes, living on ramen noodles in apartments two clicks from being condemned, while he was living at home playing around on high end snowmobiles built up a lot of resentment.

    Even worse, his only plan to get out of debt seemed to be marrying me.

    Though I never thought money would enter into my romantic considerations, his debt told me a lot about his ambition, self control, and ability to admit mistakes. I’m glad my head ruled my heart and I’ve never regretted the decision to end that relationship.

  • Ellen

    What about debt the partner has due to a period of depression and illness? The man is basically honest, willing to disclose, but was not up to dealing with stuff at the time.. Now he’s trying to get out of it, do it right and is doing a much better job, but still at times resists the pain of facing the music, the restraints needed to resolve the debt?

    Ruth talk about relationship between mental health and ability to manage money! I have friends who have suffered from mental illness and been helped by ALS or ARMS workers, state workers who help them face paperwork, etc. It’s a real issue, that depression, anxiety, other mental health factors impact.

  • Alissa

    It matters where the debt originated. If someone is bringing student loan debt into the relationship because getting a good education was important to them, that’s much different than bringing in a high credit card debt from irresponsible shopping, a gambling problem, etc. Student loan debt means you’ve met someone who is presumably educated and well-rounded with a higher earning potential. Other types of debt may be more of a red flag about the person them-self and their values, rather than how you’ll pay down the debt as a couple. If this person has racked up debt from weekends spent at the blackjack table in Vegas, GET OUT NOW!

  • Andrea

    Is there anyway to know if there’s a correlation between the 50% of couples who don’t share debt information or talk about money and the 50% of marriages that fail?

  • Crystal

    I met my now-husband as I was going into law school. He knew I was taking out student loans to pay for law school, and would have to take out about $100,000 in loans. I do not have any under-grad debt. Now that I’m 4 years out of law school, and we’re paying back that $100,000, neither of us realized how difficult it would be to pay these off. The problem comes with exactly what the guest is saying–we don’t have a lot of choices because we have so much in debt. My husband didn’t think of leaving me because of this, but it’s hard to try and get through it every month.

  • Katie

    Finances were an issue with my ex-boyfriend, but I never knew it until we were breaking up because we NEVER had the conversation about money. I thought we were planning a life, but it turns out we were just “playing house”.

    In my current relationship, I was honest right from the beginning AND I asked more questions and watched his money behavior (ie how he spends, when he spends, does/can he save etc.)

    I’ve seen all but one (that’s 3/4) of my married friends divorced, and all had to do with money and other things that were not worked out before tying the knot.

    I used to think, if you’re married, you have to work it out. Now I think, I don’t want to be with someone if my debt or habits are a deal-breaker.

  • Adam

    When my now-wife and I first decided to get serious about the relationship, we had a money meeting. We both brought lists of assets and liabilities and exchanged them. It was both nerve-wracking and embarrassing for me because although we both had student loan debt, I was the only one with consumer debt (about $10,000 in credit cards). I came from a family that didn’t talk about money much, and her from a completely transparent family regarding finances. I realized that if I was going to make this work, that my attitude toward money needed a quick change. We developed a plan to pay off all non-student loan debt, which we did in less than two years. Since the beginning, we have had a completely open financial relationship – no “his/hers,” everything recorded and budgeted, and we have never fought about money. The sharing of balance sheets when we were dating laid the groundwork for what, almost 8 years in, I consider a winning strategy for us to manage our money together.

  • Terry

    Julie’s story below should be heeded by all women who don’t quite know who/what they’re dating.

    Ellen’s and Alissa’s advice is also well taken.

    Financial honesty may be awkward to initiate, but certainly much less painful than the regret and disaster of a failed marriage with kids.

    Women should resist every social pressure to find a cute guy to do things with. Many of them are too video gaming damaged i e unfocused, to button their pants above their butts and tie their own shoes.