As my own student loan grace period draws to a close, and as SK and I keep vague tabs on, but don’t interfere with, each other’s loans (we both have them, though we don’t carry any other kind of debt) I was interested in Abby’s response to a woman who questioned her boyfriend’s refusal to marry her while she’s paying hers off:
DEAR ABBY: My boyfriend of several years has just told me he won’t marry me as long as I have student loan debt to pay off. I have always been upfront with him about the amount of money I owe. It’s a sizable sum, but my credit is good.
He says he loves me but cannot, in good faith, start a life with me owing that much money. Abby, am I wrong to think that student loans should not stop two people who love each other from getting married? — LOANED OUT IN NORTH CAROLINA
DEAR LOANED OUT: No, you are not. And furthermore, I suspect that rather than the money being the issue, it’s that your boyfriend has had a change of heart.
I’m inclined to agree with Abby and the writer here, in thinking that the boyfriend sounds less than ideal. However, I also wonder if she couldn’t have done a better, more informative job with her response.
I always like when the columnists call in an expert–I wish she had called a bank, or a lawyer, to confirm whether the guy has anything to fear, before assuming that he’s just looking for an excuse to leave.
Based on my quick-n-dirty google searching, he wouldn’t be responsible for her loans, since they were incurred before their marriage (interestingly, I couldn’t find any reliable answer to this on the directloans website). In fact, he would only become responsible for them if she consolidated or refinanced (which constitutes taking out a new loan) after they were married. But if he didn’t understand this, marrying someone with tens of thousands of dollars of debt (or more) might seem like a scary thing.
If I were her, I’d point out to him that student loans are a very particular kind of debt. Credit card debt, for example, still might not become the spouse’s responsibility, if they keep their finances separate (debt incurred after their marriage would). But even if you won’t be held responsible, your partner’s debt gives you insight into how they live and manage their assets. I could see choosing on principle not to be with someone who has tons of credit card debt, because it suggests they can’t live within their means. Student loans, however, seem to be in a different category: almost everyone has them, and they suggest a desire to learn, improve, and (one would hope) pursue gainful employment.
Which raises another question. Did her loans allow her to complete schooling that led to a job that allows her to support herself while making regular loan payments? Or did she rack up debt pursuing a string of graduate-level degrees, in order to defer both her loans and reality?
Does he, or has he, had loans of his own?
Is the problem simply that he doesn’t want her contributions to their hypothetical household to be limited because her first priority is to pay down her debt?
In the end, it seems that all of this moot, because of one key factor: that he didn’t seem interested in asking any of these questions. If he doesn’t even want to find out what their circumstances would be, or discuss how they’d handle responsibly handling her debt, then why bother trying to explain it to him? I guess that’s what Abby’s trying to get at.
I think what bugs me a bit is the writer’s argument that people who love each other shouldn’t be seprated by the cruel drama of student loan debt. Something about her argument that love and money have nothing to do with each other needs revision–and if that’s how she truly feels, maybe her bf is wise to step back. Abby may have been right to suggest that this pair is doomed, but I wish she’d given the writer some tools to make that decision herself (such as questions to ask of herself and the guy about their debts and their attitudes), rather than just writing him (and the relationship) off as a bad investment.