Most marriage vows include the phrase, “for better or for worse,” and for some, that includes debt. According to Policygenius’ annual Couples & Money survey, married couples are more likely to handle debt together: Of respondents who were married, 36% of married people treated their debt as joint debt compared to only 11.7% of unmarried people.
But what if you don’t want to split the bills? While some married couples choose to manage money separately, you may still be legally responsible for your partner’s debt if you’re married. We asked nine certified financial planners if they thought couples could still find marital bliss without sharing debt. They all said no.
Q: Should you marry someone with debt if you don’t want to pay it off with them?
Why experts think you shouldn’t get married if you aren’t willing to take on your partner’s debt
“If you are unwilling to merge all aspects of your life, including finances, you shouldn't marry. Generally speaking you should marry someone whose credit score is not significantly lower than your own. In many cases, a low credit score is an indicator of a lack of commitment honoring obligations. That lack of commitment will show up in many aspects of life, not just financial.”
— Thomas Murphy, certified financial planner at Murphy & Sylvest
“You need to evaluate the whole package. Is the debt from education, medical bills or overspending? Is the person working towards paying it off or is it totally hopeless? If you took on the debt, how will it affect you financially and emotionally? It's not a simple answer, but it's certainly a factor you need to evaluate because you really are marrying the debt if you marry someone with debt.”
— David Haas, certified financial planner at Cereus Financial Advisors
“Personal finances, when discussed prior to marriage, can create a solid foundation for a healthy relationship, but you have to be intentional about making time to discuss some often difficult topics. Set joint and individual goals and create clear expectations around how you will combine your finances. Scheduling "money dates" before and after you get married creates regular check points for your financial health as a couple. Just like date night is a healthy activity for busy, married couples, so can a financial date night be something that strengthens your relationship over time.”
— Brent Weiss, certified financial planner at Facet Wealth
“Talking about money and debt in what ought to be a very romantic and exciting marriage can be incredibly difficult. Holding off marriage because of a partner's debt is a very personal decision. However, having a conversation and setting expectations, possibly formally with a prenuptial agreement, can be very helpful.”
— Brian Fischer, certified financial planner at Economic Concepts
“Separating significant parts of your life can be challenging for the long-term health of a relationship. Combining finances and having similar financial values is a key pillar to a strong relationship. Reducing sources of friction is a good long-term strategy, so make sure everyone is onboard with the arrangement. If you don't share values around your finances, I would [not get married].”
— Arthur Ebersole, certified financial planner at Ebersole Financial
As our experts explain, the issue is less about the debt itself and more about the different approaches to financial management and communication. As we found in our survey, couples who don’t regularly discuss money are more likely to consider their partner financially irresponsible — and break up because of it.
There are no hard and fast rules about how couples should handle their finances. Ultimately, you need to decide what works best for you and your partner. Check out the full survey results and tips for doing money better together here.