Debt and Marriage: What You Should Know Before the Wedding

January 13, 2014

debt and marriageDebt can ruin a marriage, so how can you beat debt before your wedding day? Although you many not be able to eliminate debt before tying the knot, there are steps to prepare for debt in married life.

Dating and Debt

When you get married, your two families become one and so do your personal finances – the good and the bad. It’s important to find out what your spouse-to-be’s likes and dislikes are, and it’s just as important to find out about their personal finances.

Uncover this information while you’re dating and hammer out your plans for the future during your engagement. Waiting until you’re married to discover bad financial habits and low credit scores can add financial stress to your relationship.

How to Talk About Debt

Money is one of leading causes of divorce so talking about your finances should rank as a high priority. You don’t want your marriage to end before it begins, so make time to talk about finances with your significant other.

Share the debts and expenses you have and ask what debts and expenses they have. People are often embarrased by the debt they’ve accumulated so if you explain your financial situation first then they’ll probably feel more comfortable sharing.

Financial Behaviors

You can also learn a lot by watching spending habits and observing certain behaviors. If they always pay with a credit card rather than cash or a debit card, this may be a red flag of credit card debt. Inquire if they pay off the balance each month.

Of course he might put your mind at ease when he says he uses his credit card to earn points, but he pays off the balance in full. Or a red flag may pop up if she says she only makes the minimum payment each month.

A soon-to-be spouse that never seems to have money is another sign of a problem. It may be a sign of living beyond their means – spending more than they’re making. The way to get to the root of the problem is to ask the questions that give you the answers you need. Before you marry someone, you need to know everything about them including income, expenses and credit history.

Credit History and Debts

When you’re married, your credit history, credit scores and debts affect your ability to make major purchases. If your partner has a bad credit score and you’re buying a house, lenders may require a higher down payment or charge you a higher interest rate. It can even cause you to get denied for the mortgage.

In the current economy, credit scores and credit history play an even bigger role than ever before. It’s important that you enter into marriage with full knowledge of the debts and credit history that comes along with your spouse. It affects your ability to reach milestones in your relationship, such as buying a home and your day-to-day finances.

Avoid Wedding Debt

Definitely avoid starting your marriage in debt because you threw a wedding you couldn’t afford. You can have a wonderful wedding and still be conscious of the amount you’re spending.

Throwing a smaller more intimate affair is back in style. This helps couples to save money on everything from the venue space and the number of invitations to the food and beverages served at the reception.

Shopping for gently used wedding dresses at high-end consignment shops or borrowing gowns from friends and family members help brides to save thousands of dollars on buying a new gown. Remember you only wear it once.

Marriage and Debt

Finances are a leading cause of divorce because money problems can cause fighting and stress that trickle into the other areas of your marriage. If you go into your marriage with your eyes wide open, you can alleviate this problem in your marriage. Talk about your finances with your soon-to-be spouse before you get married. Don’t dwell on the past and hold it over their head. Instead make a plan for how you’ll handle your finances going forward together!

This post on debt and interest rates is part of a series on credit and debt in marriage.  You can also read about credit scores and interest rates, improving your credit score, and free credit reports.

How are you going to handle debt in your marriage? Leave a comment!

This article was originally published May 12, 2009.


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Kristie Lorette is a personal finance writer who spent over eight years working in the real estate, mortgage and credit industries.

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11 Responses to Debt and Marriage: What You Should Know Before the Wedding

  • Julie

    I totally agree with you, before marriage the fiance/e must have an observant eye for his/her future partner spending habits and, why not, he/she should ask the important question about the other relationship with money: the income, expenses and credit history.
    Another question is what do the two partners in life do after marriage: if they apply for a joint bank account or not. This question doesn’t have an easy answer. Some people even decide to have several accounts: one joint account where all cost goes into from paychecks, rebates, refunds, gifts, etc. This is for bills, house spending, joint spending items. Each of the partners ca have a “Private” account that the other is on in terms of death benefits but not to access and see spending. This is for bad spending habits. There can also be saving accounts, for savings with higher interests.

  • Jenna

    Regarding the engagement ring question. Sometimes folks use a diffrent stone than a diamond. For example princess Diana’s engagement ring was a Saphire with small diamonds around it. Find out if your future wife might accept another stone. Then the diamonds could be for a ten year anniversary ring. When money is not quite so tight.

  • MTV Networks

    MTV documentary series “True Life” looking for young newlywed couples who are having trouble staying afloat in the current economic climate. Did you buy the home of your dreams, only to be facing foreclosure? Did you fall behind in rent and are getting evicted? Are financial woes forcing you to move back in with your parents or in-laws? Interested in sharing your story?

    If you are between the ages of 18-27, and have been married for less that a year, please send a brief bio, current photo, and contact number to .

  • becky

    Prior to marriage you should prepare a budgeting plan and decide which crucial areas are to be taken care of in order to avoid financial disputes with your partners.

    Both the partner should act as a team and deal with the financial issues.

    Another post which I really like at

  • Ben

    That’s a tough one El Cheapo. I went through something similar when I got engaged. I wasn’t crazy about spending a lot of money on a ring, I was a poor college student. I did have the money saved up so I could buy the one she wanted but that money could certainly help us out down the road.

    I ended up buying the ring she wanted and looking back I’m glad that I did. She’ll have it forever (as long as she doesn’t lose it) so the cost per day of wearing it for the rest of her life is pretty low. That being said, make sure you get insurance on it, just in case it does get lost.

    I do despise the tactics of the people that work at some of the jewelry stores though. Trying everything they can to talk your fiance into getting the biggest, most expensive ring and making you look like a jerk if you suggest the smaller, cheaper ones. I actually had a sales lady say to me something like, “if you love her, you’ll get her this one”.

  • Manshu

    I find talking about money really difficult. I know this is the right thing to do, but to get to that topic and execute this plan for me is always a difficult thing to do.

  • El Cheapo

    Nice post. The title got my attention because I’m thinking of taking my relationship to the next step. My current issue is the fact that my gf wants a pretty nice ring… nicer than I would like to spend. At the same time, I want to get her something that makes her happy. I’ve tried explaining this to her and explaining how that money could help us out in the future. While she hasn’t said out-right that she has to get an expensive ring, she hasn’t set her sights on less expensive rings when we go looking which worries me she’ll be disappointed. Any ideas?

  • Bargain babe

    Talking about money is just as important for couples who do not have significant debt and don’t carry credit card balances, like my husband and I. Everybody has a different idea of what is worth spending money on and what is not.

    My husband and I both believe in frugality, but we differ on how to spend. What works for us is splitting up our discretionary income after we have put some towards savings and covering our basic needs.


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