Paying Down Debt In Your Marriage

September 8, 2008

Debt can be a real strain on any marriage. Today we’ll take a look at how you can work with your spouse to reduce debt together. 

Bringing Debt into a Marriage

In my previous article, I wrote about the excuses that spouses give about having separate bank accounts.  One of those excuses had to do with paying down their spouses debt.  I’ve heard people with my own ears say that they won’t help their spouse pay down the debt they brought into the marriage.  If this is you, then you probably shouldn’t have tied the knot.  Selflessness comes with maturity, and selfless spouses take on the debt of their spouse as a team.  This is a less common situation, but it is out there. 

Debt in Marriage 

The most common situation is married couples that accumulate debt together.  The scenario is quite common.  You get married, buy a house, finance a couple of cars, pay the minimums on your student loans, and slowly accumulate credit card debt.  Before you know it, you’ve racked up $50k in consumer debt, not including your house.  We won’t worry about the house for now, because it’s an appreciating asset and the house acts as collateral to the loan. 

Get Out of Debt Plan

There are dozens of different get-out-debt plans out there, but I am going to share with you the one that my wife and I are currently following to get out of debt.  We hope to be out of debt in two years with this plan.

Step 1: Save $1,500 for a small emergency fund. Dave Ramsey teaches to save $1,000, but I’ve found that $1,000 doesn’t go too far when you have multiple emergencies at the same time. The amount is not the point. The point is that you can’t start aggressively paying off debt until you have a small cushion to help you pay cash when something unexpected comes up. Debt slowly accumulates from the small emergencies in life such as an unexpected medical expense or car repair. Don’t skip step 1! It’s #1 for a reason.

Step 2: List out all of your debts from smallest to largest. If all of your debts are close in amount such as $4,000, $5,000, $6,000, and $7,000, then you should proceeds to Step 2a. If not, then keep your debts listed smallest to largest, and start attacking the smallest debt first. This is helpful, because it builds momentum, cleans up the small debts quickly, and gives you more money to attack the larger debts later on. Only pay the bare minimums on the debts that you aren’t focusing on.

Step 2a: If your debts are of similar amounts, then list them from highest interest rate to the lowest interest rate. Attack the debt with the highest rate first. Then, work your way down the list and pay the lowest interest rate last, because it’s hurting you the least.

Step 3: Find creative ways to boost your income. This is important, because many of you with a lot of debt don’t have much extra money to put towards paying off debt. Find temporary, creative ways to boost your household income to pay off the debt as quickly as possible. Here are some quick ideas to boost your income.

  • Have a Garage Sale
  • Take a part-time job such as a driver for UPS, delivering pizzas, waiting tables, or baby-sitting.
  • Start your own side business (fixing computers, consulting, professional organizing, landscaping, and making/selling crafts)
  • Sell odds and ends on Craigslist and eBay
  • Sell your blood Plasma. Don’t do this too much, you’ll look like a heroin addict.
  • Participate on a medical research study. Yeah, I know, you don’t want to be a guinea pig, but I participated in three different studies and made over $1,500 when I was in college. I still have all of my arms and legs.

Step 4: Once you’ve paid off your last debt, go celebrate! You did it! Then, start building an emergency fund that will cover four to six months of expenses. Doing this helps you make sure that you’ll never get into debt again.

This method only helps you clean up your credit card, car loan, student loan, and other personal debt. Don’t include your mortgage as part of your list of debts unless it is a second mortgage. If you have a second mortgage, include it as part of your list, but save it for last. This step-by-step method only works if you are living on a strict budget, and you must have the dedication and perseverance to make it happen. If you have any questions, feel free to contact us.

For help managing your money as a couple check out the marriage budgeting tips. One sad, but necessary, thing to think about is how you’d pay off your debt if you suddenly lost you spouse, read more about buying life insurance to help protect your family.

These tips for reducing debt in marriage are part of the Marriage Money Guide.


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Erik Folgate is a husband and father living in Orlando who's been writing about money online for 6 years. Digging himself out of $20k of debt after college and his former experience in the insurance industry give him some useful insights into personal finance issues.

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7 Responses to Paying Down Debt In Your Marriage

  • shannon morgan

    We have been married 15 years and we have always been able to get through any problems we have had.I lost my job and for 8 months I did odd jobs wherever I could get them and he works 40+ hours a week and we sell items all the time on e Bay or Craigslist.I was not working reguarly and was desperately looking for something anything that would help, I even tried McDonalds but they wanted a spanish speaking person si I was out.A mystery shopper scam took a huge chunk out of us money and physically 5 K we lost and life has become an insurmountable task to even care about getting up. we are not irresponsible or gamblers or even complusive buyers.this money issue has put a ridiclous amount of stress on us My husband has given up we cant get ahead and anyway who cares? wont make any difference what we do! he has become bitter and tempermental, which he wasnt before he enjoyed life now he just wishes he was dead. our marriage is strained and we dont know what to do we need help I dont want to lose him over something as stupid as money PLEASE help! ASAP

  • Loria Warnken

    Good communication is a must to develop the healthy relationships in your married life. You should share all your problems and feelings with your partner as well listen to your partner and understand. Make some time for each other to share your emotions. Go for outing with your partner and make some romantic plans for short vacation.:`*..

  • neimanmarxist

    these are great tips for getting into good financial shape early in your marriage. we have a lot of debt from grad school but we’re following dave ramsey’s baby steps and slowly fixing our situation. I also read your article on joint accounts and couldn’t agree more. If you are married your money and property should all be jointly held. i would find it so alienating to not share that aspect of my life with my husband.

  • HMB

    Wow that’s crazy for some people about not paying the other debt. You are right, no need to tied the knot there.

  • Mr. ToughMoneyLove

    If you are a saver and GF/BF is a spender with debt, a good test of future compatibility is whether GF/BF is willing and able to kill or at least substantially reduce the debt before marriage. Otherwise, you could end up with a clash of goals and much marital strife.


    You’re completely right. I can’t imagine getting married and not wanting to help your spouse get out of debt. It doesn’t matter if your name isn’t on the loan, it can still impact you. If your spouse defaults on it, it can jeopardize her other assets, including the ones you have jointly. In addition to being selfish, it’s just not very bright.


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