Since many marriages fail, is it wise to pay off a spouse's debt? Find out in this Money Girl Q & A.
Q. I’m a newlywed who didn’t bring any debt into our marriage; however, my wife has about $45,000 in student loan debt. Thanks to my parents, I have $33,000 that I could use to pay it down. I love my wife and don’t want to become a divorce statistic—but since many marriages fail, would paying her debt be wise for me?
A. The key to staying together and never becoming a statistic is to commit 100% to your marriage. Though some happy couples take a “mine, yours, and ours” approach to their money, I generally don’t endorse it.
Marriage is a true partnership and that means the two of you are now a team—emotionally and financially. I recommend combining your finances and strategizing about how to pay off your liabilities and grow assets together.
However, whether you and your wife should use extra cash to pay off debt is a different topic. If you don’t already have an emergency fund equal to at least 3 to 6 month’s worth of your living expenses, then you need one.
Emergency money should simply stay parked in an FDIC-insured bank savings or money market account. It won’t earn much, but the point is to keep it completely safe (not invested) in case you have an unexpected financial crisis like losing your job or having a medical hardship.
Student loan debt typically comes with a low interest rate—and a portion of the interest is tax-deductible. That means paying it off should be a lower priority than 1) creating an emergency fund and then 2) contributing at least 10% to 15% of your total income to retirement accounts.
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