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young adults say their student loan debt affects their dating and
marriage potential. A few have had partners break up with them over
debt, while other couples forge ahead, but keep finances separate and
avoid legal marriage.
The increasing debt load of college graduates
has affected young people's lives in untold ways, from career choices to
living arrangements. Now add another impact on a key part of young
adult life: dating and marriage.
Bingham, an art teacher in Portland, Maine, learned this a few years
back, when a guy broke it off after four months of a budding
relationship. Among other reasons, he cited her $80,000 in student loan
"He said it scared him," she recalls, "that it really made him anxious. And he just did not want to take on my responsibility."
A Rutgers University survey finds just half of recent college graduates are working full time.
That made Bingham angry because she had never
asked for his help. She says she has been very responsible, diligently
making her loan payments.
"I was really
floored at the time, because I just didn't consider that as a reason for
someone to not be with someone else," she says. "I felt it was very
Bingham is now engaged to a man
who's not scared off by her debt, but it turns out her ex-boyfriend was
far from alone. The issue recently came up in a letter to an advice column at Nerve.com,
a pop culture dating website. This time it was a woman wary of a
serious relationship because her boyfriend has $150,000 in debt, mostly
"He was explaining his money
stress to me," the woman wrote, "and I started crying because I saw the
future I want falling away."
She wrote that she felt "embarrassed" about being so "selfish," and signed her letter, "Am I Being Awful?"
Caven, who writes the site's Miss Information column, assured the woman
that she's right to take a hard look at things. She suggested that a
responsible approach to repayment is more important than the boyfriend's
actual — admittedly staggering — amount of debt. Caven says readers
also weighed in.
"There were a lot of people
saying, 'Dump him, get out,' " she says. "And then there was a lot of
backlash, saying, 'Hey, that's unfair. You guys are clearly not thinking
about how student debt works in this country. So many people are in
debt like that, that you can't just get rid of a good relationship
because of it.' "
Generally, it starts with an awkward look, like, 'What have I gotten myself into?'
- Craig Pfeister, describing how dates react when he tells them how much student loan debt he has
Caven advised the woman to keep her finances separate and consider a prenuptial agreement.
'An Impediment To Moving Forward'
NPR asked about this issue on its Facebook page, many couples said
they've avoided legal marriage so one partner wouldn't be liable for the
other one's debt. In fact, responsibility for student loans does not
transfer to a spouse. But, practically speaking?
once you're married, you're basically responsible for it at some
level," says Bill Driscoll, a financial planner in Massachusetts. He
sees the impact of student loan debt on his 30-something clients.
"It's causing uncertainty and tension," he says, "because it's an impediment to them moving forward on a lot of fronts."
Those include having a child or saving for college, saving for retirement and the biggie: buying a house.
they go to buy a home," says Driscoll, "and they've got $65,000 in
student debt, that's going to undermine a lot of the possibilities for
Driscoll says half of his
clients don't see eye to eye when it comes to spending versus saving,
so he advises hashing out a compromise plan. Mostly, he counsels couples
to talk about financial problems early. But that can be hard to do.
Feeling A Stigma
"I just usually wait until it comes up and kind of clench my teeth," says
Pfeister, a 29-year-old craftsman who makes guitars in Denver. He has
north of $100,000 in student loans, and has grown used to the reaction
that gets from dates.
"Generally, it starts
with an awkward look, like, 'What have I gotten myself into?' " he says.
Pfeister has come to realize that he's more comfortable dating women
who also have lots of student debt.
kind of laugh about it," he says, "like we're both owned by Sallie Mae.
If they already have in their mind they'll have this debt for their
entire life, when they hear about mine, it's just, 'Oh, you, too?' "
if Pfeister ends up marrying more debt? Sure, it would add to his
financial stress. But, he says, at least the stigma would not be just on