Is your student debt — or your date’s — a major turnoff? Having serious debt is among the biggest romantic deal breakers, according to a 2017 survey from SoFi, second only to being a workaholic.
If you have a lot of student debt or are concerned about your date’s student loans, it can be a tricky topic to navigate.
“Talking about anything money-related can feel awkward in a dating situation,” said Jessica Garbarino, founder and owner of Every Single Dollar, a personal finance site for single women. “Fortunately (in some ways), student loan debt is so common, especially among the millennial generation, that it shouldn’t feel weird to talk about it.”
To find out how to alleviate the awkwardness or alarm of dating with student debt, we explore when and how to raise the subject in a romantic relationship.
How much student debt is a deal breaker?
Most people you date will have some student debt of their own — and they’ll probably expect that you do too. After all, roughly 44 million Americans have outstanding student debt.
However, this debt can start interfering with your dating life or give potential partners pause as the balance creeps higher.
For recent college graduates, the average student loan debt is $39,400. If your debt is in this neighborhood or higher, you can expect it to raise some doubts with your date, said Shannon McLay, founder of the Financial Gym, a money coaching service.
Among her clients, McLay has seen both sides: those who say they would refuse to date someone with significant student debt and those who worry that their student loan balance will scare matches away.
“One of my clients who has over $250,000 in student loan debt told me that she felt ‘unlovable’ because of the size of her debt,” she said.
5 smart ways to discuss student debt when dating
While it can seem harsh to list student loans as a romantic deal breaker, there are some good reasons for it.
“If you marry someone with student loan debt, it becomes ‘our’ debt instead of ‘your’ debt,” McLay said. Even if only one person is legally responsible for it, “the monthly payments made to that debt represent less money that could go to building joint wealth and achieving joint goals,” she pointed out.
Some people might worry about how student loans could affect a relationship too. According to our survey on student loans and relationships, more than 43% of respondents reported that they fight with their partners about money at least “somewhat often.”
But if you have student debt, that doesn’t mean you should miss out on dating. “I don’t think that anyone should put their life on hold for student loan debt,” McLay said. Here’s how to discuss your loans while dating.
1. Be honest about your student loans
“You have to be honest about the student debt and reveal it at some point, especially if you are asked about it,” Garbarino said.
Failing to do so could be akin to cheating, McLay said. “Not disclosing significant debt to a significant other is a form of financial infidelity that you’re forcing the other person to accept,” she explained.
If you wait for the perfect moment to talk about debt, it might never come.
2. Bring up student debt early but naturally
One option is to be open and upfront about your debt with everyone you date. “I suggest people share their student loan debt right away,” McLay said. You don’t have to share your exact balance at first, but you can casually mention or joke about your student debt.
Or you might feel more comfortable waiting until you’ve established trust. “Like any sensitive topic, you need to gauge the level of the relationship before delving into student loan debt,” Garbarino said.
And there’s no need to make a big deal of the initial discussion. Simply watch for openings in conversations where it would be natural to mention your student debt. “There may be a conversation surrounding college, higher education, or even money habits where you can ease into the topic,” Garbarino said.
3. Gauge your partner’s attitude about student debt
“See how your dating partner reacts when you talk about the subject,” Garbarino suggested. “Body language can provide so much insight into how they may be feeling on the topic — it could be contrary to what they are saying verbally!”
A discussion about student debt should be ongoing too. That way, you can openly share concerns and compatibility issues caused by either person’s student debt.
“It’s better to gauge a person’s reaction to your debt before real feelings develop,” McLay said. “The person who doesn’t run from your debt early on is the person you’d want to stay in a long-term relationship with anyway.”
4. Take responsibility for your student loans
As McLay pointed out above, your debt is more likely to become a big issue if your partner is worried it’ll affect their finances too. So one of the best ways to prevent your debt from interfering with your dating life is to actively manage it.
If you can confidently and honestly tell your date that you have your student loans under control, it can go a long way toward addressing their concerns. That means researching your options, creating a plan to get out of debt, and sticking to it.
5. Decide how to handle debt as a couple
As a relationship advances, you might combine living situations or finances and start making money decisions together. That calls for a deeper conversation about student loans and money.
Discuss your attitudes about how to prioritize paying off debt with other financial goals. If only one of you has debt, talk about how it could be handled in the future. You might decide to pay down debt as a couple, for example.
While discussing debt isn’t the go-to icebreaker for a date, finding the right time and the courage to talk about your student loans can make all the difference. This honesty will help you and your date get on the same page — and weed out those who wouldn’t be a good fit.
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