Surprise! Your Spouse Has Debt – Here’s How to Handle It

marrying someone with debt

Even though 80 percent of American households have some form of debt, many of us can still feel debilitated by shame when thinking about ours. And it’s for this reason that it can be hard to tell even those closest to us that we have it.

Unfortunately, hiding debt can lead to far greater consequences than what we fear will happen if we admit to it. Especially if you end up marrying someone with debt and they don’t tell you about it.

5 steps to take if your spouse hid their debt

If you’ve recently discovered that your spouse has been hiding debt from you, the good news is there are ways to overcome this obstacle. Money infidelity is something you can, in fact, get through. Here’s how.

1. Before you react, listen

So you found out you were marrying someone with debt, or are married to someone with debt, and you didn’t know about it before. You might be feeling betrayed, lied to, and angry beyond all belief at the moment.

Before you fall too deep into those emotions, take a breather. And remember, everyone has something they feel ashamed of. But that doesn’t have to shape their entire identity.

So before you decide your partner is a whole different person, ask a few of the following questions.

Why did they feel the need to hide this? What were they afraid of? Did they think they could handle it on their own without you ever needing to know? Is this something that’s ever happened to them before?

Hear your partner out. And try to be as empathetic as you can. As upset as you are right now, remember that this is a secret they’ve been carrying around for a long time. In fact, it may have been affecting every aspect of their lives and well-being.

If you believe your partner did not keep this secret out of malice, then you’ll need this empathy to help you find a way to work together to fix it.

2. Find out if the lie was malicious or not

If you find out that your spouse was hiding their debt in an attempt to defraud you, skip the next few steps and focus on handling the situation in a way that will protect your future finances.

Whether you’re a man or woman, this page on WomensLaw can help you navigate what to do when handling a case of financial abuse.

However, if this is a case of your spouse withholding the truth because of shame or fear, keep reading. Marrying someone with debt you didn’t know about doesn’t have to be an insurmountable issue. As long as you figure out how to work together from here, you can make it through this.

3. Examine your finances and create a game plan

If you’ve decided you’re going to work through this together, the next step is to look at your current state of finances. Is this debt something you can absorb into your budget and pay off together?

If it is, create a targeted payoff plan. Then make a chart or spreadsheet or something that shows your progress so you two can visualize your progress together. This will help you act like the team you want to be from now on.

An important part of this game plan is to set up money dates and create some ground rules, according to financial planner and founder of Earn Into Wealth Strategies, LLC, Kaya Ladejobi, CFP®.

“Sometimes, when a couple has not set rules that will govern their money behavior in a relationship, it’s challenging for one person to know when the unspoken rule is being violated,” Ladejobi explains. “I recommend for couples to sit down together on one of their money dates and set some ground rules they will abide by.”

These ground rules can be a game changer, especially after dealing with financial infidelity. Ladejobi goes on to give some examples you might want to try.

“What is the dollar limit that each can spend before having to consult the other? How much is an appropriate amount to spend on gifts for family members?” Ladejobi asks. “You could also set a rule that neither can borrow without the consent of the other.”

4. Go through your own grieving process

Even if your spouse didn’t try to pull the wool over your eyes and merely hid their debts out of fear or shame, you might still feel as though you’ve been cheated on.

When the person closest to us keeps a big secret like this, it can lead us to question everything. You may even ask yourself if you saw the signs and just ignored them anyways.

It’s natural to have questions when lies come up in marriage and money. You might even think you’ll never trust your partner again.

That’s why it’s important to go through your own grieving process. Trust can be rebuilt again. But if you bury your feelings, your wound will fester and impact the rest of your marriage. Air it out now so the healing process can begin.

5. Consider talking to a financial therapist

When marriage and money aren’t in sync, it can sometimes take outside help to line them back up. That’s why it can be helpful to talk to a financial therapist. This is another step that Ladejobi recommends.

The only way to recover from financial infidelity is for both of you to commit to complete transparency and teamwork moving forward. A professional can help you figure out how to do this.

When you talk to someone like this, examine the reasons behind the hidden debt. You might discover that your spouse has a shopping or gambling addiction or deep-seated shame in their relationship with money.

Additionally, you may find that the way you two talk about money made it difficult for them to tell the truth.

Marrying someone with debt doesn’t have to end in catastrophe

If this hidden debt wasn’t a one-off event, now is the time to find out and deal with it.

The most important thing to do is to hear your spouse out, decide if they maliciously hid this from you, then proceed with a course of financial action – together. And don’t forget to give yourself some time to heal from this ordeal, too.

Looking for more information on how to handle marriage and money? Here are six tips to help you create a fruitful financial collaboration technique.

Interested in a personal loan?

Here are the top personal loan lenders of 2017!
LenderRates (APR)Loan Amount 
1 Includes AutoPay discount. Important Disclosures for SoFi.

2 Important Disclosures for Citizens Bank.

SoFi Disclosures

  1. Terms and Conditions Apply: SOFI RESERVES THE RIGHT TO MODIFY OR DISCONTINUE PRODUCTS AND BENEFITS AT ANY TIME WITHOUT NOTICE. To qualify, a borrower must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident in an eligible state and meet SoFi’s underwriting requirements. Not all borrowers receive the lowest rate. To qualify for the lowest rate, you must have a responsible financial history and meet other conditions. If approved, your actual rate will be within the range of rates listed above and will depend on a variety of factors, including term of loan, a responsible financial history, years of experience, income and other factors. Rates and Terms are subject to change at anytime without notice and are subject to state restrictions. SoFi refinance loans are private loans and do not have the same repayment options that the federal loan program offers such as Income Based Repayment or Income Contingent Repayment or PAYE. Licensed by the Department of Business Oversight under the California Finance Lender Law License No. 6054612. SoFi loans are originated by SoFi Lending Corp., NMLS # 1121636. (www.nmlsconsumeraccess.org)
  2. Personal Loans: Fixed rates from 5.49% APR to 14.24% APR (with AutoPay). Variable rates from 5.19% APR to 11.32% APR (with AutoPay). SoFi rate ranges are current as of July 1, 2017 and are subject to change without notice. Not all rates and amounts available in all states. Not all applicants qualify for the lowest rate. If approved for a loan, to qualify for the lowest rate, you must have a responsible financial history and meet other conditions. Your actual rate will be within the range of rates listed above and will depend on a variety of factors, including evaluation of your credit worthiness, years of professional experience, income and other factors. Interest rates on variable rate loans are capped at 14.95%. Lowest variable rate of 4.99% APR assumes current 1-month LIBOR rate of 1.22% plus 3.95% margin minus 0.25% autopay discount. For the SoFi variable rate loan, the 1-month LIBOR index will adjust monthly and the loan payment will be re-amortized and may change monthly. APRs for variable rate loans may increase after origination if the LIBOR index increases. The SoFi 0.25% AutoPay interest rate reduction requires you to agree to make monthly principal and interest payments by an automatic monthly deduction from a savings or checking account. The benefit will discontinue and be lost for periods in which you do not pay by automatic deduction from a savings or checking account.

Citizens Bank Disclosures

  1. Personal Loan Rate Disclosure: Variable rate, based on the one-month London Interbank Offered Rate (“LIBOR”) published in The Wall Street Journal on the twenty-fifth day, or the next business day, of the preceding calendar month. As of August 1, 2017, the one-month LIBOR rate is 1.23%. Variable interest rates range from 6.02% – 15.97% (6.02% – 15.97% APR) and will fluctuate over the term of your loan with changes in the LIBOR rate, and will vary based on applicable terms and presence of a co-applicant. Fixed interest rates range from 5.99% – 16.24% (5.99% – 16.24% APR) based on applicable terms and presence of a co-applicant. Lowest rates shown are for eligible applicants, require a 3-year repayment term, and include our Loyalty and Automatic Payment discounts of 0.25 percentage points each, as outlined in the Loyalty Discount and Automatic Payment Discount disclosures. Subject to additional terms and conditions, and rates are subject to change at any time without notice. Such changes will only apply to applications taken after the effective date of change.
  2. Loyalty Discount: The borrower will be eligible for a 0.25 percentage point interest rate reduction on their loan if the borrower has a qualifying account in existence with Citizens Bank at the time the borrower has submitted a completed application authorizing us to review their credit request for the loan. The following are qualifying accounts: any checking account, savings account, money market account, certificate of deposit, automobile loan, home equity loan, home equity line of credit, mortgage, credit card account, student loans or other personal loans owned by Citizens Bank, N.A. Please note, Citizens Bank checking and savings account options are only available in the following states: CT, DE, MA, MI, NH, NJ, NY, OH, PA, RI and VT. This discount will be reflected in the interest rate and Annual Percentage Rate (APR) disclosed in the Truth-In-Lending Disclosure that will be provided to the borrower once the loan is approved. Limit of one Loyalty Discount per loan, and discount will not be applied to prior loans. The Loyalty Discount will remain in effect for the life of the loan.
  3. Automatic Payment Benefit: Borrowers will be eligible to receive a 0.25 percentage point interest rate reduction on their student loans owned by Citizens Bank, N.A. during such time as payments are required to be made and our loan servicer is authorized to automatically deduct payments each month from any bank account the borrower designates. Discount is not available when payments are not due, such as during forbearance. If our loan servicer is unable to successfully withdraw the automatic deductions from the designated account three or more times within any 12-month period, the borrower will no longer be eligible for this discount.
7.39% - 29.99%$1,000 - $50,000Visit Upstart
5.19% - 14.24%1$5,000 - $100,000Visit SoFi
8.00% - 25.00%$5,000 - $35,000Visit Payoff
5.99% - 16.24%2$5,000 - $50,000Visit Citizens
5.99% - 35.89%$5,000 - $50,000Visit LendingClub
5.25% - 12.99%$2,000 - $50,000Visit Earnest
Advertiser Disclosure

Student Loan Hero Advertiser Disclosure

Our team at Student Loan Hero works hard to find and recommend products and services that we believe are of high quality and will make a positive impact in your life. We sometimes earn a sales commission or advertising fee when recommending various products and services to you. Similar to when you are being sold any product or service, be sure to read the fine print, understand what you are buying, and consult a licensed professional if you have any concerns. Student Loan Hero is not a lender or investment advisor. We are not involved in the loan approval or investment process, nor do we make credit or investment related decisions. The rates and terms listed on our website are estimates and are subject to change at any time. Please do your homework and let us know if you have any questions or concerns.