‘Emotions and money do collide’: My girlfriend doesn’t understand how her student loan works and rents a pricey apartment. What if we marry — and divorce?

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Dear Quentin,

My girlfriend and I have been in a relationship for seven months, and it is getting more serious. I don’t expect us to get married in the next year but I like to plan ahead and if things keep working out, I do see us getting married in two to three years. 

Finances are important to me and I know finances should be looked at without emotion, however emotions and money do collide. I get nervous when I read things like the divorce rate is 50% and rising. 

Both our parents married in their mid to late 20s and are still together, but I’ve seen family friends that have split and both parties are financially worse off. I’m concerned with some of my girlfriend’s financial habits. I don’t want what I am building and, hopefully one day what she and I are building, to be affected by them. 

‘Income is steadily growing’

A little background. I am a 27-year-old male and I will make $90,000 this year before bonus. My income is steadily growing as I grow in my career. I have $100,000 in different investments and no debt whatsoever. Finances and planning for my future are important to me. 

Money is not everything, but it is a tool that helps us navigate life. I have great plans for myself. I want to purchase investment properties, grow my investment portfolio, and so on. My parents did help with college, but the loans I did have after graduating paid off quickly. I lived at my parents’ home for 2.5 years after college; I purchased a car with cash well below my means and I saved well. You get the point. 

She is 24 years old and recently graduated with her master’s degree in special education. She will soon start teaching and is on her way to a great career as well. We have a lot of similar interests and love spending time together. She is a dream. I love her! But I am concerned. 

Financial savviness 

She is not as financially savvy, or financially motivated, as me. Like me, most of her education has been paid for by her parents but she does have some student loans. She mentioned her student loans and how after 10 years the government will forgive all of them, so all she has to do is pay the minimum for 10 years and the government will do the rest. 

That made me concerned, so I asked to look into them with her and after doing so found there are tons of hurdles to get her loans forgiven after 10 years. I tried to explain some of the hurdles. I don’t know if it’s denial or what, but it’s worrying to me that she doesn’t see that her loans won’t be forgiven, especially after she gets married and files jointly. 

I am a little upset that she doesn’t see the bigger picture. I spoke about how she should pay off her student loans  as quickly as possible so she accrues as little interest as possible. Also, she doesn’t have a ton of expenses so she should pay them off, so when things like kids come up she isn’t worried about her loans. She still doesn’t understand. 

Living above her means

She also moved into an expensive apartment above her means, so the idea that she doesn’t understand finances keeps scaring me. I’ve made mistakes myself and I am still learning as well, but I feel like I was much farther along than she was at 24. That said, she has started saving based on our conversations. 

She still drives an older car that is fully paid off and doesn’t have any interest in buying something new anytime soon, so she does make some good financial decisions. If we get married I don’t want her financial mistakes to impact what I plan to grow. What are your thoughts? 

Divorce on the horizon

I am also concerned about divorce. I know that is a bad/weird way to think, especially at a young age and because both our family histories are stable. It is a risk. What if I start a small real-estate company and purchase rental properties and then we get divorced? So instead of growing the business I would have to sell a property or two to give her what she earned. 

Or I could end up selling my homes and starting from scratch when I don’t have as much time to pay off my mortgage before retirement. To be clear, I’m not saying she wouldn’t deserve anything. She will also be making money and her line of work will come with good benefits.

As she is a woman, she will have to bear our children, and she is better at some things than me. For example, if we buy a house one day I know she will make that house a real home. I know that sounds like a cliché, but that’s the truth for our relationship and I understand that it is worth something, but that doesn’t get rid of the risk. 

How do I deal with this risk but also make sure it doesn’t affect our relationship?

Sincerely,

Young and Learning

Dear Y&L,

Student-loan forgiveness is complicated. It’s hard to fault your girlfriend for not understanding the process. She would be one of millions. You did her a favor by looking at her repayment program. In recent years, MarketWatch has extensively covered the challenges nurses, teachers like your girlfriend, social workers and other public servants have faced making good on the forgiveness they were promised after that 10-year period. 

Many of these borrowers only discovered that they were not even eligible for relief — often due to a minor, but significant glitch in the process — after they had toiled away for years in a job because they believed loan forgiveness was on the horizon. You and your girlfriend can read this step-by-step guide on relief. Her annual tax filings should not affect her forgiveness, as long as she is following the correct procedures.

She is 24 and you are 27. Three years can be a long time in your 20s. But not everyone operates at the same pace, and has the same constellation of family, financial and professional factors. There’s a line — and not a thin one, frankly — between helping a friend or partner manage their finances, and expecting them to be (a) somebody they’re not or (b) the same as we are. We all have quirks, qualities and things about us that others would love to change!

But what can you do that would be constructive? You could see a financial planner together, and talk about your shared beliefs and values and financial goals. Where you want to be when you’re 30 or 35, and what changes you would both have to make in order to get there. If you take this journey with her, as opposed to telling her what she’s doing wrong, it will be a happier experience, and will create a smoother template for other decisions you make that impact each other.

As for your plans to get married and your fears about getting divorced. To take a leaf out of your organizational playbook: Take one vow –- and contract signing — at a time. You have only been together seven months. Marriage is a contract, a kind of business contract, so you should get to know each other a lot better before going into the matrimonial business together. As with any new enterprise, there is an element of risk involved. 

In business, you have insurance policies. In marriage, you can agree to sign a prenuptial agreement. You take out of the marriage what you brought into it, for example, and you can also outline who is responsible for debts and how property you co-own should be divided. You acknowledge a lot of fears and concerns, and that’s fine, but be mindful about imposing those concerns on others, because it could eventually trickle into every aspect of your life.

I’m happy you pointed out her qualities. If she is following a career in special education, she must have many wonderful qualities: compassion, humor, discipline, and emotional strength. If you are the teacher/preacher, and your girlfriend/wife is always the one who isn’t doing things perfectly, you may need that prenup sooner than you have both bargained for. Just be careful that your girlfriend does not become a human receptacle for your own anxieties. 

She may have some of her own that she would like to express and, hopefully, dispel. 

Check out the Moneyist private Facebook group, where we look for answers to life’s thorniest money issues. Readers write in to me with all sorts of dilemmas. Post your questions, tell me what you want to know more about, or weigh in on the latest Moneyist columns.

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