Many Millennials are loaded with debt. In a serious relationship, a partner’s debt can become an elephant in the room. Here’s how to talk about it.

Let’s be honest, debt plagues most of my generation. As Millennials get into serious relationships, they’re bringing their financial baggage with them.

When it comes to love and loans, the murky waters of paying it off can get downright opaque. How can you tell if you’re in a partnership where you want to share that burden? Moreover, when do you know to bring it up, and how can you ensure the conversation with your partner goes smoothly? Spoiler alert: communication is the key.

When Should You Have the Talk?

This conversation is a tough one to have for any partnership. There can be a lot of emotions around money.

Firstly, this is a conversation you should be having when you’re in a serious partnership. Only you can determine if that applies to you. Take some time to reflect on what serious means for you. Generally, many people consider themselves serious if they live together, are married, or are working towards joint goals.

As you head into this conversation, try and get comfortable sharing your own financial situation to share with your partner. Talking about money should be a two-way street.

I recently had this talk with my partner. We’ve been together for over three years, have lived together for over a year, and have talked about a serious joint future.

My partner carries a significant amount of student loans from graduate school and I carry none. As we continue to grow together, it’s become clear that his loans may be a hindrance to our plans unless we tackle it sooner rather than later.

Why You Would Want to Pay Your Partner’s Loans

You might want to consider helping your partner pay off his/her loans if:

  • You can afford to help
  • The loan is a roadblock to a joint goal
  • The amount owed increases stress in your lives

Let’s say you and your partner want to buy a home together, but he carries $50,000 in loan balances. In many places, this is equal to the amount of money needed for a down payment.

Here, that $50,000 is a roadblock to something that the two of you want as a couple. Moreover, the goal that you want to reach involves taking on more loans. It may make sense to take care of these loans before taking on a mortgage.

Ask yourself: what does it mean to me and for us if I help my partner out financially? Will it help ease stress, and move us forward as a couple when their financial obligations are gone? If the answer is yes and you feel good about doing it, it might be the right decision for you.

Why You Wouldn’t Want to Help Your Partner Pay

When my partner and I had the conversation about his loans we decided that I wouldn’t help him pay it off for the foreseeable future. I started a business this year, and my taxes and finances have grown significantly more complicated. Plus, our short-term goals are different. For me, my business and retirement savings are my priority, and for him, an emergency fund and saving for grad school are priorities. For us, we decided it didn’t make sense for me to assume any of his financial burdens.

Similarly, you might not be able to help your partner if you make a significantly lower income, or you have other financial obligations.

You may also feel that it’s important for your partner to pay it off on their own. That’s fine, too. For some, partnering up means sharing debt; for others, a partner’s finances are not automatically yours. The important thing is to decide as a couple, and communicate in a respectful and productive manner.

Where To Start

Step 1: Pick a time and place in advance

No one should feel ambushed. Each person should have the time and space they need to think it through before they talk about it. Try to have the talk somewhere that both of you feel comfortable and safe.

Step 2: Start with “I” statements and your money views

“I” statements are one of the most helpful communication tools at your disposal. Start the conversation by sharing why you wanted to talk about this, and what your emotions and stances are.

I told my partner this: “ I come from a financially insecure background and debt makes me worry I’ll end up back there.”

With this statement, my partner knows why his loans are scary to me. It’s not accusatory and it’s not a request for anything from him. This starts the larger conversation on a good foot.

Statements like, “You need to pay everything off before we get married” can come across as angry or make your partner feel defensive. Instead, try: “I want to have more options available to us as we start our life together, and to me that means being loan-free.”

Step 3: Share details

If you do want to help your partner out, tell them. Then explain why you want to.

Something like “I want to help pay off your loans so that we can start saving for children” shows your partner that you view helping them as an investment in your joint future. It helps bring you closer to something that you both want.

Next, turn the conversation towards how you can help. Be honest about what you can afford, and how you’ll handle the payments.

If you don’t want to help your partner, the same rules apply. Be honest and respectful. If you think it’s something you would be open to in the future, say “I’d like to revisit this in six months” so that they know it’s not dead in the water.

This is a very sensitive topic, so how you talk about it really matters. It’s also good to keep in mind that financial situations don’t change overnight, and it may impact your relationship at times. It’s the mark of a true Grownup to talk about money, and now you’re ready to do so, too.

Kara Perez is a freelance personal finance writer living in Austin, Texas. She is passionate about helping people become financially literate and telling people’s money stories.

Any third-party resources or websites referenced above are not under Society of Grownups control. Society of Grownups cannot guarantee and are not responsible for the accuracy of the resources, websites, or any products or services available through such resources or websites.

While Society of Grownups hopes the information is useful, it’s only intended to provide general education. It’s not legal, tax, or investment advice, and may not apply or be useful to your specific financial situation. If you need recommendations geared to your personal financial situation, schedule time with a financial planner.

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