Dear Auntie Seraphic,
I have a fair bit of debt from my student loans, and some residual debt left from some poor choices I made early in college regarding credit card use (sigh). I work for the Church, so my chances of raking in a large salary to pay it down are slim; I make my payments and the balances shrink, but at a small rate. There is no way in heaven I'll be debt-free before I turn 30. 35, if I'm lucky!
This NYT article made me twinge rather uncomfortably. If I marry, what is mine will be his and what's his is mine. The idea of saddling another person with my debts seems horrible and selfish. (Perhaps I'm projecting; a cousin of mine married a man with a lot of graduate school and credit-card debt, then ended up paying it off herself when he lost his job, and he divorced her soon afterward).
The article advises that the best time to mention one's financial solvency (or lack thereof) is around the eighth or tenth date; what would you say? My fear is that I'll meet a lovely man and fall in love with him, only to have him flee when I explain my situation. Or worse, he'd marry me anyway but his family would always whisper I were some sort of wretched gold-digger who married him for financial security instead of love. Yes, yes, I know that's ridiculous, given that this gentleman is currently hypothetical, but I do worry about it.
Almost everyone I knew in grad school had student loans. I paid off one student loan before I got my M.Div., and now I am paying off my M.Div.-era student loan. My husband is still paying off a student loan. He pays off part of his every month, and I pay off part of mine every month. When mine is paid off, I'll start paying off his, too, or vice versa.
Chances are that any man you meet, if he has been to university, also has student loans. He might have more debt than you. Thinking of your cousin's ghastly story, you might want to ascertain that any man who interests you shares your responsible attitude towards paying down debt. Keep your ears open and notice if suitors flash around credit cards a little too extravagantly. Meanwhile, B.A. and I totalled up our debts when we first started talking about marriage. I think personal finances are not something you seriously delve into until the M word is in the air.
I agree that it is not a comfortable thought, having to tell a man how much debt you have. However, if he is in love with you, he will accept that your debt is something that comes with you. (Just as you will have to accept that his debts are something that come with him.) You can relieve his worries by insisting that you will continue to work to pay it off and that you will never run up a credit card debt again. You can also prove your reponsible attitude by consistently paying down your student loan, even to the extent of increasing your payment whenever you get a raise.
Your debts are nobody's business except yours and your husband's. His family should never know about them; they will not be their business. Goodness knows how much debt they might have themselves.
Finally, most homeowners have a debt to the bank until they are 50 or 60: it's called a mortgage. Most people these days cannot begin to afford a house without a mortgage, just as most students in the USA cannot afford four years of college without a student loan. Houses and education are both investments, and therefore loans taken out to obtain them are not shameful, although having to come up with payments every month can certainly be frightening.
Sadly, debt is something that almost everybody, including the government of the USA, has these days. It is terrible that in the contemporary West, debt is so much a part of daily life. I suspect we are dancing on the lip of a volcano.
And with that sobering thought, happy Labo/u/r Day!
Grace and peace,