The decision to get married is no small thing. It carefully interweaves two separate lives into one. If one partner in the relationship has serious debt problems, it can be a point of serious concern for the future health and financial stability of the relationship. It's something the two of you should address before exchanging vows.

Major concerns to address

You are not responsible for the debts your spouse created before the marriage – and vice versa. Those debts remain your own – individually.

However, new debts you create as a couple belong to both of you. That includes things like credit cards you add your spouse to and loans for which you co-sign. Those belong to both of you and failing to pay those loans off on time can put your good credit at risk.

If you live in a community property state, you may even be responsible for debts your spouse created during the marriage – even if you had no knowledge of the debt.

You need to set ground rules about debt before you get married – perhaps by sitting down together to come up with a plan for you and your future spouse to cut spending and start addressing past and present debt problems.

While you may just be tempted to pay off your partner’s debt, that’s not always the best choice for your relationship or your partner. That is especially true if you must take on debt to do so. Swapping out your partner's debt for your own could place your credit rating at risk and put you on the hook if you are unable to pay off those debts.

You especially shouldn’t help your partner pay off debts if he or she is hiding things from you, like:

  • Banking Accounts
  • Cash
  • Credit Cards
  • Purchases
  • Debts

Successful relationships require trust and hiding major financial problems or assets should raise serious concerns. A person who keeps financial secrets will only serve to erode your own trust in that person.

Steps to take before you marry

Don’t take your walk down the aisle together until the debt problems of the past have been addressed. Make certain steps are actively being taken to eliminate those problems and that your spouse-to-be is committed to a strong financial foundation for your marriage. Have open and frank discussions together about how financial issues will be addressed once you are married.

Consider working together to create a financial plan for your life partnership that includes addressing and paying off debt, cutting spending and creating financial freedom for a brighter future when spending may not need to be as limited.

Steps to take once you’re married

If you don’t live in a community property state, consider keeping your accounts separate. This approach shields you from your partner’s bad credit decisions and helps ensure that at least one of you maintains good credit for emergencies that happen in life.

If you happen to live in a community property state, there are some steps you can take to protect yourself from the debts of your partner if you get a divorce. However, that is only the case if you have a pre- or post-nuptial agreement that stipulates who owns what debts in the marriage and who will be responsible for paying them upon dissolution of the marriage.

The final thing you need to do, for the health of your marriage, is to discuss the differences in your attitudes on spending and debt. Sometimes, there is common ground. However, when you consider that money is the leading cause of stress in a relationship, it becomes even more important to act now and address these differences early to determine if you should take that next step.

Money management for couples

Old National Money Management, a feature in online and mobile banking, makes it is easy to track your budget, set goals, monitor transactions and categorize your spending. Get an overview of all your accounts, even those at other financial institutions, and receive alerts when you're nearing your budgeted numbers.

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