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Should I Pay Off My Future Fiancé's Student Loans?

Dear CMR,

I have been dating my girlfriend for five years, and I’m getting ready to propose. She has taken out loans to pay for grad school, but I have a nest egg I can use to pay them off now. If we are getting married in 1.5 years, should I pay off her school loan now or wait until we are married?


Avoiding Debt

Dear Avoiding Debt, 

Thanks for the inquiry!  Surprisingly, this isn’t an unusual question. 

Financial decisions like the one you are considering have the potential to be a disaster.  At best it puts unnecessary stress on the relationship and can often make things awkward until the wedding.  At worst it could lead to litigation to get your money back should you break up. And statistically, only 50% of engaged couples actually make it to the altar.

What happens to you if you pay for her debt now using your “nest egg” and a financial emergency comes up in the near future like the need for a new car, the loss of an apartment or home, the loss of a job, or even an unexpected illness?  She is not bound legally to help you out of your financial difficulty.  Yes, she might be willing, but I would hate for you to say, “If I only hadn’t used all of my resources for your debt!”  No relationship needs that kind of stress.

Or, what if you pay off her tuition, and you don’t end up getting married?  I know you feel certain that she is the one, and  five years is good proof of the relationship!  However, the bond is not certain until you walk the aisle and have a legally binding marriage contract.  I’ve seen it happen with several  broken-hearted couples who shared expensive gifts, family jewelry, cars, and living arrangements.  And, I would hate to see it happen to the two of you!

I would advise three possible solutions: 

1. Go ahead and get married now, and pay off her loans ASAP. 

2. Wait to get married as planned, but keep building your nest egg for now and then pay off her loan in full as soon as you get married.

3.  If you do decide to pay off her student loans before you marry, you should have a signed, written agreement between the two of you over the payment as a loan.  This ensures that you both go into the agreement with your eyes wide open and protecting each other.  

And no, I don’t believe in prenups unless it is a very unique circumstance, but that’s another article!