“I have big plans for myself”: My girlfriend does not understand how her student loan works and rents an expensive apartment. What if we get married – and divorce?

My girlfriend and I have been in a relationship for seven months and it’s getting more and more serious. I don’t expect that we’ll get married in the next year, but I like to plan ahead and if this keeps up, I see that we’ll get married in two to three years.

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

Our parents both got married in their mid to late 20s and are still together, but I have seen family friends who have split up and both parties are worse off financially. I worry about some of my girlfriend’s financial habits. I don’t want what I build and hopefully one day what you and I build to be influenced by them.

“Income keeps growing”

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

Money isn’t everything, but it is a tool that helps us navigate life. I have big plans for myself. I want to buy investment properties, expand my investment portfolio and so on. My parents helped with college, but the loans I had after graduation paid off quickly. After college I lived with my parents for 2.5 years; I bought a car well below my means and saved well. You understand it.

She is 24 years old and recently completed her Masters in Special Education. She will soon start teaching and is also on the way to a great career. We have many similar interests and enjoy spending time together. she is a dream I love her! But I’m worried.

financial savvy

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

This worried me so I asked her to think about it and found out afterwards that there are a lot of hurdles to getting her loans forgiven after 10 years. I have tried to explain some of the hurdles. I don’t know if it’s denial or what, but it worries me that she doesn’t see her loans not being forgiven, especially after she got married and filed together.

I’m a little annoyed that she doesn’t see the bigger picture. I talked about how to get her to pay off her student loan as quickly as possible so that she gets the lowest possible interest. Also, she doesn’t have many expenses so she should pay them off, so she doesn’t worry about her loans when things like kids come up. She still doesn’t understand.

living above their means

She’s also moved beyond her means into an expensive apartment, so the thought that she doesn’t understand finances scares me. I’ve made mistakes myself and I’m still learning, but I feel like at 24 I was a lot further than they were. However, as a result of our conversations, she has started saving.

She’s still driving an older car that’s fully paid off and has no interest in buying anything new any time soon, so she’s making some good financial decisions. If we get married, I don’t want her financial mistakes to affect my growth plans. What are your thoughts?

divorce on the horizon

I’m also worried about the divorce. I know that’s a bad/weird way of thinking, especially at a young age and because both of our family histories are stable. It’s a risk. What if I start a small real estate business and buy rental properties and then we get divorced? So instead of expanding the business, I’d have to sell a property or two to give her what she deserves.

Or I could end up selling my houses and starting from scratch if I don’t have that much time to pay off my mortgage before retirement. To be clear, I’m not saying she doesn’t deserve anything. She will also earn money and her work will be accompanied by good performance.

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

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


young and learning

Dear Y&L,

Student loan forgiveness is complicated. It’s hard to blame your girlfriend for not understanding the process. She would be one in millions. You did her a favor by checking out her payback program. For the past several years, MarketWatch has covered extensively the challenges nurses, teachers like your friend, social workers and other public servants have faced in redeeming the forgiveness they were promised after those 10 years.

Many of these borrowers only found out that they weren’t even eligible for relief—often because of a small but significant error in the process—after years of toiling at a job because they believed forgiveness was on the horizon. You and your friend can read this step-by-step guide to relief. Her annual tax returns should not affect her forgiveness as long as she follows the correct procedures.

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

But what can you do that would be constructive? You could look at a financial planner together and talk about your shared beliefs, values, and financial goals. Where you want to be by 30 or 35 and what changes you would both need to make to get there. If you take this journey with her instead of telling her what she’s doing wrong, it will be a happier experience and create a smoother template for other decisions you make that affect each other.

As for your marriage plans and your fear of divorce. To take a leaf out of your organizational playbook: Make a vow — and sign a contract — at a time. You’ve only been together seven months. Marriage is a contract, a kind of business contract, so it’s best to get to know each other better before going into the marriage business together. As with any new venture, there is some risk.

In business you have insurance policies. In marriage, you can agree to enter into a marriage contract. For example, you take out of the marriage what you brought into the marriage, and you can also determine who is liable for debts and how your joint property should be divided. You acknowledge many fears and concerns, and that’s fine, but be careful about forcing these concerns on others, as this could eventually seep into every aspect of your life.

I’m glad you pointed out her qualities. If she aspires to 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 doesn’t make things perfect, you may need that prenup sooner than you both expected. Just make sure your girlfriend doesn’t become a human vessel for your own fears.

Perhaps she has a few of her own that she would like to express and hopefully dispel.

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Also read:

‘Should we do that at our age?’ We’re retired, have $5 million in savings and make $7,000 a month. Should we be spending over $2.1 million to build our dream home?

“We have no children”: My family owns land that has been in our family for 100 years. I want to leave this country to my wife. But what if she remarries?

“How can I be fair to both of them?”: I spent $20,000 more on my daughter’s education than on my son’s education. Should I level the playing field — and invest $20,000 in stocks for my son’s retirement?

About Paige McCarthy

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