Till Debt Do Us Part
(Marrying into debt can test the marriages of young college graduates, especially if that debt is higher for one partner.)
The only thing newlyweds Joy and Zach Yerrick have in excess is love.
Married almost a year, they still grin when they talk about each other. And they still joke about how they scrimp — packing their lunches, using pay-by-the-minute phones and planning date nights around coupons.
“Even when we splurge, we save,” said Joy.
The two met as students at North Central University in Minneapolis. Zach, the son of schoolteachers, graduated last spring and works at a social service agency. During college, he accumulated $20,000 in loans. Joy is the daughter of a factory worker father and an immigrant mother who cleans hospitals. She balances two retail jobs while pursuing a communications degree. She expects to graduate with twice her husband’s debt.
But since their marriage, they no longer consider debt “his” or “hers.”
“We’ve taken on the debt as ours,” said Zach. “It was a blessing that my parents helped me pay for college. I can’t put a negative feeling on Joy because she wasn’t so lucky.”While many kinds of personal debt have been falling since 2007, student loan debt has been on the rise, IHS Global Insight said. The number of young people delaying marriage also is climbing. The median marrying age for men in 2011 was 28.7, 26.5 for women.
Zach, 24, and Joy, 22, bucked that trend. But they represent a new take on an old phenomenon: marrying into uneven debt.
“When it comes to school loans, often there’s one partner with a huge load and the other with little or none,” said Ruth Hayden, a St. Paul financial consultant and author. “Opposites do attract.”
Confident in the power of their bond, young couples may regard one partner’s debt as an obstacle to defeat together. But if that debt prevents them from achieving their goals, the romance can become depleted as years go by.
“Money is the No. 1 reason couples fight and the No. 1 reason they break up,” Hayden said. “Couples in their 20s and 30s think they’ll be fine, until they hit that brick wall and realize they can’t do what they want to do. They can’t get a mortgage or they can’t have a child. When choices are limited, resentment builds.”
Starting married life in a financial hole is the new normal.
According to a Pew Research Center survey released last fall, 40 percent of young households carry student loans, up from 26 percent in 2001.
Minnesota graduates carry more than their counterparts elsewhere. A 2011 survey by the Project on Student Debt ranked Minnesota as third in the nation in student debt, with two-thirds graduating with an average tally of $29,793 in loans.
That means that “millennials enter their family-building years carrying an unprecedented burden of debt,” said Kate Muhl, a consumer strategist with Iconoculture, a Minneapolis-based research firm.
Compounding that is the fact that so few couples talk about money matters before they wed.
During an engagement, couples often devote weeks to compatibility classes sponsored by their church or non-denominational wedding officiant. They would do well to address their compatibility when it comes to finances, said Louise Rogness, a family law attorney at Rogness and Field of Oakdale.
“A prenuptial agreement that spells out who accrued the debt and who it belongs to is a good idea, but couples resist pre-nups as being too negative to pursue,” she said. “People are afraid to bring it up and just hope they won’t ever face it.”
A school loan incurred before marriage belongs to the person who took it. But from a practical standpoint, paying one partner’s debt comes off the top of the couple’s income. That obligation can create tension among in-laws, who may have opposing philosophies about the higher-ed tab.
“Parents who worked their butts off to save [for college] think poorly of parents who did not,” Hayden said. “But parents who didn’t pay for college think parents who do are spoiling their kids.”
When they talk about their future, Joy and Zach Yerrick dream of traveling, owning a home, becoming parents, pursuing graduate degrees. But they wonder if they will attain any of it.
“You expect it to be tight when you’re starting out,” said Zach. “But honestly, I don’t see how it ever will be anything other than this. Debt is setting us up to live this way.”
“We have to go to college to get a good job, then we have to work our whole lives to pay for it,” said Joy. “My parents were stretched thin because they didn’t go to college. We’re stretched because we did. We’re seeing the cost of the dream.”
Ultimately, Ruth Hayden said, a couple’s ability to survive the stress of one-sided debt comes down to their commitment to their marriage.
“They have to be very clear. They have to say to each other, ‘This will not break us up. This will not,’ ” Hayden said. “They have to work hard and work together. Otherwise, this debt will be the wall they can’t scale.”
StarTribune.com Minneapolis, April 16, 2013
Kevyn Burger is a Minneapolis-based broadcaster, podcaster and freelance writer.
Financial infidelity is as damaging as other infidelities because it is a breaking of trust. This is not an uncommon problem. Couples say that one-half of them hide money from their partner and one-half lied about money. The American Bar Association says that 90% of quarrels are about money. American Express says that 9 out 0f 10 individuals in a marriage avoid talking about money. Financial infidelity is caused by the inability to keep trust and then not having a respectful and effective way to talk about it.
Ruth Hayden works with a three-part strategy to help couples move forward in their relationship rather than move out of their relationship.
Strategy #1: Make a commitment to each other that you will practice talking about money and that you each will absolutely do what you said you'd do. Period.
Strategy #2: Make a specific money plan. The plan will include spending, debt and savings.
Strategy #3: Keep to the plan. If the plan becomes too difficult, renegotiate the plan with you partner. Don't just break the plan. If you can keep to the plan, you will re-establish trust. And you will move past the financial infidelity.
CLAUDIA - A Magazine for Women. Brazil. (November 2012)
More and more families are being asked to provide financial help to their aging parents. Ruth Hayden gives advice on strategies in working together.
Family Profile - Money Sense Magazine. (December/January 2012)
FINANCIAL CLASSES: Ruth Hayden was Suze Orman when Suze Orman was still waitressing and in debt. And she's here in St. Paul, offering financial literacy classes, many aimed specifically at women, but also offering a couples-and-money class that frequently has a waiting list. Can't wait? She has four award-winning books to dive into. So if you've ever been tempted to call Suze late at night and ask her if you can afford that new fishing boat, know that you have a local, reliable, whip-smart, non sensationalized option, right here in town.
Minnesota Monthly Best of the Cities (November 2011)
Ruth Hayden has always been good with numbers. In 1982, the former teacher decided to start the accounting track as her second career, but plans changed when she offered to work with a friend and her husband on their finances. Word of her skills spread quickly, and Hayden started her own business as a financial educator.
"I really love numbers, and I enjoy getting people to communicate," she say. "It is the complexity of the person, and mixing that with the money, that makes this job so intriguing."
Hayden, who has published four books about finance, was at the forefront of discussing the relationship between emotions and money in the 1980s and '90s. "Money is not just about counting. That's only 20 percent of it," she says. "Eighty percent of it is what I call self-management."
Hayden performs individual consultations and teaches classes for couples, women, and self-employed women, focusing on the areas of earning, saving, and spending. She finds her work with women particularly rewarding. “My focus is on how to help women become financially secure and feel strong about money," she notes. "As an educator, my job is to make sure people make progress."
Plus, the work is rewarding. "I've been able to make a positive impact, and I get to do what I'm good at," Hayden says. "I don't think it gets any better than that."
Mpls/St.Paul Magazine (October 2011)
"The great thing about writing down your financial goals is that if you follow your budget then you know there should be money there to meet them." Ruth Hayden, a financial educator and author in St. Paul/Minneapolis, Minn., agrees that writing goals and aspirations down on paper has a profound effect. She has seen it work with her own clients. The key is including a Statement of Purpose that both partners buy into emotionally and intellectually. It works because we're more rational when we're planning for our future selves than we are when we're confronted by an immediate concern. Having a guide that you can refer to later is a bit like connecting your emotional self to your rational self for advice when real life hits you with a shocker.
Five Rules That Can Change Your Life- Money Sense Magazine. (December22,2010)
Extreme savers, unable to buy and enjoy even the simple pleasures in life, set up several money pots (one a regret-free pot). So what's the key to getting such extreme savers to spend happily. They need to be reassured that they really do have enough money saved to last a lifetime. "People need to feel safe," says Ruth Hayden. She recommends a plan with several different types of savings, so extreme savers can let go of their fears. One strategy Hayden uses is to set up three "money pots" – one for savings, one for emergency cash six months to one year's worth) and a third pot for what Hayden calls "regret-free living." This is when we talk about their goals," says Hayden. "If they were close to death, what would they wish they had done?"
The Joy of Spending - Money Sense Magazine. (Summer, 2010)
nationwide survey found 70% of married couples disagree about
finances --starting on the honeymoon. "When you're
dating, your differences can be intriguing," says Ruth
L. Hayden, author of For Richer, Not Poorer, The Money Book
For Couples. "But when you're trying to decide
what you each have to sacrifice to help make ends meet, those
differences can spark anger, insecurity or resentment."
the urge to take on additional debt during a recession....
"You need to get through this short period of time without
creating any long-term negative consequences," says Hayden.
As you hear reports of gloom and doom from financial forecasters,
try to keep your perspective: Economic cycles go up and down.
"Tell yourselves, 'This is not the way life's always
going to be, '" says Hayden. "Things are bound to
get better before too long."
Parents Magazine, "Recession-Proof Your
Marriage." (September, 2008)
courage to face your financial reality today-the courage to
choose responsible action and face the truth of your situation
today-is your first step toward safety and peace of mind tomorrow.
Even though it's a scary undertaking and doesn't feel safer,
it is, in fact, with a doubt always safer to know. You
need to ask, "How much money is in my checking account, today?
My savings account? My wallet? How much debt do I owe and
to whom? How much money have I put away for retirement and
where is it today? When you are willing to ask and
answer these questions, you are on your way to creating financial
safety for yourself and your future.
The Phoenix, Regret-Free Living: A Conversation with
Ruth Hayden (August 2008)
can a couple successfully blend two styles of investing?
UNDERSTAND GENDER BIASES. In general, experts say men tend
to be more willing than women to tolerate volatility in financial
matters. Men also are more likely to talk about money
with their peers. "As a gender, men chase returns and have
lower rates of return," says Hayden. Women are often less
willing to risk money they've worked hard for. Neither approach
is absolutely right. Conservative types may go broke safely,
Hayden says, because they often put money "in places where
there is no hope it will be able to keep up with inflation."
But overly aggressive behavior can also lead to financial
Metlifeyourlife.com , He Says, She Says, by
Randy Shuldt, a vice president with IHateFinancialPlanning.com
, a new web site devoted to the more than 75 percent
of Americans who hate financial planning, says the key to
talking about money in a relationship is to start early. Schuldt,
who's happily married and the father of two, says it's paramount
to understand each partner's savings and spending habits.
Because it's not easy to talk about money, web sites like
can serve as a source to initiate the conversation.
I also highly recommend the new book by Ruth Hayden, For
Richer, Not Poorer: The Money Book for Couples. "
and Grooms , News Gleaner, Philadelphia, PA.
money is a sore spot in your marriage, you are probably inclined
to keep discussions to a minimum. But you should commit to
a quick once-a-week check-in - about 30 minutes - to go over
routine things like paying bills or deciding immediate spending
questions, says Ruth Hayden, author of "For Richer, Not
Poorer: The Money Book for Couples." That way you can
air concerns before resentments pile up.
Money Magazine One Family, Two Portfolios (Feb. 15, 2008)
should also draft a document that lists what jobs each of
you will be responsible for. Who is in charge of paying the
yourself a title and write a job description," says Ruth
Hayden, a family business counselor and author of "For
Richer, Not Poorer: The Money Book for Couples." "It's
one way to avoid stepping on each other's toes."
Money Magazine Business Partners in Love (January 30, 2008
on the same page: Rory concedes that he'll need to
make some changes."I'm just going to acquiesce,"
he says. But Ruth Hayden, a St. Paul financial educator who
counsels couples, warns that this approach won't work in the
long term because no one can alter his financial personality
Rory and Michele need to find a middle ground. For instance,
Hayden says Michele might enjoy life more if she were a bit
less cautious about money. And Michele admits that she admires
Rory's generosity, such as his willingness to pay for nights
out with friends who earn less than he does.
solution: The pair should keep individual and household accounts.
Rory can deposit several thousand dollars each month into
a checking account earmarked for joint expenses. With what's
left he can pay down his debt and spend as he desires.
Magazine Odd Couple: When Financial Opposites Attract (Nov.
of coming clean with your partner
know it's bad. So bad you'd really rather keep it to yourself.
Why, you figure, ruin your partner's day with news of your
mounting debt or the fact that you've been living off your
if you don't, the truth will out at the worst possible time
-- like when you go to apply for a mortgage and realize that
your credit score or lack of savings is killing your chances
of getting that house your partner loves. "Then that
creates a double problem. Knowing is safer," said Ruth
Hayden, author of "For Richer, Not Poorer: The Money
Book for Couples."
are you're afraid that your partner will think less of you
and want to leave you or, possibly worse, try to control every
dollar you spend from now on.
remember, Hayden said, "you're more than money - there
are so many more facets to a relationship. Plus, everyone
has some kind of a downside. And money baggage is easier to
deal with than others."
this: Have the conversation no matter what. It may
be uncomfortable but it will pay off down the line, Hayden
said. Then make an agreement about what you both want to achieve
(e.g., pay down debt, save more for retirement, buy a house)
and agree on what you'll both do (and won't do) to reach that
goal. Beyond that, allow each other autonomy money - money
you can spend that the other person can't question.
Magazine Beat Back Five Financial Fears
(May 29, 2007 )
Relationship Money Problems-interview Mar. 31, 2008 deals
with the following questions:
seems to be the problem when couples and money collide?
your book For Richer, Not Poorer: The Money Book for Couples
, you outline the four cornerstones of a "healthy money
partnership." Please explain these.
does an individual's societal and familial background with
money influence their current management of it?
do you do to help people get better at solving relationship
you give us some examples of couples reducing the emotions
surrounding money and learning to trust one another?
tools do you recommend for helping couples come to better
on the following link to read the entire article.
What is it going to take not only to keep each of you happy individually but to make for a happy relationship? Ruth Hayden, a St. Paul financial consultant who teaches courses for couples, is disappointed that only half of all married couples maintain separate checking accounts. She believes they all should. "The key is to think about the trade-offs," says Hayden. "What is it going to take not only to keep each of you happy individually but to make for a happy relationship?"
Magazine Spouses Gone Wild! Why Solo Play Is Okay
(January 23, 2006 )
often choose a mate because of differences, which are intriguing
at first," Hayden said. "Those differences lose their
appeal when two people with different spending and saving
habits butt heads."
& Money , (February 12, 2004), Star
Resources 142: How To Make Your Money Life Work.
on Positive Living, giving advice on day-to-day money management,
on financial expectations of couplehood, and on applying tried-and-true
principles with ease and effectiveness.
biggest mistake women make is not putting any money away for
themselves. Women have college funds for their children
before they start retirement funds for themselves"
Women's Press "Do women handle money differently?"
never has made sense to me to divorce because of money issues--because
they only get worse with divorce. But we know money is high
on the list for reasons marriages fail. So get some money
training! Inevitably, you'll find yourself somewhere in the
pages of For Richer, Not Poorer -and you'll find
usable answers and solutions as well. First there's information
on discovering things about yourselves and your relationship
to money, then how to talk to each other about it, then how
to work with each other about money--and coming from the position
of being on the same side. Ruth Hayden makes dealing with
money easier--and more fun--than you thought it could be.
Don't deny yourself this valuable information!"
real issue for most couples is fairness: 'If you get yours,
will I get mine.' We somehow marry our opposites. When we
are dating, we are stimulated by someone who is very different
from us. But in a longer-term relationship, we are frightened
by it." Hayden tries to teach partners to compromise
without feeling that they are giving up their autonomy.
Personal Finance Magazine
a financial consultant, I know that when couples list money
as the primary reason they are getting divorced, the problems
are not about money itself. The unresolvable problems are
about how, and if, each member of the couple will get what
(s)he wants and needs.
to (gently) Toss Your Boomerang Kid. Jay MacDonald interviews
Ruth at Bank Rate.com. "When financial educator Ruth
Hayden counsels couples on how to cope with 'boomerang kids'
who suddenly return to the nest, she speaks from experience."
Spender: Sex Sets Your Money DNA. Jay MacDonald interviews
Ruth Hayden at Bank Rate.com. "When it comes to money,
men and women view it, spend it and invest it very differently."
richer or poorer ... or according to the postnuptial agreement
Jay MacDonald interviews Ruth at Bank Rate.com. A prenuptial
agreement between Hollywood's rich and famous often makes
headlines, but it has a less glamorous cousin, the postnup.
And average Americans are increasingly turning to this post-wedding
paperwork to salvage shaky marriages.
You cheating on your spouse with money? Jay MacDonald
interviews Ruth at Bank Rate.com. (January 2008) If you've
ever hidden a purchase from your spouse or secreted away some
household cash for a rainy day, you hereby have been deemed
financially unfaithful and may now commence the walk of shame.
You a tax procrastinator? Jay MacDonald interviews
Ruth at Bank Rate.com. April 2008) On the pain scale, preparing
income taxes falls somewhere between a visit to the doctor
and a visit to the dentist. All are necessary in the long
run, but oh so easy to put off until tomorrow, or the next
day, or the day after that.
to hassle the pal who owes you.
Jay MacDonald interviews Ruth at Bank Rate.com
Lend money to a friend and you might lose both, the old saying
says. If you do it, make sure there are no misunderstandings.
steps to a money-smart divorce. Jay MacDonald
interviews Ruth at Bank Rate.com.
No matter how intense your emotions, it's important
to remember that ending a marriage is in fact a business deal.
Here are moves to make sure you don't get taken. When
your marriage breaks up, the last thing you feel like doing
is crunching numbers. You're hurt, perhaps angry, and possibly
overwhelmed with anxiety, fear and despair. You're focused
on the past and present, not the future.