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Take steps to enter marriage debt free
MISSISSIPPI STATE – Debt may be the last thing on couples’ minds as they plan their weddings, but bringing it into a marriage can cause some very unromantic stress.
According to the Mississippi Economic Policy Center, the average credit card debt in Mississippi is $6,000 per borrower. Add to that an average student loan debt of $24,000 per college graduate, and it’s easy to see how many couples headed to the altar drag a lot of debt into the new relationships.
Limiting the debt a couple brings into the marriage is one way to plan for a bright and optimistic future with full freedom to pursue new opportunities.
Susan Cosgrove, Newton County financial management agent with the Mississippi State University Extension Service, said communication is the first step couples must take regarding finances and debt.
“It has been proven many times that money problems often break up families, so couples need to be really open about their finances, even before they marry,” Cosgrove said.
Money arguments actually predict divorce, trumping other issues couples are most likely to fight about, including sex, chores, children, time spent together and in-laws.
“Communicate about values and what financial goals you have, and decide who will handle the finances, who will pay for what expenses and who is responsible for managing the budget and paying bills,” she said.
Couples who find they disagree on any of these points should be sure to work out an acceptable compromise before they move forward. A partner who brings significant debt into the marriage should seek marriage counseling to aid in this discussion.
Bobbie Shaffett, Extension family resource management specialist, said consumer debt, which means everything except for the home mortgage, should be less than 20 percent of income, although much less is preferable.
“Individuals and couples with significant debt limit their opportunities for credit to buy automobiles or make other major purchases,” Shaffett said. “Past debt uses up current income and limits future opportunities. A couple who wants to go out and save the world, build a home or start a family may be too strapped down by debt to fulfill their dreams.”
Shaffett recommended all couples plan a budget so they can live on one income, even if there are two incomes in the household.
“Budget all needs and major living expenses from the primary wage earner’s net pay,” she said. “This includes housing and utilities, transportation expenses, food and debt service. Use the second paycheck to pay off debts and cover wants and optional expenses, such as home furnishings, daycare or tuition, gifts and vacations.”
The steps involved in creating a debt repayment plan are the same whether they occur before or after couples say, “I do.”
“List each debt, along with the name and contact information for the lender, the monthly payment required, the total amount owed and the interest rate,” Shaffett said. “Then make decisions about which debts to pay off first and how to get them paid off.”
While paying off debt and staying out of debt is a worthy goal, not all debt is the same.
“Debt that has the potential to increase income, save time or improve health may be acceptable,” Shaffett said. “For example, houses generally increase in value and may increase income or assets for the future, so taking on a mortgage of 30 years or less with a fixed interest rate can be a wise move.”
Most newly married couples may dream of a home of their own, but Shaffett urged them to keep their goals realistic.
“Although two incomes can qualify couples for a larger house or allow them to take on more debt, it makes them extremely vulnerable if one income is lost or if one wants to quit work to pursue other goals, such as stay at home with a child or care for an elderly family member,” Shaffett said.
The MSU Extension Service has a variety of financial wellness publications online. Search for publications on debt, financial fitness, money and the “Healthy, Wealthy and Wise” series of 12 short publications originally created for newlyweds.
For more wedding ideas, visit the MSU Extension Service Pinterest board at http://www.pinterest.com/msuextservice.