Helping your partner pay down debt now that you’re married.

So you married the love of your life, but they came with some financial baggage—namely, debt. If your spouse already had, say, credit card debt before you were married, you’re not necessarily liable for it. But do you want it hanging over either of your heads as you embark on your life together? No. To be in the best financial shape possible, consider making a debt repayment plan with your spouse.

Have the talk

It might not be fun, but you’ll need to sit down together and figure out a solution to the debt problem. Be upfront with your spouse. Tell him or her you want to set up an evening or weekend afternoon with no distractions to talk about their debt and what your shared plan is surrounding it. You’ll want to be direct, but also respectful and understanding. Chances are your spouse isn’t thrilled or proud that they have this debt, so listen to them.

Next, write down how much is owed, to whom, and your repayment goals. You can use a notebook, Google doc, or a budgeting app that you can both access. Be open and honest, and remember, you’re in this together. Be realistic about how much you can pay off and how quickly.

Agree on a repayment method

If your spouse has student loan debt, you have different options for repayment than you do with credit card debt. Learn about all your available options and pick the one that works best for your financial situation. It might make sense to adopt the 20- to 25-year forgiveness path, or you may be able to increase your monthly payments to pay one debt off faster and reduce the amount of interest you pay. Be sure to keep records of all of your payments.

If you have credit card debt, absolutely make your minimum payment each month, but aim to pay more than that. If you have multiple accounts, personal finance experts will suggest paying off the highest-interest debt first, so you pay less in the long run. However, other people find success with the snowball method, where you pay off the smallest balance first, then the second smallest, and so on. It can be difficult and discouraging to throw money at a large sum that never seems to diminish. Pick the method that works best for you and your finances.

Open a joint account

Open a joint bank account you’ll both contribute to that goes toward debt repayment. This will allow both of you to track how much you’re budgeting towards debt repayment and applying to the amounts you owe over time. Consider using an app like Mint, a Google doc, or a spreadsheet to track everything (you can make your own spreadsheet or use a service like Tiller Money).

Prepare for setbacks

Having a plan for debt repayment is necessary, but be aware that it won’t be a straight path to success. You’re likely to face a setback or two, and that’s perfectly fine. Talk to your spouse when unexpected expenses arise, disrupting your repayment routine. If your partner is struggling to meet the goals you’ve set together, kindly explain why they need to change their habits. If you’re having a hard time meeting your commitment, consider if your approach is too aggressive. It may be frustrating, but avoid taking it out on each other. A slip-up here and there is fine—it’s getting back on your feet that makes all the difference.

Remember that paying off debt is hard work. When you hit repayment milestones, reward yourself. Positive reinforcement will help keep you and your spouse on track, and championing each other will bring you closer. It might be a long road to financial freedom, but luckily you’re in this together.

"Having a plan for debt repayment is necessary, but be aware that it won’t be a straight path to success.”

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