Graduating with huge student loan debt can wreak havoc on borrowers’ financial lives. But financial goals and aspirations aren’t the only areas affected by student loans. Marriages, families and relationships are being impacted as well.
In a survey of 1,382 people from the Student Loan Planner email list, we uncovered some sad and, at times, startling data about the toll student loans are taking on couples and families.
Here are a few of the key findings the survey revealed:
- 51% of student loan borrowers say student loans are affecting their plans to have kids in some way
- One in three student loan borrowers have delayed having kids because of their student loans
- 57% of student loan borrowers say student loans are a major stress in their relationship with their spouse or significant other
- One in four student loan borrowers delay getting married because of student loans
- One in five student loan borrowers would consider getting a strategic divorce if it meant lowering their student loan payment
- One in eight student loan borrowers feel that their student loans kept someone from dating them
Student loans are causing serious damage to personal relationships. And these issues are likely only compounded by the negative impact student loans have on mental health.
Student loans and dating relationships
Student Loan Planner’s survey shows that student debt is clearly affecting the dating lives of borrowers. One in eight student loan borrowers feel their student loans have kept someone from dating them.
Travis Hornsby, founder of Student Loan Planner, thinks colleges should be more forthcoming with students about the effect student loans could have on future dating relationships.
Here’s what he had to say:
Sad truth. Your debt might cause someone you like to not want to date you. That should probably be disclosed in admissions visits.”
Nearly one in 12 of those who responded to the survey said they had decided not to date someone because of that person’s student debt.
One respondent said:
Whether or not my future partner has student loan debt and a strategy to pay it off will be a factor in my decision to date them.”
Another respondent said she’s avoided discussing her student loans with her boyfriend. She also says she hasn’t been forthcoming about the amount of student debt she really has:
I’m divorced and waiting until I become debt free until I ‘get back in the game’ and start dating again. I don’t want my debt to be a deciding factor in marriage, relocating, home purchase, etc.”
And, in a heartbreaking story, one physician assistant said she believes her fiance called off their marriage when he learned about her student loan situation:
When I told my fiancé…about my 60K in student loans his eyes got wide but he said we would tackle it together (after the house was paid off.) He ended up breaking up with me.
He said he was worried I was just with him for the house and his money….I wonder if I didn’t have student loans and had bought my own home prior to him (because I could afford to without student loans), if things would have been different.”
These kinds of stories are gut-wrenching. But they illustrate the pain borrowers are experiencing because of their student loans.
Student loans and marriage
The survey revealed student loans are causing a serious strain on marriages. Fifty-seven percent of respondents said student loans are a major stressor in their marriage relationship.
Travis found this piece of data somewhat surprising:
I would think that people would just ignore the debt and fight about other things, but it’s clearly a big problem in holding together relationships.”
Here’s how one respondent described the effect that student loans are having on her relationship with her husband:
It’s the number one source of stress and arguments in our marriage. My husband puts enormous financial pressure on me to work crazy amounts because of the burden of these loans. It’s a major contributor to our daily stress.”
Sadly, another respondent said student loans played a role in her marriage eventually breaking apart:
It was a major player in the stress that ultimately ended my marriage.”
This survey revealed that student loans are affecting marriages in all sorts of ways. One in four borrowers said they delayed getting married because of their student loans. And over one in five said they would consider getting a strategic divorce if it meant lowering their student loan payments.
One social worker said she and her husband have actually already made this move:
I did strategically divorce my partner after we found it (marriage) drastically increased my monthly payment (even when filing separately). We are still together, live together, and are partners, just not in the eyes of the law. We might get quietly remarried in 5 years when/if my debt is forgiven…”
Travis finds it very concerning that so many borrowers feel like divorce is the only way to find relief from their student loans:
The fact that one in five high-debt borrowers would consider a strategic divorce to lower their payments should set off alarm bells. It means we’re punishing countless professionals for deciding to get married, which seems like bad public policy.”
But perhaps most alarming was that when asked if they had ever lied to a partner about their student debt, nearly 10% of respondents said yes.
In fact, one borrower said that she’s yet to reveal her student loan problem to her spouse:
I have been keeping it as a secret from my husband.”
Another respondent said she’s avoided discussing her student loans with her boyfriend and hasn’t been forthcoming about the amount of student debt she really has:
My current boyfriend doesn’t have any student loans and the thought of talking to him about mine is so embarrassing. I have even lied to him about how much debt I have and will accumulate over the next few years while I’m getting my doctorate.”
It seems that borrowers are afraid of what could happen to their relationship if they talk honestly with their spouse or significant other about their student loans.
But student loans don’t have to draw partners further apart. Some respondents said that working together, openly and honestly, on their student loans has actually pulled them closer together. Here’s what one respondent had to say:
I’ve been very open with new husband (before boyfriend/fiance) throughout the vet school process about the amount of debt I (we) would be in. The transparency and willingness to discuss made it a non-issue in our relationship.”
Another respondent echoed those sentiments:
Actually has brought us closer together because we both have large student loan balances and focused us on a plan and vision to get out of it.”
If student loans are causing stress in your relationship with your partner, getting on the same page about your repayment strategy could help in a big way.
Student loans and kids
Student loans are impacting when borrowers have kids and how many they are choosing to have. Over 51% of respondents said their student loans have affected their family planning in some way.
Of those respondents, 35% said they delayed having kids, 9% percent said they decided to have fewer kids and over 7.5% said they decided to have none at all.
Whether couples would like to have children or not, many appear to think their student loans simply make it a financial impossibility. Here’s what one university admissions counselor had to say:
Although my husband and I have discussed possibly having a child (just one-because there’s no way we could afford to have more), the more and more we talk about it, it seems that our best option financially would be to have no children at all.”
Many borrowers are making a similar decision to have fewer kids because of their student loans. But a larger percentage of respondents are choosing to delay having kids instead. Over one in four respondents said they delayed having kids for at least three years because of their student loans, and one in seven borrowers delayed starting a family for more than five years.
One pharmacist said student debt is forcing him to wait an extra four to five years to begin having kids:
Crippling debt has pushed the start of my “life” out at least by 4-5 years. Who wants a 50 year old dad at a 1st grade PTA meeting?”
Another respondent — a lawyer in New York — said he and his partner are feeling similar frustration:
It take(s) a huge emotional toll knowing that we’re waiting on kids based almost exclusively on student loan debt. Even though we’re both in agreement on waiting, there’s an underlying frustration in waiting to start a family solely for financial reasons.”
Based on these statistics, Travis said it’s obvious that our population growth is being affected by student loans:
It’s clear that student debt is impacting our population growth rate. The millennial generation clearly feels like it’s the daycare bill or the student loan payment, but not both.”
While it’s hard to determine how big of an impact these family planning decisions could have on society as a whole, it’s clear that student loans are causing many families to start their parenting journey later in life — or to forgo the journey altogether.
We surveyed 1,382 people from the Student Loan Planner email list.
Nearly 85% of respondents fell within the age range of 25 through 39 and included 62% females and 37% males. Sixty-two percent of respondents were married or engaged to be married, and 36% had kids. Over 30 different occupations were represented in the survey.