My thirtieth birthday is a few months away and I still have a couple of lingering regrets from decisions I made as a young adult. If I could do it all over again, I would reconsider a few key choices that proved to have long-term negative consequences.
One of my worst decisions involved student loan debt — and crazily enough, it wasn’t even my own. Fortunately, life is all about living and learning, and that misstep certainly taught me to be smarter going forward about mixing major financial decisions and romantic relationships.
Back in the fall of 2006, I was madly in love with my then-boyfriend. We began dating a few months before my freshman year in college and the summertime made for a whirlwind romance.
I departed for college in August. My boyfriend stayed behind in our hometown to attend a nearby school. We were now a two hours’ drive apart — officially in a long distance relationship. He was my first love. Like any other foolish 18-year-old, I knew with utter certainty that we’d be together for a lifetime.
Being in a long-distance relationship made it difficult to enjoy myself at college. My head and my heart were in a different place than I was. I was extremely depressed and had a tough time adjusting to social life on campus. I’d never had trouble making friends before, but making new friends at college was proving to be a difficult task. Looking back, I recognize that I wasn’t being patient or mentally present, and it was preventing me from forming genuine relationships with my peers.
Having my boyfriend with me on campus felt like a viable solution to my despair. I focused my energy on helping him transfer into my school. There was one major obstacle: he couldn’t afford the price of tuition.
Meanwhile, I was in the opposite boat — I had received multiple scholarships and grants, so I didn’t need the additional loans that my school had offered me. No problem, I thought — I can use the loan offers that I hadn’t needed and take them out on my boyfriend’s behalf.
I decided to take out two small loans to help cover my boyfriend’s sophomore and junior year of college, and he successfully transferred into my school. Initially, I was thrilled to have him on campus with me, but seeing my boyfriend every day soon turned into a nightmare.
Our relationship ended within two years. The breakup was ugly, and my now-ex-boyfriend transferred to another college to complete his senior year. I felt relieved to no longer have to see his face every day and endure the constant heartache of our failed relationship.
Six months after graduation, I received my first letter in the mail requesting installments for the loan that I had borrowed on his behalf. I reached out to him about repaying the money. For the first three months, he sent me the funds to complete the loan payment.
However, it wasn’t long before unresolved issues from our broken romance began to seep into our unstable payment arrangement. My ex accused me of misusing the money, and it infuriated me. I was 22 years old and making a great salary at a major media company. Money was not an issue for me at the time. Did he really believe I was foolish enough to not be making payments on the loan? My credit score was on the line.
Eventually, my pride got in the way. My ex-boyfriend requested that I send him my loan payment receipts, and asked that I check in with him on a monthly schedule. I felt like he was trying to be my puppet master, so I refused to accommodate his requests.
I sent him an email stating that I no longer needed his payments and that he should consider the money I’d spent on his schooling to be a gift. I’d invested in his education, and it wasn’t about the money…at least that’s what I told myself at the time to rationalize my foolish ways.
I was 18 years old when I took out the loan. I had no business making a major financial decision without the guidance of a guardian or financial expert, but I was legally allowed to, so I did. My parents had insisted that I was making a mistake, but I refused to heed their warnings.
Twelve years later, I am still paying for that relationship. As I reflect on that time in my life, I wish that I could go back to the moment when I decided to take out the loan on his behalf, as well as the moment I told him that I would pay off his student loan debt on my own.
My experience taught me to be extremely careful about mixing relationships with major financial decisions, no matter how long-term or trustworthy the partner may be. When you give someone money, there is a significant chance they will never repay you in full, or at all.
This could be due to a number of factors, not just because the relationship ends. Even with good intention, things like emergencies, layoffs or poor money management can get in the way of repayment.
I can’t go back in time, but my hope is that other people can learn from my mistake. Here are a few things to consider before you take out a loan on your partner’s behalf or before loaning money to a significant other.
Go in with a clear head.
What’s the end game? Do you expect your significant other to repay you? Are you doing this out of the goodness of your heart? Go in with a solid ‘why.’ Be fully conscious of all the reasons why you are helping them pay their student loan debt. Guilt should not be part of the equation, on either side. Make sure that the payments are not a result of coercion or emotional abuse.
Make sure that you feel fully confident that both of you have the full intention of building a life together before you make major financial decisions with your partner. On the positive side, if you and your partner eventually decide to unite your finances, then helping them pay off their student loan debt may be beneficial for both of you in the long run.
Major financial decisions like purchasing a house or a car usually require decent credit scores. You may want to be wary of making a long-term commitment to someone who has a history of missed payments. On the other hand, going all-in and helping your partner catch up on their loan payments could significantly improve their credit and ultimately be beneficial to both of you.
Is your partner’s student loan debt manageable?
By 2023, approximately 40 percent of borrowers are projected to default on their loans. It can take decades to repay loans, especially those with high interest rates. Unless you’re able to renegotiate your payment plan to a more manageable rate, controlling the debt you’ve amassed through undergraduate and graduate programs (among other things) can prove to be a challenge for anyone, regardless of income or economic background.
Take note of whether or not your partner was committed to finding other ways to lower their student loan debt before asking you for help. If your partner has not taken the initiative to explore alternative repayment options, you might want to be wary of getting involved. As with any financial decision, make sure that you assess the risk.
If you are in love with someone who is irresponsible with money, it is okay to refuse to put your financial standing at risk on their behalf. Never put your finances in danger for someone who is reckless with theirs.
If your partner isn’t willing to be honest and transparent with you about their finances — past and present — then it probably isn’t fair for them to ask you for a loan or to pay off their debt in the first place.
Get it in writing.
If you make a financial agreement under the expectation that your partner will repay you, write a contract that outlines the terms and conditions of the agreement, and get a third party involved to review and witness the signing of the contract.
No one wants to think about the possibility of having to take legal action against a partner one day when things are going well, but it’s important to be realistic and have a paper trail to fall back on in a worst-case scenario.
Personally, I wish I had been smart enough when I took out those loans for my ex-boyfriend to get documentation of our repayment agreement. If you’re interested, here is a template to get started.
There are important steps that should be taken before you decide to sign on a loan for a significant other or help your partner pay off their debt. Review your income and personal budget. Outline the terms and conditions of the agreement. Evaluate how much money you are willing and able to lose in the chance that the funds are never repaid.
Have an honest conversation with your partner about his or her finances and make note of whether or not they have explored other options for obtaining additional funds. My final piece of advice is this: if you have any doubt about whether or not you should get financially involved with someone, don’t do it. Money is the cause of many issues in romantic relationships. It’s okay to love someone and still be unwilling to put your financial stability on the line. When in doubt, remember — your personal financial stability should always come first.