Thursday, March 7, 2013

Sounds Familiar

Today on Slate, in the Dear Prudence column there was an inquiry from a young professional swimming in debt.

I’m an attorney with a mountain of student and credit card debt. Before I got married, I told my wife about this, but thought I owed about $100,000. It turns out to be about $170,000. When I finally added up the total eight months ago and told her, she accused me of lying previously. My job barely pays me enough to cover our monthly expenses, but I’m supposed to be moving up. I continually look for new jobs and am trying to advance in my company, but that takes time. My wife is in her early 30s and is desperate to have kids and buy our own home, but she insists we can't because of our financial situation. When I have gone to interviews and was not hired, she blamed me for doing something wrong to blow it. A few days ago she found out one of her friends had a couple interviews for a much higher paying job. She became extremely frustrated, insulted my work ethic, and now won't speak to me. I don't know what to do. Should I stay in a relationship that is this unsupportive?
—No Pots to Piss in

I'm afraid this is a common problem, and it seems to only be getting worse and college, graduate school and professional school go up in price.  A quick review of the ABA tuition charts show that tuition at a private law school in 2001 ran about $23,000, but in 2011 was up to $39,000.  According to the New York Times, 90% of law students finance their education and the average debt in 2001 was $70,000 and in 2011 was $125,000.  So, $170,000 in debt for a private law school education doesn't seem that far off from these "average" numbers.

Here is Prudie's response:
Dear Pots,
It’s too bad your wife is incapable of procuring one of those high-paying jobs she thinks are so easy to get. Sadly, there are so many young people in your situation—people who wonder if crushing debt will ever allow them to start families or have a normal life. When you told your then-fiancée you were one of those burdened people, the two of you should have looked closely at your finances and started figuring out a long-term plan toward solvency. If that didn’t interest her, she should have walked. Instead, you now have another burden: a punitive spouse who blames you for everything. I hope your health insurance covers couples counseling. Even if it doesn't, paying for a few sessions will clarify whether you can save a marriage in which you get the silent treatment because someone else got a job.

Before Mr. Sam and I moved in together we had a major financial summit, in which we brought our credit reports and a list of debts and assets.  At the point of our financial summit we were in love and in a committed relationship.  I remember that I was worried about what I was going to learn and if it was going to impact our relationship and our plan for the future.  Luckily, his disclosure was better than I thought and I could see a way forward together.  But, we didn't actually create a joint plan for killing the debt or for our financial futures until a couple of years later when we were married.
For the couple in the Dear Prudie column, it seems like they didn't have a financial disclosure discussion until they were already engaged and the disclosure wasn't complete.  I also find myself wondering about the wife's career and how much she is contributing to killing the debt.

How about you, did you have a financial summit with your significant other before you married?  Have you walked away from a relationship due to a person's poor financial skills/habits?  Has student loan debt impacted your life choices?

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