SAN DIEGO, August 26, 2013 — Parents sending their kids off to college for a new year of study shouldn’t expect to see their kids walk down the aisle anytime soon.
A survey by Harris Interactive conducted for the American Institute of CPAs found 15 percent of college graduates have postponed getting married due to their student loan payments.
This is a significant number. Almost 39 million U.S. adults had student loan debt at the end of 2012 – 70 percent more than in 2004, according to statistics from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. During that same time, the total amount of student debt nearly tripled to $966 billion to become the biggest non-mortgage debt burden in America. The average student loan balance: $24,803.
Financial problems are frequently cited as one of the main causes for divorce, and my experience as a family law attorney bears this out. One of the most insidious problems is coming into a marriage carrying debt. These debts only increase within the first few years of marriage: mortgages, having children, car payments, medical bills and other expenses. If a couple isn’t careful and accrues debt for a wedding and honeymoon, it’s easy to see why financial problems can create major stresses and sources of tension in a marriage.
It is true that the first few years of marriage can be the most trying and difficult, and getting settled into life together takes work. But so many couples start out their marriages with the odds stacked against them because instead of focusing on growing together as a couple, they are focused on financial survival.
Ernie Almonte, CPA, CGMA, chair of the AICPA’s National CPA Financial Literacy Commission, comments on the survey results: “As the pomp of graduation fades, many college graduates become keenly aware of their financial circumstance: ‘In debt,’ ” said “They start out with an anchor that slows their progression toward future goals. It’s a difficult reality confronting a growing number of people.”
It becomes a thoughtful and practical decision to delay marriage due to student loan debt, but it seems terribly sad. What you don’t want to see happen is when paying the bills becomes more important than paying attention to each other. A couple’s increasing debt causes decreases in communication, resulting in couples growing apart and being unsatisfied with their marriage relationship. It can create a lack of trust. Without communication and trust, the core of a successful marriage, a marriage becomes toxic and someone walks through the doors of my office looking for a divorce.
Only 39 percent said they fully understood the burden student loan debt would place on the future, and 60 percent now have at least some regret over the choice of education financing.
But the payoff is diminished if you’re also burdened by debt that takes decades to pay off. For those nearing college, it should be approached like any other investment: With a clear understanding of the risks, rewards and expected return. Those already contending with the financial burden of student debt should redouble their efforts to manage and eliminate it.
So for every young adult who dreams someday of a fulfilling marriage, you need to start with a sound financial footing. Start early saving for college, set limits, consider ways to cut costs such as living at home, working while attending part-time or taking some courses at a community college, setting limits to the amount of debt you can accommodate, and pay down your loan as fast as possible to prevent interest accruing.
You might have to make short-term sacrifices, but once you’re debt free it will be easier to pursue long-term goals and live happily ever after.
The CPA profession has a comprehensive financial education program—360 Degrees of Financial Literacy—to help Americans achieve long-term financial success. Its website www.360financialliteracy.org is the centerpiece of the program with tools, calculators and advice to help Americans understand and manage their financial needs during 10 life stages, from childhood to retirement.
Myra Chack Fleischer serves as Lead Counsel for Fleischer & Ravreby in Carlsbad, California with a focus on divorce, property, custody and support, settlement agreements, mediation, asset division and family law appeals. Read more Legally Speaking in Communities Digital News. Follow Myra on Twitter: @LawyerMyra.
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