Here are some facts: There were about 2.4 million weddings in 2022, meaning that 4.8 million people got married. Meanwhile, more than 43 million people in America are carrying student loans totaling nearly $1.8 trillion. It’s easy to see that plenty of people with student loans are getting married.
Not all marriages last, though: It’s estimated that in America, between 35% and 50% of first marriages end in divorce. In 2021, there were close to 700,000 divorces. So it’s reasonable to assume that plenty of people getting divorced are still saddled with student loans.
Here’s a look at what happens to student loan debt when you get married — or divorced. Note that the information below is not comprehensive, because there are different kinds of student loans, and because laws vary depending on where you live.
Marriage and student loans
Here are some things to know regarding marriage and student loans:
- You are not responsible for any student loan debt your spouse brings into the marriage — unless you were a co-signer for it. So far, so good. But once you’re married, if you co-sign a private loan for graduate school or a refinancing loan, you’ll both be on the hook for it. Remember that such debt may also affect how much of a mortgage you can qualify for, if you’re looking to buy a home. Lenders consider total debts, as well as credit scores, when evaluating borrowers.
- Where you live can make a big difference. If you live in a “common-law property” state, you and your spouse will generally only be responsible for your own debt. If you live in a “community property” state, you’ll both be responsible for any debts taken on during the marriage. (Check to see what your state’s particular rules are.) Community property states recently included Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Washington, and Wisconsin — with Alaska permitting spouses to opt into community property rules.
- Two key student loan repayment plans are the traditional model, where your monthly repayment amount is based on how much you owe and the length (term) of the loan, and an income-driven repayment plan, where your repayment amount is based on how much you earn and the size of your family. If you have the latter and you file a joint tax return, your new spouse’s income will be factored into the calculations, and it can leave you with bigger monthly payments. (Yes, you could just file separate tax returns, but it’s often financially advantageous to file jointly.)
- If you’ve been enjoying taking advantage of the student loan interest deduction on your tax return each year, you might have to lose it after marrying. A deduction of up to $2,500 is available to single tax filers with modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) of less than $75,000 in 2023 and married-filing-jointly folks with MAGI of less than $150,000. (Those with somewhat higher MAGIs may qualify for a smaller deduction.) Thus, marrying someone with a job could bump you out of eligibility for this deduction.
Divorce and student loans
If you’re divorcing and one or both of you have student loan debt, look up the laws regarding it for the state in which you live. Here are some general things to know regarding student loans and divorce:
- Any student loan debt belonging to you that you brought into the marriage will remain yours to pay off. Loans taken on during the marriage can be treated in different ways, depending in part on the laws where you live.
- Assets and debts are often — but not always — divided in a similar fashion during a divorce. In a community property state, just about everything is split 50-50. Most states, though, don’t follow community property rules and instead aim for “equitable distribution,” which may not be 50-50 — if, for example, one spouse has a lot more in assets or debt.
- If the two of you have a prenuptial agreement, that can override conventional rules for dividing assets. You might have stipulated who would be responsible for what debt, for example.
Student loans, marriage, and divorce can be tricky topics, so do consider consulting a tax advisor, a lawyer specializing in student loans, and/or a financial advisor for help navigating the process. They may be able to steer you to the best outcome for you — and, ideally, your spouse or ex-spouse, as well.