Dear Margo: Student Loans Versus Love

Money can’t buy love, but some financial security helps, right? Margo Howard’s advice

Student Loans Versus Love

Dear Margo: I’m a female in my late 20s living in a big city. My boyfriend is in his mid-30s. We have a wonderful relationship with good sex and great communication. We’re planning to move in together and want to eventually start a family and all that jazz. The problem is he’s broke — like 150 grand in debt broke.

Almost $100,000 of that is student loans. He has a master’s degree, but doesn’t make enough money to even begin his payments. He’s told me all this before, but I guess I didn’t realize how real it was until last night. He was explaining his financial stress, and I saw the future I want falling away. If I stay with him, I’m afraid I’ll be choosing a life of ongoing economic problems. I went to a very expensive college, but I’ve worked hard to make my payments on time every month since graduation and have been slowly chipping away at my debt. I have no credit card debt and an almost perfect credit score. I have a good job, but not enough income to support a family by myself or to help offset my partner’s debt.

I’m embarrassed to feel this way, but I’ve worked hard to be financially responsible, and now it feels like it will all go to hell if I start building a life with this man. I want us to be together, but I also want financial security, a kid, a house and a picket fence. OK, maybe not the picket fence. — Am I Being Awful?

Dear Am: The relationship sounds nearly ideal, so maybe there are things to be done that will allow you to continue without feeling financially threatened. Why don’t you take charge of the family finances since you seem more competent in that department? It is entirely possible that, in time, he will better his position, just as you likely could wind up in a higher paying job. Then, too, there is much talk of the government doing something about these crippling student loans.

While I understand your wish for financial security, I know of too many romances where the couple started out very modestly and then fortune smiled upon them. Yours needs to be a decision of the heart, and if the concern about money outweighs that, then there is your answer. — Margo, thoughtfully

When Things Just Don’t Make Sense

Dear Margo: I have a friend (honest, it’s not me) who had a years-long affair with a married man. My friend had been divorced for a long time. These people lived in the same apartment building!

Well, here’s what happened — which neither my friend nor I understand. The man’s wife became ill, and after a year and a half, she died. You’d think that they could have become a couple openly, but that did not happen. He basically dumped her. After a few months, a woman moved in with him. It really makes no sense. My friend wound up in psychotherapy, and who could blame her? What is the dynamic here? Her shrink isn’t having much luck helping her put this behind her. — Helpless Friend

Dear Help: I have known of instances where this has happened, and everyone is always surprised. I can give you no answer to a certainty, but I can offer a few hypotheses. The man’s guilt may be putting the dead hand, forgive the infelicitous cliche, on conducting this particular romance in the open. The wife he was cheating on is now gone, ergo the girlfriend needs to be, too. Maybe this man needs the illicit aspect to have an affair work. (He would not be alone.) Maybe, in the course of things, he tired of her. Or maybe the guy was just a jerk. — Margo, conjecturally

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Dear Margo is written by Margo Howard, Ann Landers’ daughter. All letters must be sent via the online form at Due to a high volume of e-mail, not all letters will be answered.


Every Thursday and Friday, you can find “Dear Margo” and her latest words of wisdom on wowOwow

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81 comments so far.

  1. avatar stateoflove_N_Trust says:

    I think LW1 needs to have a more in-depth conversation with her boyfriend regarding his finances before she makes any decision.  Are his problems the result of poor planning, excessive spending, circumstances beyond his control or some combination of factors?  That could give her a good idea as to how her marriage with this man would be.  If he likes to spend, she should not marry him until he shows some restraint and improves his situation.  Otherwise, she will likely be dragged down with him.  If his circumstances are due to circumstances beyond his control, then she still needs to develop a plan with him, but it may not be a situation that will persist or repeat itself.
    Anyway that she looks at it, it will not be easy.  However, she needs to realize that everyone’s situation is different.  His situation MAY not be due to financial irresponsibility.

  2. avatar Anais P says:

    I usually agree with Margo 100 percent, but not on the advice to LW1. Money is the subject that most stresses marriages can lead to divorce, so the LW is NOT awful and in my mind is quite right to be concerned about her boyfriend’s nearly six-figure debt. If she marries him with that debt, she could very well be responsible for half of it if the marriage does not work out. This is not merely two recent grads with starter jobs starting out modestly. I mean, this is debt of nearly $100,000! Here’s my two cents’ worth of advice: the LW should go with her boyfriend to a debt counselor so they can both learn strategies for reducing his debt. He may be frittering money away on lunches or dinners out, an apartment that is too large and expensive, or hobbies and gym memberships that also require a financial outlay. Then the LW should give her boyfriend 12 to 18 months to reduce that debt and possibly even help him to pay his bills and end any expensive activities. If he makes no headway, I would say the relationship is doomed because he is making no effort and the LW should seriously consider leaving him. If he at least makes some progress, then she might consider marriage after another period of time in which the debt should be further reduced and the wedding should be financially modest.
    On LW2 — Margo is as usual 100 percent right! 

  3. avatar sandra b says:

    When are people going to take responsibility for purchasing debt? Why is the lender always at fault & predatory? They are selling pipe dreams and the interest rates reflect the write offs. Subprime mortgage, student loans, 25% credit card interest, paycheck advance companies… people buy debt toturn it into what they want and when it turns out they can’t afford it, the lender is at fault. Grow up, read the fine print, do the math, and see what it will really cost. Buy the education, house, car, wedding, whatever, you can afford. Build on it of course, but it’s just plain stupid to think you can invest $150K in anything and get payback in a couple of years.

    • avatar Briana Baran says:

      Thank you, sandra b. We backed out of the first house we chose, and had put earnest money down on, the very same night when we reassessed our finances. One small slip would have left us in dire straights because of the size of the payment…even with an excellent mortgage rate. The seller fully understood, and we got our earnest money back. Three months later, we found the house we currently own…at less than two-thirds the monthly payment and an even better interest rate. We read every single piece of paper we were given…whether to sign or not…and asked every question that popped into our heads both before and at the closing. We’ve refinanced twice…for better rates.
      The first house was beautiful…”perfect”, if you will. We might well have lost it. We have been diligent about cars as well…no $60,000 luxury vehicles or mammoth, gas-guzzling SUV for us. We got into trouble with credit cards once and learned our lesson…never again…and have completely recovered. We live modestly.
      It’s something anyone can do…it’s a question of will.

  4. avatar D L says:

    Re: LW#1. I have a good friend who was/is a frugal person. When she was single, she was a saver. She clipped coupons, shopped at sales only or thrift stores, always paid any credit card purchases on time, she would even berate herself if she bought a new pair of jeans. She married a man who is an impulse buyer and is very lackadaisical about finances; more of a buy it now, pay later type (although he rarely pays later). Well, after 10 years and 2 kids, they are in a huge amount of debt. He works, she’s a stay-at-home mom. They bought a house 8 years ago that needed major work done (new roof, foundation problems, new electric) that never seems to get done. Money that was borrowed from her parents for their wedding is still not paid off (after 10 years!). They took out a 2nd mortgage on the house to pay off bills yet are still piling up debt. Any money that does come their way, he spends… on himself (new motorcycle, new clothes). My friend gets so upset by this but accepts it (I should say, given up). Her credit is in the toilet and she knows it.

    The LW doesn’t mention what the BF is doing about his debt. Is he paying any of it off? What are his current spending habits? Does he have a timeline for when he thinks he may be able to pay off a portion of his debt? The point is, do NOT marry this man the way things are. And, if he has zero plans for paying off his debt at all, do NOT marry him period. With a wedding, house buying and possible kids, your situation will only get worse.

  5. avatar mabel says:

    #LW2, the dynamic is that your friend fell for the old “I really want to be with you but too bad that my mean, nasty wife is in the way so I can’t” line. He’s an adult and it’s a free country. If the guy reeeeaaaallllllyyy wanted to be with your friend to begin with he’d have gotten a divorce. It boggles my mind how badly “other women” want to believe that their man really wants nothing more than to be with them but is so helpless that he can’t figure out a way to get out of his marriage.

  6. avatar Debt Free says:

    LW #1.  If you really love this guy and he loves you, then give him a chance.  I was in his situation back in 1995, although my total debt was closer to $20,000.  That seems paltry compared to his but I was scared and didn’t know where to begin as far as tackling my debt after college.  Some people just aren’t born with those instincts.  But what you need to know about him BEFORE you enter into a legal entanglement with him is whether he is willing to learn.  I knew nothing about budgeting, debt, investing, etc. before meeting my husband.  Those things weren’t discussed in my house growing up.  Approach your BF concerning his debt.  He may be relieved to have somebody help him navigate through his financial mess.  I certainly was and learned so much as a result – not to mention that I am now passing along everything I learned to my children.  It will be a good test of your relationship and will either bring you closer or break you up.  If he wants a future with you as much as you want one with him, he will make the sacrifices necessary to eradicate his debt so you can have a good future with him.  Will he pack lunches for work instead of blowing his money on eating out?  Will he drive a cheaper used car instead of a new one?  Will he get another job to supplement his income?  Will he consider paying as much as he can towards the loans with the highest interest rate instead of the lowest minimum payment?  If he cannot do these things for the next six months then you should leave him.  If he is willing to do these things then sit down with him monthly and show him how much progress he is making.  Print it out in black and white so he can see it and be inspired to pay it off even faster.  There is hope for him and your relationship if he is willing to listen to you, learn, and make the sacrifices necessary while he is young and physically able.  But he needs to begin these changes NOW and if he won’t then you need to move on immediately.

    • avatar Briana Baran says:

      She never mentions “love”. Not once, in any context. I think she is embarrassed because she was doing what so many women accuse men of doing…dating someone for the sex and fun of it. Now HE’S getting serious…and she wants out.
      Just my take…but I get it from her words and the tone of the letter. Not “I feel bad”, but “O, my gawd, it finally dawned on me and I’m totally embarrassed”.

  7. avatar Frau Quink says:

    Ltr. 1: Why should you feel embarrassed about your being capable and able to make sound financial decisions?
               Instead, give yourself a pat on the back. Before moving in with BF, I would get a clear understanding about  his financial goals. 
               Financial counseling for BF should be mandatory. Debt of 160 grand? Did he drive a Mercedes to school?
               You will be in for a life of stress and woes with this man.

  8. avatar Stampy says:

    LW2- When I was 19, I ended up “dating” a man whom I didn’t know was married – by the way he behaved, the fact he spent more time around me than at home, didn’t really give me a clue. In retrospective, there were several facts that should have given him away -but naive and “in love” as I was, I didn’t really want to see it.
    Point is, now that I look back, I realise I fell for it because my self-esteem was on the ground, and I was surrounded by people who were just like him -who didn’t really think twice about cheating, and didn’t feel sorry about it. The way this man behaved towards your friend actually does make every bit of sense -he didn’t love her, he didn’t want a relationship with her, but he thrived on the hidden nature of the affair. And there’s also the fact that having two women (or more, who knows) around for him is simply an ego stroke. Once those aspects are gone, so is the interest… and it’s a harsh thing to face. Perhaps what your friend needs is to think about whether or not she would have liked to be with a man who, in the past, had had no trouble cheating on his wife with her. As much as it hurts now, these affairs rarely end up well… hopefully, with time, she’ll realise that too.

  9. avatar lexi reads says:

    $100,000 in student loans is scary, but what is the other $50,000 in loans about?  I wouldn’t say it is a deal breaker, but don’t co-sign any loans with him and keep your accounts and credit cards separate. I wouldn’t marry him until he gets some financial sense.

  10. avatar OldColoradoGuy says:

    LW1:  Run for the nearest exit!!!  It’s not just the debt, which will hang over you like a black cloud forever if you choose to marry this guy – – it’s what the debt implies about the guy’s character.  Anyone who would run up these kinds of debts, then settle into a career by his mid-30s that did not allow any debt amortization has some character flaws.  He lacks one or more of the following: intelligence, foresight, responsibility, accountability, ambition.  This debt will crush him, and you along with him, if you choose to marry.  It will preclude attaining the life you envision.  BTW, I’m sick and tired of the overt or implicit suggestion that people who run up student loans are the victims of some evil plot, and should be rescued by a government bailout. 

  11. avatar mmht says:

    LW#1:  I have a couple of questions here.  First, you say that he’s $150,000 in debt and $100,000 of it is from student loans.  What is the other $50,000 of debt?  Also, is he in default on his loans?  These are questions that you need to get answers to before you continue with this relationship.  If his credit is trashed, your credit will get lowered simply by marrying him.  In addition to taking Margo’s advice about taking over the finances I would also suggest that you both go to a credit counselor about this debt so both of you are aware of exactly what needs to be done to pay down this debt.  That will give you both a realistic idea of your future together.   
    I will say this though.  When I graduated I was almost $60,000 in debt.  My husband, who I was dating at the time I graduated, helped me pay down that debt.  We moved in together and he took over the majority of the bills.  With his help at home, I got a second job and paid everything I made at that job extra towards my student loans.  5 years later I have paid off almost $36,000 of my debt, we both have an almost perfect credit score, and we just bought our first house.  If it wasn’t for him, I would’ve been tempted to just pay off the minimum amount per month and spent the rest of my life in debt.  If all goes well, within 4 years we should be student loan free!  Keep that in mind. 
    It won’t be easy and it’ll take awhile but ask yourself if he’s worth putting off all of your wants for 5 to 10 years.

  12. avatar GG1000 says:

    Student Loans: I’m afraid I do NOT agree with Margo on this one. This man is in his ’30s and he still doesn’t have his financial act together? If he doesn’t make enough to pay off his student loans, then he needs to fix that. He may need to get a second job to bring in enough money. But you are absolutely right that $150k in debt is a disastrous way to start a marriage. He needs to downsize his lifestyle and up his income by whatever means are available to him and begin paying off those loans!