Today we have a post by Dan, a personal finance blogger, who’s married to June, co-blogger & wife, over at dinks.co
Like many married couples, both my spouse and I are thinking about having kids. Yet we have something else in common with other younger couples: debt.
With the rising cost of college, it wasn’t surprising that we entered our marriage with significant student loan debt. On top of that, we had other financial obligations to consider, such as our mortgage, our car payments, and saving for retirement, moving forward.
While starting a family is in our eventual plan, we decided to reduce our debt before we embark on the adventures of parenthood.
Right now, the additional financial challenges of day care, diapers, and college savings accounts is not in our best interest until we’re more financially stable.
We decided to be proactive and tackle our debt.
Interestingly, this happened to be student loans at the onset of our marriage, so it’s safe to say it had a profound impact on our family choices.
Understand the Importance of Communication
We learned early on that one of the keys to a healthy marriage is open and honest communication.
This is especially true when it comes to financial decisions.
After all, money is one of the leading causes of divorce, so we knew that it was vital to the strength of our marriage to talk through our financial decisions.
As a couple, we sat down together and took a look at our finances. While we both made a healthy salary, we also had considerable debt as mentioned.
Today, this includes our mortgage, which is held in both of our names, as well as each of our student loan debts, and two separate car loans. Back then, it was mostly student loan debt, prospective auto loan payments, and credit card debt (remember, student debt was the biggest concern at the time).
Another side of communication involved our family plan. We made the decision that we needed to put debt first, making it a priority to pay it off before we had kids.
It seemed odd de-prioritizing a kid over money, but in the end, this plan had our future children in mind. We knew that once we had kids, it would be that much harder to manage. We had to use our child-free time to make headway on our debt.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t talk about how we handled the largest form of debt early in our marriage. As mentioned, student loan debt had a profound impact on our finances and marital plan.
Considering Student Loan Debt in Our Decision
Our combined student loan debt plagued us from the onset of marriage. This was a big piece of debt early on, so it influenced us considerably. When we got married, I myself had tens of thousands of dollars, while June had close to $20k (I had more than double her debt).
While the dual-degree aspect of our marriage enabled us to find higher-paying jobs, we knew the debt would hinder us from having kids immediately. If we jumped the gun, we would not be able to make more than the minimum payments on our student loans.
Though this may not have been a big deal for federal loans, I had higher-interest private loans. We had to make sure we devoted necessary attention to them, or we’d run the risk of paying thousands (or tens of thousands) extra on our debt.
One of our First Actions as a Married Couple
We talked through several different ways to pay off our student loans more quickly. We had some leeway here (remember, we didn’t have kids yet!), so we started by simply paying more than the minimum each month.
We’d either make larger payments or double payments. This was all well and good, but it was meant to set us up for a new financial move down the road.
We wanted to qualify for student loan refinancing, which would lower our interest rate and shorten our loan term. This would have made it easier to pay off loans, but we also hoped it would open the door to other options – like taking on an auto loan. Ultimately, we decided that refinancing was the best choice for us.
Since taking on other debt was on our radar, refinancing worked well as an option for simple reasons. By lowering our interest rate on our student loans, we could reduce the total amount paid in interest each month.
We can then make more headway on our student loans immediately, but we’d also save money and have more room to move our finances around.
Of course, we knew it could be difficult to qualify for refinancing. Student loan refinancing involves applying for a new loan that is used to pay off existing private (and potentially federal) student loans.
To qualify, you must have a solid credit score, usually at least 660, a history of making on-time payments on your student loans and other debts, and a steady income.
Furthermore, if you have federal student loans, you should consider keeping them for their benefits. For instance, June had federal loans, so she didn’t need to refinance or anything.
In a nut shell, I refinanced my loans and obtained a lower rate. We had to think critically about refinancing as a married couple. For example, June kept her federal student loans separate while I got a lower rate on my private loans. In the end, it worked out. We hit the ground running on our student debt, and then we started to think about retirement, an auto loan, and eventually a mortgage.
Related: 4 Reasons Why We Are Frugal
Summing It All Up and Moving Forward
Overall, thinking strategically and planning ahead gave us the ability to successfully manage our debt. In doing this, we set ourselves up for other financial moves while also leading us closer to starting a bigger family which is the moral of the story.
Very early on, we started by always paying our bills on time — each and every month, with the help of our dual income. While doing this, we established plans for our leading debt concern – student debt.
We acted on these plans, knowing that it would set us up for the future financial moves. All of this would ultimately lead to starting a family.
All of this is much easier to think about without having to worry about kids, though that’s just an assumption at this point. Another thing to mention is how thinking strategically today with debt will impact our ability to manage finances down the road when we do have kids. It’s all good practice, especially considering the communication side of things.
All in all, our strategy for our student loans led to better debt management overall. Over the several years since then, June and I managed cut into June’s share of student debt considerably – bringing it down to around the $10k marker. At the same time, we made progress on my share, paying off a little more compared to June’s debt.
Overall, it’s been manageable in our budgets. Since then, we’ve managed to make other successful moves like buying our house and new cars.
The car we were able to get within a year and half of refinancing, and our house became more affordable after a few years. Getting closer to the finish line on all of these obligations is what’s bringing us a step closer to our goal of having kids.
While putting off having children isn’t the right choice for everyone, making the decision to wait to have kids so that we could pay off our student loans simply made sense. It will put us in a better financial position, leading to a stronger financial future. We don’t have a specific goal in terms of years or numbers in mind, but we know it will be in the next few years at least.
If I had to gauge it in some other way, I’d say we plan on having kids before are debt is completely gone, though a significant portion of it will be gone. The reason we aren’t waiting until the end is because we’re getting older! After all, we need energy to raise kids from what I observed.