Is Debt a Dating Deal-Breaker?

A few weeks ago, I went on a few dates with a guy that disclosed his student debt (which was less than my original total of $20,575) and his car payment, which allowed me to guesstimate the loan balance.

By our second date, I knew he was in the hole $50,000

(maybe more — who knows if there was a credit card or two hiding somewhere)


In my head I was thinking, “at $1,000/mo payments that would take 50 months to pay off! That’s over 4 years! IF he’s even putting that much towards the debt! Who puts $1,000/mo towards debt except crazy PF bloggers anyway?”

Since I primarily think that a long-term relationship means the sharing-of-all-things, a huge part of me was asking if I wanted to take on that burden. With my debt-free date only a year or so away, was I in the mood to push it into my 30’s?

I started thinking of all the things I wanted over the next 5 years:

a car

a condo

a six-figure net worth

a five-figure stock portfolio

but most of all, not to worry about money the way I do now

Debt is a one-of-a-kind, soul-crushing burden. It puts a damper on every day. It turns my decent salary into pittance. It forces me to go without many things I enjoy. Ultimately, it just exhausts me with its demands on my bank balance. I want to keep the money I earn, I don’t want to give it away to my past spending — or someone else’s.

$50,000+ of debt was a dating deal-breaker for me.

*disclaimer: there were obviously additional circumstances at play, eg. I wouldn’t dump a medical student $50K in the hole. Details omitted for privacy.

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  1. I don’t blame you one bit. You’ve worked so hard to get where you’re at, and that would mean practically starting over. I’ve heard somewhere (probably on the internet) that finances are the number one reason for divorce, so if you already know that this guy has some serious debt that you don’t want to inherit, I’d say you made the best choice for you!

  2. I don’t know if the number alone would matter to me. But I’m in the States where six-figure student loan debt is not too uncommon. (It’s absurd!) It would be more about how the guy handled being that much in debt, rather than the actual amount.

    • I think age plays a large factor as well. Now that I’m in my almost-late-twenties where most people have been out of university for a few years, there’s the expectation that they’ve made some progress with their finances. This man was 28 or 29 and a working professional, there was no justification for his debt load.

  3. I think that the worst part is that, if his loan is less than 20k and he still has over 50k in debt, he has over 30k in CAR LOANS!? That’s ridiculous; good move Bridget

    • That’s what I thought! But he was driving a new car and seemed to think it was a worthy purchase?? It was weird. When I referred to his car loan as debt he said, “well I don’t really count that because I’ve budgeted for it”…. and I was like no you didn’t, you budgeted for the monthly payment which isn’t the same as budgeting for the actual purchase.

      • hahaha. I think PF bloggers are a different breed. It’s hard to relate to people who are still going into debt and don’t think it’s a problem, and you’re so right, it’d be really difficult to date someone and potentially get strapped with that debt yourself. Maybe we should create a PF dating website? :P

        • BAHAHAHA actually Mikhaila from Fist full o’ dollars and I were talking about this — how being a PF blogger makes you act totally different and you see things as wrong or bad that a less concerned consumer wouldn’t even think about.

          I found a great deal on an awesome car this weekend but then I couldn’t go through with it because I kept thinking about my bottom line and believe it or not, was worried about what the blog readers would think of me! I was just like, “I can’t finance a car! That doesn’t make any sense! Everyone would be so mad!”

  4. I don’t think it should be a deal breaker unless there’s other reasons, which obviously there were–you said so. If he were Mr. Right, there wouldn’t be a question. There would just be a long sigh…lol.

  5. Yeah that would definitely scare me away as well!

  6. mochiandmacarons says:

    This is a common thing, I think. BF was really surprised when he heard I was $60K in debt. He was sympathetic, but certainly not going to step in and pay off my tuition. He was even more pleased (although a bit scared) at how crazy I was in getting rid of it. I went pretty nuts near the end and refused to spend even a penny unnecessarily. It all worked out.

    • I had a similar situation when telling my boyfriend I was 60K in debt.. it’s nerve-wracking ! Luckily it worked out for me too. And although I’m not even close to paying it off yet, he’s definitely proud of how well I am doing and how financially responsible I am being ! It’s hard to know when to tell someone stuff like that too.. too early seems like you’re jumping the gun, but waiting until you’re more serious feels like you’re being dishonest!

      • haha that’s true, your debt is even more than this… but like I said in an above comment, I think age plays a big factor. This guy was late twenties — think how much you’ll have paid off 3-5 years from now? It definitely won’t be $60K anymore!

  7. I don’t think it would be a deal breaker for me, but it would make me pump the breaks a little. But to each their own, and I don’t fault you for not wanting to get too deep into a relationship when he has a major red flag and it is not something you want to deal with.

  8. Hmmm… do you know how long the term is on the car payment and where he’s at? I’m just wondering about the total is all :-) All the missing details have me asking questions! I have a huge car loan, but that’s because the rate was so much less than the mortgage or stock market returns. It’s very high per month, but spread out over a short amount of time and is actually the more logical thing to do in our situation.

    • haha the car was brand, brand new. Like he had only gotten it 2 months ago. Payments were $500/mo so assuming a 5 year term (though knowing this guy, it might be longer… I wish I knew more about cars so I could guess the cost) it would be $30,000

      There’s a lot of missing details that really were the deal breakers… but the car really sunk it. The fact that he thought that was a good purchase and said he “budgeted for it” was what made me think we do not have the same perspective about money at all.

  9. I went out with someone who went to my school who came out with over $30,000 in debt. There was no second date because no matter what math I did, I couldn’t understand how he came out with that much debt. (We both did quite a few, well-paying internships that realistically should have covered the majority of the school costs, except perhaps $10-15k at most, not $30k.)

    • There was some of that with this guy too. Based on his living situation, I had no idea how he owed anything in student loans. The car could be played off as a young & foolish materialistic accident but I have no idea why he had student debt.. especially more than me despite being out of school a whole year longer.

  10. At first I was a bit surprised that you would consider moderate debt a dealbreaker BUT once you framed it as a lifestage issue I got it a bit better. You want someone who matches your maturity level in a variety of ways, financial among them.

    • moderate debt? I think $50K is a huge debt =\ I would consider $10,000-$30,000 moderate debt and anything less than $10,000 little debt.

      There’s not really any way to explain how bad this really was without disclosing too much of his personal details but suffice it to say he should not have had ANY debt given the circumstances he was in lol

  11. Wow I don’t blame you. I was lucky enough that my fiancée had $0 in debt when we got engaged, and he’s far more debt averse than me. I couldn’t imagine trying to date someone with that much debt!

  12. I really like that you posted about this. It has been a huge concern for me as I have been out in the dating world. I’ve worked hard to become debt free and manage my money well. It would be SO difficult to get into a long term relationship where my partner is in such a large amount of debt. I am with you, Bridget, I have a plan of where I want to be financially in the next five, ten years. The other commenters have good points though…if my future partner was working hard to work down their debt, I would be more sympathetic.

    • Commenters are making good points about where people are in their debt repayment. I guess I didn’t include that in this post because this guy didn’t care at all about repaying his debt (until I brought it up)

      I just can’t pull someone out of debt. I simply can’t. It’s so hard to shake my student loans, I don’t want to do it again. I don’t want to spend all my 20’s digging out of a hole. But in a long term relationship or a marriage I would feel obligated, because your financial health as a couple depends on your partner’s. I would be obsessed with killing his debt so we’d be on good financial grounds but I’d be afraid I would resent him for it.

  13. I think it all depends if he was working on getting rid of it or not. It could be only $10K but if it’s still growing and no attempt to get rid, I’d be wary. I’d also be worried about what it was for… Like you said student loans is different from vacations. I guess I’m saying it depends. As I did mention in my tweet though, in general dating dealbreakers though, I do not date vegetarians, vegans or picky eaters. O_O!

  14. My girlfriend had around 80k in debt after getting her 4 year nursing RN degree. I this.k it depends on the type of debt and how they attack it. When we get married I will be helping her pay it off ASAP. If it was credit card debt I would be worried though.

  15. I think it depends on how my much they make. If they can pay it off in a year it two I would feel better about it.

    • He could pay it off in a year or two — well, I know he could but he didn’t think he could, which was really what sunk the relationship. We just had totally different perspectives on how much money that really was.

  16. Very interesting. Was the guy really good looking? I think for most of us, it’s not about how great looking the guy is – but rather if he can provide for our needs down the road. We have these things in mind even if we’re just going out on a few dates and you certainly thought about it quite a bit. Now if he was a lawyer-to-be, you wouldn’t have much to worry about :)

    • Are you kidding me?

      I actually loathe this perspective and I’m embarrassed on behalf of my gender that women still feel justified holding the expectation that a man should “provide” for them.

      I’m looking for a partner, not an alternative income stream. I was put off by his debt because I want an equal that has the same financial priorities and goals, not because his debt and/or income would prevent him from being able to take care of me.

      Let’s get out of the 1950’s please.

  17. See, I don’t think Veronica was totally off-base in thinking that this is what you had in mind when you wrote the post. That bit at the end about the medical student being 50K in debt? A high income earning potential doesn’t necessarily come hand-in-hand with financial responsibility. So what was the point of that little aside?

    I find this post somewhat problematic. On one hand, you refrain from telling us any details that would show us whether this guy is totally irresponsible with his money, or just, you know, an average guy. Yes, he has debt, but so do you. Does he have a plan to pay it off? Does his income allow him to pay it off in a timely way? I understand that you don’t want to put identifying information on the internet, but then why post this in this manner at all? You could just write generically about not wanting to date someone who is irresponsible with money.

    I guess what’s missing from this post is: how was this guy any different from you, apart from the amount of his debt (as guesstimated by you)? I assume he was, because I assume you’re not a hypocrite. But the distinction is left unclear as far as I’m concerned. I agree with the importance of financial responsibility as a criterion in picking a partner, but this post doesn’t do a very good job of spelling that out (if, indeed, that is your point). It’s just “debt, ew!” which is a bit ironic in the circumstances.

    • The aside was to prevent comments like “what about medical school? what about law school? what about blah blah blah”. While I understand that the amount of debt can be circumstantial, there is rarely a reason for a man in their late twenties to be $50,000 in the hole — particularly when his student loans represented less than 20% of that total.

      After a recent post about on Fabulously Broke about how she felt perfectly justified demanding a man pay for her dinner, buy her nice things and take care of her even though she COULD do it herself she just shouldn’t HAVE to, I’m extremely disappointed with the number of women that sympathized with her point of view. There was justifications using everything biology to tradition, it was pretty gross. I do not wish to be perceived as one of those women. Frankly, this topic deserves a post of its own — which I would like to write but am somewhat wary about the unavoidable backlash from the girls that do think a spouse is supposed to fund their every whim.

      What my post should have communicated (and I thought I did, but perhaps I wasn’t clear enough) was that I wasn’t interested in having a partner that would drain MY finances. Getting into a long-term relationship with someone means sharing everything 50-50 — so this guy would be detrimental to my net worth and prevent me from reaching my financial goals. How come no one’s cheering for the guy and insisting that I could have taken care of him? That’s what was in my mind when I saw his debt. I’m comfortable being the main breadwinner but why should I pay off his car loan when I don’t even own a vehicle let alone a brand new one?

  18. John S @ Frugal Rules says:

    It would depend on the other circumstances and not wholly dependent on the debt. I would have to see if there were other issues that helped explain the debt. If there were other things going on like an unwillingness to reign it in or lack of concern that definitely would be a tipping point to being a dealbreaker.

    • Lack of concern was definitely the tipping point — though he seemed seriously concerned when he saw how put off I was about it! Maybe I whipped him into shape for the next girl ;)

  19. There are so many factors other than the number for me. If that were the case, I’d be alone because no one would want me with the debt I had/have. (which are only student loans and I’m agressively paying off btw) For me, it depends on the TYPE of debt and the goal for payoff. If you’re actively working at paying it off and your lifstyle reflects that i.e living frugally and not CREATING any new debt, then I’m all for sticking by you and supporting you…MORALLY. But if you’ve got ridiculous car loan debt and credit card debt and still buying drinks for you and all of your friends every Friday night or taking fancy vacations, uuh nuh! Never! It all boils down to financial responsibility which is important to me. Everyone isn’t always smart with money their whole lives, but have you learned, not commiting the same mistakes and are you projected to be out of that hole in the near future?

  20. Undoubtedly, someone with debt would be detrimental to your net worth, assuming that you took on responsibility for helping him pay it off. In the short term. Long term, that depends entirely on that person’s approach to finances (which may or may not be reflected in his current debt status, as I assume yours is not reflected in your current debt status). My husband was $30K in debt when we met (I had zero debt and a sizable chunk of savings), and his job prospects weren’t so hot either (as a recent graduate in a field affected by the economic downturn). Four years later, we have zero debts, a house, a car, and six-figure net worth. And I have a spouse who is an amazing partner and father. Had I only looked at his finances on paper, getting into a relationship with him could easily have looked like the worst decision ever. Did my net worth suffer in the short term? Yes. Am I better off in the long run? Hell yes.

    So I guess it comes down to what kind of relationship “horizon” you’re considering. Although, having said, presumably you wouldn’t be “taking on” anyone’s debt unless you were planning on being with them long term. In which case, focusing on the long term picture, versus the short term effect, is worth doing. imo :)

    • That’s true, that’s a very good perspective. I know people have more to offer (and have more flaws) than their bank balance but… well, maybe I’m still not sure what I’m even looking for haha. If I was ready to settle down into a serious relationship, I might be considerate of other circumstances and just go with my heart, but since I was just focusing on the math it was too much of a headache!

      Perhaps he disclosed his debt too early. If he did it after 2-3 months of dating maybe I would have been crazy enough for him to overlook it ;) haha

  21. Yup it would be a deal breaker for me, sorry. When Mrs.CBB and I got together we both had no debt at all so it worked out great. We also had the same ideals when it came to money and saving. Money is the leading cause of divorces and I didn’t want debt to stand in the way of our happiness.

  22. I don’t think debt itself is a huge problem; I think the guy’s underlying relationship with money is the important issue. If someone had a huge medical bill that was completely out of their control, but they were otherwise financially astute, I probably wouldn’t hesitate to date them. But if someone lives above their means … well, that’s another issue entirely.

    • To me, this is the problem with Bridget’s guy – if he has a $30k car loan, then that is most likely living above his means. If you have a six figure salary, you should be able to pay cash for a car. If you have a lower salary, a $30k car, especially with a loan is living above your means.

      • that’s my reasoning too. And buying a new car.. after owning it for two months, it’s already worth less than he owes on the loan for it!

      • Leigh, why do you assume that a 6 figure salary allows you to pay cash for a car? Is this after years of saving or 1 year only?

        Bridget, Certified Pre Owned is the way to go! That is what I did with my car.

  23. Large debt says a lot about a person, especially if they are much older. If they are freshly out of college, then you should be understanding, but if they are old and irresponsible then I’d say see you later.

  24. Debt isn’t a dealbreaker for me, but I’m not attracted to flashy spending in the form of new cars when there’s a debt to pay off.

    That large debt at that age would probably be a “caution flag” for me. If I liked the guy otherwise, I’d continue dating him and be on the lookout for signs of fiscal irresponsibility. If he took out $100k in student loans at age 18 and has it down to $50k, that’s not bad. If he’s only knocked off a few thousand dollars in several years, that could be a problem.

  25. Man, it took me forever to get through the comments list :)

    I agree with you 50K in debt is crazy! Now, if that 50K was a mortgage it would be different right?

  26. I won’t go into it very deep but I absolutely believe it is very natural either do to animal instinct or tradition that women feel they need to rely on a partner for financial stability as that is the equivilent of 300 years ago when men would literally go kill dinner. I’ll wait for your post on the topic to go deeper (or maybe you can do one side and I’ll do the other and publish same day?).

    As far as the POINT of the post. I am pretty torn. On the one hand The Wife took on 80K of my law school debt, but on the other I agreed when my brother went running for the hills when he found out the girl he was on a date with had 100K+ in student loans AND DIDN”T EVEN FINISH school yet.

    I think it more has to do with the person’s relationship with money – and I am not sure you were able to get a full picture of that after one or two dates? But maybe you were.

    • I said that women were using it as a justification, not that they didn’t feel that way.

      Just because they feel the need to have a partner provide for them, should that be the expectation?

      And after 2 dates, yes I was able to get the full picture.

  27. I’m in this exact situation right now too. I’ve been trying not to look at it as a deal breaker since I really like this girl, but it is so tough to ignore. Every time I think about retirement or any long term planning, that big debt is sitting there in my face. She just doesn’t seem to be in any kind of rush to pay it off either. The finance blogger in me wants to run.

  28. Haha wow, clearly are on the same page, I wrote a similar post about dating deal breakers today lol! And yes I’ve got to say that debt is a dating deal breaker for me.

  29. That’s quite a hard pill to swallow, when considering a long term relationship. The important factor is how he plans to deal with his debt. Hopefully he will take a look at his finances and think about what’s important to him.

  30. Unlike some people who apparently think you’re a gold digger, I totally see your point. I have less than $30,000 of student loans and am a year out of school. I hope to pay it off before I hit 30 (if my income increases). And since my current SO has no loans of any kind, I feel bad that he’ll eventually be tied to my debt (the student loans are my only debt).

    Money is a huge reason people get divorced, so why get interested in someone who is already set in their ways of thinking? I’m so luck to be dating a frugal person, and we both find it easy to talk about finances already. I don’t expect him to clear away all my loans, and he doesn’t expect me to keep him in a certain lifestyle.

  31. *sigh* I won’t get into how unlikely a dating scenario is for me right now, but I do worry about this when it comes to my $45k of student loans. : (

    But a car loan totaling over $30k is ridiculous. What the heck. All for the prestige of owning a new car? Yuck.

  32. I think this depends on the type of person they are vs the type of person you are, and the stage of life you both want to be in. Like many of the commenters already mentioned, it may not be a deal breaker for me, if I knew that the debt was for a good reason (i.e, school), and there was a plan to pay it off in the next X years. Since financial responsibility is important to me, it would be something that I look for in my significant other, as well.

  33. My problem wouldn’t be the debt so much if the person had a plan to pay it off. My problems would be 1) that the person had the desire to finance a car and 2) that the person was obviously okay with a debt culture. David has never had a car payment in his life. Like me, he buys used and fixes them up. (Both of my first cars were totaled at the time of purchase and fixed to like-newish status for much, much less than the cost of a new car or a used car that looked fine off the lot.) I would be thinking of long-term clashes in our personalities if I met a guy who was cool with having a 5-digit car loan.

    But if a person had $20,000 in student loan debt and a solid plan to pay it off? That wouldn’t be a deal breaker for me.

  34. Money is the number one item that couples fight about. My boyfriend hid a consumer debt from me that wasn’t remotely as bad as that number, but I found out two YEARS after we were dating and it blindsided me. I can’t fault your decision, but it obviously depends on each person. I know friends currently in loads of debt with good jobs and aggressive plans to finish them quickly, so it’s not always the number but their actions (or INACTION) toward reducing it that can be the deal breaker.

  35. I am not calling you a gold digger, I think you are making a smart choice about what works for you and your lifestyle. I applaud you for knowing yourself and being honest with everyone involved (including your readers, haha).

    I have a question though about debt and dating in general: do you think that it matters if the partner in debt is a man or a woman? I don’t think anyone has told my boyfriend not to date me, and I’m in $50k of debt too. He has a PhD and high earning potential in his field, and I do not intend for him to support me financially in any way. I am getting out of debt on my own, but it will take me a couple of years. However, he barely raised an eyebrow when I told him of my situation — he just wanted to know how to give me moral support and how it felt to me. There wasn’t much mention of how this would affect him, even though I do think about that.

    Again, not calling you a gold digger AT ALL, but do you think there is any gender component to this?

  36. One of my closest friends lived with, got engaged to, had a huge wedding with, and then got pregnant with a guy, and never talked about money. When she did, right after she got pregnant, she found out he was over $60k in CREDIT CARD debt! He’s 37, and has held a good job in NYC for the last 21 years. It’s all lifestyle. (I also suspect that he may still have student loans) I couldn’t believe they had never talked about money! Now they are stuck in a tiny apt, with her child from her first marriage, and a newborn, because their credit is so bad, and they are trying to go bankrupt.

    • This isn’t that uncommon. When I was engaged in a previous lifetime, we went to a mandatory church retreat. One big topic covered was finances. At the beginning of the session, we were expected to turn to our partners and list all our debts and our credit scores. I’d say 1/4 to 1/3 of the couples had somebody shouting, “You have how much credit card debt?!?”

  37. Sorry! That should be 12 years. I’m on SO many allergy medications today! :P

  38. I’m putting my vote in for what type of debt and from how many sources. $50K from college, but working in a field with potential for advancement? OK. $45K from college, still with potential for advancement and $5K on a practical used car? Still works for me. $20K in student loans and $30K on a new car, nope. It’s not just the number, it’s about lifestyle choices, and anybody who wants to go $30K into debt for a car is not somebody who has the same lifestyle goals as I do.

  39. 50k is debt is nothing considering it a school and a car loan. If everything is budgeted for an allocated properly, why is it an issue? 30k for a car gets you slightly into a luxury model or a loaded regular car.

    What is his monthly payment for both?

    I think everyone here is being overly critical and extreme on the debt payoff lifestyle of PF Bloggers.

    • Are you kidding? His car payment was $500/mo. Not sure about the student loans but assuming it was similar to mine they’d be nearly $200/mo.

      I have no idea why he bought a $30,000 car. I’ve been looking at getting a vehicle for myself and I was looking for cheaper than that, even though I earn nearly $20K more per year than this guy =\

      It doesn’t matter what kind of debt it is, you have to pay it off. Just think if he had settled for a slightly cheaper car (even the same car, just used) and his payment was only $300/mo. That’d be an extra $200 that he could save.

      I’m definitely one of the less hardcore PF bloggers, but I think it’s important to be responsible. That big of a car loan on an average salary is irresponsible.

      • Mister Stress says:

        $500 is on the high side. My limit is $400 a month, but only if the rate is under 2%. I would pay cash if I was unable to secure a load under 2%.

        You are much more intimate with this gentleman’s earnings that I am, so I do not know what he is capable an not capable of.

  40. mrsplungedindebt says:

    This sort of makes me laugh. I guess since my husband and I have been together since high school it’s different but I don’t think I would ever not be with someone (I was really in to) because of his debt load, especially school debt. As long as there’s honestly around the money issue it can be worked on. It’s when there are secrets or no conversation that problems arise. I might have serious questions if he owed 50k to department stores or something but I have over 100k in student debt. My poor husband. Our debt payments (not including mortgage or car) are well over $1000/month. Yes most of it is school and yes we make good money but debt is debt.

  41. I’m more interested on how all this came up on the first & second dates! I’ve definitely been doing it wrong!

    The only time money is mentioned on dates for me (other than who will pay the bill) is if writing comes up and then I mention having a personal fiance blog and then we just start talking about how flipping expensive rents are around here. I’ve never had debt come up though, maybe because I’ve been out of school a while?

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