Personal Finance: Til debt do us part

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Michelle Singletary
Thursday, September 16, 2010; 10:29 AM

We all dread the clichéd break up line: "It's not you, it's me." What if it's really not you, but your debt?

Unfortunately, for one 31-year-old woman profiled in a New York Times story, that was the case. Her debt damaged her love life. The woman had shared with her fiancé that she thought she had student loan debt of more than $100,000. She was making monthly payments of about $1,100. But the fiancé broke off their engagement after finding out she actually had about $170,000 in debt.

That sent her man packing.

In the Times piece, the woman said: "He accused me of lying, but if I was lying, I was lying to myself, not to him. I didn't really want to know the full amount."

This woman's situation brings up important questions: Are people up front with themselves about how much they owe? And when, if at all, they should disclose their debt details during courtship?

Times personal finance columnist Ron Lieber explored this very touchy issue recently in How Debt Can Destroy a Budding Relationship.

My take on the issue is that the first date is too soon and the honeymoon is too late. But of course, that leaves a lot of gray area.

"Even if disclosure doesn't render you unmarriageable, tricky questions linger," Lieber writes.

Lieber asks:

-- If one person brings a huge debt to a relationship, who is ultimately responsible for making good on the obligation?

-- If the debt is very high (like $170,000 in student loan debt) won't the more solvent partner resent that debt over time no matter how early the disclosure comes?

What do you think? Send your comments to colorofmoney@washpost.com. Put 'Til Debt Do Us Part' in the subject line.


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