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How marriage affects your student loans

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Repayments, tax credits and other changes that come with tying the knot.

Getting married can lead to serious changes in your personal finances — and your student loans are no exception. It can potentially change your repayment plan and eligibility for tax deductions and credits, while also opening you up to more refinancing options. You also might be responsible for your spouse’s debt in certain situations.

4 ways marriage affects your student loan repayments

There are several ways that getting married can change how you pay off your student loans — especially if you file a joint tax return. It can help you manage your repayments, but it also might mean you owe more or less than you might have.

1. Your income-driven repayment plan could change

If you and your spouse decide to file a joint tax return, your income-based repayments could change. That’s because your repayments are now based on your combined adjusted gross income, rather than your individual one.

You might pay more if your spouse adds income but has fewer debts. But if your spouse also has student loans — or other types of debt in their name — your repayments could go down.

In some cases, you might not be eligible for your income-driven repayment (IDR) plan at all.

2. You might be eligible for more refinancing options

Marriage can widen your options for refinancing by helping you meet income requirements. Some lenders consider your household income when you apply for refinancing — though not all. This could help you qualify for a better deal, even without bringing them on as a cosigner.

3. You might be able to consolidate your student loans together

A few refinancing providers like PenFed and Purefy allow married couples to consolidate their loans together. Here, you’d get one repayment based on your combined student loans.

Consolidating your student loans could be particularly helpful for couples that share expenses, have a wide gap between incomes or don’t want to apply for separate refinancing.

4. You could be responsible for your spouse’s private student loans if they die

If your spouse dies before paying off their student loans, you might become responsible for some or all of that debt. Federal student loans won’t be transferred to your name, but some private loans might.

You can find out if this could happen to you by reading the terms and conditions of your spouse’s loan documents — and prevent it by encouraging them to refinance with another lender.

How to calculate student loan repayments after marriage

Whether or not your student loan repayments change mainly depends on if you file joint or separate taxes or if you refinance. If you decide to file jointly, you can calculate your student loan repayments by using the Department of Education repayment estimator.

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If you want a change in your repayments, you could refinance at a lower interest rate or get more favorable terms.

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Is my spouse responsible for my student loans?

There are four main situations where your spouse might be responsible for your student loans:

  • If you die. Some private student loan providers might make the next of kin responsible for student loan repayments if a borrower dies.
  • If they cosigned your loan. All cosigners are responsible for the debt they cosign unless you apply for cosigner release.
  • If you live in a community property state. If you live in one of the nine community property states, you’re both responsible for all debt you take on during your marriage.
  • If you default. Your spouse’s tax return might be garnished if you default on a federal student loan and you filed your taxes jointly. However, you can prevent this by filing an injured spouse claim.

How marriage affects student loan taxes

Getting married might affect your eligibility for certain education-related tax credits and deductions.

Lifetime Learning Credit

The Lifetime Learning Credit (LLC) is a tax credit of up to $2,000 meant to help cover the cost of higher education. You could lose your eligibility if you file a joint return and your combined modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) is over $134,000.

However, if you meet the income requirements and are covering your spouse’s education expenses, you can become eligible for LLC whether you file jointly or individually.

American Opportunity Tax Credit

Parents can benefit from the American Opportunity Tax Credit (AOTC), which is a tax credit of up to $2,500 for the first four years of your child’s higher education. If the tax credit covers your taxes, then you can receive 40% of the remaining credit as a refund, up to $1,000.

However, you might not be able to to meet the income requirements if you and your spouse file jointly and they have a high income. You can’t receive the full credit if your MAGI is over $180,000 or partial credit if it’s over $160,000.

Student loan interest deduction

You won’t be able to deduct up to $2,500 in interest repayments from your taxes if you:

  • Are married but file separately.
  • Have a joint MAGI of $165,000 or more.

Step-by-step guide to claiming your student loan interest deduction

Talk about debt before you get married
Debt might not be the most romantic conversation, but knowing how you’re going to handle the nitty gritty is a huge part of having a legal partnership. You might want to discuss:

  1. How much debt you both have. Take a look at your balances and be honest about how much student loans and other types of debt you have in your name.
  2. How you plan on dividing up finances. Do you plan on splitting costs neatly down the middle? Have one person cover student loan repayments, while the other handles the mortgage? Having a clear plan can help keep your relationship strong.

What happens to student loans in a divorce?

If you get divorced, you likely won’t be responsible for any student loans your spouse took on before you got married. However, debt you took on after you got married might be another story.

If you and your spouse signed a prenup, then your debts are kept separate. But you could end up responsible for your partner’s debt if you live in a community property state — though it’s usually up to your lawyers to come to a settlement agreement that the judge then approves.

Bottom line

Unless you file a joint tax return or live in a community property state, marriage might not have much of an impact on your student loans. However, it could open you up to more refinancing options and limit your ability to file for tax deductions. Learn more about how it all works by reading our guide to student loans.

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