I feel physically ill just thinking about this... Not because I went through it, but because I have two kids in college. $170K is the size of a home mortgage in most places... You need $60K/yr or more annual income to service that beast, and so around $100K/yr to carry that *plus* a modest house.

I think what Dan is saying is that LW probably already knows the Yes or No to his question, and no one can make that decision for him. When I bought my house with my then-girlfriend, I did the calculus of things like a failed relationship etc (particularly because I was bringing the entire down payment to the table) and decided love was more important than some mythical "equal financial situation", yet I may very well have balked if she had been carrying a debt at least twice my yearly income.... at least my girlfriend (now wife) was debt free.
Also, if the LW's girlfriend didn't lie, then I think she was probably "willfully ignorant" as to the amount of debt she had. And I'm not sure that lying to yourself is any better than lying to you "house buying partner".
Am I the only one who thinks that, if they break up (and they probably should, if they're this financially incompatible), she's the one who's dodging a bullet more than him? Debts can be paid off, financial savvy can be learned, but character doesn't change (at least, not easily). Maybe it's just me, but I would definitely not want to be with a partner whose reaction to a setback is to freak out and drop me instantly, rather than freaking out and then working together to find a solution. I agree with Dan, the LW already knows what he wants to do, he just needs someone to assure him that he's doing the right thing. Even if they stay together, every time she indulges in a pint of Ben and Jerry's or buys a new dress, he'll probably be thinking or saying "What did you get that for? You could have used that money to pay off your debts. We have a TIMETABLE to follow."

It's completely understandable that he is upset by the amount of debt and her inability to take charge of her finances, and that it isn't fair for him to assume responsibility for it, but considering the LW's first reaction (seriously, he found out about this *last night*) is to write to an advice columnist instead of sitting her down and having a long talk about the future, I really don't think he's much of a prize either.

@54, I was thought more Rachel and Ross:
Rachel: One minute I'm holding Ben like a football. The next thing I know, I've got two kids and I'm living in Scarsdale complaining about the taxes!
Ross: Well I'm sorry. I think about stuff.
Dump her.

The two things couples fight most about are 1) how to raise the kids and 2) money. You are obviously not on the same page regarding how to structure your finances, so save yourself time/ future pain and get out now while the getting is good. Chalk this up as a life incompatibility, one your were fortunate enough to discover before you started sharing children and long-term debt.

Dump her.
I don't see where the law school debt speculation is coming from. The LW says they met in college 6 years ago (21 and 20), so the relationship didn't start in graduate school. Now, she might have attended a graduate school following college, but that isn't stated and it doesn't fit with the other facts in the letter (e.g., living together for 3 years (since she was 23) and she had time to start managing her finances and paying off her debt, which is not realistic if she graduated law school at ~25, 1 year ago).

So, student loans may play a large role in this problem, but we have someone who has probably been out of college for 3 or 4 years, but whose debt is growing, not shrinking.

If he loves her, he should definitely give her a chance to set course on a better financial path. But he shouldn't buy a house with her, take on her debts (although helping her with current living expenses is appropriate) or propose or otherwise entangle himself legally. Then see if she is worthy of his trust, and is interested in growing up. I could forgive someone being spacey about college debts while they are young, or getting trapped in a debt spiral. But it's also legitimate to make her prove that is in her past, and that you can trust her and that you share common goals. Without those, both people will be miserable long term.
I'm with the "dump her" crowd, or at least the "don't marry her right away" crowd. It's sad, but at 26 you should have all your shit into at least a minimal pile. I am not sure ignorance is any better than out-right lying here. Being ignorant about close to $100k in debt--especially while talking about making major financial and life commitments--that's bad.

I suspect I'll be unpopular for saying this, but if that really is all student debt (which seems unclear), that shows some bad choices about education--and not just on her part, but on the part of her parents, who (I presume, given today's culture) okay-ed or encouraged the choices that led to that debt. And parents often set the tone and the values for the kid. So even if you want to say "She was 18, she didn't know any better," I bet that type of thoughtlessness will continue.

Actually, I think Crinoline's suggestion at the end of @54 may be best. Show her the letter, and she how she reacts. Does she own up to the major issue she's caused, or does she say "you're supposed to love me no matter what"? That'll tell you a lot.
There sure are a lot of people on this comment thread who don't seem to live in the world I see around me. "we have someone who has probably been out of college for 3 or 4 years, but whose debt is growing, not shrinking. "

I see people graduate from college and be unable to find a job--virtually any job that pays a living wage. I see people take years to find an entry-level job in the field they want or even anything beyond part-time, benefit-less, unskilled labor. Almost everyone I know is struggling to a greater or lesser extent and I know people whose income sounds impressive. People's "average" expenses are staggering. In the San Francisco Bay Area, which is where I live, rents are virtually extortionate and everywhere the housing prices are skyrocketing.

It doesn't take much to find yourself unable to keep up with the expenses of life for most of us. Perhaps this woman could have done a better job of managing her money; certainly she should be more aware of her circumstances (if she's telling the truth; if not, she shouldn't be lying); perhaps the lw shouldn't consider joining their lives for a number of other, not always-related reasons: they met young and should both get more dating experience to know what/who they really want, and if they have such a profoundly different way of living life and if he is too rigid to be able to deal with the curveballs life throws; but y'all are treating being in extreme debt as a moral failing, and I think that part of the response is too harsh.
@103 -- You call $170 000 in debt straight out of the starting gate--half of it a surprise, somehow--a "setback"? What else qualifies?

"Honey, I just killed this hobo for fun and now I don't know what to do with the body." "Hmm, that is a setback. Let's brainstorm a solution together."

I would call it a millstone--one that his girlfriend wants him to voluntarily wear around his neck.
@99: Of course you glossed over the lie.

Have you actually purchased a home since the junk mortgage collapse? Do you have any clue how much documentation is required?

She committed a serious financial infidelity by intentionally withholding her full state of debt. There is no possible way someone could not know this beyond if it was identity theft, which it is not. Again, maybe it's still worth it, but treating her like a stupid child is not doing either of you any favors.
@103 I doubt you're the only one to think that, and I definitely think that both of them might be better off without each other. But I don't see his reaction as out of line with the facts here. He was worried about her finances, talked to her about them numerous times, but didn't let that get in the way of planning a future with her or buying a house. And then he discovers that his worries and concerns were vastly understated.

As an analogy, we might think that a partner being concerned about another partner's drinking exhibited some controlling tendencies, and often that is true. But what if he then discovered that she had 2 or 3 undisclosed DUI convictions? He's probably being too relaxed about the problem, not too controlling. Here, everything the LW was concerned about was true, and much worse than he expected.
@107: This isnt about student loan debt and the concerns of modern life this is someone who presented two numbers, one to her partner and another to the bank. Why conflate the two? If you have student loans, these are usually up front understood. They don't lurk unseen. They are not a surprise.
(And you know when you need to consolidate them.)
Ha! Nice point about moral failing, nocute. My problem is her not even knowing that she's carrying that much debt, still less trying to do something about it. That shows a level of not taking responsibility for one's life that borders on the breathtaking. If that's how you live your life, then fine, but you can't expect someone else to carry that load for you simply because lurv.

"I see people graduate from college and be unable to find...any job that pays a living wage." Yes, but don't you teach English?

I mean, how could you even pull a "whoopsidoodle" like that when you were dating the person while all that debt was accumulated? I try to conceptualize and empathize but keep falling short to any other scenario that would involve total amnesia over the scope of 4-5 years.

Could someone offer a nonfantastical scenario? ;p
@107 I understand your point, but I think you are reading a lot of speculation into the letter. Sure, the reality is that reasonable people might be unable to get on tracked out of college (I'm 42, so I graduated at a much better time, I understand). But we have to deal with the facts in the letter. This couple isn't just talking about a house together, they have actually put down an offer on a house and applied to the bank for a loan. If the scenario you propose existed, the girlfriend absolutely should and would have said to him, "I can't do this now." In fact, she never would have had to say that because he would have known that she was not making income to cover their current rent and expenses, much less a house payment and added costs of home ownership (they've lived together for 3 years).

No, the LW might be misstating things, but based on what's in the letter, we have someone who he thinks is making enough to cover her current expenses and start saving for a down payment. I'm comfortable with my assessment based upon the facts provided.
This is one of the reasons I talk about money. I'll volunteer my income, my mortgage, my level of debt and the lucky circumstances that allowed me to land where I am. If we don't talk about money then how are people supposed to know what a given lifestyle costs? And what is realistic for them?
Okay, okay. You guys all wore me down. The girlfriend is evil. She's ignorant. Or she's a liar. Or at the least, she withholds. She's irresponsible. She's a child and will stay a child. This is too high a debt to consider dealing with.
nocute @107: I'll agree with LateBloomer that the issue isn't the debt so much as the ignorance of it, and what that means for her ability (or willingness) to take on the grown-up life they've been planning together.

It's one thing to have a lot of bad luck financially (or rather, no good luck, in the case of not being able to get a good job, etc.) and to be in tough financial straits. As you say, that's not uncommon at all, and it's not a moral failing. Then you and your partner can figure out together what tack you want to take. But to lie about it, or be totally clueless about it; that's another thing altogether, and in my opinion, that *is* a moral failing (or close enough for government work).

On a related note, I've become increasingly ambivalent about the worth of a college degree in many cases, especially at small private schools where it is totally possible to rack up over $100k in debt getting a degree. But that's another conversation.
@98 "My mama always told me that it is just as easy to fall in love with a rich woman as a poor one!" except that only 1% of the population are 1%ers :-)

@83 nocutename -- sorry to hear things are tough for you now, and that you'd like to have a partner but don't at the moment -- your comments always sound sensitive and well grounded, like you'd be a great catch. sometimes it's a number's game, keep at it! you are right, it is more difficult later in life to find someone but not impossible, but there are barriers so you have to try harder -- less free time, people get fixed in their ways, okcupid data shows that men (gay and straight) prefer younger partners so age is a barrier for straight women and gay men. like Dan says find as much in life to love as you can, and build a network of friends for support
@117 Et tu, Brute?
Undead @114, I can offer a nonfantastical (but sad) scenario. Compulsive spenders have addictive personalities. They are very good at compartmentalizing and minimizing however much they have spent, month after month and year after year. They literally "forget" their massive debt, so they don't feel shame or hesitation in the moment when they plunk down the plastic for the next shiny new thing. My guess is that she was truly as shocked as he was, and it was the bank's credit bureau check that turned up the discrepancy. LW says he got the info about the extra $90K from the bank's forms, not from her application, and he further said that her cluelessness is due to "laziness and apathy" (=compartmentalization). If there is any hope at all for this couple, I think it lies in LW's fiancee admitting her problem, getting a boatload of professional counseling to fix the proverbial holes in her bucket, and finally getting her own financial ship back on course - with LW's help, if he chooses to offer it - BEFORE the two of them marry.
@117: Come now, I never said she was evil or that she's not deserving of love because she deceived this guy with her willfully undisclosed debt (if it was accidental he would've stated explicitly.)

This is a red flag and only he knows the exacts on how he should progress. Hopefully my strong opinions on someone hiding debt until it was forcibly uncovered aren't being taken as an attack on anyone over their heads through circumstances.

Just through my own months of credit checks and faxing and emails and documentation and discussions, the idea that someone could think they could sneak anything by of that magnitude is absolutely alien to me.

Debt does not a bad person make, what they do with their debt and how it is allowed to harm those they care about can certainly make their situation less sympathetic.
LW - Could you Buy a smaller cheaper house in your name only (and establish prenup) and stay with partner. Give her 6 months or a year to shape up financially. She probably won't but if you can't end it with out one last try, maybe this could be a way to go?
If we're looking at the financials of true love, $170 000 can buy a stupendous amount of time with a prostitute.

*ducks again*
@124 LateBloomer

Ah, but the sort of loyalty, the standard of love outlined in these comments can be obtained for free. With lovers like these, who needs enemies?

I like how the onus is always on the responsible party to unconditionally and always make the decision to stay with the person who hurts them, or else they are the "disloyal" party that can't experience twoo love.
@124: LateBloomer, I'm confused: who is the prostitute for? The gf is the one who spent the money--should she have been hiring prostitutes instead of being with the lw?
Or should the lw marry the gf and then spend another $170,000 on prostitutes as some sort of vengeance?

Or . . . oh, I see! The lw should dump the gf and instead of paying off her debts with her, should take that same amount and spend it on prostitutes because then he's getting an even exchange--sex with his girlfriend over the past however many years and sex with his theoretical future wife for an indefinite amount of time exchanged for lots of hired sex.
Yes, bravo! After all, it is exactly the same thing.
I agree with you CatB, no way was I anywhere near ready to pick a life partner @ 20 yrs of age, and, variety. Must be a Scorpio thing.
@127 nocutename

Caught up, have you? Yes, it's all about cash and getting your dick rubbed. Actually, I'm rubbing my dick with cash right now.
@108, that's comparing apples and oranges, and you know it. Having a large amount of debt is not the same as committing a major crime and hoping your partner will help you cover it up.

And yes, this a setback. A major setback, true. But still just a setback. What it really means is that they might not be able to afford the perfect house according to his timetable, because it doesn't sound like her credit is ruined or anything. So what's going to happen the next time something happens to his dream plan? What if the perfect house in the suburbs burns down? One of the kids is born with severe disabilities? One of them develops an incurable disease, like multiple sclerosis or cancer? At 26, you could say that she should have some understanding of finances, but at 27, you could also say that he should know by now that life doesn't always go the way you planned.

Having and concealing crushing debt is bad, yes. I doubt anyone will disagree with that. But people can and have gotten out of much worse circumstances. I personally know someone who went from being homeless to pulling herself together, getting a decent-paying job, and is now saving every penny for her dream home. He's acting like it's the end of the world that things aren't going according to his plan (seriously, "I want [...] I want [...] I want [...] I don't see any of this happening now." Really? Like, ever?).

@110 - I think his reaction is out of line because, instead of trying to talk about it with the person it concerns the most - i.e. his fiancee - his first course of action was to go to a third party who does not know them personally, knows nothing about their finances, and doesn't know how their relationship works. That, to me, indicates he wants validation for his decision - he wants advice from someone who only knows his side of the story, not someone who knows them both and is in a better position to understand what's going on (for example, is the fiancee simply overwhelmed by debt and is one of those people who deals with it by optimistically hoping it'll go away? Is all the debt from student loans, or did she add to it with a spending habit? Is she in a position to look for a better-paying job that will help her pay off her debt more quickly? And most importantly, what is *her* attitude to this whole situation?). His reaction to the amount of her debt is perfectly reasonable. I'm sure that it would be staggering to most people. It's how he is handling the news that I find less than desirable.
I think Capricornius has a good handle on how someone can not realize the extent of their debt, and how she is being neither a liar nor malicious. When you feel overwhelmed like this, some people's response is to bury their head in the sand and continue the behavior and compartmentalize. The fact that she's done this--if indeed this is what has happened--doesn't make the lw childish or immature or an entitled brat; it probably signals a need for some treatment for depression and some cognitive behavioral training. This is do-able.

And I think Cassette tape fan offers a good practical suggestion.

I agree with ciods as to becoming very skeptical of the value of a college education, particularly if it comes from a small, private school.

delta35, thank you for the supportive note.

Unlike the desire to have children or not, or two wildly different libidos or sexual cranks that turn to different and maybe opposing stimuli, learning how to manage your money, even when things are as out-of-hand as this seems to be, is a skill that is not too difficult to learn and put into practice if you're motivated. This kind of issue is one of the few that I think a couples' counselor really can help resolve for the communication-and trust-related collateral issues, and there are debt-consolidation services and financial counselors/planners that can help come up with a plan for a couple to pay off even this amount of debt and someday be able to live at least a version of the American Dream that the lw worries is slipping away.

Finally, I resent that my response which takes into account the complexities of life and an application of compassion for human frailty keeps being reduced to that of a romantic simpleton who believes that love conquers all.

Not always, Undead @126. If you reread my first post @27, I noted that twoo love is not gonna be enough to bridge their vast differences in fiscal responsibility, and both of them will probably be happier in the long run if they split now. Also, how badly has this woman "hurt" the LW by having her addiction revealed by a bank officer? LW says himself that she did not act out of malice, and if I were LW and a religious man, I would be thanking God that I found out about it BEFORE our finances were legally conjoined.
I totally forgot to thank Jina for their contribution @103 and then as I was writing the comment @131, they went and did it again @130. Yes.

#122 Annie, +1.
And I had the same thought as #121, compulsive. This is not 'I fucked up this one time' debt, where you give a bartender a credit card and wake up with a bar bill of a hundy plus. It's not my loveable but addle-pated cousin paying a couple grand for a Mercedes diesel that didn't last out the week. $170,000 is either a big-ticket degree (besides Ivies, law and medicine, anyone know any degrees that cost $40,000 a year on average?) or a degree plus a series of really bad decisions. Like, student fees, and buying a series of things totally out of their budget.
The amount of hand-waving on this thread, equating accumulating six figures of debt with getting fancy rims on your car or three Netflix rentals at a time rather than two (“It's just a setback...") is somewhat....jarring.
There's a saying that you value patience differently, whether it's being displayed by the person behind you in traffic or the person in front of you. Something similar applies to 'tolerance for big debt.'
Without question, we all know someone(s) in debt, just getting by, and once you're in debt, it is indeed hard to get out. #103's blase note that 'debt can be paid off,' was highly reminiscent of Julius Harris in 'Live and Let Die,' telling Roger Moore that it was simple to defeat an alligator in the water, 'You just reach in his mouth, and pull his teeth out.' Yeah, big debt can be paid off, as long as you meet that one Gypsy woman who'll trade you those magic beans for the family horse....
Three figures in debt, hopefully you can make it go away in a couple of weeks of discipline and rationing. Four figures, or five, get your shit together and have a plan. Six, man, you better be focusing like a ninja on the future.
BiDan mentioned being with personality-disorder partner. Done that. Not doing it again. She was also an alcoholic, and possibly possessed, but what became clear was, the fact that she was this way wasn't my problem, I didn't cause it, and I couldn't fix it.
CatBro @134:
besides Ivies, law and medicine, anyone know any degrees that cost $40,000 a year on average?)
Yes, there are many. Pick any small residential liberal arts school on the east coast, add living in the dorms rather than an apartment off-campus (much encouraged, so as to be part of the campus community), and you can get to $40,000/yr easily, doing an undergraduate degree. The school doesn't even need to be well-known, as long as it has small class sizes, up-to-date technology, and other things seen as desirable. Many people do get financial support, but not all. (Of course, I don't think that's the case here, because in that case you'd know about the amount.) If do you all that, and get an art degree...well, you may be in a lot of debt for a long time. Hell, if you do all that and get a bio degree, you may be in a lot of debt for a long time.
1. I question whether this was just an "oversight" and not malice on her part. If after college she is that stupid, I couldn't marry her.

2. I would rather find out my husband cheated than was 90k in debt with out telling me. Before we married, we opened the books.
Nocute @131, I don't see you as a romantic simpleton. You are certainly taking the most optimistic view, but you argue your case well. I can agree with you that the problems described here are fixable, IF both partners are willing to commit to the very hard work over many years that it will take to fix them. But we're talking about two people in their mid-20s, not yet married, suddenly both having to adopt a bare-bones lifestyle in order to reduce her debt load, while also working through some heavy emotional issues with counselors (both alone and together) to end her compulsive spending so they don't fall back into the same trap. Meanwhile, our Man-With-a-Plan is already distraught at the idea of having to scale back on so many of his dreams and expectations. These two have many real-world hurdles to clear before the race is won. Sadly, love does not conquer all.
The college I work for costs undergrads approximately $36,000 per year if they live on campus, which most of them do. And it's not a school with any kind of reputation at all. But it's small. It's pretty easy to rack up the debt. Not that I'm saying that the lw's gf's debt comes from school, but I keep seeing that it's a lot easier to get into serious financial hot water than a lot of you seem to realize.
@Cat Brother

Yeah, it's a lot of debt. Every year the problem grows. Just like the out-of-control healthcare industry. But as I said way, way above it's the norm these days. And as nocutename pointed out, once people graduate they can't find the work to pay it off. People live with their parents, lose hope, and it is absolutely human nature to become overwhelmed by the crushing burden and refuse to admit the reality even to themselves. I know how ashamed and depressed I'd be. But the one person I'd hope to be with me, to have my back, to stand me up and get me moving to the future in my moment of despair...Guess who that would be?
@137: Absolutely. I agree this is unlikely to work, or certainly unlikely to work easily.
The fact she was allowed to go into debt like this is criminal. And if it is student loans, it's not dischargable.
@darkhorserising @136: If this was malice, she chose an odd way to exercise it: they aren't yet married, he can bail at any time, her debt was discovered as part of a credit check while applying for home loans, not after the house was bought. And it's kind of charming that you believe that a college education bestows wisdom and personal knowledge and good decision-making, but all I can say is that every year, I spend the better part of our commencement ceremonies looking out at the graduates and thinking, "oh my god. I can't believe we gave a degree with our name on it to him.

I think the ghost of mrj has it nailed @139, when he talks about shame and depression. As a sufferer of depression, I will say that it often conspires to make you try to bury the problem in a way that makes the problem worse. And though part of you knows that what you're doing (or more typically, what you're not doing) makes it worse, the horrible truth is that intellectual knowledge alone isn't enough to make you do what you need to do to stop being in whatever state you're in which is what is depressing you. Depression is insidious.
@134 - from "setback: a check to progress; a reverse or defeat"

How is this not a setback? The LW's big complaint boils down to they can't buy a house according to his timetable right now, therefore they won't be able to do all the things he wanted and now he thinks he should cut and run. There's nothing about "I can't believe she hid this from me, how can I trust with money/kids/anything now?" Her massive amount of debt means they can't do that AT THIS MOMENT. That's why it's a setback - it's *setting them back* on the timeline that he came up with. It hasn't exactly ruined their lives or wiped out their savings or even resulted in him having bad credit. It's not stopping them from buying a house and having a family and all those wonderful things he envisions them having in the future. It just means they can't embark on that wonderful future RIGHT NOW.

I think you are seeing this through different lens because you had a bad experience, and you're letting it color your judgment into assuming that this girl has some kind of problem (bad life decisions, mental problems, etc) that caused all this. If this girl ruined her credit and put his at risk or was wildly extravagant all this time or something, that's different and you'd probably be right, but the LW mentions nothing of the sort.

And it's not blase to state a fact: debt CAN be paid off. It may be slow and painful, but then I never said it would be easy. Obviously the fiancee has been keeping up with her minimum payments, since she wouldn't have been able to keep her debts hidden for long otherwise. I have a friend who finished medical school with almost a quarter of a million in student loans, and even though he eventually decided not to become a medical doctor, he managed to find a good job and is chugging along just fine. Even bought a house a few years ago and everything. Takes nice vacations twice a year. Doesn't sound like he's living paycheck to paycheck and struggling the way you seem to think he should be because he has a lot of debt.
I definitely agree w/ commenters pointing out the big issue that these 2 people are not at a place of financial compatibility and due to these they probably would not work well in a marriage together. But damn the moralizing about this woman's debt! (which, of course, we only know LW's side of.) We have no idea if she expected him to pay it off, if she had made other arrangements that fell through, if her parents were handling her college finances and withheld info, who knows. The neglect she showed in amassing this information is immature/lazy/ignorant of the situation, but for all we know, LW was playing White Knight Daddy of His Castle and telling her he's handling everything and was doling out only tidbits of info regarding the process (saying "hey honey, I need your student loan papers" over dinner once a month is not effectively co-partnering a house purchase.)

Also, what if it wasn't student debt? What if his dreams of home ownership, dinners out, and vacations were derailed because she had serious illness and racked up $90k in medical bills? Would she still be a burden? Would the plan seem so important? What if HE was the one to get sick and find his financial security destroyed? What would his expectations be of her?

I don't disagree that this couple should not be getting married or buying a house anytime soon, but damn, the sanctimony is thick in here!
@142 nocutename

"oh my god. I can't believe we gave a degree with our name on it to him."

Thanks for the belly laugh. I spent 2 years getting my MBA, studying the inner workings of more than a hundred corporations, and all the while thinking, "oh my god, if these fucking idiots can be so much as merely be in business, let alone be successful, I'm going to conquer the world. A few years later in bankruptcy court, having made every single mistake they tried to warn me about, my perspective was somewhat altered. So yes, "intellectual knowledge alone isn't enough."
This young man says he is pissed, and he has cause to be pissed. His woman somehow misplaced a dept for $90k, you can't tell me that is the norm.
Nocutename, my being an ass is not an indictment of your financial situation, or your reasoning, or your insightful grasp of complex situations, or your choice of professions. I am simply being an ass. The only comment I directed at you was an acknowledgment of the morally superior tone of my assiness, which you rightfully pointed out. And it's true. I have a highly moral ass.

Mr. J's ghost, the person who is supposed to be with the letter writer, and have his back, and stand him up and get him moving to the future, just saddled that future with a surprise $90K in debt, in addition to the $80K he's already agreed to work on with her. I have a hard time understanding how he is letting her down.

Now excuse my while I rub my dick with my English Lit degree, which is the most expensive thing I own. So hot.
Cock rubbing with money, with degrees,
and I've just been using coconut oil for my self pleasuring.
@144: If he hid $100000 of his debt while dating her up until the bank application I'd be telling her to question whether it's worth pursuing a future with him, what sanctimony?
Another valid definition of sanctimony is the downplaying of saddling someone with surprise debt and excusing how an addict treats their partner/family?
Well, what did you think life would look like? When you stood up and took your vows, did you think that if the shit came down it would be from the outside, or it would be blamelessly from you, in which case she would stick it out with you? She fucked up. It's bad. Duh! What the fuck is the point of the bond between them if not to deal with with Mickey Mouse shit like this? Jesus, wait til the real trouble arrives.
She's not in it with him, she's in it for himself. And when the real trouble happens, she may be off continuing to rack up debt.

These are all adult considerations, regardless of his ultimate decision.
Not taking this into account before his choice to take on her debt is absolute insanity, not affection.
Ms Cute - Well, you are the one who rates Mansfield Park very low. MP may be a good framing for this problem, if we stipulate that GF is as purpose-driven as Edmund. Only, now the crisis hits, and LW is acting like Edmund when until now he's been acting like Mary.


Ms Jina - Some people distinguish between setbacks that just happen and setbacks that were aided and abetted - say, a car accident involving a drunk driver vs being the drunk driver. I'll agree that it's worth bringing out in cross-examination whether LW is the sort of person whose savings plan includes For Unforeseen Setbacks and whether LW's budgets are Total Austerity or allow for some discretionary spending. We could also frame this letter as Persuasion, with LW perhaps as Lady Russell, whose plans for retrenchment, as you well recall (this is the highest compliment I've paid anyone all month), are much more moderate than those of Anne, only here we tack on a couple of complications (but Sir Walter really feels like a good fit here).

As for the rest, I could make a case about LW being jockeyed and guilted into White Knighting, but am much more concerned with just that this pair is too incompatible. I don't disapprove of Mr Savage's mainly being concerned about calling LW a nasty name - he ought to do that more often, and I do like it when people manage to call someone something nasty without using a nasty word (rather like Claire Simmons in Putting on the Ritz refusing a job offering from Peter Champion in a way that couldn't have been more genteelly contemptuous if she'd been packing a lorgnette).


Ms Cute revisited - Now I want a lorgnette again. Can't you just *see* me with one?
I have this particular dislike for people who use '...well, that's the exception that proves the rule,' as an all-purpose 'home-free!' phrase.
That particular phrase started in reference to 'proving grounds,' where weapons were tested. So, if you said, as a steadfast rule that 'your carbines never jammed, no matter how hot they got,' your 'rule' was 'proven,' or tested, at the proving grounds. Unfortunately, a lot of people, probably Ayn Rand fans too, heard this expression in their teens and thought, hurrah! If I say something is a definite fact, and then it doesn't turn out to be so, I just bust out, 'Well, that was the exception that proves the rule!" and I'm covered!
Really?! "Nobody said it would be easy?' You had a friend that went to med school, didn't become a doc, and now is sailing free? No shit, I had this friend in high school, chubby introverted Asian guy, whose Tiger Mom told him nonstop that he would be Valedictorian, and then a Medical Doctor. Except he didn't want to be a doctor, and was gay besides, and he flipped it on her, and became an interior designer, and now is rich, famous, and decorates for rock stars.* So, really, no one said it would be easy, but you can always pull yourself up by your bootstraps, so I guess we've proved that debt is just an illusion, or something.
Yeah, we all KNOW debt can be paid off, same as I know that I can eat a $75 steak, if I can lay the money down. That's not the point. Point is, this amount of debt would weigh them both down, what is her plan for dealing with it?

*Largely inspired by one of the comic books that I...borrowed. Still got it, sorry, Vern.
What are you talking about Mr. J, Ghost of? What bond? What vows? They're not married. And he'd be crazy to seriously consider it now, at least until she showed signs of getting her act together. Life is going to be hard enough without deliberately saddling himself at the start of it with a partner who either won't or can't recognize when she has a fairly significant problem.

Love is already a heavily abused term without its being used to browbeat some guy into a really shitty decision.
And if he doesn't take it seriously before making his move, why should she? She hasn't taken interest in his future in as long as they've been together. What's going to magically snap into place as soon as he takes on her debt? We all change, we all mature, but you have to be able to take a snapshot of someone and at least try to extrapolate where they actually are and where they want to be. Wan shrugs abound, apparently.
A $90K debt is Mickey Mouse shit in your world, Ghost? Some world you live in.
I always thought one had children so they could look after you when you're old. Some old guy ain't gonna be much use, whinging about his aches and pains.
I can not believe the commenters here that are calling the LW selfish for reconsidering spending the rest of his life with his girlfriend after finding out that she was the extent of her debt. It is not selfish for him to seek out advice about how he should proceed after finding out abut the life-altering debt. The LW may choose to stay with her after he has had some time to think this through or he may choose not to but he is not morally wrong if he chooses the later.
Only two kinds of people can rack up $90k in debt and claim to know nothing about it: an idiot or a liar. Maybe you lucked out and found an idiot/liar hybrid, LW.
@159: I guess we live in crazy-town!
When I got my first credit card application in the mail my ex-from-hell gleefully said I should ask for a card for her too. I did. I liked feeling like the head of the household, giving my girlfriend a credit card. I liked the little gesture in the way of officializing a lesbian relationship.

But I knew I shouldn’t. I didn’t trust her. At the time I didn’t realize I had the option to just say Nope! Get your own credit card. I don’t trust you with debt. Couples trust eachother, right? How could I not trust her and be in a relationship with her? Did not compute. (Besides, she would have wheedled. I don’t do wheedling. It’s not fair.) So I closed my eyes, commented that it was only for emergencies and left it at that.

She landed me with more debt than I could afford. It wan’t anything on the scale of what’s being discussed here, but it was more than I could manage. I was so traumatized I didn’t get another credit card for fifteen years.

So maybe this guy has been thinking for a while that she might not be good partner material [for him] and has been shoving the idea to the back of his mind because it’s not a very nice thing to think. And now it’s in the forefront.
I suspect he is thinking, "90K more than you thought? For a total of 170K? Holy shit, you managed to 'lose' more debt than you managed to keep track of."

Anybody who could simply lose track of that magnitude of sum-- on top of the 80 grand she managed to remember racking up -- is probably the sort of person who thinks the credit card must still be copacetic because the numbers haven't been worn off by the carbon copy slider machine. He is probably deeply shocked that not only are the life plans that he thought he was making actively with her completely shot to shit, but that if he tethers his fortunes to her, a few years down the road he easily could find himself dug into a hole that nobody could ever hope to dig out of. He's not in the wrong to be re-thinking his future with her. Because it just got radically re-written. And there are no reassurances at present that this, as shocking as it is, isn't the top of the downward spiral.
Regarding the poll: Forgiving a cheater requires only an act of will. Forgiving $170,000 in student loans requires an act of Congress
Mr. Ven: Yes, I can picture you peering over the top of your lorgnette.
There is something terrifyingly wrong with a country who's residents can claim 90K in medical or school related debt is the norm.

You said it clancy.
There's a lot wrong here.
I think some folks here are underestimating just how much arcane bullshit colleges and the student loan system pull to spring more debt on you, make sure you're financially enslaved for life, and all that. If you dig into it, you'll find a lot of financial supervillainy beneath the surface.

It's all too easy for someone to look at how heavily they've been hit, figure "Fuck it, I'm never going to do anything more than tread water until I die, this will never be paid off" and just stop counting. That's how you lose track of $90k in debt.
Getting married is not about taking on a charity case.. It's about two people who want to work together in setting up a home and perhaps then raising a family. In doing that clearly and fairly, each person needs to play their hand straight, for it to have any chance of success.
If this guy has found out before weddings, before pregnancy that his partner is not taking this joint venture seriously enough to know her own depts and he only finds out from the bank, then he has his choice to make ahead not behind him.
The way the guy talks about it, the $90000 "extra" dollars are not add'l student loans.

@168: What arcane financial bullshit? There's not much unique to student loans that would make any sense with that statement. Yes they have been engineered to pester you longer than normal debts, but you don't just wake up owing $170000 a short few years later after you used to owe $80000.
Ricardo @85: THANK YOU.
For the record, I've have been a lot less harsh on MrJ if he'd said "this woman is unfairly blaming all high-income men for the bad behaviour of a few" instead of calling her a dumbass. Her standards most certainly worked.
This has been intense.
@nocute. No need to patronize me. I am well aware plenty of people come out of college uneducated about many practicalities of life. But it says a great deal about her and her personality that she just blithely went through, obviously racking up debt, without taking the time or interest in getting an understanding of her finances. Which would be a deal breaker for me, period. That she (and your sister, etc.) can function in that type of precarious existence, well more power to them, but it doesn't work for me in a life partner. And it sounds like such laissez faire attitude doesn't work for the LW either.

And I don't blame him one tiny little bit.

It amuses me, I guess, that we (the Dan Savage Commentary) have long discussions about dealbreakers in personal attraction - it is racist to prefer only white men? Is it shallow to only like tall men? Is it shallow to want a svelte partner - but think that LW isn't well within his rights to consider breaking up with someone who was either deceptive or utterly ignorant of her financial status.

LW set down and mapped out a ten year plan to dig he and his girlfriend out of debt at some point before this. He asked that, as part of this planning, she get her finances sorted out and organized. Depending on the type of debt, had she chosen a public interest career or teaching, she could have had it forgiven after ten years. Things could have been addressed. Instead, she blew him off. Nope. Deal. Breaker. Marriage is about a partnership. If I can't rely on my so as a partner, done with it.

We all, based on our personal proclivities, life experiences, and turns of mind, can each different decisions regarding the hidden 90K.

However, LW obviously has an accountant turn of mind. I married one of those and it is one of his great characteristics.

Its not about the debt per se (although I'd be reconsidering marriage. My hub and I discussed and talked about financial decisions we'd shift around in such a situation to discharge that debt if I had been the one carrying it), its about the attitude.

In any case, as Lava says, its an intense subject. Debt does matter. Spending habits do matter. And it should make him reconsider the marriage just as much as finding out she had a kid she hadn't mentioned. That debt could be with them longer than a kid.
Everyone commenting on Ghost's previous situation - Hard to form an opinion without hearing how she applied it. How far off from her income were you allowed to be? Was this just as a tiebreaker, or was it hard and fast?
Just as being poor doesn't make you noble, though I certainly was when I was, being rich doesn't make you an asshole, though there are rich assholes about. As many on this thread would agree, worrying constantly about money is exhausting.
I was just re-listening to the SL podcast with Peter Sagal of Wait Wait Don't Tell Me, where Peter relayed the homey relationship advice his gramma gave him; if this girl doesn't work out, another one gets off the bus every 15 minutes. Uh-huh....If you've got it like that, congrats.
My city's both a college and a beach town, so I see someone I'd like to bang with great frequency, but someone I'd make my one and only? Not so frequently.
If you've been dating someone for awhile and they seem like someone you could round up to Life Partner and they're similarly into you, but then you find out they earn a ton so you dump them, well, 'dumbass' is a harsh word, but now all at once, you're ready to hang it up, 'cause things didn't go the way you planned
And all your friends, they callin' you a fool
'Cause you don't know a good thing when you got it in your hand.
And some of them will probably also use 'dumbass.'
People roundable up to One and Only, unlike Bangable, are rare. Presumably you two vibe on most/all other issues, they won't be the kind who tries to control you with their money.
For reference, here's the original and Dan's response:

I'm a 27-year-old male engaged to a 26-year-old female. We have been together 6 years. We met at college. We've lived together for almost three years. We have been saving to buy a house together. Well, I have been. She makes less than me and has a lot more debt than me. We got pre approved. We found a house, loved it, got the offer in. Offer accepted. Home inspection went well. Now we are at the stage where the bank needs us to sign 60 documents in order to actually get the house.

Last night I found out that she has $90k more debt than I thought—$170k total. I found out this information from the bank's loan application, not from her. I asked her countless times to sort out all of her debt and to figure out who she owes and how much so we can make a plan for a future. Wedding, children, schools, house, etc.. So, I developed a ten year plan to pay off our loans, buy a house, save for children's future. Now with this new debt, we can't pay her stuff off for twenty years.

Her lack of knowledge about her finances comes from laziness and apathy, not malice. She didn't lie on purpose. She simply never bothered to do what she needed to do to make a plan. I'm pissed. I don't know if I want to commit another ten years of my life to paying off her education, especially when now we can't afford a house. I want vacations. I want a car. I want furniture. I want to go out to dinner sometimes. I want a wedding. I want college funds for my children. I don't see any of this happening now. What should I do?

Fiancé Finance Fiasco

What should you do...

You should ask yourself this question: Do you want to spend the rest of your life with this particular woman—despite her debts; despite having to take charge of your shared finances; despite having to wait longer for a house, furnishings, a car, kids, vacations, etc., than you had hoped to—or do you want a house, furnishings, a car, kids, vacations, etc., as quickly as possible and who you share all that game-of-life crap with matters to you less than the timetable you were carrying around in your head?

I suspect you wouldn't be asking yourself what you should do—or asking me what you should do—if you hadn't already settled on an answer. Go ahead and do it.
@175: Right? This isn't a case of just depression and debt. This is self-destructive behavior, which she may or may not be capable of working through. Love doesn't always conquer all, and she accumulated all of this (still exploitative, still responsible for) debt during their relationship. He should've known this coming in, and now he very luckily has the full account before making either step to entangle himself with her.
darkhorserising: I didn't mean to come off as patronizing, though I can see that my phrasing could be hurtful and I apologize.
I have a college senior who is one of the most mature, self-disciplined, self-starting young people I've ever seen--and has been virtually all her life. She gathers information and educates herself about anything she wants to do and then she does it. She shows greater initiative than almost anyone I've ever met. She is ultra, super responsible with money. I can never see her becoming like the girlfriend in this letter.

Then I have my other daughter. It's true, she's only 16, but the level of obliviousness she shows doesn't seem likely to be all the way gone by the time she's 21.

And I work with young adults all the time who shock me with their immaturity and ignorance, and it just sort of makes me shake my head to wonder how they'll get through life. And I realize that with their college degrees, people think they are capable adults.
I do believe that people have a responsibility to support their partners, regardless of--or maybe especially in the case of--their (the partners') shortcomings. Of course. But that can go too far, and I don't believe a man is supposed to support his woman no matter what, just because love. Self-preservation has to enter the picture somewhere. I would argue that this is one such picture.
Dear Dan,

I'm engaged to a great guy, but when he applied for a mortgage on the house we're to guy together, he discovered that I had quite a bit of debt stemming from my college loan days, debt I didn't even know I had. I knew I was borrowing a lot for college, never dreamed I'd be in the financial mess I'm in now. I don't know what to do. I don't know how to pay it off on my own. Even with him helping with his high paying job, it will take us years and years to pay this off together.

When he found out, he didn't throw a fit or anything, but I could tell he was angry or hurt. He didn't blame me for keeping it from him. I think he knows I'm just in over my head.

My question is: What do I do? I love him, but he's right that this amount of debt will significantly impact the life we had planned. It means years of paying it off and maybe not being able to afford the children we both want. I don't want to do that to him. I don't want to do that to anybody. What am I supposed to do? Never marry? Look forward to a life of slogging through paying for what I now see was a mistake I made when I was 18, 19, 20, and 21 years old? Don't get the idea I partied through school. I was a good student, maybe not the prizewinning best, maybe not Nobel prize in the sciences sort, but no slacker either. I just don't have the qualifications to get a high enough paying job to pay this off.

I wouldn't say I was depressed, but sometimes suicide seems like the only way to get out of this mess. I can't look forward to any sort of life with this hanging around my neck. Help! What do I do?
@181: Ah, but she doesn't think she has a problem enough to research her own debt, even as he's making a 10 year plan. Again, extremely questionable that she could "forget" about massive debts that she accumulated in the recent process of dating him, considering the requirements for personal information and collections.
Brilliant reframing of the original question, Crin @181. Two marks.

Rather ironic that an issue having NOTHING to do with sex has generated this much interest, passion, and debate among SLOGgers.
Anyone else wanna go first? Hokay -
Hi, young debtor, Dan here. Taking you at your word that this is all a complete shock to
you (COUGH), you are now in a place that offers relatively few options. Holding your boyfriend hostage with threats of suicide isn't one of them; if he has a brain in his head he'll call 911 on your phone, tell the operator you're threatening self-harm, hand it back to you then pack his shit and go.
Welcome to adulthood, where we learn that bad decisions when younger can haunt us for years down the pike. Life is not a video game where you can hit 'reset' when consequences come calling, and it doesn't matter that you were young(er) when you made your mistakes. Due to the country you chose to be born in, the people who hold your debt can't be turned away by bankruptcy, though there's a slim hope that if your debt lasts more than 20 years, it may be forgiven.
If you don't attract a wealthy man's eye, become a drug kingpin or accidentally strike oil while driving a peg to hold up the tent you may be living in, you'll have to forget fairy-tale resolutions to this problem. You will need to enlist a financial planner or two, find where you can expect to be in 1, 5, and 10 years, and then follow that advice.
This may not jibe with how you saw yourself entering your late 20's/early 30's, but you are going to have to respect the laws of reality.
Cheer up. In the late 80's and early 90's, I had many friends who made impulsive decisions, not over a period of years like you did, but sometimes just the once, and the result was a lot worse than a monthly payment obligation.
@ 172, 173 - I'd say "My pleasure", but it obviously wasn't much of a pleasure for me to find out about these two extremes of behaviour.

She may have arrived at her standards for all the wrong reasons, but they are most definitely useful indeed.
@ 183 - "Rather ironic that an issue having NOTHING to do with sex has generated this much interest, passion, and debate among SLOGgers"

It just proves what many here have already said, that personal finances have a huge impact on relationships.
Too bad LWs don't get a cash prize for the letter that generates the most comments, she could start paying down her debt.
@ 187 - If it weren't for the inconvenient fact that the LW is not the one with the debt, you would have won this tread in my opinion.
@ 155 - Indeed. All the way down to its Latin root, "to prove" originally means "to test". The saying really means "It's the exception that puts the rule to the test", i.e. that shows it isn't an absolute rule.
@184: Hi debtor, Dan here. You're young, female and in debt? Have you considered sex work?
@182: undead ayn rand: Well, whether she knew it or not before or was willfully misleading her boyfriend or not before, they both know now.
@188: And if she'd approached Dan or communicated with her fiance first (along with discussing things with collection agencies, not throwing away every single piece of mail that indicates that she holds these debts...) the problem would be framed rather differently.
@192: You don't know that she did any of this. Maybe they don't open each other's mail and maybe she's been making minimal payments. You're reacting as if you have a personal stake in this. Fine, maybe the guy shouldn't merge his life with hers--that seems to be what he's asking permission to do--but it sounds like you want to see this woman drawn and quartered.
It sounds like some people want to punish, like really punish this young woman whom they don't know, whose life is in no way affecting theirs. I think that between the cold reality of her financial situation and its implications being made clear to her now and her fiancé's likely breaking up with her, she's getting punished enough.
@193: If she's been making minimal payments she would have scanned her debt(s) while going through the underwriting for the home purchase.

I don't want to see her "punished", I just have my red flags and klaxons going off from the story, this is the "I must have tripped and fell on a" equivalent of financial infidelity. I'd probably be more comfortable with someone lying than being this oblivious and unconcerned.

"it sounds like you want to see this woman drawn and quartered."

How, out of curiosity? As a fellow human I wish her the ability, means, and headspace to get out of crushing debt, but since she didn't write in and provide any context for the glaring omissions and why she had such a lapse in reasoning and communication, I happen to "side" with the future of the LW, which may or may not involve her.
"You're reacting as if you have a personal stake in this."

Isn't that the subtext of all letter-comments? How we would feel if found in the same scenario?

My opinions aren't an attack on your person.
It seems pretty clear to me that she was in denial possibly stemming from depression. I don't think she was trying to bamboozle her fiancé (or maybe she was and this trying to buy a house was a spectacularly dumb move on her part). You can "side" with the lw, though it's unclear what he is going to do or even wants to do--that's why he wrote in to Dan, and Dan didn't tell him what to do (not that he necessarily was going to follow Dan's--or anyone's--advice. Maybe simply writing down his problem let him know what he plans to do to resolve it for himself.

In any case, he can get out now with no permanent or long-term effects, if that's what he wants. They can chalk it up to one of those incompatibilities. So he can leave the relationship because he doesn't want to have to take on more debt, especially debt that he didn't rack up (though we don't know how that debt happened. Maybe they don't earn equally but he insisted on splitting expenses straight down the middle and she was borrowing to cover her share. Maybe he pushed hard for all those nice dinners out and vacations and she had to cover her expenses. Who knows what the original amount was, either? Once late fees and interest starts to pile up, they quickly eclipse the original amount.). Or he can leave the relationship because he wants to live a certain way on a certain timetable and that's not possible with her.

But there's no need to see this as something to set off klaxons. It isn't a problem waiting to develop; it's a problem now. And somehow, all the accusations that she was lying or incredibly stupid seem unnecessarily harsh and beside the point and lead to an unnecessary level of reaction to her. If he wants to walk away, he should walk. He's lost nothing material. No need to paint her such a villain. At least to me.
Nocute: Unless failure to be married is a punishment, I don't think anyone wants to see the woman "punished." You seem as if you're the one who's taking this a bit too personally, possibly because of your sister being in a similar situation. Is "growing up" a "punishment"?
"Isn't that the subtext of all letter-comments? How we would feel if found in the same scenario? I don't know; that's not what I try to do. I may not always succeed, but I try to divorce the letter from my own experiences and respond to it on its own merits. As it happens, I said way up thread what my own personal response was likely to be, but I tried to qualify that by factoring in my own personal situation in life, age, and recent experiences. I allowed for the fact that a 27-year-old man is in a very different situation in life and probably prioritizes different things and has different baggage and different options. And I made sure to state that response as just the one I'd have if it were me.
@BiDanFan, I don't see my sister as being punished at all. First of all, she contributes to the problem: she could insist that they stop the fancy dinners and vacations and she could talk him out of the need to be the big spending benefactor; she buys expensive jewelry for herself when she's mad at him; she could get a job and contribute to the household.

But I also said that her husband makes her happy in ways that she never experienced before and given how difficult she can be, I'm not entirely sure that anyone else could or would bother to do that.

My point in bringing her situation up was actually to say that this problem is more nuanced and complicated than I think many here are treating it as. Who can weigh other people's happiness for them?

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