As of 2010, the average amount of student loan debt for undergraduates was $21,000. Even though student loans are usually considered an investment in your future, that is a large sum of money to have to pay back. Even with a good job, many graduates are struggling to make payments on their loans and provide for a family or save for a house at the same time. When students with loan debt marry, they often wonder whether their spouse is responsible for their student loan debt. The answer to that in many circumstances is yes.
Community Property States
If you live in a community property state, such as Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Washington or Wisconsin, then all of your assets are owned jointly with your spouse. Your bank accounts and your tax return can be seized to pay off his debt. There are some caveats, however. In some states, such as Texas, a spouse can't lay claim to any property or assets you had before the marriage that are in your name alone. Also, in the event of the divorce, the usual settlement in most states assigns debt in one person's name to them alone. In other words, if you get divorced, your spouse's debt will usually go with him.
While You Were Married
If your spouse took out the loans during your marriage, in many states that will make you responsible even if your name is not on those loans. In that case, it doesn't matter whether the state allows community property or not. All of your assets and your income, whether held jointly or by you alone, can be taken to pay off the debt. As is the case with community property states, however, if you get divorced the debt usually goes with the person who incurred it or whose name is on it.
You Consolidated Together
In the case of loan consolidation, wherein loans from each spouse are merged into one loan, both parties become equally responsible. Most courts will view a loan consolidation as a mutual agreement to take on one another's debt. In this scenario, it doesn't matter whose debt it was, or what proportion belongs to whom — both parties are 100 percent responsible, even in the case of a death or a divorce.
Private Student Loans
If you have private student loans, read the agreement carefully. Usually these outline all scenarios that might occur, such as who becomes responsible for the debt if the debtor dies. Unfortunately, private loan companies are generally less forgiving of extenuating circumstances because their loans are not guaranteed by the federal government like federal student loans are. As a result, if it is legal for them to take your assets to pay the debt, they will. Even if you do not live in a community property state, some loan agreements supersede those laws and make your spouse responsible under certain circumstances.
Natalie Smith is a technical writing professor specializing in medical writing localization and food writing. Her work has been published in technical journals, on several prominent cooking and nutrition websites, as well as books and conference proceedings. Smith has won two international research awards for her scholarship in intercultural medical writing, and holds a PhD in technical communication and rhetoric.