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Splitting Student Loan Debt After Splitting Up

October 26, 2023
Advice, Divorce, Money
Splitting Student Loan Debt After Splitting Up

As if breaking up isn’t hard enough to do, splitting student loan debt can add another complex layer in untangling yourself from your former spouse. Many factors play a part in answering the question, “Who pays what?” Read on to learn more about the legal aspects of splitting student loans after a divorce to help you better strategize.

Student Loans Prior to Marriage

One of the easiest types of student loan debt to determine is the kind obtained before marriage. Any student loans you acquired before marriage are your own personal responsibility to pay back.

Student Loans After Marriage

Student loans (and refinanced student loans) obtained after marriage are more complicated. You and your ex-spouse may have combined your incomes to tackle student loans while married. After divorce, your two-income pool is down to single-income status. Figuring out who’s responsible for repayments is critical for financial planning.

Where You Live Matters

In a perfect world, you and your ex agree on the best solution and avoid complications. However, if you can’t agree, state laws can help you sort through the complexities.

Many states are equitable distribution states. That means they look at the bigger picture before deciding how to determine who pays what amount of student loan debt. For example, they examine the length of your marriage, your separate income and finances, and who benefited the most from the loan.

A few communal property states (AZ, ID, LA, NV, NM, TX, WA, or WI) consider student loans communal (shared) debt. Typically, all assets and debts are split in half between you and your ex in these states.

(Note: CA is also a communal property state, but student loan debt is treated separately.)

However, there’s a chance the loan may not be considered communal. In some instances, the spouse paying down the debt while the other spouse earned the degree may actually be entitled to repayment.

Cosigners Still on the Hook

If you cosigned on a student loan, you are ultimately responsible for ensuring repayment. If your ex is late on payments, misses a few, or completely stops paying, the lender can come after you for the unpaid amounts. Late and missed payments will also negatively affect your credit score, which will negatively impact your ability to borrow at reasonable rates in the future.

No Help for Consolidated Federal Loans, Yet

In the past, partners could combine federal student loan debt under a program that has since gone extinct. Those loans can’t be unconsolidated just yet. But on the bright side, you might be able to in the near future if current legislation gets passed.

What You Can Do

Going from a two-income to a single-income household can significantly cut your ability to pay your monthly student loan bill. Here are a few things you can do.

  • Recalculate Income-Driven Repayment Plans– There are four different types of income-driven repayment (IDR) plans you could qualify for. Apply or update your information at https://studentaid.gov/idr/ to recalculate your payments using your new income level to receive a plan that better matches what you can pay. Reduced payments can be 10%-20% of your new discretionary income. What’s more, your debt could be completely forgiven after 20-25 years of payments.
  • Apply for Forbearance or Deferment– You may be eligible to pause payments for a brief time on qualifying federal or private student loans. Speak with your loan servicer about your options. Keep in mind that interest continues to build up even though you are taking a break from paying. Consider making interest-only payments to help yourself out in the long run.
  • Refinance Private Student Loans– Private loans don’t qualify for the same types of repayment plans and advantages as federal student loans. Speak with your private loan servicer about lowering your monthly bill. Winning a lower interest rate or a smaller payment over a longer term could reduce your costs to something more manageable. If you have a poor credit score or low income, a cosigner could help you get approved for refinancing at a better interest rate.

Negotiating With Your Ex

Many factors affect how debt gets divided after a divorce. Work out a fair arrangement with your ex regarding who takes on what debt when possible. Enlist the help of legal and financial advisors to determine what is owed, what’s fair, and what your finances can handle when you and your ex can’t agree or when the answers aren’t crystal clear.

If you have cosigned on your ex’s student loans and are unsure if you can trust them to make payments or work out a payment plan, look for child support apps to track payments and documentation. Have your ex pay you their part and then forward it on to the loan servicer. Use a child support app that will let you send pictures of receipts as proof of payment and bill your ex when it’s time for them to pay.

Video

Splitting Student Loan Debt After Splitting Up

Infographic

Breaking up is already difficult, and splitting student loan debt can add another complex layer when untangling yourself from your former spouse. Learn about the legal aspects in this infographic to better strategize.

7 Student Loan and Divorce Challenges Infographic

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