Do I Need to Leave My Boyfriend Because of His Debt?

“Dear Steve,

Where do I begin….

Well first this question is about my boyfriend more so than me. My boyfriend just turned 34 and I am about to be 27. When I met him he had just been laid off from his sales job in 2011. He had to move out of his apartment and move in with a friend. He blew through his savings pretty quickly. He ended up starting to live with me early on in our relationship. He went on many sales interviews, made it through the FIRST FOUR ROUNDS of interviews and then they would go with someone else. After he had graduated from college he had a lot of success in sales and was paying his loans, etc. But when this all began to happen I asked him if this was really what he had passion for. He said no that he had always wanted to be a nurse. After discussing this he realized that that was what he wanted to do and I have supported that. He enrolled in his pre-requisite classes and was on his way.

Then I started finding out more about the debt. He owes private and public student loans. We have worked at getting the private one out of default and I think it is. But I’m not sure. The private loan he was paying off but I recently found out that is not being paid anymore. I would assume because he does not have the money to do so. He currently works a temp job making $10.50 an hour which is a little over $1000 a month. In addition to student loan debt, he owes the city of Chicago like 800 dollars because of parking tickets. He and people he knows are receiving calls from an auditing agency. I don’t know why that would be because he has not done his taxes for the last couple of years. Which is dumb I know. He was working in the restaurant industry but the last one he worked at closed down because the owner was not paying his taxes. Then he got a new job at a restaurant but broke a piece of bone off his tibia and had to have surgery on his ankle a week ago so he can not serve tables right now. Luckily, he was approved for Medicaid and was able to get the surgery. Thank god. He has a problem with just avoiding the phone calls and letters. I think its because he knows he can’t pay it back and so he doesn’t answer the phone or call the numbers provided because he has not money to give them.

I work and go to school. I am getting my masters in nonprofit management. I have considerable debt as well but I work in non-profit so I will be getting on the 10 year payment plan based on income and will have my remaining loans forgiven after ten years. I am also going to be getting two raises in the next year and a half. I only make $32,000 right now. I have credit card debt totaling $3,000 but I will receive a bonus in march and have allocated all of that money to pay off my credit card debt. After that I will have student loan debt and my car loan. Overall, I am in better shape than he is in.

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He just found out he did not get into nursing school this time around but I don’t know if that even matters because how is he going to get the funding to do it?

Do I have to leave this person? I sit here at 3am unable to sleep because I don’t know what to do. His parents have discussed taking his student loans to a lawyer to try to negotiate a lump sum settlement that they would pay but he does not give them what they need in order to figure it out. I think this is because he just wants to avoid the problem and does not want to burden his parents.

I am so scared that this will be the demise of our relationship. How will I ever have a home with this person? How will we ever be able to afford children? Is he just too deep into this to never get out?

I have so many questions and I love my boyfriend so much but is this a deal breaker? Am I wasting my time? I am so confused and so scared I don’t know what to do. Where do we begin to get this under control? Or is that not even possible.

Please help me….


Dear Faith,

You have a perfect name for this situation because the longterm solution for this situation depends on your faith in Boyfriend X. The entire issue comes down to only a question you can answer after some quite and contemplative reflection. Do you honestly believe Boyfriend X can be responsible?

It sounds like Boyfriend X got kicked in the financial nuts pretty damn hard. And it is possible the layoff shook him so hard that he tumbled into a depression and lost confidence in his abilities. Debt and depression are a chicken and egg thing. See this study.

It is interesting he was in sales and can’t find a sales job. He had success in sales, has a proven track record in sales, and yet he can’t even land any sales job. Sales jobs are one of the largest category of jobs available. A good salesperson is always in demand.

Now the sales jobs available might not strike his fancy but any sales job will get him back in the game and rebuild his confidence. So why can’t Boyfriend X land any sales job?

I think there has been ample study to debunk the right-brain left-brain beliefs but whatever the difference between people who are creative versus analytical is, it does exist.

In my decades of experience helping people I’ve observed that people who are creative, like artists and sales people, are not as good at paying attention to the details of their money situation. I’ve also observed that people who are more analytical, like project managers and technical professionals, are much better are dealing with their money. Your non-profit management focus sounds like you are in this camp.

That is a gross generalization but a couple of things you said made me wonder which camp Boyfriend X is in. Your statement that his parents were willing to hire a lawyer to try to negotiate a settlement and he could not gather together the paperwork to help them do that, concerned me.

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Is he just not attentive to detail? If so, is that really successful nurse stock? In my early life in the medical field I can tell you that everything in medicine is about managing details.

I get the fact his student loans have become overwhelming but there seems to be a total lack of attention to small details like paying a parking ticket when incurred so it doesn’t explode or doing his required taxes.

In relationships, typically savers attract spenders. I think it is the old, opposites attract thing. Some say savers are attracted to the more “wild child” person who breaks them out of their mold and allows them to have more fun. Whatever the reason is, it seems to be a standard evidenced in many relationships.

Eventually the difference between the approach of the saver and spender can create tension and a rift. Much like you are experiencing now. Consider yourself lucky that it is happening now rather than a house and three kids later.

Love is not financial independence. You may love someone so much it hurts. But if you want to stay together you will need to become the financial leader in your union, you will need to manage all the money, keep tabs on all the debt, gather all the paperwork, and always be the person to tell him “no” he can’t have or do things.

So Faith, the answer really comes down to if you love Boyfriend X so much that for the next 60 years you want to be that person. Or do you have faith he will change?

Please post your responses and follow-up messages to me on this in the comments section below.


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Steve Rhode is the Get Out of Debt Guy and has been helping good people with bad debt problems since 1994. You can learn more about Steve, here.
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