The Impact of Student Loan Debt on Millennial Dating and Relationships

Dating Couple Holding Hands - Student Loan Debt Coin Jar with Piggy Bank

For most millennials, student loan debt is just a part of their lives and a defining one at that. As this generation moves into post-college adulthood, it doesn’t just affect their finances! It also has a big influence on dating, romantic relationships, and any plans for the future. Millennials are grappling with record levels of debt, and it impacts everything from how they interact on dating apps to when (or if) they walk down the aisle. Student loan debt is a hot topic, so we are going to find out how this financial burden is refashioning romantic relationships and changing what were once “normal” life milestones when it comes to millennials!

Millennials are the generation that was born between 1981 and 1996 and are the ones that have been most impacted by the skyrocketing costs of pursuing higher education. This generation has the highest levels of student loan debt compared to any prior generation, and they are faced with the taxing challenge of managing and trying to pay off what they owe well into their adult lives. Statistics show that a huge portion of millennials are burdened with student loans, with the average debtor owing around $30,000. This financial strain is not just a temporary challenge—it’s a persistent issue that affects any long-term planning as well as their financial stability in the present and in the long run.

The heavy weight of student loan debt goes beyond just paying the monthly bills—like making rent or keeping the lights on—it creeps into the most intimate corners of life, and that includes romantic relationships. Financial stress, particularly stemming from student loans, can strain partnerships in different ways, like the following:

  • Communication and Conflict: Money is regularly cited as a common area of disagreement among couples, and student loans are another bill to pay. The stress of debt can cause more tension and conflicts, as couples tend to have differing views on spending, saving, and financial priorities. Be sure you are having regular discussions around your finances.
  • Delayed Life Milestones: A lot of millennials feel that they have to put off major life events like marriage, owning a home, or starting a family because of their financial insecurity. This holding pattern can obviously be a source of frustration and sadness for those who want those things, and that will impact the dynamics and expectations within a romantic relationship.
  • Emotional and Psychological Effects: The constant pressure of debt also takes a toll on an individual’s mental health, leading to anxiety, depression, or lower self-esteem. These emotional challenges can make it hard for individuals to fully engage in or nurture their relationships—it sometimes means they will withdraw or detach from their significant other.
  • Economic Dependence or Resentment: In situations where one partner has significantly less debt (or no debt) than the other, issues of dependence or resentment can come into play. This imbalance can skew the power dynamics in a relationship, which in turn could potentially cause long-term dissatisfaction or conflict.

Understanding the Burden of Student Loan Debt

The issue of student loan debt among millennials is both endemic and powerful—it affects numerous areas of their lives, including their financial freedom and personal relationships!

Millennials, defined here as those aged between 25 and 34, have amassed substantial student loan debt, demonstrating the obstacles that come with the lofty price tag of education costs. As of the last quarter of 2023, the average student loan debt for this demographic stood at approximately $33,173. This group constitutes a significant portion of the national student loan debt, which exceeds $1.7 trillion, highlighting the widespread financial implications for millions of young adults in the U.S.

According to Business Insider, “Almost half of millennials have student-loan debt and are, on average, $40,614 in the hole.

“As of June 2022, 43.5% of older millennials aged 36 to 41 had a student-debt balance of $20,000 or less, according to the St. Louis Fed. The average millennial with student debt had a balance of $40,614, according to an Experian analysis of internal data.”

Under a plan proposed by the Biden administration in 2022, those with federal student loans were going to have up to $20,000 of their debt forgiven. And although the debt relief effort was on hold due to legal challenges from two conservative-led lawsuits, effectively halting its implementation, in February, it came to fruition for over 150,000 student loan borrowers.

College Student with Plane Toy and Book

The White House released this statement on Feb. 21: “President Biden announced the approval of $1.2 billion in student debt cancellation for almost 153,000 borrowers currently enrolled in the Saving on a Valuable Education (SAVE) repayment plan. The Biden-Harris Administration has now approved nearly $138 billion in student debt cancellation for almost 3.9 million borrowers through more than two dozen executive actions. The borrowers receiving relief are the first to benefit from a SAVE plan policy that provides debt forgiveness to borrowers who have been in repayment after as little as 10 years and took out $12,000 or less in student loans. Originally planned for July, the Biden-Harris Administration implemented this provision of SAVE and is providing relief to borrowers nearly six months ahead of schedule.”

Under this initiative by the administration, debt cancellation will be implemented for borrowers who are part of the SAVE plan, have been repaying for at least 10 years, and initially borrowed $12,000 or less for their college education. Borrowers who took out more than this amount will see their debt forgiven after additional years of payment—one year for each extra $1,000 borrowed. For instance, a borrower in the SAVE plan with $14,000 in federal loans for an associate’s degree in biotechnology will have their debt fully forgiven, assuming they have been making payments for 12 years. The U.S. Department of Education has identified nearly 153,000 borrowers within the SAVE plan eligible for debt cancellation—they received a notification email from President Biden regarding this relief. Furthermore, the Department is actively reaching out to those eligible for early relief who are not yet enrolled in the SAVE plan, urging them to sign up.

“This shortened time to forgiveness will particularly help community college and other borrowers with smaller loans and put many on track to being free of student debt faster than ever before. Under the Biden-Harris Administration’s SAVE plan, 85 percent of future community college borrowers will be debt free within 10 years. The Department will continue to regularly identify and discharge other borrowers eligible for relief under this provision on SAVE,” the statement said.

This initiative will undoubtedly ease the pressure on a portion of student loan borrowers, but not all Millennials have been paying off their debt for more than 10 years—only the eldest of this demographic will get relief.

Millennials with Student Debt Speak Out

One millennial paid off his debt in an astounding three years, but he is the exception, not the rule. How did he do it? According to Matthew Burr, who was profiled in Newsweek, it was easy.

He said he “Worked 80 hours a week. He didn’t eat out, and his life was ‘work, work, work.”

The resident from upstate New York, who once faced $117,000 in student loans from pursuing an MBA at Syracuse University, is now debt-free. He no longer has to deal with the financial strain of monthly payments and high-interest rates.

“Need versus want was the approach that I utilized and made micropayments every week,” Burr, 41, told Newsweek. “I paid the highest interest rate loans first and worked my way down the list. I stayed consistent with the process, snowflake, and snowball method. Discipline and consistency.

“Burr, who paid off his loans from 2018 to 2021, said he doesn’t believe in having debt for anything, and his goal has always been financial freedom.

To achieve this, he worked about twice the number of hours in a typical American workweek, and he started a human resources consulting business, Burr Consulting. He also worked full-time as an assistant professor of management.”

On the other end of the spectrum, a lot of older Millennials regret their loans—that it wasn’t worth it.

“Jeffrey Street, 33, graduated from the University of Tennessee in 2009 and still remembers how hard it was to find a job. ‘The job market was so bad,’” he told CNBC. “I was working for the City of Knoxville Parks and Recreation department in undergrad, and my job prospect for after graduation was to keep working for the Department of Parks and Recreation. I knew I wanted to do something different.”

Street decided to pursue his law degree at the University of Idaho, which is also where he met Shannon, his future wife. Upon graduating in 2012, together they had accumulated nearly $200,000 in student loans. Shannon was responsible for $17,125 from her undergraduate studies and an additional $87,058 from law school, while Street, having no undergraduate loans, had accrued over $92,000 from his law education.

“I remember thinking to myself that if I was very proactive in paying it off when I got out of law school, then maybe the debt wouldn’t be so bad,” he said. “But the average interest rate on our loans was about 6.5%. It was about $1,000 of interest per month.”

Despite passing the Bar Exam in 2013, the couple faced difficulties securing employment. “I was applying to any job I could find,” Street recalls. He eventually took a position restocking shelves at a Target from 3 a.m. to 10 a.m., which allowed him time to network and seek legal positions during the day. He would keep a suit in his car and change in a 7-Eleven bathroom for interviews. Meanwhile, Shannon worked in the framing department at a local Michael’s store. Their persistence paid off when Street secured his first legal position in Grand Junction, Colorado, with a salary of $36,000. Later, they moved to the Dallas-Fort Worth area in Texas for better job opportunities and began to make headway on their student loans.

“Everything we thought about was student loans. It was all-consuming,” he said. “We poured every extra dollar into our student loans. We did not vacation. We did not buy a new TV. (In fact we still have our TV from law school). We took secondhand furniture and clothes when offered. We just saved and saved.”

Street and his wife delayed starting a family for six years and skipped friends’ weddings due to their student loans. Now residing in Boise, Idaho, with two young children, Street owes $27,630 in student debt, and his wife has $6,820 remaining. Feeling that repayment is within reach, Street is also saving for his children’s education through a 529 fund to spare them similar financial struggles. Although proud of his progress and the necessity of his law degree for his career, Street supports initiatives for student debt relief to prevent future generations from facing similar burdens.

“You can’t accuse me of wanting someone else to take accountability for my student loans. I’ve paid my debts, and I’m going to finish,” he said. “But I went through it, and I can tell you the student debt process was not worth it.

“I wouldn’t wish the student debt experience on anyone.”

Comparison with Other Financial Pressures

Student loan debt is a unique form of financial burden due to its size and the difficulty in discharging it through bankruptcy—it’s basically impossible to do. This makes it so much more challenging than other types of debt millennials incur, like credit card debt or auto loans. And to boot, the structure of student loans, especially federal ones, includes options like income-driven repayment plans or potential forgiveness programs like the SAVE initiative, which do provide some relief but aren’t for all borrowers, adding even more complexity in managing or planning one’s financial future.

Student Loan Debt and Dating

Student loan debt is not just a financial burden; it also plays a big role in shaping dating priorities and compatibility considerations for many singles. As debt levels rise, the impact on personal relationships becomes more pronounced, influencing decisions on long-term commitments and financial transparency between romantic partners.

Influence on Dating Priorities

Debt can heavily influence dating priorities, especially when considering long-term partnerships. Many individuals see large debt as a dealbreaker, as it can affect not only current lifestyle choices but also long-term goals like home ownership, starting a family, or planning for retirement. This change in priorities makes financial stability an increasingly important criterion when choosing a romantic partner!

The Importance of Financial Stability in Dating

Surveys and expert opinions underline just how important financial stability is in dating. According to a survey by SoFi, among financially active singles, nearly 24% considered high levels of debt a critical factor in their dating decisions. Experts like financial therapists note that debt-related stress can strain relationships, making financial compatibility as important as emotional and physical compatibility in dating scenarios.

It’s not exactly a secret that couples in committed relationships usually fare better financially. According to a Pew Research study from 2019, both men and women in such relationships tended to earn more and enjoy greater financial stability.

If you’re actively dating, it’s super normal to be interested in the financial circumstances of a potential partner, no matter the stage of your relationship.

Damona Hoffman, OkCupid Dating Coach and Host of The Dates & Mates Podcast, told CNBC “Daters who get better with their money will naturally attract better dating prospects because it is still one of the primary attractors in our society.

“Unfortunately, the exact thing that can be attractive to so many can also cause the end of a relationship. According to a survey from the Institute for Divorce Financial Analysts, ‘money issues’ is the third leading cause of divorce—behind ‘basic incompatibility’ and ‘infidelity.’ One respondent of the survey stated, ‘many couples lack the communication skills necessary to navigate financial disagreements in their marriage.’”

When Student Debt Decides Who to Date

It stands to reason that significant debt plays a part in who you decide to date if you’re on the lookout for a long-term relationship—in fact, it can be one of the most decisive factors in dating!

On Quora, one curious Millennial posited the question, “Would you date/marry someone with student loan debt, whether it’s small or large?”

Here are some of the responses:

Julie Ann Gniadek: “I guess this would depend on the person’s financial habits. For example, I personally have about $20k in student loan debt, but I own my own house, I have 0 credit card debt, and I own my own car. I also work full time and run my own business, so I have a good amount of cash saved. So student loan debt is literally the only debt I have (other than my mortgage on the house, of course).

“The point I’m trying to make here is if your girlfriend/boyfriend has significant student loan debt, and is constantly spending irresponsibly or has poor credit or is constantly racking up other unsecured debt, that I would proceed with caution…

“Also, try to remember that DATING someone is different than marrying him or her. If you have fun just dating and going out and having fun, then leave it at that for now. If things start to get more serious, such as moving in together or borrowing money from each other, then you might want to have a more serious conversation about where the relationship is heading and how you both will manage finances together, if that is something you feel comfortable with.”

Jonathan Sullivan: “Statistically speaking, I almost certainly will date someone with student loan debt (and quite possibly marry her while she still has such debt). In fact, I expect to have student loan balances myself well into the future. *looks at cartoonishly high numbers in my budget spreadsheet, laughs/cries*”

“It also happens that I tend to be interested in reasonably self-sufficient women, i.e. those who wouldn’t aspire to depend only on other people for money. So in my case, it would follow naturally that she would be “willing to work it off on her own.” If she wasn’t, we almost certainly wouldn’t be compatible in other ways. The fact that you frame the issue as not wanting to sacrifice your freedom instead of wanting someone who is responsible is… interesting, to say the least.”

Long-term Relationships and Financial Strain

Student loan debt not only influences individual financial stability but also profoundly impacts long-term relationship plans like marriage or living together. This next section gets into how such financial burdens can alter relationship dynamics and how couples can manage and overcome these challenges together as a team.

1- Impact on Long-term Relationship Plans

The burden of student loan debt can significantly delay or alter major life decisions in a relationship, like marriage or the decision to cohabitate. High levels of debt can make couples hesitant to legally or financially bind themselves to one another, fearing the mutual responsibility for existing or future debts. Research indicates that couples often postpone marriage or buy a home due to the financial strain imposed by student loans.

2- Changes in Relationship Dynamics

Financial hardship can fundamentally change the dynamics of a romantic relationship—the stress associated with managing debt can lead to increased tension, reduced relationship satisfaction, and a much higher likelihood of conflict. This strain can be exacerbated if one partner bears a significantly larger debt burden than the other, potentially turning into feelings of resentment or unfairness in financial contributions.

3- Expert Insights on Managing Financial Stress

Experts in financial psychology suggest that open communication about finances is one of the most important things in mitigating the impact of debt on a romantic relationship! They recommend regular financial planning sessions where both partners can talk about their budgets, financial goals, and strategies for debt management. Additionally, counseling or financial therapy can help couples navigate the emotional aspects of financial stress, promoting a healthier, more supportive relationship dynamic.

Proactive and transparent financial management within romantic relationships, particularly when navigating the challenges posed by significant debts like student loans, will help not only reduce the financial strains but also strengthen the relationship.

Coping Mechanisms and Success Stories

Coping with student loan debt as a couple is no easy task—but it can be done! How? By employing certain strategies, partners can manage debt effectively.

Strategies to Manage Student Loan Debt

  • Joint Financial Planning: Couples can benefit from creating a unified financial plan that includes budgets, savings goals, and debt repayment strategies. This approach means both partners are on the same page and working towards common financial objectives.
  • Income-Based Repayment Plans: Enrolling in income-driven repayment plans can make monthly payments more manageable based on the couple’s combined income, reducing the financial burden and stress associated with higher payments.
  • Refinancing and Consolidation: Some couples opt to refinance or consolidate their loans to secure lower interest rates and reduce monthly payments, which can free up funds for other life goals.
  • Setting Priorities and Boundaries: Deciding which financial goals take precedence (such as paying off debt versus saving for a home) and setting clear boundaries about spending can prevent conflicts and keep financial stress at bay.

Success Stories

Managing student loan debt as a couple doesn’t just test financial acumen; it also tests the strength and adaptability of romantic relationships. Effective communication and strategic financial planning are foundational to handling these challenges successfully. Across various narratives and expert advice, certain strategies emerge as particularly effective when it comes to student loan debt.

Couples have found success by being totally transparent in their financial discussions, allowing them to align on goals and strategically tackle their debts. A comprehensive approach usually includes creating detailed budgets that accommodate debt repayment, establishing emergency funds, and exploring refinancing options to lower interest rates.

Real-life stories further illustrate the path to overcoming substantial debts.

  • For example, one couple, both teachers, focused on aggressively paying down their debt before starting their family, inspired by personal finance literature. Their journey emphasized zero-based budgeting and expense reduction, which enabled them to clear over $55,000 in debt in just 26 months.
  • Another couple faced with $114,000 in debt utilized budgeting, additional income streams, and a cost of living adjustment to become debt-free just before the COVID-19 pandemic. Their resilience during the economic downturn showcased the importance of adaptable financial strategies in maintaining debt-free status even during global crises.

Financial Advisors Advice for Tackling Student Loan Debt

Financial advisors provide great guidance for couples managing student loan debt, with personalized strategies for repayment plans with an individual’s financial situation, helping to minimize the impact of debt on overall financial health.

Advisors will usually begin by assessing all outstanding loans to identify potential cost savings, such as targeting loans with the highest interest rates first. They could also explore federal loan programs that offer income-driven repayment options, adjusting monthly payments based on income and family size, which can make payments more manageable and prevent default.

Any financial advisor worth their salt will tell you the importance of budgeting specifically tailored to manage student loan debt—this means creating an emergency fund to prevent further debt during unexpected financial hardships and balancing debt repayment with other financial goals like saving for a home or retirement.

Financial Advisor with Piggybank

For those considering consolidation or refinancing, advisors provide detailed explanations of the benefits and drawbacks of each option. While consolidation can simplify repayment by combining multiple loans into one, refinancing might offer lower interest rates or better terms but at the cost of losing federal protections.

Consulting with a financial advisor can be highly beneficial for couples dealing with student loan debt, providing personalized advice and support to help you through financial hardships while pursuing long-term financial goals.

Here are a few tips on managing student loan debt within relationships:

  • Communication and Joint Planning: Financial advisors stress the importance of open communication between partners about student loan debt. It’s crucial to understand each other’s financial obligations and to plan together how to tackle these debts. Setting clear financial goals and a budget can help manage the debt effectively while still maintaining a healthy relationship.
  • Choosing the Right Repayment Plan: Experts recommend evaluating various repayment plans to find one that aligns with your financial circumstances. For federal loans, options like income-driven repayment plans can adjust your monthly payments based on your income, which might make them more manageable. Private loans offer different plans like immediate repayment or interest-only payments during school. Picking a suitable plan can ease financial pressures and foster a better financial environment for the relationship.
  • Utilizing Resources and Assistance Programs: Look out for programs that might offer relief, such as employer assistance programs or government forgiveness plans, especially if you work in public service or for non-profit organizations. These programs can reduce the burden of student loans significantly.
  • Consider Financial Counseling: Sometimes, having an expert’s perspective on your financial strategy can make a significant difference. Financial advisors can provide personalized advice on managing debt, which might include strategies like consolidating multiple loans or refinancing to secure a lower interest rate.

The Role of Financial Transparency in Relationships

Financial transparency is a must for healthy and happy relationships, especially when it involves managing major debt like student loans. Being open about your financial situation will build trust, prevent potential conflicts, and support your mutual couples goals!

The Importance of Financial Transparency

Discussing financial realities openly and honestly in a relationship helps both partners understand their overall financial picture and make smart money decisions together. This is especially important when either one or both people are dealing with student loan debt—transparency can help you avoid or mitigate misunderstandings while you set realistic expectations for future financial planning.

Tips for Discussing Student Loan Debt with a Partner

  • Choose the Right Time: Bring up your debt in a calm, neutral setting, not during a financial crisis or a heated moment.
  • Be Honest and Thorough: Clearly disclose the amount of debt, the repayment terms, and how it influences your financial choices.
  • Plan Together: Discuss how you can tackle the debt as a team, considering both partners’ financial contributions and life goals.
  • Regular Check-ins: Establish routine discussions about finances to update each other on any changes in your debt status or financial situation.

Potential Hazards of Non-Disclosure

Failing to discuss financial issues openly and honestly is a recipe for disaster in a relationship:

  • Surprise and Mistrust: Discovering hidden debts can damage trust, maybe irreparably, which could turn into doubts about other aspects of the relationship.
  • Financial Misalignment: Without a clear understanding of each other’s financial burdens, couples might make plans that are not feasible, putting extra and unneeded stress on the relationship.
  • Increased Anxiety: The partner with undisclosed debt might feel constant anxiety about their financial reality coming to light, which can strain the relationship.


Throughout our examination of student loan debt on Millennial dating and relationships, we’ve uncovered lots of important info about how debt impacts those who are dating or in relationships! Here’s a quick recap of what we found:

  • Financial Transparency: We’ve underscored the importance of being open about one’s financial situation in relationships, particularly when it involves student loan debt. This openness is crucial for setting realistic expectations and building a foundation of trust.
  • Strategies for Managing Debt: Couples have a variety of strategies at their disposal to manage student loan debt effectively. These include choosing the right repayment plan, using budgeting tools, and possibly refinancing or consolidating loans to secure better terms.
  • Financial and Relationship Counseling: Expert insights suggest that seeking advice from financial advisors or relationship counselors can provide valuable guidance on navigating the complexities of managing debt within relationships.
  • Success Stories and Encouragement: We’ve shared success stories of couples who have successfully managed their student loan debt, which can serve as motivation for others facing similar challenges.

If student loan debt is a part of your life, you may want to think about how it might impact your romantic relationships! Engaging in open and honest discussions about finances with your partner can go a long way toward achieving healthier financial and personal dynamics.

If you are currently dating with student loan debt or have dealt with it in the past, we’d love to hear about your experiences or hear your take on it!

Resources and Tools

Navigating the complexities of student loan debt requires access to reliable information and practical tools. Below, you’ll find curated resources and tools that can help individuals and couples effectively manage their student loan debt and plan their financial futures together.

Resources for Managing Student Loan Debt

Tools for Budgeting and Financial Planning for Couples

  • Credit Karma (previously Mint): This budgeting tool allows couples to manage their finances in one place, track their expenses, and set savings goals.
  • YNAB (You Need A Budget): YNAB promotes a proactive budget philosophy that includes planning for future bills and reducing overspending.
  • Honeydue: Specifically designed for couples, this app helps manage shared finances, track bills, and communicate about money with your partner.

Related Articles and Expert Advice

These resources can help couples develop strategies to communicate effectively about their financial situations, increase their understanding of each other’s financial challenges, and build a solid plan for managing debt—together.

Molly Davis
Molly Davis

Molly is an East Coast writer who lives on West Coast time. She’s been in the journalism field for over 20 years — newspapers are her first love but she’s finding digital media to be just as fun and challenging as print! When she’s not giving therapist-quality dating advice, she’s curled up watching movies, reading, or volunteering at local dog shelters.