Friday, August 28, 2009

It is a Betrayal

I am quite frankly shocked that the mothers at Imamother seem to think that the $50,000 in student debt one of the posters has hidden from her husband is no biggie. The poster is (rightfully) scared what the fallout when the inevitable comes. And, the husband had planned to support his wife as a SAHM.

The other posters are trying to reassure her that school costs money:
-school costs money, so of course you have debt and that is normal
-it will *only* cost a couple hundred dollars a month to pay it back
-it is normal to spend the first few years after school working to pay back the loan

Some posters think the wife should drop her husband hints about the debt(!).

Whether or not the financial burden is manageable (unless the husband does really well, it will likely be very difficult to manage because the extra payment will have to be absorbed into the excess she earns, the greater taxes she will pay on a second income, and the childcare for the kids that they have), isn't the crux issue. The issue is one of betrayal!

Can you imagine these same posters thinking that an undisclosed extramarital affair is not biggie? What about a woman who doesn't disclose that she can't have children?

Label me unromantic and a total dud, but marriage is largely an economic arrangement. The ketubah makes that no secret and the ketubah isn't kept a secret as it is read under the chuppah (not particularly romantic if you think about it). Or in the words of Aretha Franklin (?) Tina Turner, "what's love got to do, got to do with it?" (Yes, of course I believe marriage has a emotional component to, but running up $50k in debt----or 5 tuition payments, 2 new minivans, 4-5 quality used cars, an emergency fund that spins off its own small income, a down payment on a starter home, 10 years of ROTH IRA contributions, public college tuition for one child, etc, etc, etc).

The husband has ever right to be very upset and feel betrayed. I hope that they could work through the betrayal, but the poster who thinks that some husbands might just give kisses and reassure the wife that he will be there for her seems pretty naive to me.

I put out the jury to only one husband, but you should have seen the eye's bulge out of my husband's head. Even if the husband takes the news standing up, chances are there are a lot of life unexpected life changes. Before kids, such a situation would have been much more manageable. After kids, an additional debt load like that could mean public school, moving into a smaller apartment (hope they did not buy a home during the real estate boom), or liquidating savings. And, what if the wife is unable to find a job in the current economy?

Let's take a lesson out of this: family finances should always be an open book!


Anonymous said...

That was Tina Turner

Anonymous said...

I agree that I would be furious with my spouse for keeping this information from me. That said, I do have some sympathy from this wife, particularly if she married young and went through the usual Shidduch process with only a half dozen dates or less before the engagement. How many young men and women are taught to talk about their finances on these dates, especially when they are told of so many other topics they need to cover? Since most college students take on student loans, she could have assumed he knew, just like if someone lives in an apartment, you assume they have to pay rent every month. Did he have any responsibility to ask her? Then, once they are married, she is terrified to tell him as they don't even know each other well yet, and it gets harder and harder as time goes by.

Offwinger said...

Hiding this information is as serious as you're saying. Not telling a spouse about $50,000 debt is a major betrayal.

Not to make light of it, but there was a similar storyline on How I Met Your Mother, where Lily hid her immense credit card debt (not student loans; instead due to a love of shopping/job as a pre-school teacher) from her husband Marshall, even though they had been together for 10 years and normally told each other EVERYTHING (and in excruciating detail). Marshall only learns of this when the couple tries to purchase an apartment together and are turned down for a loan.

Of course, since this was television, the debt makes no appreciable difference on their lifestyle choices in the long run, though it temporary steered Marshall into a high-paying job with a soul-less firm that he hated. They even wind up going through with the purchase of the apartment. As opposed to the typical tv show though, where waitresses can afford luxurious NYC rentals, the narrator of the show makes it clear that what they're doing is completely irresponsible, though without any noticeable consequences, the snarky commentary from the future is probably meaningless.

The good news for the actual poster is that she seems to realize how serious all of this is, both the amount of debt and the deception in her marriage. At least she has some awareness of the lifestyle choices necessary to dig out of a hole that deep.

I hope they get themselves to a marriage counselor AND financial counselor asap.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the second comment, that I have some sympathy.

The loans were from before they were married. That was a choice she made that had nothing to do with him. It was not morally wrong. The bad part, aside from not telling him, was that she stayed in school just to defer the loans. Maybe she should have made a point of getting some kind of lucrative career training, as long as she was in school already.

Anonymous said...

And there are worse secrets. What about a woman who had an abortion or a child out of wedlock before marriage? Wouldn't that be a worse secret to keep? Yet that happens all the time.

If you read the thread, she said she had the loans before she knew him. "The loans were for the years before we were together. We've both paid my tuition with earnings since we've been together." She didn't take out the loans behind his back.

My marriage could withstand the money/loan scenario more than some other secrets, that's for sure.

Anonymous said...

Not to leave the wrong impression, it's not like I have any big hidden secrets from my spouse, as far as I know. If this couple is truly committed, they'll work this one out.

ProfK said...

This letter points out that one thing of major importance that an engaged couple needs to do is sit down and make up a budget and financial plan. Clearly, outstanding debts or debts that are likely to come due in the near and far future would/should have been disclosed then.

Having this kind of debt "suddenly" pop up is bound to cause a ripple in the marital relationship, but not necessarily a tsunami. Although I have to ask: what world has the husband been living in regarding how his wife's school tuition was paid and is being paid? Is there really anyone out there who doesn't know that college costs money? If he has been working under the assumption that his in laws have been paying this tuition then he is in for a rude awakening. But why didn't he ask?

What this couple needs, and soon, is a trip to a marital counselor and a financial counselor to adjudicate the problems that are going to arise. The situation is not hopeless but it's not going to improve by ignoring it and still keeping the secret.

You have to wonder just what they are teaching in choson and kallah classes that honesty and financial matters seem to be "the great unknown" to too many couples.

Orthonomics said...

That was Tina Turner

I agree that I would be furious with my spouse for keeping this information from me.
Curious anon if you are male or female. I'm guessing that males would take to this differently than females.

Since most college students take on student loans, she could have assumed he knew, just like if someone lives in an apartment, you assume they have to pay rent every month.
I think the assumption could just as easily be that the parents paid the tuition. I guess it depends your own background. My parents both came from low and lower income backgrounds and it was either earn a full ride scholarship, go to junior college if the parents could swing that, or work your way through school. I don't believe taking out loans was all that common for undergrad amongst my own high school classmates.

Orthonomics said...

If he has been working under the assumption that his in laws have been paying this tuition then he is in for a rude awakening. But why didn't he ask?
ProfK-You need to read the thread for the full story.

They (together) have been paying her tuition since they were married. She has continued to attend school under the excuse that it is for personal gratification, but the real reason is because she is deferring the loan (thankfully interest free as it is a federal stafford).

Obviously it is gets harder to knock off a loan when there are multiple kids in the picture. The impact of the debt will depend on a lot of factors from number of kids, to other debts/mortgage, to the earning power of the wife.

I firmly believe that all debts should be on the table before the chuppah. It is only fair to be able to deal with reality. $50K is a lot of reality.

Anonymous said...

Maybe we have a role reversal in my house. I grew up with extremely frugal parents, and although I rebelled a little, I'm still the frugal one in my house. I always feel that my husband is not careful enough with money, although he's become more so also in the 21 years we've been married.

When I totaled his car a year ago, the first thing he said was "it's only money." When I had an accident in my father's car at age 21 (the car was NOT totaled and the damage was not that great), my father hit the roof. Certainly personality has something to do with it, but I'd like to think that my marriage could survive a money matter, even a $50,000 one.

Orthonomics said...

Believe it or not, I'm the "spendthrift" in our family. But when it comes to maximizing our money by saving on the little stuff, I'm a pro. I've definitely had to promote my position that a nice paint job, e.g., would contribute to greater satisfaction with our living quarters.

We are very honest about money in the home. I might be in charge of it, but my husband knows what is going on. BT (before tuition) I used to surprise him by the total amount I was able to save after everything. A $50K secret would be huge. . . . . I don't know if it would be insurmountable, but it would be huge.

Miami Al said...

Tesyaa, I agree, the problem is that the couple needs to face some realities. This is a debt they need to handle, but it's not a huge one. Comparing the $50k for education to a down payment on the house is silly, because while the amounts are the same, they are not otherwise related. The down payment is towards a new debt, the educational loan is a loan toward a previous investment.

However, it is stated that she has been staying in school to defer, but if they aren't planning on her working, they are compounding the problem. Sometimes you have to tread water until things get better (which I've even heard Dave Ramsey recommend to couples down on their luck that can probably hang on), but they need to move in the right direction.

Is $50k a lot of money, yes and no. The average American spends $210k/child raising them to 18, not including college OR any private schooling, so over the course of a marriage, it's not huge. However, the problem IS getting worse, and that particular website is a stupid place to go for any useful advice, a group of crooked enablers the whole lot of them.

ora said...

I think you're leaving out some important details. Like the part where she was afraid he would leave her, and mentioned suicide as a possible solution.

If she'd written "I didn't tell my husband about my student debt and now he's mad for some reason, isn't that so unreasonable?" I think she would have gotten some very different responses. But if someone comes on terrified that her marriage is about to end and mentioning death as a possible alternative - IMO it would be irresponsible and downright stupid to start telling her "of course you should be scared, it's a big deal, what's wrong with you," etc.

In other words - it's not just the financial situation that matters, it's the human emotions involved. Of course it will have an effect on their life, and they'll have to deal with that together. But in the meantime, she needs to calm down enough to approach her husband in the first place, not to be told that she's done a horrible dishonest thing that will ruin their finances.

Miami Al said...

Eh, that is easily ignored here because nobody has much sympathy for the childish behavior that you see of supposed adults on that site.

OMG, I didn't tell him my secret, and now I'm scared, he'll like, totally break up with me and then I'd just die, maybe I should like, kill myself so he won't break up with me.

That's not an adult response to a relationship problem, that's teen angst and more appropriate to a middle schooler TXTing her friend about a boy she likes.

I think my biggest frustration about the Yeshiva world that I see is all the "adults" in their early-mid twenties, with one or two kids already, that act like middle schoolers with their first crush. I think that any benefits from the social segregation are outweighed by the fact that we simply aren't letting kids grow up.

She needs to be told, "Grow up, your kids need you, you don't get to kill yourself because you're embarrassed. There is nothing wrong with you having student loan debt from college, you husband should/could have asked, you should/could have brought it up, but you didn't, oh well. Kicking the can down the block with classes that aren't helping you earn money to pay off that debt isn't helping, and you need to sit your husband down and go over ALL the family finances. Your student loan should be a part of it, but you need to address this like adults.

The time for angsty relationships is WELL over when you are married with children. Acting like a petulant teenager towards your husband is childish, petty, and extremely unfair to him. There need to be two adults in a marriage, it can't be the father, a teenager acting out who happened to birth the children, and the small children.

JohnGalt said...

SL---I am still trying to figure out how you confused Aretha Franklin with Tina Turner....

Anonymous said...

Miami Al: I agree with most of your post. However, there may be something else going on here. It might not just be teenagy- type angst or nerves. What if this husband is hard to talk to and has a temper. Perhaps he has given his wife reason to believe he might leave over something like this.

SL: Just because people in your circle didn't take out student loans, that doesn't mean that lots of other people don't. Anyone who reads the papers and follows the news to even a minimal degree should know that many, many college students take out loans and that the average student load debt is fairly significant.

Anonymous said...

I wonder if this couple had a big wedding or received wedding gifts. If they had discussed the debt before marriage they could have said (i) gee mom and dad, we really appreciate your offering to pay for a fancy wedding and if a a big wedding is important to you, that's fine, but if it's ok with you, we'd rather have a small wedding and would appreciate that some of the savings be put toward paying off the student loan so we can start married life without a big debt," and/or they could have agreed to put wedding gifts toward the loans instead of, for example, buying new furniture or taking a honeymoon.

Having not taken those steps, this couple is still young and with good financial management, a $50,000 debt payable over 20 or 30 years should be manageable.

Leah Goodman said...

the "it's no big deal" advice is certainly not in any way based in reality. She needs to get her husband in a room with some type of mediator. Her husband WILL be angry and rightly so. She screwed up. If she fears his anger, she might be right to fear that.

The right type of mediator will hopefully diffuse the anger to the point that they can build the financial plan that needs to be built to deal with the reality that she's been ignoring and hiding from him.

I don't see it as a marriage ender, but it's a BIG HUGE deal.

btw, I think that in some ways, this is MORE SERIOUS than finding out that one's wife had an abortion before you were married. an abortion is over. it's in the past, it no longer affects you (I mean, emotionally it might, but tangibly, it doesn't affect your day to day life)

Gave A Get said...

I believe that one of the most basic principles of Marriage is trust. It is right up there with respect. This is a violation of trust and I wish these folks luck working it out.

Anonymous said...

Miami Al,

I know you really dislike chareidim, but your comment about their maturity level is simply not true.

I have not noticed this attitude in the community and was quite shocked to read her attitude on the thread. It made me think that she either has an unreasonable husband or she is just really immature.

I have never heard anyone make a statement like that in real life. Also, the poster never wrote what group she belongs to--she could be MO.

About the issue at hand. I do think it is a serious issue but should not cause him to divorce her immediately unless there are other issues as well. I think she needs to sit down with him and have a serious discussion about finances and have a plan for how she is going to pay it off.

-A chareidi Imamother poster

Orthonomics said...

Miami Al writes: The down payment is towards a new debt, the educational loan is a loan toward a previous investment.

Right now the debt is a debt. When she gets a job and steps up to the plate then it will be an "investment." You and I are in agreement that adult reason needs to reign.

Ora-I am ignoring the hysteria because it is juvenile. The debt can be managed, but ignoring the problem is only going to make it worse. I don't have a clue what the fallout will be, but not coming clean will only compound the problem. She has got to come clean as an adult. The advice there is extremely adolescent (e.g. drop hints, leave the bill laying out, or pretend that of course he knew about the debt).

JohnGalt-Not my first mistake with popular culture, nor my last I'm sure. My yeshiva educated husband is constantly filling me in where I miss the joke because I don't have the cultural context.

Just because people in your circle didn't take out student loans, that doesn't mean that lots of other people don't.

All I was pointing out was that it is perfectly reasonable to assume the parents paid because many parents do pay. I once (stupidly) dated a complete jerk with a yeshiva background. His parents wouldn't pay for college, but were more than ready to take on multi-tens-of-thousands of loans for a wedding. My parents couldn't believe a *Jewish* parent could leave their kids out in the cold while spending for their own personal gratification. Glad I got out of the relationship, but I learned a lot.

In my current "circle," (near purely upper-middle income professionals) student loans are quite common and I'm sure the trend will continue for most children, although the economy could change that. Where I grew up, in a very mixed socioeconomic town, I believe loans were far less common because you didn't have to follow any particular script.

Dave said...

The term for this that has been used recently is "financial infidelity".

I think that accurately describes it.

Orthonomics said...

GaveAGet-Trust is #1 in my book about what a marriage needs to have to survive and thrive.

I believe that way to resolve the issue is complete honesty from here on our and being very pro-active to resolve the issue. A teacher might chose to teach in an inner-city school district that will pay off some of the student loans. You can seek employment through a company with loan forgiveness. You can cut our any luxuries to make the blow less painful. But, ultimately you have to come clean and give a regular accounting to restore trust.

Anonymous said...

SL says: "When she gets a job and steps up to the plate then it will be an "investment." I got the impression that to date, the husband has not let her or discouraged her from working. He too will have to "step up to the plate" by encouraging her to work and being supportive and forgive her if they are going to get past this.

Orthonomics said...

Anon, I was responding to Miami Al's use of the word "investment." My own assumption is that the husband's predisposition is toward having a fulltime mother for his children. There is nothing wrong with that and I presume he was under the impression that it was feasible.

Ovbiously hiding this debt has changed that calculation and now life will change. You are correct that he too will have to "step up to the plate" if they want to get past this sucessfully.

I feel bad for him because he has never had the information needed to plan accordingly. I know my husband wouldn't take well to a surprise like this, and I certainly wouldn't either because I am basing our own assumptions on different numbers.

I really hope that she will come clean and make this work as best possible.

Anonymous said...

SL: I went back to the imamother thread. The wife makes clear that she went to school expecting to work after marriage. What is not at all clear is whether the husband told her before the marriage that he expected his wife to be a SAHM. If he withheld that information before the engagement, that is like withholding the information about her debt. Maybe they both have some coming clean and apologizing to do.

Orthonomics said...

True it is unclear when the subject of the mother being a sahm came up, but her silence could be interpreted as agreeing to be so. What a shame she didn't just say to him: "I have student loan debt that needs to be taken care of" rather than being silent. This is certainly going to come as a surprise because not only did she omit this detail, but she has allowed him to make a plan that might not be feasible when carrying around a load of student debt. Really him should read them because they both are building a family while she is keeping this secret.

The term "financial infidelity" is termed such for a reason. There is no sin in taking out this loan. Keeping it secret from you spouse is the problem.

Ahavah said...

If they've been paying for her tuition themselves, they're paying several thousand a semester - which might be more or less equal to the loan payments. It wouldn't be that hard to just commit the former tuition budget to loan repayment, I would think.

That doesn't excuse her dishonesty, though. She had an obligation to disclose all her financial obligations at the time of her marriage, I would think.

Thinking said...

The trust issue is a big one, but there are steps she can take to alleviate the burden. Her $50k of loans, once consolidated, should amount to about $300 per month. She needs to find a way to earn $300 in excess of what she currently earns, not easy but definitely not impossible. That way when she does inform her husband she can also present her solution. The bigger blow to him would be if she told him about it without having come up with solutions.

I have always and continue to consider student loans to be good debt. My first job, promotions and current job are a direct result of having an Ivy League degree (I am talking about hishtadlus, g-d is a given in my life). I would not be in the position I am in today if it were not for my degree. It is well worth the $250 a month I currently pay to pay it off.