Dr. Wall theorizes that marriage problems increase as debt increases and that one sure-fire way to improve your marriage is to start working together as a team on knocking your debt out ASAP!

The borrower is slave to the lender.

Proverbs 22:7

We are all drowning in debt. Debt brings down countries and debt brings down companies and debt brings down families. I wonder if anyone has done a study comparing the debt loads that families take on average and the divorce rate? I bet they go hand in hand. I’ve really only started paying attention to this seriously as a marriage therapist dude for the last year or so. I’ve been amazed at the level of debt of some of my clients and then they wonder why they are not getting along? Hello!

Here’s a simple test of how you are doing. Figure out your current debt-to-income ratio and if you are making progress over time. DTI = your total minimum debt payments per month divided by your total income per month (for a more detailed look at DTI click here). If your total income in a month is $4000 and your total debt payments is $1000 a month, your DTI = 25%. The lower this percent, the better. If your debt were $2000 a month, your DTI would be 50%. This means you’d have only 50% of your income available for other bills and expenses, giving and saving.

We ended up in this worldwide recession because individuals like you and me got our DTI into the stratosphere. In the 60’s, before credit cards were common, DTI was around 25% for mortgages with just a little bit on top of that for maybe a car payment. Prior to the mortgage breakdown of 2007 and 2008 that figure was as high as 43% for a FHA loan. During the subprime craziness they were giving mortgages to people where their DTI was as high as 55%. This is insane enough, but that meant that once people were in mortgages where all their debt totaled 55% of their total income, they would soon run out of money at the least little car repair or braces for Johnny and have to borrow on their credit card or their home equity (HA! If they had any!) to make ends meet and in their own free will borrowed even more money and got further and further into debt, all the while thinking this is fine because real estate will never go anywhere but up! Right.

In the recent spat of foreclosures they’ve run out people who’s mortgage loans can be rewritten because the average DTI for people in foreclosure is 80%! Are we all nuts or what? No wonder marriages are in turmoil. How are you supposed to happily married when 4 out of every five dollars goes to service your debt? Throw in taxes and one dollar out of 10 is all that’s left to go for groceries and haircuts and trips to McDonalds and vacations and furniture and DVD’s and computers and clothes and toiletries and new sheets and towels and car repair everything else.

What you are going to do then is work your butt off and never see your spouse and then when you see each other you can be in really bad moods. That’ll be fun.

I’m guessing most of us aren’t at 80%. Let’s look at a more everyday example.

Let’s say your monthly income, as a couple, is $4000. Let’s say your house payment is $1100 a month (principal, interest, real estate taxes and insurance), your car payment is $450 a month, your student loan is $300 a month, your credit cards total $400 a month and all your medical bills (not health insurance) are $200 a month. Your total debt payments per month are $2450. Divide $2450 by $4000 to get your total DTI = over 61%. YIKES! This means that 61% of your income is going to service debt. You have only $1550 a month left for groceries, household items, gas, car repairs, gifts, giving, eating out, entertainment, vacations, savings and investments! How are you supposed to be happily married in this scenario? You aren’t. Your going to be pissy and worried and you are going to work too much and be tired and you’ll be mad anytime the kids want something or your spouse spends money at Starbucks and you’ll be tempted to go shopping just to not worry about anything for a minute or you’ll waste whatever on the stupid Lottery and then you’ll fight and bicker about the lack of money thereof.

Let’s say after you do the math and you figure out your DTI and you are freaked out. Good! Let’s say you start seriously knocking off debt and in a year you’ve paid off all the stupid credit cards and doctor bills ($600 a month). Now your DTI will be around 46%. Sell your stupid car and your DTI would be 35%. If you were making this kind of headway you’d really notice a change in your attitude. You are working together as a team. You are working on the same goal: Financial Freedom! You both would walk a little lighter. There’d be a freer spirit in your home. You’ve effectively given yourself a raise. In a couple of years of hard work paying off your debt and reducing your expenses, you’ve raised the amount of money that is available to you from $1550 a month to $2600. You’ve given yourself over a $1000 a month raise! Look at how your marriage has improved! Amazing.

But here’s what else happens when you pay off debt. You will be working smarter. Discipline will spread to your whole life. As you work smarter on your money you’ll make better choices overall and people that make better choices overall tend to get raises and promotions! There’s a trickle up effect. You will more than likely find you both are earning more money. As your wages go up and your debt down, your best available “wealth building tool” * (i.e. your income) will also grow. If, in our example above, your income grew by $1000 a month, your DTI would be 28% (1400 divided by 5000) and the money left over after your debt would be $3600 a month! Cool. Pay off your stupid student loan and your house, and only have a real estate tax payment a month and now you are bringing home $4700 a month all to be distributed at your discretion. YOU ARE NO LONGER IN SLAVERY!

You could easily put 20% of that into a retirement account, saving $1000 a month. In 10 years at 10% (which is 2% below the stock market average of 12% since 1934) you’d have $200,000. In 20 years over $750,000. In 30 years 2.2 million and in 40 years 6.3 million. If you got 12% in 25 years you’d have 1.8 million. And I bet you’d save more than that. You could also easily save for your next car and pay cash from here on out. Five hundred bucks a month saved at 10% is over 38 thousand bucks in five years! Imagine your marriage if you actually had money and you could go to Starbucks and NOT FEEL GUILTY!

But what am I seeing in my office? Couples have huge debts. They have their money separate in different bank accounts and neither really knows what the other is doing. Roommates. For many they bring this separate money idea over from cohabiting together without marriage and never change it when they marry.  Habits are hard to break.  Now they are married but they aren’t even acting married. They each have their own debts. He pays his bills; she pays her bills. They think they are doing well because they don’t fight about money. They don’t dare have their money together because they would fight if they had to talk about it. Their incomes are different. It’s impossible to evenly and fairly distribute the bills. His student loan is more than hers. Or her car costs more than his. This system creates jealousies and animosities and feelings of unfairness and favoritism and backbiting and knit picking. Accusations are common. The seeming peace they have is because they don’t talk about it, but the silence is masking resentments and building up anger only to blow up in huge fights or threats of divorce or even divorce. Now if we divorce we can really be broke! Half the debt and twice the bills! Divorce = poverty. Aren’t we the successful people! Won’t you be a prize catch for the next dude or dudette? All right. I’ll go bankrupt. No biggie. Great. Now you’ve just managed to rip your heart in two twice. What fun you’ll be.


So, folks, figure this out. Go out for breakfast with your spouse on Saturday morning. Nowadays you can bring your laptop computer. Eat your breakfast where you can logon to the Internet. Take your check registers, a calculator, a note pad and your bills, stamps and envelops with you. List your debts smallest to largest. Discuss knocking them out. Pay off the smallest one and give each other a high five. Look up your bank accounts online together. Pay your bills together. Discuss your bills together. Save money together. Discuss your giving to the church. Set aside some money for your car repair and future vacation and Christmas gifts so you don’t have to ever go into debt again. Plan your future together. See your spouse as your partner in arms against this cruel world. She or he is NOT the enemy. The enemy is NOT talking and NOT figuring this out and NOT discussing and NOT learning and NOT growing and NOT changing and NOT dreaming together and NOT paying off your debt and NOT saving and NOT giving and expecting your marriage to be fine when you don’t work on squat.

My wife and my goal is a debt-to-income ratio of ZERO.** That would mean that we don’t have any debts divided by our income. Woohoo! We’d just be working for ourselves and wouldn’t be in slavery anymore! We’ve seriously attacked our debt this last year and dropped our DTI by half. Not bad. We’re not done yet and we’re still plugging away…as a team, on the same page with the same goal. I can tell you by personal testimony; it’s the best marriage improvement program ever!!!

You can do it, too. But you have to work together. It’s time for you to swallow a little pride.

It’s time to lower that DTI and kick that stupid debt to the curb. If you don’t do that, I’d be worried you’ll end up kicking each other to the curb.

* Dave Ramsey calls your income your “number one wealth building tool.” He’s got a wonderful program to help couples work together on their money. Check it out at daveramsey.com.

**A DTI of zero is technically impossible because DTI includes real estate taxes or rent. So if your real estate taxes were $300 a month and your income was $5000 a month, and your house was paid off, the lowest your DTI could go would be 6% unless your income went up or your taxes went down.


Check out these other blogs by Dr. Wall on similar topics:

A Little “Getting-Out-Of-Debt” Inspiration

Dr. Wall ponders what your future could be without all your debt.  It’s time to kick it in the butt.

Marriage, Money and Cohabiting

Dr. Wall theorizes that couples who keep their money separately while cohabiting continue to do so when they get married.  This brings the spirit of living as roommates into the marriage when they are supposed to be working as a team instead.

A NEW Plan

Dr. Wall shares Dave Ramsey’s plan for free cars for life.  Taking control of your money is a price worth paying.


Dr. Bing Wall is a marriage therapist with a practice in Ames and Urbandale, Iowa.  To set up a time to see Dr. Wall click here or call 888-233-8473.  For more information about Dr. Wall click here.

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