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What Happens to Debt When You Divorce? 

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

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For every two to three new marriages in 2014 there was at least one divorce, according to the latest Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data — a grim statistic that could easily kill deflate your inner romantic.  

Breaking up a marriage is hard to do and it’s made all the more difficult by the financial implications. 

The average price of a divorce, from start to finish, lands at around $15,500 (including $12,800 in attorney’s fees), according to a 2014 survey put out by Nolo, a publisher specializing in legal issues. If the legal expenses are one side of the coin, figuring out what to do with your joint financial assets and debts is the other.  

We’ve talked about what happens to debt after you’ve married. Now it’s time to ask what happens to debt when you divorce. 

Here’s everything you need to know, plus some tips for protecting your finances when a marriage ends. 

Where you get divorced 

When it comes to splitting up debts, the state you live in can sway the outcome in a big way. A majority are considered equitable distribution states, where the judge uses his or her discretion to divide up debt in a way that’s deemed fair and evenhanded. 

Each state has its own set of laws and procedures, but Vikki S. Ziegler, a longtime matrimonial law attorney licensed in multiple states, says the court generally has more leeway in an equitable distribution state.  

Simply put, the judge has the freedom to take multiple factors into consideration. This might include everything from one spouse’s income to another’s employment status.  

The situation could play out much differently if you live in a community property state. These states are listed below, and in them, debt is viewed a bit differently. 

  • Alaska* 
  • Arizona 
  • California 
  • Idaho 
  • Louisiana 
  • Nevada 
  • New Mexico 
  • Texas 
  • Washington 
  • Wisconsin 

*Alaska has an optional community property system. 

Community property states typically split all marital debt right down the middle, regardless of who actually accrued the debt. This means that if your spouse racked up hidden balances during the marriage, you’ll likely be on the hook for half. In community property states, the divorce process is typically more cut and dried than subjective. 

“The most important thing for someone leaving a marriage to understand is how the law applies in each state that they are getting divorced in,” Ziegler told MagnifyMoney. “How are you going to allocate debt, and who’s going to be responsible for what?” 

An experienced divorce attorney can help fill in the blanks. 

The type of debt 

The type of debt you have is another biggie. Let’s first zero in on secured debt, like a mortgage or car loan.  

According to John S. Slowiaczek, president of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, whichever spouse decides to keep certain assets — such as the house or a car — will also assume whatever debt is left over.  

“Debt associated with an asset will ordinarily be allocated to the person acquiring the property,” Slowiaczek tells MagnifyMoney. 

Your mortgage: The loan will likely be the responsibility of both parties equally, unless it’s only in one party’s name. If you both co-borrowed the mortgage, you’ll have to decide who will keep the loan and who will exit if one partner wants the house. One way to get one name off a mortgage loan is to refinance the debt and put the loan under just one person’s name.  

The equity built up in the home usually belongs to each party 50/50 as long as the title is held as joint tenants with right of survivorship or tenants by the entirety; don’t be intimidated by the legal jargon. All this means, essentially, is that you legally own the home together.  

If you decide to sell the house, either the couple or the court will likely compel that process, after which you can divide the proceeds equally after paying off the debt.  

If you’re planning on staying in your home, refinancing your mortgage before you divorce can help ease the financial blow. With divorce being as costly as it is, finding ways to trim your budget can better prepare you for a single-income lifestyle. Refinancing could do just that, lowering your monthly payment and potentially your interest rate, assuming you have good credit.  

A lower bill may also make it financially possible for you to stay in the house, if that’s what you want. Plus, if you apply before splitting, you’re more likely to get approved since a combined income will likely make you more attractive to lenders.  

Your car loan: The same usually goes for car loans — if one spouse wants to keep the vehicle, he or she could refinance the loan under his/her own name. Or you can sell altogether and divvy up the cash. As Slowiaczek mentioned above, remaining debt follows the asset, so whoever keeps the car will assume the debt. 

Credit debt. The way nonsecured debts, like credit cards, are handled goes back to individual state laws.  

In a community property state, Ziegler says the courts usually take a 50/50 view of marital debt. But equitable distribution states typically look at who contributed to the debt, how much money each party makes, and other statutory requirements that allow them to potentially allocate the debt differently. In other words, things aren’t as black and white, and the courts have more interpretive wiggle room.   

Barbara, a 36-year-old sales professional in Tampa, Fla. is eight months into the divorce process. Florida is an equitable distribution state, meaning the debt she and her husband accrued could end up being split any number of ways. One of the toughest parts of her experience has been the $35,000 of credit card debt she says she shares with her ex. 

“It was mostly accrued by [my husband], but mostly in my name,” she told MagnifyMoney. The couple also have a $202,000 mortgage, and deciding who will assume the mortgage (and the equity in the home that comes with it) has been a point of contention.  

Ziegler says Barbara probably has more leverage than if she lived in a community property state.  

Student loans. Generally speaking, Ziegler says the court is required to look at the purpose of the degree each spouse pursued to determine whether it’s marital or non-marital debt. Again, it really depends on the nature of the debt, who benefitted from it, and what state you live in, among other things.  

For example, a student loan may be in your spouse’s name, but who’s making the payments? And which one of you is the primary earner? These things matter and could potentially play into your divorce agreement. 

When you acquired the debt 

One bit of good news: no matter where you live, Ziegler says premarital debts are off limits. Where divorce is concerned, the court is only interested in debts that were accrued during the marriage. The same generally goes for debt acquired post-separation.  

How the debt was used 

Every case is different, but the reason behind the debt can sometimes be argued. If, for example, debt was taken on for one spouse’s personal use, the other spouse might argue against being on the hook for it, depending on the property laws in the relevant state. 

“Credit card purchases to buy groceries or make a car payment are obviously marital, but what about debt that was racked up for personal use, like [cosmetic surgery] or gifts for someone your spouse was having an affair with?” asked Ziegler. “It can be argued that those expenses are not marital debt and should be assumed by the individual.”  

This underscores the importance of parsing out individual versus marital debts. To help make it easier, Ziegler recommends that couples maintain two different types of accounts: joint for marital expenses, and individual for personal spending. It’s also wise to keep your statements handy.
 

How to financially protect yourself during a divorce 

Divorces don’t usually come cheap, but there are steps you can take to soften the blow. 

Sign a prenup

Prenuptial agreements aren’t as taboo as they once were. According to a survey released by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (AAML) in 2013, “prenups” are on the rise; a whopping 63 percent of divorce attorneys cited an increase in recent years. This is because they serve as a loophole against state rules, dramatically simplifying the fight over debts and assets. 

“Most prenuptial agreements say that if the debt is in either party’s name, it’s separate debt that cannot be allocated or redistributed for payment,” said Ziegler.  

If you’re already married, it isn’t too late to protect yourself. As of 2015, 50 percent of AAML members reported an uptick in postnuptial agreement requests. 

Safeguard your credit

Take steps to safeguard your credit before you divorce. As soon as you begin the separation process, do yourself a favor and make a list of all your individual and joint debts to get an idea of what you’re dealing with. Are you or your spouse listed as authorized users on any accounts? If so, cancel those straight away to avoid accruing any new joint debt. To make sure you don’t miss anything, pull your credit report and take a thorough look at your open accounts. 

Ziegler also suggests making it clear in the divorce agreement who’s responsible for which debts — but that doesn’t always protect you. 

“The reality is, if your name is still attached to the account, and your ex-spouse defaults on payments, it’s going to negatively impact your credit,” she warned.  

If your ex agrees to pay off any debts, you can protect yourself by transferring the balances fully into the former partner’s name. 

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

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Survey: Millennials Are Underestimating Retirement Savings Needs

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone and is not intended to be a source of investment advice. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

For many savers, a cozy retirement can seem like a distant dream rather than a realistic future. Costs of living continue to rise, while it’s becoming harder for many to keep up with saving. More and more senior citizens are working into retirement, and millennials may be underestimating just how much they’d need to save for retirement in the first place.

MagnifyMoney commissioned a survey of 800 full-time workers to get a better look at their understanding of their own retirement savings needs. The results show that while millennials may be underestimating the real costs of retirement, so are baby boomers. Furthermore, some baby boomers indicated that no amount of money would make them comfortable enough to retire.

Key findings

  • 73% of full-time working Americans believe $1 million is enough to get them through retirement if they stop working at age 66. There was widespread agreement on this across all age groups.
    • $1 million in retirement savings is a general rule of thumb to follow, although an individual’s actual retirement savings should be more specific based on projected spending in retirement.

  • Meanwhile, nearly 1 in 5 millennials said having $500,000 in their retirement savings account would make them comfortable enough to stop working tomorrow. Another 14% of millennials would retire after amassing $750,000.
    • Millennials aren’t alone in believing less than $1 million is enough. Across all age groups, 20% of respondents said that $500,000 in retirement savings was enough. The next largest cohort — 17.4% of respondents — said $1 million in retirement savings was enough.
  • Interestingly, more than 1 in 5 baby boomers responded similarly to millennials, saying just $500,000 would get them through retirement if they stopped working tomorrow. Another 15% of boomers said $750,000 would be enough to retire.
  • Some baby boomer respondents offered a bleaker outlook: More than a quarter of Americans ages 54-73 reported that no amount of money would make them comfortable enough to retire.
    • Boomers were almost twice as likely to say that no amount of money would make them comfortable enough to stop working compared to younger Americans. 14.4% of millennials and 15.2% of Gen X-ers had the same sentiment.
    • Boomers may be less willing to stop working than other age cohorts because they believe they need to save more before they stop working, or because some feel you can never really have enough money saved for retirement.
  • More than 1 in 10 Americans have lofty goals for their retirement savings. Just under 12% of our respondents want to accumulate at least $3 million before ending their career.

How much should I save for retirement?

Saving for retirement is not an exact science. Shooting for a $1 million nest egg is a common rule of thumb — and most survey respondents agree that $1 million would be enough.

However, the amount of retirement savings you need depends on your estimated expenses in retirement. Your exact number could be more or less than $1 million, depending on how much you expect to spend on housing, discretionary costs or lingering debts.

For example, $1 million in savings would fund a 20-year retirement where you’re limited to $50,000 in annual spending. If you anticipate a 30-year retirement, $1 million in savings would only cover around $33,000 in annual spending.

How much you should have saved for retirement also depends largely on your age. For example, it’s unlikely that at 30 years old, you’ll already have $1 million set aside unless you’re extremely blessed. You’ll have to build up your savings as you go and as your income, hopefully, increases with age.

Fidelity offers a different take on savings guidelines by age. According to Fidelity, by age 30 you should have 1x your annual salary saved, growing to 3x your annual salary saved by age 40, 6x by 50, and 8x by 60.

How do I save for retirement?

If you think you’ve underestimated how much you truly need to save for retirement, there’s still time to get your savings on track.

A common retirement savings tool is the 25x rule, which dictates you need to have 25 times your annual retirement expenses saved. Core to this rule is the assumption that you’ll need to cover 25 years of retirement. So if you calculate an estimated $70,000 in annual spending in retirement, for example, following the 25x rule would indicate a nest egg goal of $1.75 million.

That’s a far cry from the mere $500,000 that 20% of our respondents indicated would be adequate for retirement. If you stuck to that goal, by the 25x rule, your annual spending in retirement would be cut down to $20,000.

It’s best to throw your retirement savings into an investment account, rather than a high-yield savings account. Over time, investing can post returns around 8%, well above the 2% savings APYs we see today. Retirement savings are more than just your 401(k), too: individual retirement accounts, or IRAs, allow you to save on your own, whether instead of or in addition to your 401(k).

If you’re an investing beginner, there are a ton of resources out there to help you get started. Robo-advisors and online brokerages offer an easily navigable investing experience that allow you to set your own goals and preferences.

Methodology

MagnifyMoney by LendingTree commissioned Qualtrics to conduct an online survey of 816 full-time American workers. The survey was fielded October 1-3, 2019.

We define millennials as those aged 23 to 38, Gen X as those 39 to 53 and Boomers as those aged 54 to 73. Members of Gen Z (ages 18 to 22) and the Silent Generation (ages 74 and up) were also surveyed, and their responses are included within the overall total percentages. However, they were excluded from the age breakdowns due to the lower sample size among respondents in those age groups.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

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Survey: For 36% of Americans, Economy Informs 2020 Presidential Preference

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

The presidential election will dominate headlines throughout 2020, with voters and pundits alike obsessively following polls, reading coverage and watching debates to get a feel for who’s leading in the race for the White House. In addition, they’ll be closely watching another key indicator for the race: the performance of the U.S. economy.

MagnifyMoney commissioned a survey of 1,000 Americans to gauge how people think about the relationship between the economy and the 2020 presidential election. Our survey found that nearly four in ten respondents said monitoring the economy helps them decide which candidate to support, and believe the results of an election can be at least somewhat predicted by the performance of the economy.

Key findings

  • About 41% of respondents believe the outcome of a presidential election can be predicted based on U.S. economic performance in the 12 months leading up to the election.
    • Around 36% said monitoring the stock market and the economy helps them decide which presidential candidate to support.
  • Republicans are more confident than Democrats about three key aspects of the economy over the next 12 months: that the stock market will continue to rise, jobs will continue to be added to the economy and the overall economy will continue to grow.
  • Nearly 1 in 3 respondents think the 2020 presidential campaign will positively impact the economy — while about 18% believe the economy will be negatively impacted.
    • Investors are almost twice as likely as non-investors to believe the campaign will positively benefit the economy, and six-figure earners are also more likely to agree with this proposition.
  • Like many topics in politics, the potential economic impact of re-electing Donald Trump is a polarizing subject.
    • When asked which 2020 presidential candidate made them most optimistic about the future of the U.S. economy, the most-cited candidate was Donald Trump, with 33% of respondents overall.
    • When asked which candidate made them most pessimistic about the future of the U.S. economy, Trump was yet again the most cited candidate, by 35% respondents overall.

How could the state of the U.S. economy impact the election?

Our survey found that about 4 in 10 respondents think you can at least somewhat predict the outcome of the presidential election based on U.S. economic performance in the year leading up to the election. Meanwhile, 37% say that they do not think that economic performance could predict the election’s outcome, while nearly 22% were not sure.

Republicans were more likely than Democrats to say that economic performance could at least somewhat predict the 2020 election, 53% versus 43%. Meanwhile, 50% of millennials think that the state of the economy could at least somewhat predict the 2020 election, compared to 40% of Gen Xers and 32% of baby boomers.

Our survey asked whether people monitor the stock market and economic performance when deciding which presidential candidate to support. We found that the majority of people (64%) do not track such metrics when deciding who to support, while approximately 21% do somewhat and 15% do a great deal. The results didn’t differ greatly when considering party affiliation: 40% of Democrats and 42% of Republicans follow these metrics at least somewhat when determining who to vote for.

How could the election impact the U.S. economy?

While our survey revealed that many people think that economic conditions can help predict the outcome of the 2020 election, we also asked respondents how they think the election will impact the economy once the polls close and the next president is selected.

Overall, people feel very differently about how the 2020 election results will impact the economy, with 31% of respondents saying it will positively affect it, 18% saying it will negatively affect it, 42% saying they are unsure how it will affect it and 9% saying it will not affect it at all.

Those results look somewhat different when party affiliation is taken into account: 41% of Republicans said the outcome of the election will positively impact the economy, compared to just 32% of Democrats. Meanwhile, Democrats were more likely to say that the election would have a negative impact on the economy, 19% compared to 14% of Republicans.

Different generations also had different thoughts on how the election’s results might affect the economy, with millennials (39%) most likely to say they think it will have a positive impact, followed by Gen Xers (28%) and baby boomers (24%). In contrast, Gen Xers were the generation most likely to say the election will have a negative economic impact (20%), followed by millennials (18%) and baby boomers (15%).

Our survey also revealed how people think the stock market will react to a President Trump re-election. Overall, 31% of respondents think that the stock market will fall if Trump is re-elected, 26% think the market would rise, 28% are unsure of how the market would react and 16% think it won’t change. Not surprisingly, 50% of Democrats think the stock market will fall with a Trump re-election, while 52% of Republicans think it will rise.

How could the election impact investor confidence?

Everything from a CEO’s tweets to global trade deals has the potential to rattle an investor’s confidence — and our survey found that the 2020 election is no exception.

Interestingly, we found that overall, 37% of people avoid investing their money during election years. That includes 41% of Democrats and 39% of Republicans, as well as a whopping 56% of millennials, 29% of Gen Xers and 13% of baby boomers.

One reason for the lack of investment during election years could be chalked up to overall uneasiness about the state of the economy in general. When looking at the 2020 election in particular, many respondents aren’t too confident in many metrics that measure the health of the economy.

Overall, 28% of those surveyed are at least somewhat unconfident that the stock market will continue to rise, 30% are at least somewhat unconfident that the U.S. will continue adding jobs in the next 12 months and 29% are at least somewhat unconfident that the overall U.S. economy will continue to grow over the next 12 months.

When looking at confidence levels regarding the overall future of the economy, our survey found that Democrats are much more pessimistic than their Republican counterparts: 38% of Democrats were at least somewhat unconfident that the overall U.S. economy will continue to grow over the next 12 months, compared to just 19% of Republicans who feel the same way.

When looking at how the economy is now versus how it was on the night of the election in 2016, different political parties have very different viewpoints. Only 16% of Democrats think that the economy is in a better position now, compared to a whopping 68% of Republicans.

When asked which presidential candidate made them the most optimistic about the future U.S. economy and which one made them the most pessimistic, the most popular candidate was the same for both: Donald Trump. Overall, 33% of respondents said that Trump was the candidate that made them the most optimistic about the economic future, followed by Joe Biden (17%), Bernie Sanders (14%) and Elizabeth Warren (12%).

Meanwhile, 35% of respondents said that Trump was the candidate that made them the most pessimistic about the future of the U.S. economy, followed by Sanders and Biden (both at 14%) and then Warren (11%).

Methodology

MagnifyMoney commissioned Qualtrics to conduct an online survey of 1,048 Americans, with the sample base proportioned to represent the general population. The survey was fielded October 1-3, 2019.

In the survey, generations are defined as:

  • Millennials are ages 23 to 38
  • Generation Xers are ages 39 to 54
  • Baby boomers are ages 55 to 73

Members of Generation Z (ages 18 to 22) and the Silent Generation (ages 74 and older) were also surveyed, and their responses are included within the total percentages among all respondents. However, their responses are excluded from the charts and age breakdowns due to the smaller population size among our survey sample.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.