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College Game Plan

Student Debt Puts a Damper on Dating After College

Ah to be young and in love! Turns out it may not be so easy when you're also young and in debt.

A new survey by IonTuition.com, an education-fintech company specializing in helping borrowers monitor and manage their student loans, found that 75 percent of recent U.S college grads perceive student loan debt as "baggage."

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Twelve percent of college grads said that high student load debts are a bigger relationship consideration in a partner than their being divorced, having a child from a previous relationship, or having a non-violent felony on their record.

The survey consulted 1,000 people, and noted that the average college grad leaves school with more than $37,000 in student loan debt. That could be making for a lot of lonely hearts.

"Let's be honest, any debt is toxic to your love life," said Howard Dvorkin, CPA and Chairman of Debt.com. "I've counseled couples on their finances for more than two decades, and I've seen debt nearly destroy their relationships — especially when one partner has a lot and the other has little or none."

The survey also showed that when in a relationship, more than 70 percent of college graduates feel compelled to assist in paying off their partner's student loan debt. More than one-third of those consulted said they'd date a wealthy benefactor if that person would pay off their debt.

The irony of course, is that a college education is needed to succeed in so many fields, and ideally you would simply advance in your career and steadily pay off the loans yourself, rather than looking for someone to provide for you. But as all too many Americans know, debt can be absolutely overwhelming, especially when you're just starting out in the world. The idea of partnering up with someone who is also saddled with debt, or who may want your help down the road if you land a more lucrative job, is anything but romantic.

But is student loan debt truly a relationship deal-breaker? Erin Lowry, the founder of BrokeMillennial.com, says that debt of this nature is a detail that needs to disclosed and discussed, eventually, but that it's not the end of the road.

"I have yet to meet a millennial who has dumped a partner because they've got student loan debt," said Lowry. "It's not like consumer debt, it's 'good debt.' You tried to better yourself and to [position yourself] to earn money in the future, so it's rarely seen as a reason to end a relationship, but it does put a strain on things."

Lowry, 27, and her boyfriend, 25, started dating in college six years ago. They're still together, but the issue of student loan debt has been a topic of serious discussion

"I made my college decision based on coming out debt free, but my boyfriend had student loan debt," Lowry said. "At first I didn't think much of it, but when marriage became a possibility we had to have the financial conversation, which I call getting financially naked. It's about more than releasing [the amount] you're in debt, it's about discussing your whole financial goals, where you want to be in 10 years, and how you plan to retire."

Sitting down and getting into a deep discussion about finances may not be exactly what a 22-year-old recent grad has in mind when she signs up for Tinder, but that's why it's not a conversation that you need to have until you're really serious about someone. The concern Iontuition's survey presents is that student loan debt may turn young people off from dating altogether, an idea that Lowry thinks is "hyperbolic."

"[Student loan debt] can put a lot of pressure on young people and young relationships, but it's not a relationship ruiner," Lowry said.

Sonya Kreizman, CEO of dating app conglomerate Crush Mobile, said she recently conducted a focus group of New Yorkers between the ages of 20 and 30, with most being just out of college, and found that the biggest concerns around debt and dating came into play with men who wanted to go on dates most every night.

"Because of how easy dating is now, these guys want to take a woman out four times a week and it's hurting their pocket," said Kreizman. "If they're not going Dutch, they're paying for drinks and dinner. Our advice was not to go to a restaurant on a first date, but to do something free like taking a walk through a park. And don't blame your wallet, blame your creativity."