Personal Finance

Most couples plan to start married life with this costly ball and chain

Key Points
  • About a third of couples getting married in the next year plan to borrow up to $10,000 to cover wedding bills, according to a new survey from Student Loan Hero.
  • Another 16 percent are taking on $10,000 to $19,999 in debt, while 11 percent are expecting to borrow $50,000 or more.
  • Sixty-one percent of engaged couples plan to charge their expenses to their credit card.
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Newlyweds swap vows promising to support each other in sickness and in health — and apparently in debt.

Three-quarters of engaged couples are going into the red to cover their wedding bills, according to a survey published in February by Student Loan Hero. The site polled 1,000 people getting married in the next 12 months.

For many borrowers, it's a five-figure burden: 16 percent of couples are taking on $10,000 to $19,999 in debt, while 11 percent are expecting to borrow $50,000 or more. (See chart below for a breakdown.)

How much debt do you expect to have as a result of your wedding?

Financing a wedding isn't always rational, said survey lead researcher Elyssa Kirkham.

"It's one of those life events that's really tied to emotion, to your values, what's important to you," she said. "[People are] willing to take on debt and do that trade-off if it means they can get closer to achieving their dream."

These strategies can help you limit the wedding bill blues.

Make a budget

Nearly half of respondents in the Student Loan Hero survey said they have a detailed budget that outlines specific costs, such as how much to spend on the venue and catering. That's a key tool for keeping spending in check.

First, figure out how much you can afford to spend from savings, contributions from family members and your current income — keeping in mind that you might have competing goals for that cash, like saving up to buy a home or start a family.

Which of the following do you plan to use to pay for your wedding?

Then assess how far those savings will go in covering your anticipated expenses. Consider how much debt you'd need to take on, if any, and how long after the wedding it will take to pay that off, said Pamela Capalad, a certified financial planner and founder of Brunch & Budget in New York.

That can put your budget in perspective.

"Do these flowers matter as much as you think they do right now?" Capalad said. "I feel like the longer you have to pay off debt after the wedding, the further and further away the memory of the wedding can sustain you being able to pay that debt off."

Trim expenses

"You have to be real picky and choosy about what is really important to you," said Douglas Boneparth, a certified financial planner and president of Bone Fide Wealth in New York.

If there's a gap between your expected spending and your savings, see what you can cut, both big and small. Experts often recommend prioritizing two or three elements (say, hiring a great photographer or buying that dream dress) and scaling back on the rest.

That might mean taking a do-it-yourself approach with certain things like decorations, Boneparth said, or looking for a low-cost venue such as a local park. Cutting the guest list can also help you save, reducing costs on expenses as varied as catering and invitations.

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Borrow wisely

If you do decide to take on debt related to your wedding (again: not recommended), weigh your options.

Those who can pay off their credit card relatively quickly can take advantage of sign-up bonuses, such as travel rewards, as well as initial zero percent introductory rates.

But there are risks involved, Capalad said. High interest rates can make it tough to dig out, and a big balance could also ding your credit score.

"A credit card might not be the thing to do, if you don't have the income to qualify for the limit that you need and you don't have the credit score to qualify for it," she said.

How long do you expect to be paying off credit card balances from your wedding?

A small personal loan may be the better option, Capalad said. Personal loans, which are paid off in fixed installments over a set period, typically offer lower interest rates than those offered by a credit card, according to the most recent Federal Reserve Consumer Credit report.

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