Going Into Debt to Have Kids

By Maggie Ellis

It is widely taught in financial education that there are only two kinds of debt that can be considered “good debt”: A mortgage and student loans (as long as they aren’t beyond your ability to repay comfortably). We’re always taught that it’s okay to go into debt to buy a house or another piece of real estate like a rental property because real estate is an appreciating asset. Generally you’ll get more when you sell than you paid. Similarly, student loans are a way to ensure you get an education that will (hopefully) increase your earning potential over time. The loan is an investment that should be worth more over time than you pay initially. Almost every financial guru and expert preaches that to go into debt for any other reason is a bad idea.

So imagine my surprise the other day when, while listening to Dave Ramsey’s program, I heard him tell a caller that it would be okay to go into debt in order to have kids. The caller was trying desperately to have children but was having no success the natural way. So she was calling Dave to ask if it was okay to go deeply into debt to either adopt, go through fertility treatments, or pay for a surrogate.

No matter which road she chose she would be looking at anywhere from $10,000 on upwards to $100,000, depending on the method. She didn’t have this kind of money just lying around and health insurance wasn’t going to cover fertility treatments. She confessed that they already had a lot of debt, including about $30K in car loans and $20K in credit cards, plus student loans and a mortgage. Her proposed method of covering her child-getting expenses was through a combination of home equity loans, private loans, and credit cards. They have no emergency fund, no savings, only about $5K in retirement, and no other assets. She asked Dave if she should take on the extra debt to have kids. His answer was yes, his reasoning being that children are such a blessing that they are worth it at any cost.

Now, I know Dave comes from a certain religious perspective that believes children are gifts from God, blessings, worth all sacrifice, etc. And I can respect that, to a point. But taking religion out of the equation and sticking strictly to the numbers, I wondered if it was really such a good idea to go so deeply into debt to have children. I see more than a few problems with saying yes.

First of all, if someone like this caller already has a large debt load, going deeper into the hole to have kids is only going to cause more problems down the road. Much of their income is already going to debt payments. They would likely be strapped already to afford the things a baby needs and adding to that debt burden is only going to make it more difficult. What happens when the child gets sick and needs medical attention that isn’t fully covered by insurance? More debt. What about college? There can be no college savings if all of the income is eaten up by debt. What about necessities? Even buying things used is going to add up to quite a bit of money. How will all of that be paid for when there is so much debt? Daycare? That’s only going to add to the financial stress and if all the income is needed for debt payments, no one can stay home with the child, either. Barring a huge increase in income, I just don’t see how such a debt load can be comfortably managed, especially factoring in the needs of a child. I can only see this couple ending up in a much deeper hole than they started in.

Second, if the caller goes the fertility treatment route, what happens if she gets multiples? Multiples are statistically more likely with fertility treatments. With an already crushing debt load, all of the problems I mentioned above would be multiplied by two or even more. Even for someone with no debt multiples can be an overwhelming financial burden. Buying two or more of everything in a very short time frame is expensive.

As for the risks to the parents, what happens to their retirement? There can be little to no saving for retirement when trying to pay down these kinds of debts. What about the house? Taking out an equity loan to pay for having kids puts the house in danger. If the parents lose a job and can’t make the payments, both they and the kids are homeless. How can the parents scrape together an emergency fund (and with kids you’re going to need one) or put away any kind of savings for a rainy day? I just don’t see how it would be possible under those conditions.

I think in the case of this caller Dave was wrong to give them the okay to go deeper into debt to have kids. He should have told them to get aggressive and pay down all of their other debt first. Get a second job and sock it all away in an emergency fund. Then, if they still wanted to go into more debt for kids, maybe it would be better. At least they wouldn’t have such a crushing debt load and they might have some savings to work with.

What about going into debt to have kids if you have no other debt? Would that be acceptable? I think it depends. Yes, children are a blessing, but perhaps not worth risking your own financial future over. If you had no other debt and were very disciplined about saving, paying more than the minimums, and earning a high income, maybe you could do it and not damage yourself financially. If you could still manage the debt repayments and still afford the child(ren) and take care of your own financial needs like retirement savings and emergency funds, then maybe you could handle $30,000 -$100,000 in debt without too much trouble.

I think that if you already have a lot of debt, adding to it to have kids doesn’t help you and it doesn’t help the kid who will have to grow up in a household burdened by debt and money stress. One lost job and the house of cards will come down. Get your financial house in order before taking on debt to have children. Pay off your existing debts. If at all possible, save like crazy, sell stuff, and cut out all non-necessities to save for the treatments/adoption and pay cash. If you have no debt, maybe you can manage more comfortably, but you still don’t want to take on more than you can comfortably repay.

No matter what, take emotion out of the equation. It’s very easy to get caught up in baby lust, envy of friends who have kids, and wannabe grandparents who are pressuring you. It’s easy to get to a place where you think you have to have kids or die. Sit down and take a cold look at the numbers before jumping into that kind of debt in order to have kids. You wouldn’t take on a large financial commitment like a house without thinking through the numbers; kids shouldn’t be any different. You don’t want to have kids only to end up being unable to give them much of a life. And you don’t want to jeopardize your home, retirement savings, and needs in order to have kids, either. Kids are great, but expensive. Piling on thousands of dollars in debt before the kid even arrives only adds to the financial difficulties.

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19 Responses to Going Into Debt to Have Kids

  1. The debt we incurr to have kids last for 25 years on average, they never stop costing us!

  2. Annie Jones says:

    I’d have to agree with Dave Ramsey on this one.

    You say to take the emotion out of the equation, but that’s not easy to do (maybe not even possible) when you’re talking about the desire to have children. Deciding to have children is not like deciding to buy a new car. Emotion, by necessity, plays a part in the decision.

    Sure, it would be ideal to be debt-free before having kids, but for a lot people, that would mean they would never have children. For many, having a family is a life-long dream. For people like that (including me), a childless life is not much of a life at all.

    Financial security is great, but it’s love, not money, that makes a happy family.

  3. Michelle says:

    It’s interesting … I’m trying to pay down my debt before my husband and I have kids. I’ll be credit card debt free by the end of the month, but will still have about $30,000 in student loans – we also have a $115,000 (or so) mortgage. But we’re going to start as soon as my husband has a permanent job … one of my rationales is that if we waited until we were totally debt free, we’d never have kids.

    But I also see Maggie’s point … $20k in credit card debt? $30k in car loans? Wow … if I was in that financial position I would think long and hard before incurring more debt – especially given the crap shoot that fertility treatments can present. I love Dave Ramsey, but he might have erred in this one – or at least he should have REALLY encouraged this person to take a year and try to pay down more debt before going down this path.

  4. Ben says:

    This is a tough one. I agree, going into debt for “wants” is not a good idea. But a child is the greatest joy of a lifetime to many people. Where does this decision leave the family in 5 years? Are they on the street with an extra mouth to feed? I would not go into debt to have a child.

  5. Monkey Mama says:


    Though I personally think it is crazy to put all that money into fertility treatments, with very iffy incomes, and to bring children into the world with such a debt load,

    I KNOW people who can not conceive children. Even after paying six figures in medical bills. IT has completely devastated them, BUT the only thing worse would be if they never tried, and had all those “what ifs.” Knowing the emotional state of people in this position, and the potential rewards, I have to agree with Dave.

    Logically, it would make far more sense to adopt. Tell that to someone who can’t conceive a child though.

    Lukcily, 90% of the people I know who paid for fertility treatments ended up with a healthy baby. Most of those ended up with one baby – none more than two. For that, it is worth it.

    I can definitely see both sides. But I personally couldn’t put a price on my own chidlren.

  6. valletta says:

    As a person who chose not to have children (nothing to do with expense) I think that this area is fraught with emotion, which is antithetical to cold hard financial facts :)
    Money is simply a tool we use to follow dreams based on our values.
    I’ve known many, many people who have gone into incredible debt and not conceived. It’s a gamble, one which is frequently made solely from the heart rather than the head. It can cause major marital discord if the foundation of the marriage is based solely on having children as the definition of “family”.

  7. ceejay74 says:

    Boy, that is a tough one! I wonder how old the caller was? If already in their mid-30s or older, I would probably have to give them the OK, but with the caveat that they’d need to cut back in every other area–they would have to sacrifice more even than others do. If they were any younger, though, I’d strongly recommend them waiting and making an aggressive effort to get in a better financial situation, as you suggest.

    I’m in a similar situation–my family’s still $20K in CC debt and $75K in student loan debt, plus mortgages, and I’m 5 months pregnant. BUT we wanted to have kids 2 years ago, and I’ve managed to pay off $50K of CC debt and save up a $6K emergency fund (plus a separate $2K medical fund). I’m also hoping that by cutting corners on the superficial baby stuff, we can pay for the important stuff and not incur any new debt, and maybe even continue our accelerated debt payoff.

    Why did I decide to go ahead with getting pregnant with so much still hanging over me? I’m 35, and I felt the window to safely have a kid–and be around for a big part of its life–was closing fast.

    We decided that we would not take any extraordinary steps–if we couldn’t get pregnant naturally, there were other paths we could see our lives taking besides being parents. But there are many many people for whom having children is a much more deep-rooted desire than it is for me. So to flat-out say I didn’t think a person should pursue every avenue to having a kid would feel very heartless. But depending on their age, telling them to wait might be reasonable.

  8. Jim says:

    This doesn’t really sound like advice Dave Ramsey would give. Are there any references so that we can know for sure?

  9. Chris P. says:

    I have never heard Dave Ramsey give advice like this, and I listen to him often. I have actually heard him encourage people to put off international adoption until they can pay in full. Any link to this call?

  10. Paula says:

    This is a tough decision for a lot of people. I agree with a few of the others about trying to save or pay down debt before having child/ren, but that’s not always possible.

    Having said that, my husband and I had our son when we were in our early 30’s. Growing older has a way of making you decide fairly quickly if you want children or not. In our case, we saved an emergency fund and did not have any debt. When our son was born, we did everything we could to save money on stuff that wasn’t necessary for us.

    Now, we are in our late 30’s and have decided not to have another child. Yes, money does play a role here in our decision as we both work full time and don’t make a lot of money (and now have a small amount of debt incurred as well). Also, our son has special needs which is another factor.

  11. Denise T says:

    There are no guarantees even the new outlay of cash will result in a baby. In vitro doesn’t always work. international adoptions don’t always work.

    At what point do we as individuals accept that we will be childless? It is Ok.

    My hubby and I discussed this before trying to have children, and decided that even though it would be sad, if it wasn’t meant to happen for us, it isn’t meant to happen for us.

    The world is already full of people and we can love our friends’ and relatives’ children in the absence of our own.

  12. Tough call, but NO, I wouldn’t incur debt for kids. The kids are gonna have a rough time if you’re having a rough time.

    It baffles me that some don’t make so much, and still decide to have plenty of kids. Bad recipe.

  13. Diane says:

    This is a tough one. I think it depends on the age of the couple.

    My first thought would be to pay down the debt some and start an emergency fund first, if at all possible. (Not expecting to pay all of the debt, but at least make a start.)

    Additionally, I’d say consider going the adoption route, as it would likely be less expensive & risky than fertility treatments, which have no guarantee.

    I have 2 sons, born when I was 30 & 35, so I totally value having kids, but finances are a harsh reality of life and kids are very costly.

    If you can’t pay down debt & live within your means before having kids it will be a lot more difficult after having them…

  14. Jennifer says:

    I wonder whether you or any of your commenters have experienced infertility. If you haven’t been through it personally, it’s impossible to understand. Some people can just say, “Oh, I won’t have kids,” and be ok with it. But it’s not that easy for others. It’s simple to write, “Take the emotion out of it,” but for some of us that’s simply not possible. Luckily, we did not end up having to go into debt before we were successful in conceiving, but many of our friends have, and to them, the debt was very much worth it.

  15. kat says:

    It is a tough one and and easier answer if you have kids already and/or don’t want kids. I agree that its not easy to take the emotion out of it- If you love kids and love the idea of family. The writers should also understand that in some states adoption can be very expensive too. Foster parenting is an option but might not be the same. All that said this is such a great country – incredible leaders and talented artists have emerged from circumstances that seem so improbable or impossible because the family foundation was there. the caller could be the mother to raise such a child. I understand the position on having a level mind and the challenges out there on leaning too heavily on social services, but sometimes someone who is that passionate about having kids is probably passionate enough to make whatever personal sacrifices it takes to build preserve a family and raise a happy healthy child.

  16. Swap Savers says:

    This is a really difficult situation. I think I would look for another solution such as a fund raiser through their church to help with the costs of adoption. Or if they are doing fertility treatment try to negotiate the cost (some doctors will negotiate especially if your insurance will not cover it). Personally I would try to figure out a way to raise the money first since kids also cost a lot of money.

  17. Journey says:

    I’d be shocked if the writer of this article has children. Seems backwards to weigh out and put numbers above children? Maybe I’m misguided however……..and I was fully debt free before having kids. Did that help? Probably, but it wasn’t the end all of solutions. Just a thought…….if everyone waited until the “perfect financial” time to have kids, how many less kids and people on earth would there be……

  18. Jackie says:

    My mom says that if you wait until you can afford to have kids, then you’ll never have kids. However, I think there’s a big difference between having a little bit of debt or a lessor paying job, and having tens of thousands of dollars of debt and planning to add $10-100,000 dollars on top of it to try to get pregnant.

    I would counsel that couple to try to pay down some debt and build savings first too. That doesn’t mean I think it’s an easy decision emotionally, but they’re already one layoff away from possible bankruptcy.

    Additionally, I witnessed the end of an aunt’s marriage due in part to this same situation. My aunt and uncle lived beyond their means anyway, then made the decision to start fertility treatments. They tried again and again. No, I would not be the one to take away that hope, but they put themselves in deep, deep debt. Eventually, they divorced and this situation (money, treatments, blame each other and themselves for failing to conceive, etc) was largely to blame.

    I think each situation is unique and yes, despite all of the emotion, it does merit at least trying to look at some things as emotionlessly as possible. You need to be realistic about where you are now and where you might be in the future. I say this from experience. I’m 31 and I want kids in the next few years, but I’ve already been told I would probably have trouble conceiving. It’s my nature, but I like to think of the endgame – if i can’t conceive, how many fertility treatments (if any) do I think I should try before moving on to adoption (I have always wanted to adopt)? Is one enough? And I’m fully aware that I might change my mind at the time, so I’m also planning on if I decide to push it more.

    Maybe it’s easier for me to think of these financial considerations because I’ve already had to think of the possiblity that I won’t be able to carry a baby – it’s not a surprise during the highly emotional time that comes once you decide to start trying.

  19. wj says:

    I had to comment because my husband and I have spent $45,000 so far on failed IVF cycles. We plan to spend $5,000 more very soon. We’re lucky that we didn’t have debt. Instead we drained our down payment fund and will probably not own a house ever.

    However, not being able to have children is killing us. You have no idea until you go through this so please don’t judge. I’m depressed and can barely make it through the day sometimes.

    A friend of mine was able to have 2 kids naturally but was barely able to support one. Luckily for her, society and government provides a lot of financial assistance. Those who are infertile do not have such luck. Is it ‘fair’ that she had kids without even considering how she and her husband could support them? The answer in that case is that taxpayers help support her choice.

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