Even though you may not be making much money, because of your loans, you have found Personal Finance! So, that's a positive. Here is what I would recommend.
Short answer: Do make paying off the loans a priority.
Whether you pay the same towards both, focus on your loan and let her focus on her loan, or pay one off first while you make minimum payments on the other, you and your significant other have to determine that. Below are some questions which may help.
- Do you intend to stay with this person for the long run?
- Do you have the same financial goals?
- What would happen if you were to split up? Would you two be mature enough to untangle your mixed finances without causing greater financial harm later on.
Only you two can answer those questions and decide what is best. No matter which route you take, however, both of you have to get educated on personal finance. I'm sure there are many questions/answers on this and other sites about getting started but below are my 2 cents.
Read Rich Dad, Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki - there is something about this book which makes sense to a lot of people, including myself--once without a single kernel of knowledge of personal finance--that just clicks.
Listen to Podcasts while you cook, drive, commute to work or have some spare time. Personal Finance isn't that difficult of a subject. Exposure to these concepts will help you build your own personal finance playbook. Mad Fientist has a great money podcast and so does Bigger Pockets. Probably one of the more famous people, Dave Ramsey. One small, but important note, DON'T buy expensive courses or programs that promise to help you become better at personal finance. Anyone who is heavily invested in personal finance will tell you that you don't need to pay for this knowledge. There is no secret to any of this.
Budget! Perhaps, the most important concept of personal finance. PF is like football, you have to defend and attack. Budgeting is how you align your players. Without a budget, you won't forget to pay your bills but you also won't forget what your working towards. I've budgeted money in so many different ways depending on what my financial situation was at the time over the years. There is no right or wrong way, but you have to do it.
Be consistent in your approach. Try to cook meals at home. Check your spending to see where you can reduce costs. Consistently work towards paying your loan off. Continue to budget. Continue to save a bit of money. With personal finance, it's not about just learning what to do, but how you will implement it for the rest of your life. Believe me, life is better with a bit of personal finance knowledge.
I like to write about personal finance. Here is my first blog post on checking accounts: Checking your checking.
Below are some additional thoughts I would have if pondering on which decision is best.
If I work on paying one loan off first, I would want to pay the smaller loan first. This will provide an incentive of progress. Many people want to start with the larger loans but sometimes fail because they see no end.
If you pay the same towards both, maximize what you want put towards both. I would probably keep the loans separate, meaning, what you pay towards your loan is coming from your money and what she pays towards hers, comes from her money. Many relationship problems arise because of money, so hopefully keeping the loans separate will aid in any tension money creates later on. But this is solely my opinion. My wife and I keep all of our finances together. She has always been there when I've had financial woes and I do the same for her. It just works for us.
If you do not place much importance to the loans, then what else are you going to do with your money? If you are going to be irresponsible with it, then best pay off your loan first. If you are going to be purchasing a home together, then maybe making minimum payments is best. There is risk and reward for any route you take. It's important, however, that you both are in accordance in your plans.
I hate to give you an open-ended "answer" to your question. But personal finance requires careful thought about your life and general knowledge of yourself. Will you be able to sleep well knowing you have debt? If not, then pay off your loan first. My health is always important to me else I can't work.
And congrats again on finding this road. Hope this was helpful.