I know I’m probably going to get some guff for this, but when it comes to bringing debt into a relationship I think it’s NOT COOL. I’m going on this rant because I see too many 20-somethings bringing gobs of debt into a relationship or others that assume that tackling debt is something you only deal with when things get serious (or someone proposes.) Others, I’ve heard, believe that debt shouldn’t matter when you love someone. WHAT? BULLCRAP. Debt matters. Money problems, if not dealt with properly can totally kill the warm fuzzies you have with someone.
It seems to me that there are plenty of young folks that have accepted credit card debt or mortgage-sized student loan debt as a way of life. “Meh,” they say. Others still believe that bringing debt into a relationship is totally fair and normal, that working on debt after being married is fine and acceptable. I have heard horror stories of people who didn’t know about their spouse’s debt until they were already engaged or about to wed- they usually feel shocked and worried, rightfully so.
But I have to ask- how fair is it to let someone fall in love with you, make plans to get married and then state, “Oh by the way, when it comes to my money, our relationship was based on lies I funded with a credit card!” At times, people go into great lengths to hide their debt from their partner and even from themselves. Whether they hide the reality of their debt by hiding credit card statements, or masking their financial realities by maxing out a credit card to keep up appearances- it’s all deceitful.
To me, if you’re buying your partner gifts you can’t afford, you’re lying- and if you don’t think you’re lying, you at least cheating your partner by making them pay for the life you’re living now in the future you’ll share together. The things you can’t afford now become their burden later, of course, with interest and fees.
What surprises me most is that some people don’t see hiding their debt as deceitful. I recently grilled a friend who was talking about the fact her boyfriend had no idea she was over $10k in credit card debt, and he had no idea about her student loan debt, around $20k. So, this girl is $30,000 in debt and her soon-to-propose boyfriend has NO idea, even though as her husband, he will soon be wedded to not only her debt load, but her habits as well. Disclosing debt ranks up there in necessary honesty along with telling your partner if you’re still legally married to someone else, have kids from another relationship, a criminal record and so on.
So, when should you disclose your financial realities to your partner? When does it become their business? I would say that being honest from the start, or at least, as soon as possible is the best policy. Honesty may not begin with a conversation- but it begins with hints that you will be living within your means. It’s not necessary to have a full “we need to talk” sit down conversation with your partner if you’re in debt, but you begin establishing transparency in your actions far beforehand.
Being authentic and committed is harder than it sounds, but you can start small- you don’t have to have a dramatic conversation but you do need to make adjustments in how money guides or impacts your relationship. No matter where you are in a relationship, if you’re not at the point where it’s necessary to have “the talk,” simply start making changes. Even your smallest actions, like how often you and your partner have date nights or how much money you spend on gifts (especially if you can’t afford it) are financial decisions we take for granted. Making smaller adjustments or having somewhat casual discussions about money can open the doorway to a less painful but more serious conversation about money down the road.
Most people understand that debt happens, whether it’s the result of crazy college years or crazy college tuition, but you need to care before it becomes an issue for your partner. I firmly believe that debt shouldn’t automatically be assumed to be your spouse’s problem, nor is it something to get real about when you get real about your relationship. Whether you’re looking for love or already found it, now is time to lay the foundation for a happy relationship so when you’re ready for the next step, you will know you’re prepared emotionally and financially.
There are so many people that ready themselves for love by preparing their lives in every other way, but seem to neglect their finances. Others go out of their way and hide their debt thinking that the time to reveal their financial history is when rings are exchanged- but a commitment to a happy relationship begins much, much sooner. It takes being honest with yourself and when trust is established, being honest with your partner.
Amen! You hit the nail on the head!
At first I was afraid this was going to turn into a post about why you shouldn’t date someone with debt. I’m so glad that’s not what it was, because I’ve read those before and THOSE are the ones that really get me.
Debt doesn’t make you unworthy to date or find love, but I agree with you, people need to be upfront about it.
When I met my boyfriend he was in the final stages of a long, messy divorce. He ended up saddled with the majority of the debt and ended up filing for bankruptcy because the burden was too great. I was bringing student loans and credit card debt into the mix. Both our finances were a mess. But we were honest about it. And by the time our own relationship blossomed and we moved into together, we had a plan and were already working to fix the problems.
So yes, be up front about these issues, just like you’d be up front about past relationships, kids or any other major life issue. It’s not just about the debt, it’s about respecting the relationship enough to be honest.
When we started to get serious, debt was mentioned to each other even though we were still in the denial phase of it. But we decided together that we still wanted to be together (even though I have a ton of debt) and also that we wanted to get rid of the debt. A plan was formed but it never would have if I hid it from him. This was well before we got engaged.
Wow, you HAVE to talk about debt and money habits way before things get serious. Your partner needs to know how much debt you have, what kind, and how are you handling it. You should also be honest about any credit or financial issues you’ve had in the past if they have long-lasting impacts (like a bankruptcy or bad credit).
Based on what I’ve read, money issues are a leading cause of divorce, so I think not talking about your debt and money is setting yourself up for disappointment and frustration in the future. I couldn’t agree with your post more!
Hi Shannyn! I completely agree with you. I’ve been with my bf for 6 months and we’ve recently begun to heavily discuss how to pay off my law school loans. He always knew that I had loans but didn’t know all the details. FYI, I have about 100k in federal and private loans.
It’s annoying at times, but he’s more gung ho than I am about paying down my loans and he’s convinced that we can work together as a team to achieve that goal. Gotta love him for this! He’s the frugal one in the relationship and so we work on reducing our overall spending together.
Lucky for him, he has no debt – college paid for my parents, one masters paid for by scholarship and parents, other masters paid for with his own savings and being super frugal for a few years.
Yes, yes and yes! I whole-heartily agree with you Shannyn. If my ex and I would have been up front and honest about our debt and spending habits, we might still be married today. That’s something I’ll always regret, but I vowed never to hide or lie about my finances again.
That is by far my favourite meme poster ever!
Amazing feedback everyone, thank you!
Open lines of communication are clearly the key! And I’ve still never understood why most married couples wouldn’t be better served with shared finances anyhow, but maybe I’m just old-fashioned that way!
Excellent post Shannyn. I agree that people need to be upfront with this type of personal information when in a serious relationship.
I usually don’t like to plug our stuff in other blogs’ comments, but this is just too on the nose. We actually conducted a survey on this very topic. We got a ton of responses, and some very interesting results. You should check it out.
Thanks Albie! I’ll check it out!
Wow, this is a great post on a topic that isn’t talked about enough. You have to talk to your partner about your debt from the get-go- NOT spring it on them after you’re already in a committed relationship. So many people try to hide their debt, either because they’re ashamed or they feel that they shouldn’t be talking about money, but in a relationship, you have to. Both partners have to be on the same page, or it’s never going to work out.
Hiding the debt is like being a used car salesman. A person with a lot of debt is NOT worthy of affection and love. One should pay it off to be worthy of love.
I completely agree with you. Communicating with your significant other is extremely important, especially when it comes to money. I’m extremely open with my boyfriend about money and while i don’t have debt and he does we discuss plans to allow him to pay it off as quickly as possible. When I took my personal finance class and read Smart Cookies Guide to Couples and Money I learned a lot of valuable exercises and tips to combat couples finance. I feel like when you are accepting of your partners debt, and offer to help them make a plan they are a lot more open. I don’t agree with paying for your significant others debt, because I believe that if you took out the loan, you should have to pay it back.
Just as a man needs to have the capital of self esteem to necessarily attract a partner to receive love in his life from a woman, he needs the financial capital being in the black and not in the red to be worthy of love. A debt that exist that outweighs equity makes a man unworthy to have a woman be at his side.
I have to be upfront with everyone here and I need all your advises… I have been dating my girlfriend for 1 year and 10 months now and we are completely in love. About a month into our relationship, I broke to her the news that I was in $220,000 in student debt (I made the worst choice by going to Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, and I am currently not working as a pilot)! At first, I thought she was going to leave me (which I would have completely understood), but she did not. Now, 1 year and 10 months later, we are still together and madly in love with each other. However, I feel completely guilty. She has absolutely no debt whatsoever. She was and still is a smart cookie for thinking about her finances early on in her age. Hence, that is why she does not have any debts. And it is because she does not have any debts, she deserves a man who will not have any debts as well. She deserves a man that will give EVERYTHING she ever wants in her life. I will NEVER be able to offer her the American Dream. After doing all the math, I will pay $2,000 a month on just student loans for the next 20 years! (I am 26 years old now). I love her very much and I would give my life for her. And I want the absolute best for her because she is that special. Words cannot explain how madly in love I am and desire so much to spend the rest of my life with her. But because of my stupidity of going to a private university, moving away from home, and just achieving a childhood dream of becoming a licensed commercial pilot, I now have to face the consequences of what matter most in this world, and that is love. Now that I have found her, it now hits me and breaks my heart, knowing on just how much debt I am in. I need you all’s advice. Her and I talk about it and she tells me that she loves me and that she will take on this debt. HOWEVER, I SAY NO! It is not her fault that I am in debt. It is NOT her fault. And I tell her that I will not allow for her to pay one cent out of her own money that she earns to pay off my debt. Why? Because she did absolutely nothing to deserve this debt. However, I am the stupid one for not thinking about my financial future. So now, I do not know what to do. Should I hint to her that she needs to go her way and find herself a man who is NOT in debt and will love her just as much as I love her? Or what else can I do? Please help! Thank you.
Young man you need to break up and leave her and let her find a man who is not saddled by debt. I respect the maturity that you have found that you are unworthy of becoming a man who can provide for her. How will you having kids with the girl you love be fair to her and the child you bring to this world that daddy cant be there because he has to work 80 hours a week to pay off the debt and make enough money to give the lifestyle she deserves? Then when will you have the time to be with her? Be a man and let her go, or you force yourself to take that job as a commercial pilot and do the job that you don’t like so that you CAN enjoy being with the girl you love. Having a career that you don’t like but pays well but a having a happy married life is far better than having a happy career and not being with a girl of your dreams.
The alternative is to do save like no one and keep her.
Your whole paycheck put away to debt. 1) Get free napkins from McDonalds and Starbucks.
2) Eat at soup kitchens. But because you have a girlfriend you need to keep yourself dignified so rather than take this option do this. Get a $5.00 gift card from Starbucks. Go register the starbucks gift card with a birthdate 30 days from the day of registration. You will get a free drink or food item. Take that same $5.00 card and buy another card, and register it again. You will use only $5.00 to buy 365 X 5 cards so you can get breakfast lunch and dinner, a drink and your girlfriend a drink all for free. Unlike the poor, you can actually enjoy $5 dollar Lattes and $6 dollar panininis like you are a rich man but using Birthday rewards. You should keep a drawer and get a pen and index your cards so that you know each day which card to use. After you have 365 days registered you will never have to pay for Starbucks again. You need to register the first card 30 days ahead of the birthday because it takes 30 days for the birthday reward to activiate. You have 30 days to use it after the birthday also.
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I am trying to decide when to talk to my boyfriend about debt. I did tell him about my student loans although not sure he heard the figure . I have some credit card debt too.
The thing is right before we met I decided to start getting real about debt. I get big bonuses at work and I decided bonuses tax returns go to debt. So with these this year I paid off $5k already in credit card debt. I now have $2860 (of which $500 has no interest). It is two cards store credit card and one card. I am paying another $350 this week in the big one since I did overtime.
I preset to pay $225 at least. Well above minimums oweds. I plan on paying off all by end of year and hopefully have enough to pay off car by next years bonus the. Apply car Paynent and little more to student loans. And really deal with my debt. So while I am not happy with my previous financial choices I DO think I have a set plan to handle it…
So it’s hard to know how much I owe to share with him.
I do have a pretty big chunk of money in my retirement account more than my student loans or credit cards.
We aren’t living together he has mentioned marriage a little bit but hasn’t introduced me to family so I am not sure how serious he is. I think next time we have strong talk on marriage I will talk to him about it. To me the dishonest thing is to not talk about things that will affect someone in a marriage not necessarily things that won’t.
And the reason I say it won’t is I think it’s highly likely I will come into the marriage with no credit card debt.