Should Debt Be a Deal Breaker in Serious Relationships?

Let’s say you and your significant other decide it’s time to commit to a serious relationship. There’s just one issue: he is in debt and you’re not.

If debt is a turn-off to you, you’re not alone. In fact, 20% of married baby boomers and millennials fight about credit card debt. And, 41% of millennials say excessive debt can cause conflict in a relationship.

On the other hand, 70% of millennials think that effectively handling debt repayment can lead to a more healthy relationship, according to Money Magazine. This begs the question, does debt have to be a deal breaker when you’re in a serious relationship? Read on to learn more.

Transparency Matters

If you’re in a relationship, you will likely eventually learn whether your S.O. carries a lot of debt. Although not everyone talks about money or money problems, it’s important that you have a money discussion with your partner before your merge funds or get more serious about your relationship.

Don’t be surprised if your candid discussions reveal your partner’s financial woes. The trick here is to decide whether your S.O. plans to do something about his debt and come clean with you about his money problems. If not, his debt – and secrecy – can be the beginning of the end.

Also, it’s good to keep in mind what type of debt someone has before making a decision about continuing a relationship. For example, there is a difference between taking out student loans to pay for college and racking up $50,000 in credit card debt due to a deep-seated spending problem.  

Should You Stay or Go?

In the event that you learn about your partner’s serious debt issues, this leaves you with a decision to make. Should you stay or go?

In my case, my now husband was in debt when our relationship started to grow more serious. I was debt-free, and to be honest, his debt bothered me. I didn’t want to be with someone who didn’t manage money wisely.

But, I gave him the benefit of the doubt and together we created a plan that would help him eliminate his debt. He stuck with it and I stayed with him because he was willing to commit to paying down his debt.

Had he not taken our conversations about money seriously, I would have walked away.

Pro tip: if your partner is honest with you and has plans to become debt-free, you may want to support him and stay the course. But, if your S.O. has no interest in changing his financial situation, it may be time to walk.

If You Stay, Make a Plan

If you do decide to stay, it’s time to create a financial plan with your partner. You will need this as you may eventually move in together, get married, have kids, buy a house, or combine finances in other ways. When you manage money together, it helps to be on the same page.

Some questions to ask yourself as you work toward a joint financial plan: who is now responsible for your partner’s debt? Will he be paying it off himself or will you be helping? Will you move in together to lower your living expenses? Will you open joint bank accounts to pay bills and save for your goals?

In my case, I told my husband that I’d help him pay off his debt because I wanted it gone as soon as possible. However, I also let him know that it was mostly his responsibility. With that, he contributed most of his income toward his debt repayment, while I contributed more toward our household bills. If I had leftover money, I then helped put some cash toward paying off his debt.

Pro tip: even if you don’t want to help your partner pay off debt or pool your money, you can still help him out with a budget to encompass his debt payments. You can then offer up financial encouragement and suggest combining funds as soon as he pays off his debt.

It’s Ok to Go: Your Happiness Is Important

It may be hard for you to leave a relationship because of money and debt. But, remember that your happiness is important. You shouldn’t have to change your life for someone, even if you love and care about him. And, money problems can cause stress in a relationship. Not everyone is cut out for this, especially if you’re not the one with the financial woes.

Pro tip: If your partner has no plans to eliminate his debt, shows no remorse about getting into debt, or expects you to make the problem go away, you may want to start packing. On the other hand, if you truly feel the relationship is worth it, you’ll need to decide if you can handle being with someone who doesn’t share the same money values as you.

Why You Should Talk About Finances

Even if you aren’t in a serious relationship right now, it’s a good idea to get comfortable talking about finances. This way, when the time comes to have a serious money talk with your future S.O., you’ll be ready.

In fact, it’s a wise idea to talk about finances when dating. Why? If your date doesn’t take the topic seriously, this may be a red flag. This person may not be the one for you.

What if You’re the One in Debt

With all this talk about how to date or be with someone in debt, it’s time to turn this on its head.

What if you’re the one with the debt? For starters, you shouldn’t be ashamed to talk about it. Secondly, be prepared to make changes to your money situation and don’t be embarrassed to discuss this with your S.O. It’s important to come clean about your debt as dishonesty can cause arguments, mistrust, and even end your relationship.

The takeaway: debt doesn’t have to be a deal breaker in serious relationships. Instead, talk about your finances and understand what’s important to you before committing to any relationship. By being honest about your own money values, you and your S.O. may have a better shot of working together on shared financial goals.

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