Discussing Finances With Your Partner: How to Talk About Credit as a Couple

a couple talking money

Maybe not the most romantic conversation...

Fixing your own bad credit is hard enough, but adding another person to the mix can just make things even more complicated. On the one hand, working on financial issues as a team can help you both stay dedicated and allow you to assist and support each other. On the other hand, money can be a sensitive subject, and the last thing you want is for your money situation to negatively affect your relationship.

But not talking about your credit and your finances, in general, could lead to even bigger relationship issues down the line. Just imagine if a financial emergency comes up, and neither you or your partner can qualify for a good loan because of bad credit. Better to have these difficult conversations now, before things are bad because it’ll only be more stressful if you try to kick the credit can down the road.

So how can you have the credit conversation without hurt feelings? We spoke to the finance experts as well as the relationship experts to bring you all the advice you need.

Put the credit reports on the table.

Relationships are built on trust, but you can’t share something you don’t know. That’s why your talk about finances should start with both of you finding out your current credit scores. Here’s what Kristin McGrath, editor of CreditCardForum.com, had to say on the issue:

When you’re ready to have the credit talk, both parties should go to AnnualCreditReport.com and pull their credit reports. You can get one free report per year from the Big 3 credit bureaus. Then sit down and show each other your reports. This is a great starting point because credit reports don’t lie. One partner can’t fudge the amount of their outstanding student loans. The other can’t ‘forget’ to mention that they have been carrying a credit card balance that’s $5,000 and growing. It’s all out there on the credit report. It can be difficult and embarrassing to say out loud that you have more debt than you’d like—so pulling your report and handing it over to your partner does the work for you.

“I suggest meeting in a neutral, public location, like a coffee shop, for this reveal. Finding out your partner has more debt than you thought can be shocking, and admitting you have a lot of debt can be difficult emotionally. Meeting in public can help mute any unhealthy knee-jerk reactions and keep the conversation civil and focused.”

And what do you do once it’s all literally and figuratively on the table?

“Once you have the numbers in front of you, you can start prioritizing debts to pay down. Schedule regular credit check-ups at the coffee shop going forward. I suggest putting an end time on these meetings, just as you would with a business meeting. Have plans immediately following the meeting to enforce the end time. This helps ensure you make productive use of your time and prevents these credit check-ups from becoming emotional and drawn out. Put the work in and then enjoy the rest of your day together.”

Remember that you’re on the same team.

Talking about finances can require some hard truths, so it’s important you and your partner do everything you can to make sure no one’s feelings get hurt.

Whitney Shayo, writer and editor at Live Your Best Marriage, suggests a couple “attack the issue as a team and to agree that it’s not ‘his money, his mistakes’ or ‘her money, her mistakes.’ It’s about the two of them attacking the problem, not one another.”

Brett Graff, The Home Economist and author of “Not Buying It,” urged couples to think of financial conversations as discussions about their futures and shared desires: “A couple shouldn’t look at money as though it’s a tacky subject or a business matter. Money is what you need to achieve your goals in life—do you both want to lay roots and own a home or does one of you want to rent and be mobile, moving around the country and exploring new lifestyles. Do you want to have an early retirement or work into old age? These are lifestyle goals that involve your hopes, your dreams, and your credit. So discuss them as you would any other matter.”

Justin Lavelle, chief communications officer and editor of PeopleLooker.com, had this to say: “Review spending patterns and correlate those spending patterns with items and the person that buys most for the two of you, i.e., groceries, laundry, medical, etc.. This type of skewed spending needs to be identified so as not to unfairly allocate excess to one person. After ‘necessaries’ have been removed, do an audit of what is left. Each person should justify why they spend what they spend. If this causes a fight or some pushback, you have probably identified wasteful spending.”

Bola Onada Sokunbi, finance expert and founder of CleverGirlFinance.com, offered her own set of tips:

“Tip 1: Be honest with each other about your finances. If you are in a serious relationship, you want to be honest with each other about your finances and financial situation so it doesn’t come back as a problem later on. Talk about your overall financial picture including your credit and your debt and lay things all out so you are both aware of each other’s financial obligations. It’s also important that in your conversations you talk about your goals and ambitions, particularly around improving your finances together as a team. This will help you guys develop a joint focus on where you want to get to with your finances.

“Tip 2: Remember it’s not a fight. Talking about money is not synonymous with getting into a fight, so don’t make it one. Plan a nice dinner, go for a long walk… basically, create a comfortable environment where you can both talk about your finances. Discuss your future plans and dreams together. Set goals for how much you intend to save and how soon you want to pay down debt or improve your credit together. Keep in mind that you don’t need to talk about all your entire financial situation in one conversation. You can talk about one topic over dinner and save the other topics for a separate occasion. This way things don’t get too overwhelming or stressful. Remember, it’s a conversation so be sure to listen to your partner’s perspective, ideas, and thoughts as well.

“Tip 3: Budget and set goals together. Put some time on the calendar once a month to budget as a team. This could include talking about your spending for the next month, any major expenses coming up and your savings and investment goals. You can also create fun money challenges to do together each month. Remember your significant other is on your side (they are basically your built-in support person) and planning out your finances together will help you accomplish your goals faster.

“Tip 4: Don’t get on each other’s nerves about every single cent. You don’t have to be on top of each other for every single penny that you each spend. This can be really annoying especially if you were used to doing your own thing with money before you got into a relationship. One way to get around this is to set spending limits with each other and decide that if you intend to go over that particular limit then you both need to talk about it and agree on things”

Watch your language.

If you’re having to constantly watch your language around your partner, you may have some relationship issues to work on. But when it comes to sensitive subjects like finances, even the closest of couples can risk hurt feelings if they aren’t expressing themselves in the best way possible. That’s why certified financial expert Maggie Germano gave us a crash course on how to choose the right words when you’re talking cash as a couple:

“It’s so important for couples to talk about money, especially early on in their relationship. It’s just as important as whether or not you want to have children, so couples definitely need to be on the same page.

“If you’re going to understand and be understood by your partner, you both need to know where you’re coming from regarding money. You need to know if there’s debt, avoidance, differing savings goals, or confusion around money. You need to know each other’s financial hang-ups and dreams.

“Whether it’s splitting the bill, spending less on activities, or saving for the future, making money demands inside a romantic partnership still feels taboo and awkward for many people. But a ‘money talk’ is the only guaranteed way you’ll understand your partner’s—and your own—needs better! Mutual understanding is a double win.”

Here are Germano’s top tips:

“1. Be honest: It’s really hard to be vulnerable. Money can come with so much baggage and shame, but it’s essential that you’re honest with your partner. This is presumably the person you love and are committed to being truthful with. Ask them to listen to your money story without judgment, and tell them about any hang ups or negative history you have with money. Tell them about your financial dreams. This will help them to understand you better, and hopefully be more open to what you need financially.

“2. Use ‘I’ statements: I’m sure you know how easy it is to feel defensive during difficult conversations. If the conversation is about your partner’s money habits, you want to take extra care to avoid accusatory ‘you’ statements; they’ll tune you out right off the bat. Awkward conversations tend to go better if you approach them in terms of what your own needs are, rather than what the other person is doing wrong. Simply put, use ‘I’ statements.

“3. Frame the conversation around your goals: Instead of just saying that you want to ‘spend less in order to save money,’ be specific. Explain that there is a true end goal (or several!) in mind. Are you trying to save money so that you can fulfill your dreams of traveling abroad? Do you want to save so that you can buy a house some day? Do you want to avoid interest rates by paying down your credit card debt? Explain these things to your partner! When you talk about your goals (instead of your failures or insecurities), you’re living in an abundance mindset, rather than in a scarcity mindset. Not only is that better for you, but it will make your partner more receptive to what you’re saying.

“4. Ask what your partner’s goals are: Your partner might not have concrete financial goals yet. But everyone should! Once you have defined your goals and written them down, it becomes much easier to create a plan and work towards reaching them. If you encourage your partner to set their own goals, then the two of you can support each other on your plans and accomplishments. Just like it’s easier when you have a workout buddy, it’s easier when you have a saving buddy. Creating and comparing goal lists will reveal how compatible your goals are and help you determine whether you can work towards your financial dreams as a team.”

First comes love, then comes…

Marriage isn’t for everyone. But if it is in the future (or present) for your relationship, then it’s all the more important to have your shared finances in order. Better to have some awkward talks with your significant other now than to find yourself having an awkward (and expensive) talk with a lawyer one day.

Susan Trombetti, matchmaker and owner of Exclusive Matchmaking, offered up some advice for anyone who might be married or looking to get married and needs to have the finance talk:

As a matchmaker, clients want financially sounds matches. This is an issue as a matchmaker and relationship expert that I have clients come to me frequently about. From taking on someone else’s debt, to wanting to know if a new partner is financially okay, to discussing your own issues, it is a touchy subject. But with the right tools, you can make sure it ends up being a topic to bring you and your partner closer together.

“Prenups address financial issues at times and have nothing to do with a split. A prenup when you are getting married helps discuss your finances to make sure you and your partner are on the same page. It doesn’t need to mean that you are planning on a divorce; it can just be a step in the marriage to make sure your financial situations are on the right track.

“It’s a necessary part of becoming a couple when you are merging bank accounts to discuss your credit issues and financial issues. Their history is important because it affects your current financial pic. Higher interest rates mean less money to fund your lifestyle. So be open with your partner if you have some issues and be open to asking your partner about their issues! By asking and accepting their issues you will establish an even deeper trust in the relationship.

“Sometimes if you feel too awkward asking, see a financial advisor, take some financial workshops, and make sure you totally agree on how the money will be spent prior to marriage. For example, if you have leftover money after paying your bills, is it going to savings or is one of you going to be buying a boat? Your expensive handbags can add up as well. These can be huge arguments if they aren’t discussed prior to marriage or living together. Make sure you are on the same page when it comes to saving and paying off the debt you have prior to getting together. Is your partner going to help with your debt? Or is your own paycheck just going towards that? Being on the same page from the start is vital.

“A financial advisor is a neutral third party that can spell it all out and help you make educated decisions. It’s a touchy subject, but ask a couple other friends what they do that works for them! Hearing other’s ideas might help!

“I see many people come to me after first marriages break up over money and not being honest about money issues. You don’t want to be fighting over money. This is a huge topic so don’t skip over it.”

These aren’t fun conversations to have, but they’re conversations any serious relationship requires. So as our experts said, stop putting them off, get through them together, and you’ll be even stronger for it.

Article contributors
Maggie Germano

Maggie Germano (@MaggieGermano) is a Certified Financial Education Instructor and financial coach for women. Her mission is to give women the support and tools that they need to take control of their money, break the taboo of discussing debt and income, and achieve their goals and dreams. She does this through one-on-one financial coaching, monthly Money Circle gatherings, her weekly Money Monday newsletter, and speaking engagements. To learn more, or to schedule a free discovery call, visit MaggieGermano.com.

Brett Graff

Brett Graff (@BrettGraffhas been seen writing and reporting on money and personal finance in The LA Times, Yahoo! Finance, Cosmopolitan, The New York Times and the Fiscal Policy Institute, to name a few. Brett also provides her insight in the column, The Home Economist, which is nationally syndicated and published in newspapers all over the country. Her book “NOT BUYING IT: Raising Happier, Healthier & More Successful Kids” is now available!

Justin Lavelle

Justin Lavelle (@PeopleLooker) is the Chief Communications Officer and blog editor for PeopleLooker.com. PeopleLooker is a leading source of online background checks and contact information. It helps people discover, understand and use public data in their everyday lives and can provide peace of mind by offering a fast, easy and affordable way to do background checks. PeopleLooker allows individuals to find more information about people, phone numbers, email addresses and property records.

Kristen McGrath

Kristin McGrath (@CreditCardForum) is the editor of CreditCardForum.com, a one-stop resource for and by consumers seeking in-depth information, opinions and advice on credit cards. CCF features an active discussion forum as well as card ratings, expert interviews and credit-building guides.

Whitney Shayo

Whitney Shayo (@WhitneyShayo) is a writer/editor for liveyourbestmarriage.com and provides encouragement for couples as they go through the ups and downs of life. You can find her podcast on: iTunes and SoundCloud

Bola Sokunbi

Bola Onada Sokunbi (@CleverGirlCGF) is a Certified Financial Education Instructor (CFEI), finance expert and founder of clevergirlfinance.com, a platform that empowers and educates women to make the best financial decisions for their current and future selves and to pursue their dreams of financial independence in order to live life on their own terms.

Susan Trombetti

Susan Trombetti (@Exclusive_Match) is a leading celebrity matchmaker, relationship expert, and CEO of Exclusive Matchmaking. Susan has helped discerning singles across the country discover long-term relationships and partnerships that are both rewarding and fulfilling. Susan also specializes in assisting the rich, famous, and Hollywood’s A-Listers in their romantic life and has been seen on Fox, ABC, NBC, ABC, Cosmopolitan, Shape, and as a guest contributor of The Wall Street Radio, to name a few.

The information contained herein is provided for free and is to be used for educational and informational purposes only. We are not a credit repair organization as defined under federal or state law and we do not provide "credit repair" services or advice or assistance regarding "rebuilding" or "improving" your credit. Articles provided in connection with this blog are general in nature, provided for informational purposes only and are not a substitute for individualized professional advice. We make no representation that we will improve or attempt to improve your credit record, history, or rating through the use of the resources provided through the OppLoans blog.