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Should Bad Credit be a Dating Dealbreaker?
Studies have shown that money is the leading cause of discord within romantic relationships. According to a survey by SunTrust bank, 35% of couples said they fought most often about finances, and 47% of respondents said they and their partners had different saving and spending habits.
So when it comes to dating dealbreakers, just how bad is bad credit? If you’re fiscally responsible to a fault, is it even worth trying to date someone with a mountain of debt? On the flip side, if your credit is poor, is that enough to doom you to the single life forever?
We talked to Sam Schultz, co-founder of Honeyfi, a money-management app for couples, to find out how romantic duos can be hurt (or helped!) by having the dreaded credit conversation.
How soon should you talk credit with your partner?
You’re in the first stages of a new relationship, and everything is going well. It feels like you’re in sync on everything—favorite movies, favorite foods, even a shared love of pygmy elephants! But there’s one topic you haven’t yet had the stomach to explore: credit and money. Where do you even begin? And when is the right time?
In general, you should probably start having money talks once a relationship gets serious. What that means is different for every couple, but if you’ve started to include them in your daydreams about the future, or if you’ve had serious talks about being exclusive, moving in together, or even getting married, there’s no time like the present.
“If you’re having trouble starting that conversation, try discussing your financial goals first,” said Schultz. “I’d just focus on creating an open dialogue about money. Once you start talking about these things regularly, you’ll naturally get into conversations about spending habits, debt, and credit.”
Because money is often such a taboo topic, it can be difficult to know when is an appropriate time to bring it up. That’s why Schultz recommends scheduling 15 to 30-minute “money dates” a few times a month where you and your partner can chat about finances in a safe space.
This conversation is going to be different for every couple, and you need to go into it with no judgment on either side. If you’re looking to talk to your partner about money or credit, go in with an open mind and hear them out. If you’re the one with a history of poor financial choices, Schultz said it’s important to show your other half that you are actively working to improve your situation.
“Do some research to understand why your credit is bad and then identify ways to improve your score,” he said. “Demonstrating that you’re taking your credit seriously will go a long way with your partner.”
So your credit and money habits are different than your partner’s. What now?
You had the conversation, and it turns out one of you is much more fiscally responsible than the other. Does this mean your relationship has an expiration date? Not necessarily.
“I’ve talked to lots of couples who approach money completely differently,” said Schultz. ”But the important part is that these couples have a system to manage money together that fits their needs. For many couples, a joint account isn’t good enough. In fact, only 34 percent of Millennial couples completely combine finances, according to the 2017 TD Love and Money Survey.”
The key, Schultz said, is finding a system for managing money within your relationship that “balances transparency with independence and teamwork with individual accountability.”
For example, many couples with different views on money use an “allowance” system, where they set up a joint account for shared expenses like rent and groceries and agree on an amount each person is allowed to spend individually per month without having to consult the other.
While working out a system like this can work for some couples, it's true that not everyone is going to have the patience or drive to overcome financial hurdles in a relationship, and that’s OK. If you know that you lack the patience to stand by someone through some pretty serious financial ups and downs, the relationship might not be worth pursuing further.
There’s nothing wrong with wanting a partner with similar financial standing and goals. Let's say that your partner is constantly having to resort to sketchy loans, or even borrowing money from you in order to make end meet; if you can’t see yourself supporting them—either emotionally or financially—while they get their credit in order, you probably shouldn’t force the relationship.
How can you encourage your partner to improve their credit?
If you’re dating someone with financial problems, it can be tempting to give them a lecture every time the issue comes up. But that’s not productive, and it probably won’t help either of you in the long run.
“Start with empathy,” suggested Schultz, when asked how to help a partner repair their credit. “Your partner might be embarrassed or sensitive about their bad credit score. So, before you give advice, listen to your partner and try to understand how they feel about their credit. Then, remind your partner that a credit score isn’t permanent, and if they are open to suggestions, help them find tools to better understand their credit score. Free apps like Credit Karma and Credit Sesame are often a great place to start.”
How supportive is TOO supportive?
It’s generally a good thing to stand by your partner in their time of financial need, but when it comes to helping them better their credit, it’s important to look out for yourself as well.
If your partner comes to you and asks whether you’ll cosign on a personal loan or add them to one of your existing credit card accounts, you might want to reconsider how far you’re willing to put yourself out to help them. For instance, would you be willing to use your car to secure them a title loan? Probably not.
If your partner has a history of poor financial decisions, or being irresponsible with their credit, you should think very long and hard before cosigning on a loan or credit card with that person. No matter how much you love them, tying your good credit to the credit of someone who has historically not been very responsible may not turn out well for you. Instead, work with them to find ways they can improve their credit on their own, without risking yours in the process.
Does your credit merge when you get married?
Short answer? No. Long answer? Your spouse’s bad credit CAN affect your life negatively. But your credit score is yours and yours alone, married or not. If you’re thinking of taking that next step, make sure you two are on the same page when it comes to money management, or that you’ve worked out a system that can make up for any major differences in the way you each approach your finances.
So, should bad credit be a dating dealbreaker?
Schultz says it depends on the situation.
“From my perspective, bad credit shouldn’t be an absolute dealbreaker,” said Schultz. “But if you are considering dating someone with bad credit, you should go into the relationship with your eyes wide open.”
Schultz said research suggests that people with higher credit scores are more likely to form and stay in long-term relationships and that couples with credit scores around the same level are more likely to stay together long-term.
“If you’re in a relationship with someone who has bad credit, you should be aware that their bad credit could be a challenge in your relationship, and you should proactively take steps to address it early on.”