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When should you talk about finances in a relationship?

In a relationship and don't know how or when to bring up finances [debt]? This article breaks down some questions to ask yourself and your partner.

Ramit Sethi

The ultimate guide on how to bring up your finances in a relationship. Read on.

Would you dump your girlfriend if you found out she had $80,000 in debt?

What if it was student-loan debt? That’s what happened to this guy.

Or…what if you found out it was credit-card debt? How does that change things?

My guy friends and I talked about this. Most of them agreed — finding out someone we’re dating had $80K in debt would be a red flag, but if it was for student loans, that would be one thing. If it was CC debt for frivolous purchases, that’s an entirely different thing.

This simple question is a lot more complicated than it looks:

  • How does it change if you’re a woman and it’s the man who has the $80K in debt?
  • It’s easy to say you would walk away from someone who’s run up tens of thousands of dollars of debt, but by the time you find this out, aren’t you already in love? Are you putting a price on love?

Not surprisingly, the typical personal-finance “expert” has a pre-prepared piece of advice handy: “Always talk to your partner about their finances! You don’t want to be surprised!”

Uh, yeah, that’s a nice theory, but most people don’t talk to their partners about money for months, if not years.

Data I recently collected. I actually suspect most of the respondents are lying about how soon they have a serious discussion with their partners about money.

So now you have a Catch-22: If you talk about money too early, you come across as a weirdo/gold-digger/controlling freak.

If you wait too long, you’re already embroiled in the relationship. How are you going to walk away from the love of your life if you find out he has $40K of CC debt? It’s easier to rationalize that “we’ll try harder” and “things will get better” than to pack up and walk away. That’s human nature.

So, what would you do?


  1. When would you talk to your partner about money in a new relationship? Be honest and don’t say what you “think” you should do, say what you ACTUALLY did in your last relationship.
  2. Is there a certain number (e.g., $80K of debt) that would make you seriously reconsider the relationship? If not, what would?

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  1. avatar
    Lance @ Money Life and More

    I knew my girlfriend would have a ton of student loan debt when she graduated and it was actually close to $80k. A year after she graduated she’s already paid 15k down so I am pretty proud of her. We’ll pay it off even quicker once we eventually get married. So would I dump her? NOPE! However, I did know what I was getting into in the first place. If the bomb got dropped a year in I’d be pretty pissed.

  2. avatar

    I told my husband on the third date that I was chronically ill and that no one expected I would be able to work after I finished school. I wanted him to have an “out,” in case he didn’t want to date someone who would end up a dependent. He stuck with me, which I wasn’t expecting, and I later experienced a remission.

    I knew fairly early on that his family was relatively well off in their home country, that he would need me to sponsor him for citizenship. He knew my family was broke and that I had a “small amount” of student loan debt. It was $13k when we married, and I think the actual number came up in discussions only after marriage. We discussed within the first few months that we both expected to help support our parents in their old age.

    If I were to end up widowed and back on the dating scene, I’m not sure how I’d approach money. It’s so much easier when you’re teenagers without real assets. We are researching life insurance options right now, and I’m not sure I’d want a guy to know on the first few dates that I had a $1 or 2 million in assets.

  3. avatar

    Credit card debt is hugely different than school loans when you are looking at a relationship. Credit card debt is more of a lifestyle or habit. Meanwhile school loans are more of a one time purchase. Even 5k in credit card debt would concern me as I think about this person’s future habits. I’m not interested in a relationship where the other person is sucking away all my money for unnecessary purchases that we can’t immediately pay for.

  4. avatar

    1) I would talk about money when I decided I may want to spend a lot more of my life with this person. I talked with my wife about finances perhaps a year before I proposed to her, which would have been maybe 2 years into our relationship.

    2) I don’t think it’s a specific number that would’ve caused me to have issues with the debt. I think instead that it would have been more of the ratio of debt to earnings, or, the likelihood that this person could and would be paying this debt off responsibly and quickly. If they took on some debt but also managed to use that debt to fuel a better earnings trajectory for themselves, well that’s the kind of debt I don’t mind seeing.

  5. avatar

    I’ve been dating this girl for a pretty short time, two weeks, (we “talked” for awhile) and we’ve already talked about money. She is going to a cheap school to be a nurse practitioner. I’m not sure she has a solid iwty “focus on whats most important” but she has aspirations. But it definitely is a weight off my shoulders not wondering about money.

  6. avatar

    I’m female.

    I’ve probably talked finances once things were serious, but it may have been 6-12 months in. I’ve never had debt so I’ve never been an issue (I have good savings). Previous relationships haven’t had debt.

    The guy I’m currently dating does, and it bothers me. His debt goes up and down, but it’s always there, and it’s been a combination of spending and bad luck.

    I can’t say a number that worries me, but it’s more a pattern. Bad things sometimes happen to people, it’s how they respond to those things that matters.

  7. avatar
    Harry @ PF Pro

    I think 80k in cc debt is just as bad as 80k in student loans if you went to an expensive school and got a worthless major. IMO, it’s not quite as bad as cc debt, but I don’t want to marry someone who went 80k into debt to be an art history major…

  8. avatar

    I think this is an issue most people try to avoid in their relationships. I haven’t spelled it out in any of my previous relationships (but I’m young and they weren’t really serious relationships).

    I think most people will drop hints about it so their partner will get the general idea. However, it seems like a lot of people don’t like looking at the exact numbers for their own financial situation, let alone sharing it with their partner.

    I think you should probably talk about it before you get married. Probably sometime between getting engaged and actually getting married. I’ve heard that many churches have ‘pre-marriage counseling’ where you would go through this kind of stuff with a priest or whatever before you get married. I think that it’s good to do it that way- to have a third party help guide the discussion.

    However, i also am not sure that it’s entirely necessary for people to know the whole financial situation to have a fulfilling relationship. i’ve heard stories of housewives who got divorced where they really didn’t have any idea what the exact money situation was until they got divorced- the husband took care of that (this happened to my grandmother). But she was happy in the relationship regardless until she got unhappy for non-financial reasons- the finances where just something her husband handled. I don’t think this is necessarily how I’d handle my relationships, but it is possible- they were married for at least 10 years.

  9. avatar

    First marriage: not in any reasonable way for first 3 years. Ended in divorce. She was *horrible* with money in every conceivable way, and that was one of the major stresses in the relationship.

    Second marriage: first 6 months. After things were serious. I knew from the previous mistake that financial responsibility would be a make-or-break kind of thing for me. Very happily we were on the same page (she’s responsible and savvy) and share everything.

  10. avatar

    I suspect you would get different answers if you asked “when did you have a serious discussion with your partner about money” instead of “when did you talk to your partner about money?” Something simple such as finding out your partner’s salary could qualify for the latter but not the former.

    1. I would have a serious discussion with my partner about money when it looks like engagement is in the picture but I haven’t gotten to that stage yet. However, in past relationships, we knew a lot about each other’s finances after about a year (approximate income, assets, debt). In my experience, the big facts are not hard to spot early on, not just with partners but with friends as well. You know what their jobs are, see how they spend money, talk about money casually, and various other behaviors.

    2. Not determined by debt alone. It depends on current and future income, assets, and debt. For example, $60K student loans is fine if the person has $200K in savings/investments, makes $100K, expects to make more, and the interest rate on the student loans is less than 3% so it’s actually profitable to carry the loan. Generally, I think the person should be able to pay off the loan a few years out of school even if he doesn’t. I did once break up with someone on the surface about money, but really it was correlated with other behaviors and attitudes. (He had no loans but made $115K adjusted for inflation but only managed to save $15K over 2 years while driving a junky car that someone gave him and living in a cheap room.)

  11. avatar
    Tim Kirch

    My wife and I talked about finances within the first few months. I work in the financial industry so it’s very easy for me to talk about.

    I think credit card debt of any level over $5k would be very concerning for me. Student loan debt would have to be appropriate for the other person’s salary. i.e. They can have 100k in debt if they are making 100k/yr +. It would definitely have to be proportional to how quickly it can be gone.

  12. avatar
    Ben W

    The conversation is best, for me, after a few months. Adequate time to think the relationship may have serious legs and also plenty of time to observe spending habits and sometimes even financial standing. I used this site, and the book, as an excuse to have the conversation. If someone is going to freak out about that, they wouldn’t have lasted that long with me anyways.

    When I first met my fiancée, she was in the process of paying off debt. Student loans were a big part, sure, but credit cards were larger. She was drowning and it threw up major flags for me. Still, I took time to see how she was handling her money and saw that she made mistakes years ago, but was on the right track. I was there once, too.

    My fiancée and I had dinner with her recently-married sister. This sister dated a guy for five years before marrying. Even still, it’s clear they haven’t had a serious money discussion yet. Meanwhile, we have our spending plan lined up, accounts separate but connected, and we’re just about debt free. Her credit card debt and car loan are done, she’s just got a bit left on her student loans.

  13. avatar

    1. My current relationship moved pretty quickly at the beginning, so we did end up talking about money just a few months in, like your first polling option calls for. I can’t vouch for anyone else and whether they’re lying, but we were pretty open in this relationship about everything because we spend a great deal of time together and it’s difficult to keep things from each other when you’re spending that much time together.

    2. I’m not sure if there’s a certain number that would make me pack up and leave. $80k would definitely scare me and I’d probably stop and think for a good long time, but I’m not sure what conclusion I’d come to. It wouldn’t matter what kind of debt it was, because either way the prospect is still an extremely large sum of money.

    My girlfriend in this relationship came with no debt, but I have around $30k in student loan debt that I’ll be starting to make payments on soon. That doesn’t seem to have affected her, though it’s certainly a drag on myself whenever I think about it.

  14. avatar

    In # 1, you ask when we would talk to our partner in a new relationship, but then the next part asks about our last relationship. So there is actually subpart “A” and “B.” 😉 About my last relationship, I never seriously spoke with him about money! He had an MBA and worked in finance, so I felt hesitant to address it. What do you do when money is someone’s job? Ramit?? 🙂
    I can’t really say when I would discuss money in my next relationship. Frankly, I do not want to come across as a control freak/gold-digger/weirdo.

    Regarding the second question, there isn’t an exact number that concerns me. It’s more the reasons behind the debt. To address credit card debt vs. student loan debt, credit card debt does generally concern me more. But what if the credit card debt was to take care of a beloved pet? My friend just charged a $1,000 surgery for her 1 year old kitten – kitty swallowed a knitting needle that her roommate left out. On the other hand, I have another friend who has student loan debt because he has a masters in film, a masters in library science and this fall, he is starting a masters in history. To me, that’s not compelling.

    I will say that you have to balance the romantic with the pragmatic. It’s hard to find someone you get along with, and finances aren’t fixed. Just like you can work on your finances, they can also go bad. You can get laid off/make bad investments/take on student loan debt. So I’d rather choose someone that I am attracted to and get along with and help them with their finances.

  15. avatar

    1 – My wife and I started dating in college when we had no money and almost no credit, so we’ve always been comfortable talking about finances. From observing my non-married friends finances come up regularly while discussing plans for the weekends or vacations. It’s only a taboo subject for one friend who was in pretty major CC debt.

    2 – I would not be turned off by any arbitrary dollar amount. I would be turned off if their plan to pay off that debt would interfere with our future financial plans. If they won’t pay off student loans for 5 or 10 or 15 years and that would cause problems for vacations, wedding, finding a home, or starting a family then I would absolutely be turned off. If they didn’t have a well thought out plan to get out of that debt then they’re probably not a great match for me.

  16. avatar


  17. avatar

    1. I would bring up money when I feel that he’s someone that I want to spend a lot more time with like Ryan said. Also does anyone have a good way to start the conversation when it comes to money? What exactly did you guys say? Write out the script Ramit style.

    2. I think what’s more important than the amount of debt is how he is dealing with it. Is he being aggressive like No more Harvard debt guy in paying off his loans? If so then I’d be impressed and not dump him because he has $80K in student loans. On the other hand, $80K in credit card debt would be a red flag because as you said it shows that he is frivolous with money but if he was aggressive in getting rid of it maybe I’d stick around.

  18. avatar
    R S

    1 – End of first date dinner. It was a natural point, he wanted to cover dinner, and since things had gone well up to that point, I made it clear that if we weren’t going 50/50, then I’d cover the next dinner. I may have been a bit rude, but I attempted to gently point out that we couldn’t yet truly “treat” the other out, since we weren’t yet earning the $$ we’d be treating the other with. I know, I’m lucky he’s still around.

    2 – no real $$ amount. Going to sound gold-diggery, but I think it comes down to potential. A bit of earning potential, a bit of luck, and money management. I have doctor friends w/ $250k+ student loan debt. I am sure they will someday be debt free, and have a tremendous amount of respect for their decisions. Especially since they went into their fields knowing they would be in debt for 10s of years. But they valued the work their future self would be doing, and that made it worth it for them. And like Jim (16) mentioned, they are all working to get rid of their debt, it will take a while, but I see they are still living within their means. In my area, 400k mortgage debt is pretty typical, too. I can’t imagine someone holding it against you that they chose the path of homeownership. Again, lucky for me, bf doesn’t hold it against me. It certainly has affected my flexibility to be able to do certain things, like vacations, but usually it’s just a matter of time/saving up/doing what’s really important. 🙂

  19. avatar

    In all my past relationships, I never uttered a word about debt. Most of my friends don’t know I have student loans. They all think my family is rich. And even my family didn’t know about my credit card debt (they knew the first few times, helped me pay it off, but they didn’t know about the most recent binge).

    I came clean to my boyfriend 9 months into the relationship. Why? Because I was trying to maintain an expensive relationship with him and I just couldn’t keep it up, or I could, but I’d never dig myself out of quicksand. Plus, I felt sick at times when I thought of my irresponsible and unharnessed spending. It was affecting my studies, my work, mental status, etc. How could I tell this person, who is in a top business economics PhD program at Harvard that his girlfriend was an utter train wreck?

    It got the point where I thought, “If he dumps me, so be it.” But he didn’t. Probably because I already had a plan of how I was going to deal with it, and it wasn’t so much as me confessing and begging him to forgive me as, “Dude, I have this debt. I’m gonna deal with it this way. And after that, I’m going to save up for grad school this way. As a result, I’m adjusting the way I spend money on this relationship.” And in just a few weeks, all my credit card debt was GONE but the boyfriend stayed.

    Throughout the process, he repeatedly expressed how proud he was that I was getting a grip on reality and facing the music. Today I have no credit debt, just made my first significant payment on my student loans, and those will be gone before 2013.

    It also helps that now I have a much greater interest in interest rates, since he studies those quite a bit. In fact, my boyfriend didn’t have any debt but he did start being more frugal, and now saving money and making more money is something we discuss frequently as a common point of interest.

    I’d advise only to expect a positive discussion if you already have a plan to pay off your debt, especially if it’s credit card related. If someone really loves you, they want to see you succeed towards a positive goal.

  20. avatar

    I think a natural time to talk about finances is when you plan your first trip with the significant other. It could be a weekend away or maybe a more substantial trip.

    This gives you an opportunity to bring up how you are paying for the trip and also makes it easy to segway to other financial topics.

    Traveling together is also a signal that you are at least somewhat serious about each other. Who would want to spend a weekend alone with someone that they maybe just kind of like?!

  21. avatar

    It was a sewing needle, not a knitting needle, sorry! And kitty is doing fine.

  22. avatar

    My husband and I phased in discussions of money as the relationship progressed, so there was always stuff like ‘I hate my new car payment!’ or ‘I’m buying a new computer with cash, but it won’t wipe out my savings’ or ‘I get paid tomorrow, can you get dinner tonight?’ But I think the first serious conversations that included deliberate disclosure were when we started talking about moving in together. We mostly knew each others’ financial styles and general income, but when we had to consider rent and bills and groceries, it became important to discuss specifics.That’s when we talked exact student loan and car payments and such, though there weren’t any big surprises.

    Then when we got engaged we had a whole ‘how do we do money as married people’ conversation and got a joint bank account in addition to keeping our personal accounts. That time around there was a surprise: he had no credit history, because his only loan ever was a car with a co-signer. I knew he was responsible, but I would never have guessed. We had to get a joint credit card to build his credit before he could get his own, and we talked a bunch about how we were going to handle credit and debt. By that point I knew him well enough and we had enough trust that I had no problem putting my credit on the line.

    Now we do semi-regular check-ins about our shared expenses and have real discussions and go through numbers and consider everything when there’s something life-changing, like moving or new jobs.

    I think building up to the big conversations is important. It would be creepy if someone needed to know your salary in the first couple of dates, but equally creepy if you didn’t have a ballpark understanding of their lifestyle and approach to money by the time you’re solidly a couple. Like everything else, it should get more intimate as you get to know each other better.

  23. avatar

    I brought up $$ early when 1st dating my husband. We’d gone out once or twice, and he’d paid. Told him I didn’t expect him to pay all the time. He responded that $$ wasn’t important, which meant I still didn’t know who was going to pay for the play that evening. When we arrived at the box office, he pulled out an already completed check. While, over the years, he pays for some things and I pay for others, I think looking back, that might have been significant. He said $$ wasn’t important, but I later learned, in his words, “He who pays makes the decisions.” Not a good marriage precept.

  24. avatar

    1. I met my husband at 18 as university students, so money talks were limited to our day to day expenses, working through school vs not, etc. I think our first serious discussion occurred about a year & a half in when we discussed moving in together. I have no other frame of reference.

    2. The reason for the debt matters to me. School, illness, and business start-up all make sense to me, depending on details. Consumer debt or mortgages would be harder, but I would also consider the track record of their paying it down. I can’t say what the number would be because I really don’t know if there would be a cap. I will say that my biggest red flag would be consumer debt on a credit card. Credit card balances in general, actually, would be off putting. However I wouldn’t leave him now if he took on debt (depending on the reason) so I find it hard to think of an amount that would have made me leave if he’d bad it when we met.

  25. avatar

    I would be okay if the guy had $80k in debt as long as they are student loans and he is in a career where repaying within 5 years is feasible. If it was credit card debt, I’d run. They always say you can’t change a person and being fiscally responsible is one of those traits that will be difficult to change. If I really liked the guy, I may tell him that we have to wait for him to pay off the credit card debt before we can get engaged and put a mutually agreeable timeline to it (so that you are not waiting forever).

    I think whenever you start to get serious is when you should bring up your money situation. But I think red flags are there when you are dating (does he always pay with credit card? does he seem to be living above his means, etc)

  26. avatar

    I think it depends very much on circumstance. In my current relationship, we started talking about money about two weeks in. He has almost no debt but is planning to transition to his own business and has created a cushion (which includes both savings and available credit if needed). I have about 9K remaining in credit card debt from my last marriage…where I learned a TON about how not to do things. My debt is my responsibility, I know exactly what month it will be paid in full given my current financial situation, and I wanted him to know that. In our situation, I actually make more money so taking ownership of my own past mistakes isn’t a huge impact on what we can and can’t afford to do together. We’ve been able to have conversations focused on financial responsibility and goals, so that’s made it pretty easy to have some really worthwhile discussions without judgement and blame.

    I don’t know that there is a set number that would be a dealbreaker. Sure, 90K would make me ask some serious questions. But 90K for med school would be one thing, and 90K in credit card debt would be something else entirely. How the debt was aquired, the attitude toward that debt, and plan for paying off the debt would play a huge role in how I viewed things, regardless of the number.

  27. avatar

    The time to start talking about finances is when you start getting really serious. We talked about it when we decided to move in together. The problem is, though, that I ended up feeling very judged for my debts. He was concerned about my student loan debt (only about $30K), but I had around 15K of credit card debt from a combination of underearning while being chronically ill with a non-fatal but expensive chronic pain syndrome (which also limited the amount of work on the side I could do), and some stupid mistakes – compounded by a serious family crisis. It’s not like I go shopping all the damn time. I’ve paid off about half of the credit card debt once I moved in with him. The climate in California is much more agreeable to my chronic pain, and I can do more work on the side. But he eventually did say he didn’t want to marry someone with that much debt, and it’s made me rethink the entire relationship. He does acknowledge that he’s seen me work hard to deal with the debt, and that I keep a good budget that doesn’t leave me deprived of the things that I like, but he still won’t take back what he said. He doesn’t think this is a big deal, but it’s important to not feel judged in a relationship, and I feel very judged.

  28. avatar

    1. Small stuff like halving restaurant/movie bills: Right away. Big stuff like debt and spending behavior: Started 2-3 months in with actual in-depth convos coming around 6-9 months.

    2. Absolutely not; It’s just money. If, however, this prevented them from paying their side of the expenses (like food/rent), then scaling back would be in order. If they didn’t jive with that, then it would turn into a philosophical/psychological matter (ie why the NEED for materialism?) which would probably indicate that there is a lot more going on then just slopping money skills. I would try to help her with the root of this but if this didn’t work, then yeah, the relationship would probably bite the dust.

    There is a lot more to it then just some debt number…

  29. avatar

    As soon as I read the headline in the email, I KNEW this was the same story I heard on NPR.

    I feel so in the know! Thanks for inadvertently stroking my ego, RamRam.

  30. avatar

    Before getting engaged we picked up a book called 100 Questions to Answer Before Getting Married. The conversation for us began something like this.

    Me – You ready to go through some more questions.
    Her – Sure, why not.
    Me – Question 62: How much Credit Card debt do you have?

  31. avatar
    Jeffrey Ankrom

    As a bankruptcy attorney in RI and CT, I’ve seen many married couples face debt differently. Some couples support each other through business failures resulting in hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt, even when they stand to lose their home. I’ve seen other couples destroy their own health and happiness by blaming each other for accumulating less than $25,000 in combined credit card debts on shopping purchases that were not entirely unreasonable. I’m not a psychiatrist, and certainly have no desire to become a marriage counselor, but I do try to remind people regularly: It’s only money!

  32. avatar
    Honey Smith

    I think it’s hard to tell, actually. I know plenty of people who used student loans to pay off debt they acquired prior to grad school. For one friend, it was one of the main reasons she wanted to do a PhD – she had so much consumer debt it would take that long to gradually “transform” it to student loan debt via the twice-yearly disbursements. In retrospect maybe she should’ve declared bankruptcy, but there you have it.

  33. avatar
    Jen Turrell

    When you are marrying a foreign national like I did it all comes up during the immigration process whether you are ready for it or not. We did talk some before we got to that point, we both had some student dept still (me at 25 him at 29), I had more assets but his business was making more than mine at that point so it all seemed good and reasonable. The point at which things have gotten difficult is now (almost 11 years into our marriage) having two autistic children whose therapies have cost us between $40-$60K per year for the past several years. Luckily we were already debt free with some retirement and emergency savings, but what seemed like an emergency has turned into an on-going and possibly life-long crisis. I’m not sure how anyone can plan ahead for something like this, but it’s always good to have extra, extra savings and family who will chip in to help their grandkids have the chance for a better life.

  34. avatar

    My wife and i talked about money after just a couple months. Once we were at the point where we began talking about a life together, before the actual engagement, we picked up a book 100 Questions to Answer Before Marriage. For those looking at making their relationship more permanent find a similar book at your bookstore. Going through the book we not only better understood each other’s financial style (by answering the questions) but we also decided
    how we’d join our styles (not in the book).

    There is not a number that would make me reconsider. I feel that it is more lifestyle choices that would make me reconsider. I don’t actually think this would ever be an issue for me. I feel those lifestyle choices would have led me to not start that relationship in the first place. Now that i’m married i don’t plan to test that theory.

  35. avatar

    Honey Smith, transforming consumer debt into student loan debt is one of the stupidest moves I’ve ever heard!

  36. avatar

    I don’t know why people are so “on talking point” about majors. I know bio and chem majors making $10/hr. as vet techs and art majors making $100K as packagers or designers or Web developers. And far, far more people whose career has no apparent connection to their major.

    No major is de facto “useless.” No major is automatically going to get you a good job either. Just ask an unemployed lawyers.

  37. avatar

    Definitely a difficult subject that needs a light shined into the dark corners. Nice you have the courage to try and make the information more public.
    It is nuanced. Is the 80K in debt to become an MD or lawyer? Or is it for an undergrad in Art of Fashion, with 6 years of “finding yourself” in grad school? A big difference to me.
    I personally paid off my wife’s student loans before we were married (less than ~20K). I am a geek who makes a good salary and at the time, before kids, the money was available. We are10 years down the road now, and doing OK, but talking money is still difficult and stressful.
    Money is not the real issue here, as usual. If you are in a deeply committed relationship, but can not talk about money, well my friend, you are fooling yourself about that relationship.
    Ramit, are you getting to a bigger question? Does a persons financial health relate to personal development? If a mate can not handle finances, they can not handle the ups and downs of married life, kids and a crazy mother in law?
    Other gurus have said your ability to make money and succeed (whatever that means to you) correlates directly to your emotional intelligence, and self awareness. It makes a lot of sense.

  38. avatar

    How do you distinguish between credit card debt and student loan debt? That’s a serious question. What about the person with a $300 student loan payment who paid for dental work on a credit card because what would have been emergency savings went to the student loan payment? (Obviously I’m setting aside the person who just charged up a lot of shoes and handbags and three iPods!)

  39. avatar
    Honey Smith

    Well, yes, Barbara, I agree. People still do it, though. That’s all I am saying.

  40. avatar

    1. In my current relationship, we’ve been dating for almost 2 years and have been living together for the past 4 months. While we’ve shared hints about finances since about the 6 month mark, just last month we revealed our salaries, student loan debts, tax, and credit card debts.

    We also then both discussed our comfort level with carrying 1) our own debt and 2) the other person’s debt. Finally, we discussed our individual plans to pay off our OWN debts, and when, if ever, would we assume responsibility for each other’s debts.

    2. The total amount is arbitrary to me so long as the earning/saving potential and other “habits’ for setting and accomplishing _shared_ goals, both personally, professionally, and financially are in the picture.

    I was once in a relationship where my partner often got upset for overdrawing their checking account. That raised red flag for me only because the lack of *awareness* and taking real actionable steps to solve their dilemma stuck out. I was willing to provide help if asked, but they were closed off to having the discussion, which made it difficult for me to accept they were ready to change their habits.

  41. avatar

    Yeah, there is a huge difference.

    Someone with even 5-10k of CC debt could be an issue. Something like a one-time total emergency 15k charge (maybe some sort of medical bill that they paid with a CC instead of negotiating a payment plan with the hospital) is not a big deal if they have been dutifully paying it off. If that same debt was worked up buying clothes and vacations and drinking at bars…there is probably a systematic problem that is NOT going to just go away. Odds are good that they are going to blow that number up at some point…or only avoid blowing it up by spending all of your money.

    A pile of student loan debt isn’t going to get bigger (at least if you keep paying it). The average numbers coming out of undergrad aren’t a huge deal and so I assume that a lot of the huge numbers–80k, 100k, 120k–are coming from people who who finished some sort of terminal graduate degree. Someone who just finished law/business/medical school (or a really expensive masters) is probably not looking to head back to school and probably has a reasonable means by which to keep paying down the debt.

    I mean…would you ditch someone with a pile of mortgage debt? They might have 200k in debt but they’ve got a house for it (even if its a little bit underwater). The student loan is the same way…They took on a one-time debt in exchange for an education that is going to stay with them forever.

  42. avatar

    At first, I let actions do the talking when it comes to money.

    Personally, I am a quality-over-quantity kind of spender with that same lifestyle. If the guy that I am dating, seems to make similar financial decisions (ex. he deliberates large purchases and makes sure that what he is buying will be an investment) and doesn’t spend money like it is going out of style, then I have no problem waiting until the relationship progresses to a serious point to have a money conversation.

    If a guy is spending money in a way that doesn’t resonate with me, it either a) makes me take the relationship much less seriously, so no money conversation needed or b) instigates the serious money conversation quickly.

    But, the best thing I can ever advocate for a couple looking to get serious is to have a joint-account. That way, you can get used to sharing money and responsibilities without a ton of pressure. And, you never need to worry about who pays for dinner! (This is also a great time to figure out questions like “Do we put in an equal amount or an amount proportional to our income? and What do we, jointly, value enough to spend our money on? and Its the end of the month, we’ve run out of money in the account but still want to go out to dinner, what is our decision?)

  43. avatar

    Realized I should quantify timelines:

    1st example – resonate with spending — wait until “a serious point” about when ready to say “I love you” (6 months?)

    2nd example – do not resonate with spending — wait until ready to make a commitment (exclusivity) to have conversation (2 months?)

  44. avatar

    While its incredibly difficult, and perhaps not that worthwhile (I mean who wants to have a heavy duty finance talk when you’re still trying to figure out how you feel about that person?), to have this talk early there is an alternative.

    Make your views on money clear. You can’t detail out every situation, but make it known that financial literacy and solvency are important, that you’re looking for someone who has a strong grasp on their money – not that they’re making lots but that they know how to handle it responsibly. Now, you may word it differently but that’s the basic idea. What you’re doing is sending a very clear signal so that (a) your partner is willing to talk about their finances good or bad or (b) your partner has bad finances and hides it. In case (b) – dump them. You made your values clear and they lied by omission.

  45. avatar

    Response to 1:
    In the past, never until it was a problem – the last straw for me.

    (Note: past guys were not financially stable/smart. Case in point = last boyfriend actually told me that he tried to sue a credit card company because he had run up so much debt (RED flag !). Then when he started dropping hints about how my family should pay to improve my lifestyle – meaning his too, as he didn’t have a job, wasn’t looking and had no credit card because he “had a hard time managing how much he spent”. Not surprisingly, after a trip with my mother, I ended the relationship & have no regrets.
    Lesson learned: I’m going to get that “100 questions” book – sounds great. This is a no-brainer, but w/next guy: a) will make sure he has job / stable financial situation b) explain that financial responsibility is important for me (I ran up cc debt once & paid it off) and ask him about his views on it.

    2. It’s not the question of number (as several people have said), but the overall attitude & outlook.
    Case: another ex refused to sublet his place in Manhattan even though he was living w/me and he always used that as an excuse to whine about how he was strapped for money. Needless to say, he didn’t last long.
    If someone had debt for a valuable reason (kitty swallowed pin) vs. flitting from one Master’s program to another w/no real long-term vision, that’s a red flag.
    Great case: a friend started out as a framer, bought a building w/2 buddies in what was a bad area of London and had debt, but did what he could to “make it livable” and rented it out. Now, years later, owns several buildings in Central London and is doing wonderfully. He doesn’t have an impressive degree, but he sure did do well :).

  46. avatar
    Jess H.

    I think a big factor in talking about debt is age / stage of life.

    My partner and I have had four major conversations about money so far. Each one was different and each one was at a different stage of our lives together.

    Our first conversation was within six months of our first date (can’t remember exactly – it was fifteen years ago!). We talked about how our different budgets would affect our ability to go on different kinds of dates, and decided that we’d rather go out more often and more cheaply than to go on fancy dates once in a while. That’s about where it ended.

    We didn’t discuss debt or savings until the next conversation, which was more than two years later – when it became clear that we were going to stay together after college. He had over $40k in college loans while I didn’t have any, but we were young enough and flexible enough to make a concrete, reasonable plan to pay them off.

    (Conversations three and four are less relevant.)

    Were I to start dating someone as an adult in my thirties, I would NOT wait two years to have the debt/savings conversation, and I’d consider $40k in debt very differently. But at nineteen, and then again at twenty-one? Not such a big deal.

  47. avatar

    I’ve always been open about my finance with friends and family. My openness has influenced others to take control of their own assets and we actively share information. I have some friends who love frugal living, others who prefer stocks, and others still who want to just do better for themselves.

    My current partner and I talked about our financial status long before we started dating. Learning about how he spends money educated me about what he valued and the effort he’s willing to put into creating a stable home environment.
    While I do carry two forms of debt (student loan and line of credit), I made it clear that my debt is my own, that it wasn’t his name on the dotted line. So even if we did marry, my debt would come from my income, which meant that I intend to carry on working.

  48. avatar
    Anna Marie

    Money is everything in this world. It’s how we live. I’m sure we can still barter and trade for some things but really most things are traded in monetary value.

    I want to know how the person I’m attracted to lives his lifestyle and spends his money. I don’t need to ask in most cases, I usually observe. I find that little details say a lot about where the heart lies in money beliefs.

    They are Freudian slips and also how they act or don’t act on a date when money comes into the picture. When alcohol comes into the picture a lot becomes revealed. Talk is useless, everyone can talk and say the right things, but it’s actions that say more. Instinctual behavior reveals our true programing.

  49. avatar

    In my current relationship (3+ years) we discussed finances early on (w/in 3-6 months). It was a common conversation topic since finances are closely tied to so many values (education, travel, career, family, etc.). We were always very transparent about our finances, which means there was never an awkward serious money talk.

    The financial transparency in my current relationship probably resulted from my previous relationship. The big eye opener was 1+ year into the relationship, when his bank account was completely empty and he had to ask me to buy him groceries. His last $40 was spent on weed and previous $400 on fancy car rims. Can’t be with someone who can’t prioritize their spending.

    There isn’t necessarily a certain debt amount that would have me running. It depends more on whether their debt is in proportion with how much they make, and if the likelihood of paying it off is feasible. If their debt controls a major part of their life, I’d have to reconsider the relationship if it would end up controlling my life as well.

  50. avatar

    Hm. I just read a Helen Gurley Brown biography, so let’s talk about gender and money. (She wrote Sex and the Single Girl and was editor of Cosmo for decades). Sex and the Single Girl theory from the 1960s was that work should be fun, relationships should be fun, and it is our job and joy of life to do our best at both. Unlike other feminists, who were banging on culture for fair and equality, HBG decided to treat gender/dating market for what it was: Women were objectified — which could be used to women’s advantage: Men wanted women. HGB also noted men made more money than women, so this was a supply and demand problem — and a fun one. Now, the glass ceiling has been pushed up, but we haven’t quite balanced the gender power relationship — so does the HGB model still apply? Have years of cultural conditioning and market behavior have men still wanting to use their financial powers and women their beauty powers? And, is this economic game actually sexy? The real answer? Yes. If I am buying dinner or drinks on a first date, I am batting for Team Feminist, which doesn’t feel sexy. Do I like dating systems that are based on reciprocity and generosity? Yes. But that can look like many things. Lots of things besides money-money potential bring value to a relationship.

    I’m about to start go back to school under my rule that investing in educating had to expand my future wealth potential. I’ve been to school to find my soul already; now, I’m on to the grand adventure of making my fortune. I’m going to student for a few years. My student loan debt is going to be big. Is the risk worth it to me? Do I have a plan to pay it off? Yes and yes. I also have zero other debt and a fairly fat 401k. I also understand I’m investing here which means other expensive life investments, like children and real estate, are currently off the table.

    To the 80k question — I’d want my partner to have a solid plan for paying it off, but, as a female, I have to admit I wouldn’t feel responsible for paying off my partner’s debt. I wouldn’t expect my partner to pay off my debt; it is mine — but I *would* expect that person to be supportive of my career/education decision.

  51. avatar

    When would you talk to your partner about money in a new relationship? Be honest and don’t say what you “think” you should do, say what you ACTUALLY did in your last relationship.

    I don’t think we ever really did talk about it when I was married. Every time I brought it up he’d freak right out and go off about how I was trying to control him. I ended up leaving, because “stuff” was way more important to him than me. I managed 3 years into our marriage to put us on a 15 year plan to be completely debt free including our mortgage and my brand new SUV.

    The next guy I dated asked me within a few weeks of dating what my financials were and my future plans.

    Is there a certain number (e.g., $80K of debt) that would make you seriously reconsider the relationship? If not, what would?

    Money doesn’t matter much to me and I’m sure many would freak at my financial situation (my parents included), which may explain why I’m single :), but I definitely wouldn’t break up with someone if he owed money. It’s all about values. We’re together to find solutions to our problems and if we can’t find common ground then it’s time to let go.

    After my ex I definitely can’t stand accumulation of stuff. People can be very happy with very little.


  52. avatar

    You should be paying attention to this from the first date bro. If a woman doesn’t at least make the reach that’s a red flag.

    You don’t have to ask to see bank statements up front, but if you have a functioning brain you can observe the other person’s spending habits and make some judgments about how their finances relate to their spending.

    As for $80k debt, it depends. It doesn’t really matter how it got there, for most people that would put a serious financial burden on their future and make getting married, buying a house, and spending money on all those things you say not to but that people are going to spend on anyway very difficult to do. Much easier just to find another partner without debt who has their financial act together.

  53. avatar

    My husband has about ten times that much debt. I had zero going into our marriage. He was raised upper-middle class where debt for cars, houses, business and school was something you did w/o a second thought. I was raised low income. I literally went hungry sometimes as a kid because my parents were so choked with debt payments. He told me the first night we met that he had some major financial problems and the rest of the details came as we got to know each other better. It has been really difficult. We’ve had a number of other issues besides the financial to deal with too. There have been times where it was absolute hell. The thing kept us together is that we have always been best friends in the truest sense. No one knows more about me (including the darker parts of me) than he does and vice versa. We have no secrets from each other. We are around each other practically 24/7 and don’t get on each other’s nerves. We have always supported each other becoming better people. It’s not often you find someone like that. The finances we can work out, but trust and communication are much harder to come by. I choose being married to my best friend. Despite all the hard times, we are improving together and happier than ever.

  54. avatar

    Question 1: When would you talk to your partner about money in a new relationship? Be honest and don’t say what you “think” you should do, say what you ACTUALLY did in your last relationship.

    Answer 1:Before I was ready for a serious relationship, I talked with some of the guys I dated about money and the state of my finances as early as 2 months in or sooner. My financial state was never bad, but it wasn’t too good either–I was largely debt free, and knew to live below my means albeit marginally, but for the smarts I had and the money I was making, there become good reason for me to question my frivolous urban spending as my savings had very little to show for my employment success post-undergrad. Once I was ready for a serious relationship, it took me about a year to be the one to initiate a serious conversation about finances with my boyfriend at the time. It took a year because the relationship was already so so chaotic and that I was debating breaking up with him because our fights led to increasing resentments rather than productive, kind solutions. I felt trapped because “for some reason” he wouldn’t commit to vacations with me or plan anything together with me. Hindsight is 20/20 on what his inability to discuss future events would mean, and in this case it meant, he couldn’t afford it.

    At the one year mark, he reassured me that we could have a happy future, and move in together, and I wanted to believe so too. Based on our conversations about what he thought we could afford, and what I thought we could afford, which was much less than what he proposed and much cheaper, and that I was trying to put us BOTH in a better financially defensible position, I knew then, that for me, we had much too different views on money and security to continue the relationship.

    It wasn’t a happy time for either of us as I wasn’t willing to compromise and I forced him to pull a credit report, which he resisted initially because he just didn’t know how much debt he had or all of the places he owed. Once he did pull the credit report, I discovered, and so did he, that the phone calls from creditors at 7am most mornings of our year together probably should have been enough of a red flag, and a red flag I was aware of very early on in our year together, but chose to passively ask questions about only once in a while as I didn’t like how upset it made him to talk about to any length.

    When I finally broke up with him, I was so torn because his debt was the largest factor leading me to my make my decision to break up with this man whom I had fallen deeply in love with. Was I shallow? Was I callous? Did I give up on true love? Does love conquer all? Am I a gold digger? But eventually I found closure, I found solice. I was finally able to realize that, it wasn’t the debt that bothered me, it wasn’t the $80K across a bad new truck loan, for-profit paramedic school, broken apartment leases, credit card living, and the fact that his employment opportunities would likely not pay him more than $40K for many years that bothered me. I respected his stories about how he got into debt, but at 30 years old to my 27 years, what I would have respected further is discovering that yes, proactively he should have told me he has $80K in debt, that he developed a plan to pay it down and has been since he’s already proven his success since his debt used to be $100K (or another similar success story).

    Upon further reflection, the actual debt $$ number didn’t matter, it was the constant stress coming from him to me complaining about money disagreements with his roommate who foot most of his rent each month. For me, it was so stressful waking up to calls from bill collectors every other day calling his cell phone. I wanted the man that I loved to simply be my date at weddings, knowing that on some level even before the truth came out, that he would avoid my request, say no, and be a total asshole about declining the invitation, which I now see as his defensive mechanisms to hide from himself and me that he would never be able to afford to go (because of the debt). What it all added up to me for me, is this: even before knowing about the debt situation, the relationship was already chaotic to the point that even working together to help us both out of his debt left me too emotionally exhasuted, unhappy, feeling unheard, and I would always wonder whether he was telling me the truth since he could hardly be honest with himself about his situation in the first place.

    At the time, I worked at a job that I did’t enjoy just for the paycheck because it paid well, I worked for longer hours than he did, and lived on less than he did consiously keeping my expenses low and forgoing fancy toys and luxuries, while also footing 50%+ or more of our joint expenses and driving all the time (approx. 90%+) to his apartment (28 miles away), rather than the other way around. I felt that he didn’t take OUR situation dealing with HIS debt seriously enough and that he wasn’t willing to make hard cuts, to make real sacrafices and solve the problem, to get a second job waiting tabes (he was too tired and above waiting tables he’d say), and I felt that he would rather wallow in self-pity than work together and be challenged on the beahaviors which I saw, he didn’t, and which contributed heavily to his ever increasing debt load. His debt was our problem, but I felt like I was the only one pushing for a debt free future. I felt that he had already resigned himself to his situation, continually hoping his weekly lotto ticket purchases would finally pay off and only then could he live his real dreams, his real life.

    I’m a much more calm, content woman and happier in the “right” relationship for me. My decision to break up over debt was a challenging learning experience, but led me to my current path, and for that, I’m grateful. Hopefully my story can shed more insight to others on this issue too.

    Question 2: Is there a certain number (e.g., $80K of debt) that would make you seriously reconsider the relationship? If not, what would?

    Answer 2: Having revealed my story in question 1 above, I would hope that given my past situation, which left me devestated for a long time and kept me away from dating for as long as the relationship had lasted, that I would seriously reconsider any romantic relationship with debt outside of a modest mortgage and a reasonable student loan. These mortgages and student loan debts can be pretty high in today’s America for us 28-35 year olds, so there is no specific number, but there is a RELATIVE number.

    What I mean to say is this: be proactive and show me that your debt is lower this month than it was last month and show me how you plan to continue this trend every month. Is your debt lower today than it was yesterday relatively? If the answer is yes, then no, I would not seriously reconsider the relationship–I would continue to go forward happily, in love with the relationship under these conditions. It shows strong character to admit to debt, financial mistakes, and prove a successful pay-off plan, who wouldn’t want to love a man like that?

  55. avatar

    I have been unofficially “dating” someone for about 6 years (4 of which I was in school in another city). We were planning our first international trip, for which he would need a passport. We booked the trip and he applied for a passport, later to be denied for child support debt.
    I knew that he had some small CC debt, and he mentioned he was behind on child support although he was paying every month. He even worried that he may not be able to get a passport, but I thought it was fine since he said he was paying every month.
    Needless to say, I was shocked when I heard he was 10K behind, a total accumulated over a 7 year period. He wasn’t sure what the amount would be.
    Our finances, everything are completely separate. But, this trip was already paid for and I wasn’t about to change it – so I paid the 10K. And he’s paying me back slowly.
    For a short while, maybe a month or two, I resented that I had to take that kind of action. But now, I am more at peace with it. I don’t really need that money right now, and I’m fortunate enough that I have it to provide. But it’s not something I plan to do again. He has made a lot of changes since then – since that is the most he has ever owed someone. I provided him with a spreadsheet to track how much he makes and can save, and he actually uses it. And he’s on top of his child support so he doesn’t unknowingly rack up debt.
    So, its a great improvement and a confident step forward!

  56. avatar

    I know I’m in the minority here – well actually I don’t know that, because I don’t know how many people AREN’T responding.

    But “I actually suspect most of the respondents are lying about how soon they have a serious discussion with their partners about money” – this is why I skip a lot of Ramit polls! Because I always have the sense that our replies will be either dismissed or mocked.

  57. avatar

    My husband and I started dating our freshman year of college, so there weren’t a lot of money issues off the bat — our dates pretty much consisted of walks around campus and meals in the dining hall.

    We met each other’s families within the first few months (he flew to visit me over winter break, I drove home with him one weekend in January), and it was pretty clear that our families had different financial situations (mine well-off, his not so much). The next month we took a road trip to my family’s house with some friends and his car broke down in my parents’ driveway. My parents wanted to pay for a tow truck and he was embarrassed. That led to a lot of conversations about our expectations around money. The next year when his parents weren’t able to help him get another loan for school, we talked through his options. So I knew what kind of student loan debt he was going to have. We both signed up for student credit cards around the same time and knew to pay them off every month in full. At one point he said he wanted to save up money but wasn’t good at it, so we went to the local credit union together and set up an account in my name that part of his paycheck would be deposited into. He always worked through all of college, so I knew he was a hard worker who just didn’t have much of a financial education from his family, and I shared with him what I knew. When he started applying to grad schools shortly before we got engaged, we talked about how much money we each had and how we’d pay for his grad school. (My undergrad and graduate school were both done on scholarships.)

    So there was no one big money conversation. We just were always open about things as they came up.

    And the number didn’t matter. I knew when we got engaged that all my savings and all my graduate assistantship money and part of my salary the first year we were married would go toward his grad school, and that was fine. We’re both in this thing 100%. Then when I got mono, he was working, going to school, driving me to and from work, and doing all the cooking, dishes, laundry, etc. That’s just what marriage means, to me. You can’t put a price on that.

  58. avatar

    In my current relationship, it came “naturally” after we moved in together, i think it was almost a year in. She got a late payment notice from a lawyer on behalf of her phone company, i sad her right down to talk aboult money. The answers I got were really surprising: she had and still has more than $70K in savings and about half that amount in Norwegian student loans. She is just really bad at getting things done on time – that still annoyes me to thi date 5 years later – but we are still very much together.

    Student loans wouldn’t really worry me and I cant put a number on debt that would worry me. But in general any CC debt would put me on my toes…
    It all depends on circumstances and why there is debt and how its being handeld. I am 29 and have dual policy retirement fund, one under my control and the other with life long stipendts started at 23 plus around $100K in savings and owen an appartment that currently carries $200K mortgage at 1% – debt is not the enemy, its all about what the plan is.

  59. avatar

    I dated my now husband when we were at uni, so neither of us were dealing with finances at a level that was on a par with real life, as it were. We were both lucky enough to have parents who financed our higher educations, and neither of us even had credit cards at that point; life was a lot less complicated.

    In any case, you can tell a lot about a person without asking them directly – and there’s a difference between money-related discussions from which you can learn important trends (such as a digital camera he wants to buy, or a trip abroad she’d really like to take), and sitting down with the spreadsheets – the mindset is probably more important than the actual number of how much debt. If financial responsibility is something important to you in a relationship, you’re going to see red flags in behavior, without having to ask directly.

    Finally, bear in mind that when you expose your zero debt and $1000 emergency fund, you may get hit back with a $50,000 nest egg, and the feeling that you’re being tagged the financially irresponsible one…

  60. avatar

    I think we first talked about it a month in, or thereabouts. At the time I didn’t have any student loans (though now I do), and he was already working and doing quite well. Plus his family was wealthy, which I still occasionally find a little intimidating since mine really isn’t. 😉

    So there wasn’t really an issue around money at that point. Were I to leave him for whatever reason and find someone else, the amount of debt would bother me less than the behaviours. Say if there was someone who had a lot of debt to pay (for the sake of argument, £50k) but he’d learned from his mistake and was taking active steps to paying it down, I’d be cool with that. Same situation with someone who hadn’t learned and was wracking it up higher and higher? Not so much. It’s also got a bit to do with scale, and how well we’re actually getting along anyway.

  61. avatar

    With husband #1, we talked money after we married. It turns out he had several problems, including gambling debts. Because of the nature of the problems, and after trying marital counseling, I left. Following divorce, I paid off his (because we were married “our”) debts and supported myself and my daughter by working 3 jobs simultaneously (including one sole proprietorship 1K type business). It was a hard lesson learned.

    7 years later, I started dating again. This time, after a couple of casual dates with a person (these dates included my daughter), I would state right up front about how wary I was about finances. Some guys ran–either because of my daughter or because I wanted to talk money. Two showed me bank statements, account balances, and pay stubs (I reciprocated). They stuck around. One I married.

    It wasn’t until after marriage, however, I found that marrying a person with no debt at all was not ideal, either. It turns out he had lots of money in a savings account, but no credit cards, no credit history, no retirement funds put aside, no investments, etc. To buy a new car, I had to co-sign his loan (even though I had less in the bank and earned less). I made him get a credit card and use it right away after that. Then, when we went to buy a house, we went through the same scenario. My credit let us get a house, even though he had enough cash in savings for a huge down payment. Until Ramit’s book, I handled everything financial because my husband refused to do or read anything financially related unless I asked him to (such as starting a retirement fund, an emergency fund, get a credit card, etc). Now he is automated and getting financially savvy. Ramit helped him see the WHY behind what he should do (which I never could, by the way–he just did what I said out of blind trust).

    So, back to the $80,000 question. I might marry a person with that much student debt if said person already had a high-paying job and could reasonably handle the debt IF the person was financially responsible in other areas. The discussion of those areas would definitely have to happen before getting engaged. I would not marry someone with that much credit card debt, unless he was Bill Gates and could pay it off next week (and did).

    That said, my brother married a woman, then found out about her credit card debt. Because they hadn’t talked finances before marriage, they had to face the situation after marriage. They were very much in love, and were able to reach an agreement to cut up her cards, stick strictly to a budget, and get out of debt. They have been happily married almost 40 years now. So it can work out. I just wouldn’t do it myself.

  62. avatar

    Why is paying for things with a credit card a red flag? I (and many friends) pay most of our bills with credit cards. Then we pay everything off at the end of the month. This means we either write a single check for many items (the old-fashioned way) or we automate credit card payments (a la Ramit’s advice). So paying with a credit card does not mean one is wracking up debt unless one is not paying in full at the end of the month. Living beyond one’s means is a whole other kettle of fish–a bright red flag for sure. Although here, too, one needs to know the whole story. Does the other person love clothes and puts a lot of money there, while living frugally in all other areas? They might be “living rich,” without living beyond their means. Just make sure you know the whole story before you walk away. Appearances can be deceiving.

  63. avatar
    Shawn G

    1) My wife and I were friends before we started dating, so we both knew a bit about each others’ finances. After we started dating it was not a problem to discuss finances. We probably discussed finances more in depth by the 2 month mark of our relationship, and the more serious we got the more we talked about it.

    2) Part of that discussion was her student loan debt. She had over $70k in student loans and I knew this fairly early on in our relationship. Once we were married we both set out to get the debt paid off and we are now debt free.

  64. avatar

    My fiance and I started talking about money almost from day one. I think ours is a unique situation since it was love at first sight and all that and now we are engaged. We are both very upfront and honest people and we are completely open with each other and know that money is fleeting but our love will always last. We do not come from money so we have had poor spending habits in the past, but together we are focused on building our future together and being financially stable. So we knew long ago that we would have a lot of student loan debt and we are constructing a plan to deal with that once I graduate. Fortunately we both paid off our credit cards and got rid of them long ago. We budget together weekly and discuss our finances whenever necessary. Currently, while I am in school and working part-time, she is the breadwinner and covers our rent, savings, and spending money. While my small paychecks cover our groceries and utilities. When I graduate I am looking at getting into a field that will greatly outpace her salary so our roles will reverse. We also know how to live within our means so we are being smart about our extra money and saving and paying down debt as much as possible. Now if I can just get into some investing and figure that stuff out…

  65. avatar
    Van Nguyen

    I haven’t talked about money in any of my past relationships (longest one lasting 3 years). And I’ve yet to bring up money in my current relationship (going on 2 years). Currently, it’s quite easy for it to not be an issue, because my girlfriend is entirely funded by her parents. She’s not a prude about it. She’s offered to pay for dinner and gas every now and then, noting that I have to work, while she simply just uses her dad’s credit card.

    As for the second question, I won’t say there is a certain number regarding to debt to make me reconsider the relationship. It’s a matter of if the other person had the means and/or willingness to correct it on their own, without my help. That willingness can be as simple as picking up a book to learn how to save and automate money (hint hint). Of course I would help out, but my girlfriend shouldn’t expect it of me. Otherwise, she wouldn’t be my girlfriend.

  66. avatar
    Heather H

    Money came up pretty early in our relationship (started dating 7+ years ago.) I was in grad school, accumulating student loans with little/no credit card debt, and was pretty honest about not being able to go on expensive dates, etc. He always paid and I said I felt bad about it. He said it was fine and told me once I graduated and had a good job, I could pay. 🙂

    He also had no debt, but bought a condo about a month after we were started dating. Between my lack of money and his new mortgage, we were pretty open about what we coudl and couldn’t do.

    About six months in, I was applying for internships and we talked about how much each one paid and what the best options are. So the conversation just kept flowing from those early days. In the last seven years, I’ve paid the bills while he went back to school. We’ve discussed new jobs and what more money/less money means for our relationship and what we want to do.

    As for how much debt would make me run away, I think it really depends on the combination of the person and the amount. Our former roommate was big on instant gratification, so if it was him plus a lot of money, I’d run. He just can’t figure out how to save.

  67. avatar

    When it comes to money and relationships, I feel like I was very lucky that I had a valid reason to discuss this with my boyfriend.

    I just moved to New York and I was staying with family (rent free). I was spending my savings to get around, go out to dinner/movies, and interviewing for jobs.

    About 2.5 months after I moved I was still jobless and was beginning to feel the pressure of my finances. I had also racked up some record breaking (for me) CC debt (3K+) — that was more than I ever had before.

    I luckily got a job 2 weeks later and was breaking down my finances. Living w/ my family wasn’t a long term solution so it was time to pay down my CC’s, save up for an apartment (as sometimes they need 3x rent before giving you keys) and having a bit of a cushion before moving out.

    I included him into my financial planning and he in return opened up to me about his finances. I don’t remember what his actual numbers are, but I know now he has less than 2k in CC debt, his student loans were 19k and he’s brought them down to about 15k, and he has savings set up on the side for his business/hobby (VW Cars).

    My CC debt is under 1k — I’m working to eliminate it entirely. My student loans were at 7k and now I believe they are a bit under 5k. My financial plan has allowed me to travel and take vacations as well as purchase gifts for those I love and live comfortable. The best part is all this progress was within a year and half.

    Thinking of our combined debt does freak me out a bit – but I know we’re very lucky to have such low numbers and I also know we’re both aggressively working to eliminate our debt before we take the next steps in our relationships.

    I’m not sure what the final number is that would scare me off. It depends on income, spending habits, priority of paying off loans. Just lots of things to consider.

  68. avatar
    Ornella @ Moneylicious

    You two had a very upfront relationship in the beginning.

    Personally, I will only discuss about money when I know I’m in a serious relationship. For me, talking about money would have to be between 6-11 months. I’ve been asked why not 12months? Because after one year in the relationship, I’m making a personal decision if I still want to be with this person or not.

  69. avatar
    Marvin Fontanilla

    I talked about my financial situation when I realized we were no longer dating and the relationship was actually going somewhere. I think the disclosure needs to be done early in the relationship because you get to see what your partner is really made of.

    I knew she was for me after she sat through a 3 hour Dave Ramsey podcast marathon on a trip from SF Bay Area to LA!

  70. avatar
    William Cowie

    The issue you highlight is a real one. The solution isn’t obvious and there isn’t a single “one rule fits all.” But it is important to talk about. That chart speaks volumes. Not enough people listen and that’s unfortunate.

    I am really fortunate. I met my wife more than 41 years ago when we were both too young to have either money or debt. Like most youngsters, we believed the world was ours and nothing would be a problem. Debt, schmedt – we took it on as fast as banks would let us have it. One needless toy after another cluttered our garage… and our lives.

    Like some people, we had out wake up call during a recession. Fortunately, we learned from our mistakes and we’ve had lots of time since then to get it right (or at least righter).

    As we became adults together, we discovered that money really is a tool, but only if you own it and intentionally not let it own you. (There isn’t much middle ground in that equation, as we found out at great cost.)

    We’re celebrating our 40th anniversary in a few months and we’re out of debt and blessed to have what we’ve come to call our drop dead money – enough to tell bosses and customers to drop dead if we so chose. Ironically enough, we made most of our money in recessions, because we learned that’s the best time of all to get ahead and make up for past mistakes. They say we might have another one next year, possible even sooner…

  71. avatar

    I know the basic finances of all of my closest friends. Maybe my friends and I are anomalies, but we’re fairly free in discussing it. That includes my partner and others I’ve dated in the past.

    I’ve broken up with two people for reasons that included poor money management. It wasn’t the sole reason in either case, but contributed to growing doubts. One of them had tens of thousands of debt and the other had zero. The fact of debt is not what I see as a problem, it’s how the person deals with it, what their income is compared to their spending, and how they think about the future that influences my decision.

    My current partner regularly puts $4-5k on credit cards, and then pays it off completely over a couple months and stays debt free for a while. I’m not 100% comfortable with his strategy, but for now he’s more than capable of paying off the debts he has, he’s aware of the risks, and we don’t share any credit. If we stay together long term it’s something I want to talk about further, but we discuss our finances regularly as it is, so I’m not worried about it.

  72. avatar

    “We do not come from money so we have had poor spending habits in the past”

    Coming from money doesn’t guarantee good spending habits, unfortunately for those who do. One guy I dated had horrible spending habits that directly grew out of coming from money. He never, ever had to think about where his money came from, his mother simply gave him more any time he ran out. He ran out a lot.

    I think it’s actually better to know you’re going to have a hard time, like you and your fiance who knew you would have debt, and plan for it–compared to someone blindly assuming he will always have money because he always has.

  73. avatar

    I cherish the few friendships I have where we can talk openly about money. I think it’s bizarre that generally people seem to be more comfortable disclosing the details of their sex lives than they are the details of their income and spending strategies.

    I couldn’t agree more that you learn from observing behavior, as opposed to listening to a person’s glossed-up self-description. There’s a saying, the checkbook and the calendar never lie. That goes for personal insights, too. I’ve noticed that my spending habits, especially around food and socializing, change pretty drastically when I am feeling stressed or emotional. I try to map out my purchases in advance to avoid being influenced by this!

  74. avatar
    Angelica Schneider

    Hi Ramit and world,

    My husband has close to $100,000 worth of debt and I have $3000! Mine is credit card/student related debt and his primarily student loan debtis about 85k and the rest are his credit cards. When he was in college he studied abroad and of course like a fool lived in the moment and just racked up debt traveling…however it gave him valuable experience and taught him another language (which slightly increases his income). When we started dating I knew he had about 50k in debt, he wanted to be a pilot and schooling for that is not easy or cheap so we talked about him taking out another 45k loan to get him to being a commercial airline pilot. So two years later his dream is fulfilled…in some ways… he basically spent 45k to make under 30k a the beginning pilots get paid NOTHING!! One of his loan payments is $750 a month.
    Previously it has been a struggle because he didn’t make enough to cover his debt. Now we are doing a lot better and on the way to great. In a few years time he will be making the money he deserves (he is a pilot not a janitor!) and time will help pay down his debt. Would I leave him for his debt…no…did I ever think about Don’t get me wrong we LOVE having money…we “affords” us the ability to do things we want. But we looked at debt and money as an investment and thankfully to the airline unions we will be getting a return on his investment very shortly. P.S. I am not a cosigner or anything like that on his loans because we are keeping my credit great..which it is.

    I saw the post what would your partner or you do with $1001 dollars..obviously we would pay a chunk on his highest credit cards interest rate to free up some space which will lower his/our monthly payments, raise his credit score, which will give him the ability to take out a new credit card with a year of no APR and then a smaller APR rate after and transfer his debt so we would pay it down faster and with way less interest….any other ideas?

  75. avatar
    Angelica Schneider

    Oh also!! My husbands immaturity with money made him an expert on credit cards, loans, debt etc. He is the most informed person I know on the subject. He still has some what I like to call “silly” attitudes towards money but he is quick to check himself and get back on track.

  76. avatar

    I’m that person – I lost my business in 2008 with the housing and mortgage crash – I earned upward of 200k in one year. My business, my savings, my 401k, my house and everything was lost. It took me two years to get to making 80-100k a year. I’m still in debt this year I’ll make 150k. Now working with creditors to pay back even debts that have been written off. I did have a guy dump me before we had the talk which I was prepared to do he beat me to the punch. So, if you’re girlfriend had that kind of debt BUT that kind of earning potential would you still dump her? I can see dumping someone that doesn’t want to go to work. But whoever gets me will get a moneymaker. Jeff’s loss will be someone elses gain. These are tough times – but when the going gets tough the tough can get going. Don’t be so quick to judge. It could be you, next!

  77. avatar

    I think the biggest differentiator is is gonna be what caused the debt.
    A person who wracked up debt on student loans has a very different financial future from someone who impulsively gambled themselves into debt.
    If you’re looking for the long term, meeting someone when they are in a tight spot and standing bye as they work their way out- like the previous commentator- will teach you a whole lot more about them as a person than if you were to say; stand bye as you watched the same person spiral into debt with no idea or experience of weather they would be able to pull themselves out again. If you hit hard times years into marriage- you’ll know what the person you’re with is capable of, meaning you’re more likely to survive the rough patch than run a mile.

  78. avatar

    I talk about money when I feel comfortable disclosing personal finances to a potential partner. For me there’s no set timeline. Anything above $100k will prompt me to reconsider a relationship. Luckily I haven’t met anyone with that much debt.

  79. avatar

    I counsel engaged couples about finances, and not only are there different habits relating to money, at least someone brings financial baggage into the relationship, but everyone brings some other type of baggage into it. I think it is good to let it naturally come up, since finances always do, and be honest about it, and if ‘issues’ work on solutions together, it can unify people.

  80. avatar

    I’ve been in a relationship for the last 15 or so months and we’ve discussed money plenty. We don’t see the point of having joint finances until we’re married, and we don’t pressure each other to spend or not spend our money as we choose, but we’re fully aware that we’re saving up for traveling/a house/etc. I don’t feel yet that we have to answer to each other, but we’ve already made major joint purchases and even budget our groceries and expenses. That way, we’ll be able to segue without too much stress (hopefully) into having fully adjoined finances.

  81. avatar
    Jennifer Raff

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  82. avatar

    Weird? You would waste 12 months of somebody’s life, and then at a one year point make a personal decision? Hope one day somebody clocks you good

  83. avatar

    I was previously in a 4 yr. relationship that ended quickly once i would even ask this guy about his finances. I put my information out 1 year in. I was a little hurt but not much. He was very stingy. I do regret wasting 4 years! But honestly when 2 people live each other discussing money would not be an issue.