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When you're considering whether a romantic partner is "the one," you might first think about factors like attraction, common interests and life goals. One less sexy, but critical, aspect of compatibility is also finances.
Talking about money is difficult, and depending on where and how you were raised, you might find it taboo or shameful. But given that financial conflict is a leading predictor and cause of divorce—regardless of how much money you both make—honest communication is vital.
Here are six financial red flags to watch out for in your partner if you want to ensure both your relationship and your finances remain healthy.
1. Unwillingness to Discuss Money
Talking about money is surprisingly hard and vulnerable, and it can elicit a range of emotions. Many people were taught it's inappropriate to discuss finances with others, and you might feel shame or guilt or fear judgment when having to reveal what feels like private business.
But it's important for couples building lives together to overcome this and be transparent about money, especially for those who budget together, share accounts, make large joint purchases and are planning a future together.
If your partner outright refuses to talk about money, despite repeated attempts or without a reasonable explanation, take note. While it may be from severe insecurity that could be helped by financial therapy, it could be a red flag that they're hiding something or being dishonest about how much they do or don't have.
2. Uncontrolled Credit Card Debt
It's common to occasionally feel overwhelmed by credit card debt, especially if you have an unexpected expense that exceeds your savings. But the goal should be to never carry a balance on credit cards; doing so means paying interest and potentially hurting your credit score. Depending on the card's interest rate and balance, carrying a balance—especially if only paying the monthly minimum payment—can quickly lead to uncontrolled debt.
Carrying hefty balances and utilizing a large amount of available credit can worsen your credit utilization ratio. This, in turn, can lower your credit score. That means it's important to know if your partner is carrying hefty balances and struggling with high credit card debt, especially if you plan to apply for loans or credit cards together. Additionally, if you divorce, you'll remain responsible for joint debts, and if you're in a community property state, you may also be responsible for your spouse's credit card debt.
3. Refusal to Disclose Credit Scores
Maybe your significant other doesn't mind sharing how much is in their bank account, but they're cagey about credit scores. Lying about or hiding credit scores can erode trust in a relationship.
Your credit score is a complex, ever-changing figure that reveals a snapshot of both your long-term and short-term financial behavior. If someone's credit score is poor, it could be due to bad habits like not paying bills on time. It could also indicate something more serious, like excess debt or past bankruptcies.
Even if you don't fully combine finances, your significant other's credit can impact you. If you apply for any joint accounts together, like a mortgage or credit card, both of your credit scores play an important role in whether you're approved and at what interest rate. Credit checks are also often required when applying to lease a rental property, for a new job and for utilities.
If your partner doesn't want to talk about credit scores or share theirs, it may be a red flag, especially since their credit score can reveal a poor financial track record—and impact your ability to qualify for financial accounts and housing.
4. Hiding Financial Accounts
Some couples choose to keep their finances partially or completely separate from each other. There's nothing wrong with this, and keeping money separate may be easier for those who were previously married, have children from another relationship or have an inheritance.
However, if you and your spouse manage some or all of your finances together, it's not healthy to hide accounts or money problems from one another—especially if it impacts the other person. This is often termed financial infidelity.
If you find that your partner is hiding accounts from you, such as credit cards, savings or investments, this can be a breach of trust and a major red flag. You don't want to find out they have secret debt by a debt collector showing up at your door. Honesty and transparency is crucial and should go both ways, especially if you share financial responsibilities.
5. Gambling or Other Risky Habits
There's nothing wrong with an occasional slot machine game, or making a splurge here and there. But consistent risky behavior, such as frequent gambling or significant emotional spending, should raise alarm bells to romantic partners.
Some of these behaviors can be tied to addiction or mental health struggles, which can be addressed and corrected with professional help. But if your partner seems to have a gambling problem, lives beyond their means or overuses credit cards, and they aren't amenable to changes, consider these red flags that could negatively impact your life and relationship. Everyone makes occasional mistakes, but someone with these frequent bad habits might deplete their savings, get behind on bills and rack up debt—all of which can impact you.
6. Financially Abusive Behavior
Another money issue that can hurt a relationship is when one partner is financially controlling, or to a greater extreme, financially abusive. This can look different, but signs could include your partner:
- Removing access or refusing to give you access to shared financial accounts or money
- Only giving you money as an "allowance," especially if it's not enough
- Taking advantage of you, like refusing to work or contribute to household expenses
- Accumulating large amounts of debt on shared accounts or in your name
- Preventing you from working
- Stealing your property, money, identity or inheritance
- Refusing to sign a prenuptial agreement or other documents to protect your assets
These are just a few ways financial abuse can manifest. If you're a victim, you might lose savings or income, be unable to save, have a poor credit score or become responsible for a large amount of debt. It can also take an emotional and psychological toll. Any controlling, manipulative, threatening or abusive behavior should be taken seriously.
The Bottom Line
Talking about money topics like budgets and debt isn't the most romantic of activities, but it is vital for your financial health and your relationship's health. It's ideal to start having financial discussions before you move in together, and to keep having regular conversations so you remain on the same page and recognize and address any red flags.
If your partner does have some bad financial habits, it could help to seek professional help, such as financial therapy, debt counseling or financial planning. It's also smart to get in the habit of monitoring your credit score so you can see if and how their actions are impacting you.