The Beatles were great songwriters, but their track record as financial advisors is mixed. The Fab Four’s saying, “money can’t buy me love” yet “all you need is love,” can ring hollow when it’s time to pay the bills.
Indeed, finance can be as crucial as romance when it comes to maintaining lasting matches, according to an Experian survey on the roles credit and financial issues played in ending the marriages of 500 divorced individuals.
41% said their exes put their households into too much debt.
Should You Have Known Better?
- A majority of the divorced respondents (53%) said they were financially incompatible with their exes, and 59% said financial issues contributed to the failure of their marriages.
- Perhaps not surprisingly, respondents citing financial matters as major factors in their divorces largely blamed their former spouses: 54% said their exes spent too much, and 41% said their exes put their households into too much debt.
- Two-thirds of respondents (66%) discovered that their spouses’ spending habits were different than they had expected before they got married, and nearly half (48%) reported that their spouses’ financial situation wasn’t what they expected it to be before marriage.
Those kinds of surprises aren’t romantic or fun. They can prove costly, and not just in the pain and anguish that comes with the end of a marriage. Survey respondents reported that their divorces cost them an average of nearly $20,000 ($19,922) each in legal fees, real estate costs, and other expenses. Total expenditures for some divorces exceeded $50,000.
To better understand the connections between love and financial compatibility, Experian separately surveyed 1,000 adults about the importance they placed on the financial habits and traits of their spouses and potential partners.
The findings reveal that financial issues are an important consideration for many people pondering marriage, but they also suggest these issues probably should have been a bigger focus for many whose marriages failed.
Getting Better All the Time
The marriage survey offers some encouraging signs that more couples are aware of the importance of financial matters as they begin long-term relationships.
An overwhelming majority rated financial suitability an important consideration when choosing a spouse: 96% of married survey respondents and 91% of unmarried participants rated financial compatibility with a life partner important, ranking it well ahead of political compatibility (44% and 45%, respectively) and religious/spiritual compatibility (69% and 63%).
The marriage survey also found that credit scores, those three-digit encapsulations of debt- and repayment history, often come into play as relationships move from dating to potential marriage.
- Nearly half (49%) of married respondents (and 56% of married women) said credit scores were an important factor when they chose their spouses.
- Among unmarried respondents, 66% consider credit scores important to their choice of a future spouse.
Fixing a Hole
That shouldn’t necessarily mean a prospective mate needs a high credit score to be considered a catch, and indeed 84% of singles say they wouldn’t consider a low credit score grounds for breaking off a relationship.
It takes time to build a credit history, after all, and twenty-somethings, recent graduates, and new arrivals to the U.S. from other countries may not have enough credit history to rate a high score. Other singles may have had score-lowering setbacks that can be corrected with time and good credit habits.
In any event, discussing credit scores well ahead of making lifelong commitments is a good idea, since each spouse’s credit score affects the types of loans available when the couple seeks a joint home or car loans, as well as the fees and interest rates charged for those loans.
Only 33% said they considered how their future spouse’s credit score could impact their own finances before tying the knot.
That fact evidently isn’t as well known as it probably should be, since only a third (33%) of married respondents said they considered how their future spouse’s credit score could impact their own finances before tying the knot, and 21% of married respondents said credit scores became a source of stress within their marriages.
Comparing credit scores before saying “I do” can allow couples to work together to build better credit scores for one or both partners before seeking joint loans. By improving credit scores for one or both future spouses, a couple could save tens of thousands of dollars over the life of a mortgage loan.
We Can Work It Out
So what’s the trick to avoiding these pitfalls? No cupid’s dart can guarantee marital success, but a majority (70%) of married respondents say they discuss financial goals and issues at least once a month with their spouses—a trend that seems to be on the rise: That habit is even more ingrained among couples who married after the 2008 recession (82%) and among married members of Generation Y (85%).
70% of married respondents say they discuss financial goals and issues at least once a month with their spouses.
Furthermore, the marriage survey found that couples who regularly discuss finances are more apt to be in agreement about their goals and priorities.
The point isn’t necessarily that couples must be wealthy or even financially secure at the start of their relationships. What’s critical is to align goals about using and borrowing money, paying bills, and managing credit. Then, it’s equally important to discuss financial priorities regularly, and make joint decisions when considering major expenses, seeking loans or credit, or adjusting priorities on spending or savings.
Like marriage, a couple’s relationship with money, credit, and savings is a journey, not an event—a long and winding road that may take unexpected twists and turns. Research indicates that couples who navigate their journey together, with plenty of open communication and a little flexibility on matters of finance, can succeed over the long haul.
It’s more than OK if your Valentine’s Day conversations consist of sweet nothings, loving promises and shared wishes. But after the chocolates and champagne are gone, consider making a date to discuss your financial dreams—and the more down-to-earth realities needed to make them happen. That could be a huge step toward ensuring you’ll stay happy together when you’re 64… and beyond.