Talking about money with a romantic partner is hard, especially if financial red flags emerge. Laying out your spending habits, debt, credit score, and financial goals may feel awkward and vulnerable, particularly if you aren’t exactly where you want to be financially.
Sharing all of the same financial values with your partner may not be imperative in the early stages of a relationship. However, a partner with different financial values may not share the same vision for your financial future together, which will inevitably lead to frustration and potential heartbreak down the road.
What are financial red flags?
“If your partner refuses to discuss money matters, that is cause for concern” Dr. Traci Williams, a clinical psychologist and certified financial therapist, told Kiplinger. She continued, “For some people, discussing money is uncomfortable. This might be due to their family history with money, lack of financial literacy, or other factors. However, refusing to ever discuss money is a red flag because it suggests there is something your partner does not want you to know.”
Here are five financial red flags to watch out for in your partner if you want to ensure both your relationship and your finances remain healthy.
1. Secretive about spending
Transparency is key when discussing money matters, and that can go a long way toward ensuring a couple's financial compatibility. While we romanticize the idea of our partner surprising us with an unexpected gift or being whisked off on a vacation, the reality of secretive spending is usually far less romantic.
A survey from Bread Financial about financial infidelity revealed some interesting generational differences. Forty-five percent of coupled respondents admitted to committing “financial infidelity,” such as hiding purchases from their partners. More than half of Gen Z coupled consumers (53%) admitted to some spending in secret. Not surprisingly, twice as many Gen Z coupled consumers (41%) have separate accounts compared to their Baby Boomer (22%) counterparts.
If your partner's secretive spending derails your progress towards that goal or doesn’t align with the financial values you established together, then that spending becomes deceptive and damaging.
2. Frequently borrows money from friends and family
Hey, I get it, things happen. It is not uncommon to have to borrow money from a friend or family member at one point or another. Needing help in a pinch is not a red flag, but when it becomes a habit it does. “It would give me pause to see someone counting on others to provide their income or pay their bills for them on an ongoing basis" Danielle Seurkamp, founder of Well Spent Wealth Planning, told Kiplinger.
Borrowing money becomes a major concern when it becomes a repeated behavior without any effort to break the pattern. Not only does borrowing money quickly become a burden to friends and family, but it also shows that your partner is unable to manage their money well and may lack respect for other people’s generosity and financial boundaries.
"If someone can’t take care of themselves, financially or otherwise, it may be unrealistic to expect them to take care of you as a partner. Keep in mind, there is a difference between asking for help occasionally and being financially dependent. It’s the ongoing reliance on others for money that portends other problems,” Ms. Seurkamp pointed out.
3. Gambling and other risky habits
"Untreated addictions can have significant financial impacts and finding out your partner is struggling with this can be a complicated emotional experience" according to Dr. Williams.
“I would pay close attention to behavior that could be connected to a deeper money disorder. Gambling addiction, compulsive spending and financial dependence are money disorders that involve behavior we can observe as an outsider," says Ms. Seurkamp.
If your partner seems to have a gambling problem, shops to excess or generally lives beyond their means and they aren't amenable to changes, consider these red flags that could negatively impact your life and relationship.
4. Not future-oriented
A partner who is not future-oriented will not manage their finances in a way that is preparing for your future together, such as maintaining a budget, planning for retirement, or saving for milestones such as buying a home or putting your kids through college.
Kiplinger senior digital editor and recent newlywed, Alexandra Svokos, shared her thoughts on financial warning signs in a relationship. "The biggest financial red flag for me is chronically living beyond your means. In this day and age, it's really easy to get caught up in the comparison trap and spend excessively to keep up with what you see on social media, and if you're dating someone who can't control that impulse, that's scary to me. It shows a lot of short-term thinking, which isn't compatible with building a life together" said Ms. Svokos.
Respondents from the Bread survey agree. When asked what they are looking for in a prospective partner, 30% of single respondents say someone who is prioritizing savings. Younger generations put an even greater emphasis on looking for a partner that is planning for the future with 36% of Millennials and 32% of Gen Z’ers identifying saving as preferred behavior in a potential mate.
5. Using credit cards irresponsibly
Once you are in a long-term, committed relationship, even though it is the other person's debt, it's kind of your debt too. Paying it off will affect your ability as a couple to plan and work toward other financial goals together.
Intuit Credit Karma recently surveyed adults ages 18+ who have used a dating app or are open to using a dating app, and 66% of them say it’s important that their partner has a good credit score, and 87% say they are interested in dating someone who is responsible with their money.
Racking up credit card debt, falling behind on payments, and frequently opening new credit cards not only causes immense amounts of financial strain, but often results in a damaged credit score which may limit your future opportunities, such as getting approved for a car loan or mortgage. It may also hinder your ability to get dates.
How to react to financial red flags in your relationship
While these red flags are not always relationship deal-breakers, if they aren't addressed, it is likely that they will create significant relationship and financial strain.
What can be fixed? "While it won’t happen overnight, a low credit score is something you can correct over time. I wouldn’t swipe left on someone just because they had credit issues. If they are willing to learn from it, they can proactively work to improve their credit history. Using rent-reporting services and secured credit cards can speed the process along" says Ms. Seurkamp.
If you believe that the financial red flag in your relationship can be resolved, decide whether you would like to pursue that resolution. While this is much easier said than done, try to be as honest as possible with yourself, and remind yourself that you deserve someone who prioritizes your overall well-being – financial well-being included.
A partner who makes no effort to financially prepare for the future may lack financial discipline, defined long-term goals, or a clear vision of your future together.
- Determine if the red flag in your relationship can be resolved: The first hurdle is to identify that there is a problem, and the second part is to learn how to communicate about what the problem is — and that might be very difficult, because money and trust are emotionally charged topics.
- Approach your partner with the concerns. To work through these differences, a good first step is to determine what you can agree on, such as paying household bills on time or setting aside a certain amount each month for joint savings and/or a shared account for household expenses.
- Consider involving a professional: If you run into have difficulty communicating, a couples’ therapist or a counselor who specializes in financial therapy can help. Your advisor can also help you work through your differences and the ways you might best share financial responsibilities.
- Know when to walk away: "Most financial red flags can be addressed through communication, financial planning, and sometimes by working with a financial or mental health professional. If you attempt to work with your partner to fix these issues and, for whatever reason, they are going unresolved, it might be a sign to consider if this relationship is best for you" advised Dr. Williams.
While walking away may be incredibly difficult, it is a way to protect yourself and your future.
Donna joined Kiplinger as a personal finance writer in 2023. She spent more than a decade as the contributing editor of J.K.Lasser's Your Income Tax Guide and edited state specific legal treatises at ALM Media. She has shared her expertise as a guest on Bloomberg, CNN, Fox, NPR, CNBC and many other media outlets around the nation. Donna graduated from Brooklyn Law School and University at Buffalo.
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