Published in: Banks | Aug. 18, 2019

5 Financial Red Flags to Watch Out for Before Marriage

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Are you getting serious with your partner and considering marriage? Look out for these financial red flags before you decide to tie the knot.

couple looking at bills in dismay

Image source: Getty Images

When you’re getting serious in your relationship and thinking about marriage, it’s important to remember that in addition to forming a romantic partnership with your future spouse, you’ll also be forming a financial partnership

And although talking about money issues may not be very romantic, your future spouse’s credit, debt, and spending habits are all going to affect the things you’re going to be able to accomplish as a couple. Plus, money fights are an especially common problem among couples, and a leading reason for divorce -- so your disparate attitudes towards finances could have a huge impact on the future success of your relationship. 

You don’t want to be tied down to someone who practices money management techniques you can’t live with, so be sure to watch out for these five financial red flags before you decide to walk down the aisle. 

1. An unwillingness to talk about money issues

Even if you plan to maintain separate accounts, your respective finances are going to affect one another once you’re married. After all, if one spouse has little income and tons of debt, he or she may not be able to pay a reasonable share of the bills, or afford to do things like help pay for a down payment on a home, or even a shared vacation.

You have to be willing to be open with each other about money, and you have to be able to talk about how financial issues will be handled without either of you getting angry or resentful. If you can’t do this before marriage, things are only going to get harder after you’ve taken that big legal step toward formally joining your lives. 

2. A refusal to be proactive about dealing with debt

Being in debt isn’t necessarily a deal breaker -- after all, many people have student loans and credit card debt. 

However, if your future partner has a ton of debt, but isn’t responsible about making payments, and has no plan to become debt-free, this can be a problem. Big debt balances can affect your ability to qualify for joint loans -- such as a mortgage loan -- and can also mean that so much money goes toward debt payments that there’s little left for anything else. 

3. Out-of-control spending habits

Irresponsible spending can be a major source of frustration once you’re married to someone and working toward building a shared life. If your beloved is constantly spending every dollar as soon as it comes in -- and doesn’t show a willingness to try to live on a budget, or at least prioritize savings or debt paydown -- it will likely lead to serious long-term problems. You may not want to be around when those problems begin. 

4. An inability to compromise on financial matters

It’s common for partners to have different philosophies when it comes to how money should be handled. The question is: Are you willing to celebrate each other’s differences and find compromise and common ground? Or will one partner aim to change the other?

If you think you’re going to turn your thrifty partner into someone who doesn’t mind big splurges and is willing to spend without worry, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment. On the other hand, if you like to save every dollar and are convinced you can make your shopping-loving lover live on a strict budget, you’re probably going to spend a lot of your married life fighting. 

You need to make sure you can find a way to come to a consensus on your differences when it comes to money before you say "I do."

5. Bad credit with no plans to fix it

Your spouse’s bad credit can also have a big impact on your life. Your spouse may not be able to borrow with a low credit score, leaving you in a position where you have to co-sign, or where you can’t accomplish joint goals such as getting a mortgage.

Bad credit doesn’t always have to be a deal breaker if your intended just hasn’t had time to build credit, or has had some bad luck in the past but is working on improving his or her score. 

But, if your partner is lax about late payments, doesn’t mind leaving bills unpaid, and isn’t worried about the impact of this behavior on your ability to secure credit, then that’s an issue that should be major enough to make you think twice about sharing your lives. 

Don’t get married without thinking about financial issues

Taking a practical approach to marriage is important. You don’t want to end up unhappy and broke just because you’re in love. If you and your partner are incompatible about finances, or your beloved is an irresponsible spender who is unwilling to change, you may not be ready for marriage until you’ve worked through these important issues. Do what you need to do to get on the same page about finances first -- then consider saying “I do.” 

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