Published in: Banks | Sept. 23, 2019

When Should You Share Your Debt Secrets With Your Partner?

By:  Lyle Daly

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Is it time to tell your partner about your debt? Here’s how and when to open up.

There comes a point in every serious relationship when both sides need to come clean about financial skeletons in their closets. This includes your debts -- and that can be challenging.

Despite the fact that carrying debt is common, it can still be a sensitive subject. More than half of all consumers who carry debt are ashamed of it. So it’s natural to wonder whether your partner will see you differently after you disclose yours.

young couple on couch

Image source: Getty Images

But this isn’t a conversation you can avoid forever. Fortunately, we’ve done the research to find out when you should discuss your debt with your partner and how to make the conversation go well.

When the average couple reveals their debts

According to our relationship research, the average couple reveals their debts after having been together for 10 months.

That’s just the average, of course, and every couple moves at their own pace. As a rule of thumb, 8–12 months from the start of your relationship is a good timeframe to talk about debt with your partner.

You don’t want to rush the conversation -- a discussion about debt is a sign that things are getting serious. But after spending that much time together, you and your partner have likely established that you’re in a serious relationship.

That means it’s time to start talking about debt, because your financial situation could affect both of you in the future. Student loan debt could be part of your life for more than a decade and credit card debt can impact your credit score far into the future.

Even though your debt is your responsibility, it's an important consideration in your relationship. Especially if you and your partner plan to move in and pursue financial goals together.

How debt can damage a relationship

One concern about disclosing your debt is that it will negatively affect your relationship. 

Although that could happen, the most common reason that debt causes issues in a relationship isn’t that a partner has debt or because of the amount of debt he or she has. It’s hiding or lying about debt that’s the real problem.

Among potential relationship problems, people rank deception about debt as more severe than any other financial issue. Unfortunately, this is also a common form of financial infidelity. According to an Ascent study, 22% of men and 24% of women have hidden or lied about their debt.

The lesson is that you’re better off telling your partner the whole truth about your debt.

Telling your partner about your debt

The first step in telling your partner about your debt is starting the conversation. As you would for any other important conversation, do this in private when it’s just the two of you.

An easy way to broach the subject is by saying that because the relationship is serious and you see a future with your partner, you think it’s a good time to talk about finances. Then you can explain that you currently have debt, tell your partner what type(s) of debt you have, and let him or her know how much you owe.

What’s most important here is full disclosure. Don’t lie about or conceal any debts. Being open now will help you avoid trust issues going forward.

You should also be able to explain what you’re doing to pay off these debts. This can make a big difference in how much of an issue your debt is in your relationship. Having a plan to become debt-free shows that you’re being proactive and won’t have to deal with this financial issue forever.

Debt doesn’t need to define your relationship

Debt can be a tough topic of conversation, especially if you owe a large amount. But it has to happen for you to have a healthy relationship.

Remember that nobody has a perfect financial situation. Your partner will still feel the same way about you after they’ve heard more about your finances.

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