Tips & Advice

Is Debt Destroying Your Relationship?

By Jean Chatzky

Marriage Is Hard. Marriage With Debt Is Harder.

We know that money is the number one cause of divorce, and we know that couples who fight about money more than once or twice a month are significantly more likely headed for trouble than other couples.

If you're struggling to see eye-to-eye with your partner about either of your spending and savings habits, that doesn't mean you're automatically headed for divorce court or splitsville.

Many couples navigate the waters of debt reduction and come out just fine. It's the couples who don't communicate, and who engage in risky financial behavior, who are at a greater risk for a break-up.

Here are some new "I dos" to help you get through this storm.

I DO promise to disclose debt as soon as possible
Whether you're engaged, newlyweds, or even longtime-married, you need to disclose whatever debt you may be carrying to the other person if you haven't done so already. If your spouse-to-be has a lot of undisclosed debt (and the shaky credit report that goes with it) that's not information you want to learn only when you jointly apply for a mortgage and get the cold shoulder.

I DO want to schedule time to discuss all money matters, frequently
Talking about debt and money is stressful. That's why it's important to schedule time for it — maybe after you've watched a favorite TV show and know you'll both be calm and in a good mood. Be open and honest, and start the conversation off with a promise not to get mad. What's done is done — you can't magically erase debt, but you can agree to move forward as a team. Isn't that what marriage is about anyway?

I DO vow to come clean about spending
Uncontrollable spending often leads to debt. If you've got a problem (warning signs: you put half of a purchase on the plastic and pay the other half with cash so your spouse will think it cost 50% less, you constantly buy and return, you have many things still in bags and with tags) keeping it from your partner is a huge mistake. It's the sort of mistake that leads to a lifetime of distrust.

I DO plan to keep all credit accounts separate
This may sound counterintuitive if you're merging everything else, but you don't have to combine your credit accounts.

John Ulzheimer, president of consumer education at, told me that you don't have to have two people applying for credit card – and in most cases, you won't be able to apply jointly. One spouse will be the primarily card holder, and the other, if you choose to share the account, will be an authorized user (the account and information about it – late payments, balances – will appear on both credit reports and be factored into both credit scores). Nor do you need two people to qualify for a car loan. "If you do," he said, "you may be buying a car that is too expensive."

The only debt you should take on jointly is your mortgage. Otherwise, you should maintain credit independence, especially if you have good credit but your spouse has poor credit. Applying jointly isn't going to do anything but cost you more. And paying more is never a good thing — especially if money is already an issue.

The bottom line remains the same… you must talk to your partner about spending, saving and financial planning for the future. The more conversations, the better.

Consider using helpful services like the free, confidential SavvyMoney Financial Health Assessment. This 15-minute questionnaire will help to organize your current income, debt, and expenses. In just minutes, you will receive a thorough analysis of your financial situation, including powerful tips by leading financial experts to help you control your debt, build a budget, and start living the life you want to live.

Source: SavvyMoney Checkup