The statistics on money and marriage are dire. In surveys on divorce, divorced couples frequently cite financial struggles as the reason for their separation. Money has a way of bringing deeper, underlying issues to light—poor communication, selfishness, distrust and unrealistic expectations, to name a few.
So it isn’t surprising that dating couples want to avoid talking about money. You have a good thing going. Why ruin it with money?
But if you have debt, you know it needs to be addressed at some point. At times, the fact that you have not revealed your debt situation to your boyfriend or girlfriend feels like a big weight on your shoulders. You want to be transparent, but wonder if now is the right time. You don’t want to scare them away, but you don’t want them to feel duped either.
So when is the right time to have the debt conversation?
Not the right time—The first date
“I’m glad we can finally go out together. This restaurant looks great. By the way, I have $38,000 in student loans, a $5,000 car loan and $2,000 in credit card debt. I’m pretty much a financial mess. Have you ever eaten here before?”
When you first start dating someone, you certainly want to get to know them and for them to know you. However, you don’t want to get too personal too quickly. And your financial situation is personal.
Your financial future will affect your future spouse. Your finances become their finances. You become one in everything (Genesis 2:24). But the person sitting across the table may not be your future spouse. So make sure you are OK with the initial, more surface-level interaction before you do a deep dive. Don’t lay your heart (and your finances) out there before you know they are ready to see it and you are ready for them to have it.
Go ahead and order an appetizer and enjoy the meal. But don’t show them your car loan papers yet.
Not the right time—Once they agree to marry you
“What do you think about this wedding cake? It’s chocolate and vanilla. By the way, I have four credit cards that have about $26,000 on them. I used one to pay for part of my school, which wasn’t the best decision. The interest rate is sickening. Here, taste this cake.”
You can talk about debt too early. But you can also wait too long. A good indicator that you have waited too long is if you have asked for lifetime commitment but still haven’t revealed your debt. A lack of transparency is not a good way to start a marriage or an engagement. Waiting too long may cause you fiancé to feel duped and wonder what else you have not revealed to them.
So don’t pop the question or say “yes” and then hand them a credit card statement. Be transparent before the lifetime commitment is on the table.
So when do you have the debt talk?
There is usually a moment on the dating timeline where both people realize that there is a desire to get married but no commitment has been made. There is a seriousness about the relationship, but you are still in the pre-proposal era.
This is the time to talk about debt and money. This is the time to reveal your financial situation and for them to reveal theirs. It is also a time to talk, in general, about money. It is a mistake to wait until marriage to have money conversations. Get to know their money personality. Get to know their view on money, which is often shaped by past experiences.
How do you broach the topic?
I get it. Revealing your debts is not an easy thing to do. You are embarrassed and probably a little scared. Here is a quick suggested outline to help:
First, tell them you want talk about money and why. Tell them that you know the dangers of a financially-separate marriage. Tell them that you want to be up front and transparent about everything, including your finances.
Second, tell them what you learned about debt. Before revealing the amount of debt you owe, demonstrate that you do not take debt lightly. Tell them about the decisions you made that caused you to get into debt and what you have learned from the consequence of those decisions.
Third, give them the number. This is the scary part, but you need to tell them how much you owe and where it is owed.
Finally, tell them what you are going to do about it. Tell them about your plan to pay it off. Most likely, paying off your debt will not happen overnight. But being debt-free is doable and worth it. Check out brightpeak’s free tool, TogetherTM, that has loads of tools and resources to help you build your plan, including a Debt Payoff Tool.
Don’t talk about debt too soon, but don’t wait too long. When your dating relationship turns serious, it’s time to talk money.
Order your copy of Art Rainer’s new book, The Marriage Challenge, today!
Art Rainer is the author of The Marriage Challenge, The Money Challenge and the forthcoming kids series The Secret Slide Money Club. He also hosts a growing podcast called The Money Challenge.