Dealing with finances in a relationship is rarely easy. From deciding who pays for what to deciding whether or not to open a joint account, there can be a lot of different financial issues to negotiate. But one of the most difficult financial hurdles — and one that we don’t talk about enough — is debt. Because debt is a huge problem in the United States and, even if you and your partner break up, you can end up taking their debt along with you.
A recent survey of over 2,000 adults from finder.com, the personal finance comparison site, found that a startling number of Americans accrue debt through a romantic relationship — and many of them retain that debt after the relationship has ended. In fact, 30 percent of those surveyed had absorbed debt through a relationship, which translates into around 74 million Americans country-wide. The total amount of debt accrued through a relationship is a whopping $250 billion, which averages out to around $11,485 per person. But understanding your partner’s relationship with money is so important — for a lot of reasons.
“Remember that at the end of the day, how we interact with money is a direct reflection of our values,” Priya Malani, a founding partner at Stash Wealth, tells Bustle. “If you and your partner are not on the same page with money, I can almost guarantee you differ on your core values as well and once the honeymoon phase of the relationship is over — that will become much more apparent.” And money problems go way deeper than just debt issues, so you should have a holistic look at how your partner handles their money.
Here were the top five ways people acquired debt through a relationship, according to finder’s survey.
1. Marriage: 28%
Marriage was the number one way that people absorbed their partner’s — or ex partner’s — debt, with 28 percent of people surveyed taking on debt that way. Prenups might not seem like the most romantic thing in the world, but these numbers show just how important they can be. Marriage often doesn’t last forever, but once you’re legally tied to someone their debt can outlast the marriage.
2. Purchases Made In Their Name: 25%
Twenty-five percent of respondents had their partners make purchases in their name. Lending your partner a debit or credit card once in a while might seem like no big deal, but the consequences can be huge. Make sure that you really trust them and know what they’re doing before you give them access to any of your money.
3. Purchases Made Via Joint Accounts: 20%
Having a joint account is a big decision, as you’re both responsible for what happens there. Twenty percent of those surveyed ended up with debt because of a partner misusing the joint account.
4. Secret Spending: 16%
Financial infidelity is a real thing. Sometimes, people keep huge amounts of spending and reckless financial behavior from their partner, even when it affects their credit and financial security.
5. Divorce Settlements: 14%
Usually we think of people fighting over money in a divorce, but you may have to divvy up the debt as well. When everything is split up after a marriage disintegrates, you can end up with debt that wasn’t yours to begin with.
Many of us are already grappling with student loan debt and other personal financial struggles — without even bringing a partner into it. The idea that you could have to take on someone else’s debt and keep paying it off even after you’ve broken up is really shocking.
Before getting yourself into a situation where you could take on your partner’s debt, Malani says to ask yourself three questions: “Do you love this person and want to plan a future with them, or not? Is their debt good debt (student loans), or bad debt (credit card/gambling debt)? If bad debt, does your partner have larger, systemic issues with money and if they do, are they aware and trying to work on it? If not, and they are in avoidance mode, [that’s a larger issue],”
That being said, if you don’t see a future with this person, then it’s important to take a step back. So be sure to protect yourself, because love fades, but interest never stops accruing.
Originally posted on Bustle