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How to Bring Up Your Debt When You're Dating

Christy Bieber, The Motley Fool

It's important to be honest with your significant other about your debt, even if you're nervous about having that conversation.
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Couple holding hands on the beach.

These days, it seems like almost everyone has a lot of debt. Whether you owe money on student loanscredit cards, medical loans, or personal loans, you definitely aren’t alone. Still, it can feel that way sometimes -- especially if you’re trying to find a special someone to share your life with and you’re worried your debt could be a turnoff.

The reality is that some people don’t want to become romantically entwined with a seriously indebted partner, especially if you have lots of credit card debt, a six-figure student loan balance, or poor credit. This doesn’t mean you can’t find love, though. You just need to be smart about when and how you bring up your debt balance.

Not sure how to broach the subject? Here are some tips that can help.

Broach the subject when you start to get serious

While talking about your debt isn’t a subject for a first date, it also shouldn’t wait until you decide to move in together or to get engaged. If you talk about debt too early before the person you’re dating has a vested interest in you, they may just decide to walk away. But if you wait too long, your partner may be blindsided and feel you weren’t honest up front.

The best time to broach the subject is when you start to feel the relationship is serious. This could happen when you decide to be exclusive, when you exchange “I love yous” for the first time, or when you hit the six month mark. Only you know how your relationship is progressing -- but as soon as you sense you’re moving beyond casual dating, it’s time to have the debt talk.

Talk about the issue at the right time

You don’t want to spring a conversation about your debt on a partner right before you’re heading out to a big event or when you’re out trying to kick back and have fun on the weekend. Instead, it’s best to set aside a time when you can have an uninterrupted conversation about a serious matter.

If you feel uncomfortable broaching the subject in a big sit down, you can suggest your partner take a walk with you on a quiet afternoon when you both have time to talk. It can be easier to introduce difficult subjects walking side-by-side rather than face-to-face and you’ll have plenty of time just the two of you to communicate openly as you walk.

Come prepared with facts -- not excuses

If you’re going to let your partner know you’ve got a lot of debt, it’s helpful to know the facts yourself so you can share exactly how much “a lot” is. You should be ready and willing to share your specific number so your partner knows exactly what you’re dealing with and what it means for your future. Knowing exactly how much you owe also shows you are on top of the debt management process.

While you want to share the truth about your debt, and should probably discuss how you acquired it, you also don’t want to make excuses or sound defensive. Even if you made past financial mistakes, you can explain how you learned from them rather than assigning blame, shirking responsibility for your situation, or getting annoyed with your partner for asking questions about what happened.  

Explain your payoff plan

Your partner will feel a lot better about you being in debt if you can paint a big picture for what this means for your finances. By explaining when and how you plan to pay back the debt, your partner can get a better idea of how long this balance owed will be a financial burden if you move forward with your life together.

Your partner will also be reassured that you aren’t looking for someone else to solve your financial problems but instead that you’re confident, financially responsible, and on top of your money situation.

Give your partner a chance to ask questions

Your partner will probably have questions. You should be willing to answer them, even if you are uncomfortable talking about how you got into debt. If you’re going to share your life together, you need to be compatible with how you handle money, so your partner has the right to know your philosophy on borrowing and saving.

You also need to be comfortable being open with the person you love, because if you move in together or get married, you can’t be embarrassed to talk about your money situation since your financial life will be a joint one.

Be prepared to cut your losses

The sad fact is, some people will become judgmental when you disclose your debt -- and some people will not want to continue the relationship if they find out you owe a lot. If that’s the case with your partner, it’s better to find that out sooner rather than later so you don’t waste a lot of time with someone who isn’t prepared to be supportive of you in the long run.

If you’re being responsible with your finances and are open about your debt, there are plenty of people out there who will care enough about you to overlook the fact you’ve borrowed and to  move forward with you to a brighter financial future you can share. So say goodbye to a partner who can’t accept what you’ve told them and start your search for someone who is happy to be with you, flaws, debt, and all.

Debt doesn’t have to be a huge dating obstacle

Debt can be a deal breaker for some, but it doesn’t always have to be a huge obstacle towards finding love. Just make a payoff plan, bring up debt at the right time, and continue to work towards paying down what you owe. Over time, you’ll hopefully find the perfect person for you -- and your debt balance will become smaller and less of an issue too.

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