Finance 101 Navigating the Financial Side of New Relationships

by Anna Davies May 25, 2018

Have you ever exchanged credit scores on a first date? Most people would consider it too forward to ask about a date’s financial health, but that doesn’t mean it’s not important.

Relationship and financial experts alike recommend having conversations early on in dating about financial goals, weaknesses and beliefs, which may help both of you better understand whether you’re compatible. In fact, financial concerns about a partner can be a deal-breaker. According to a 2017 survey, 42% of Americans say that a person’s credit score affects romantic interest, with 20% of women (and 7% of men) saying that credit score is a “major” influence on how they feel about a partner.

Krissy J. of New York City says she has experienced the tension between feelings and finances. One former boyfriend, she says, would repeatedly ask Krissy to send him money near the end of the month. “He needed rent money, he had an unexpected bill, he needed to buy a present for his mom and didn’t have cash… But the one thing that never seemed to change was the way he spent money,” she adds.

“I would offer suggestions, like moving to a less expensive place or considering asking his family for some help, but he wouldn’t do anything.” Krissy increasingly realized they were a poor match — and chief among the reasons was the different ways they handled money.

What’s more, if the conversation about money is especially difficult, that may be a red flag. “If you want to spend your life with someone, you should be comfortable bringing up a financial conversation,” says Cynthia D’Amour, a dating and relationship expert in Detroit, MI. “If he or she refuses to talk finances, even if he or she may have weak points or areas in which he or she wishes to build knowledge, it’s a sign there may be trust issues as well as financial issues.”

What’s more, if the conversation about money is especially difficult, that may be a red flag.
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So how do we create a space within a relationship for healthy talks about money? Here are five strategies to consider.


1. Know your credit history

Prior to any personal-finance real talk with a significant other, first check and understand your own credit score. Your credit score can clarify a lot about your own relationship with money; it speaks to how you manage your finances (and, in turn, your lifestyle), and can signal a need for you to reconsider your financial goals, like building credit and gaining financial knowledge. “Understanding your own credit story can help you understand how your partner may fit into it,” D’Amour says.


2. Look at spending motivations

When talking finances with a romantic partner, experts say it’s key to go beyond the numbers and talk more about goals and values. What does your partner spend his or her money on? “Talking about why they spent their money a certain way is more important than how much money they spent,” D’Amour says, “and a great way to see if your values and the way you spend money align.” You may learn that a partner’s bills are related to helping family, paying for school or starting a business — financial choices that may paint a more nuanced picture than simply knowing he or she is in debt.

3. Get imaginative

Conversation about credit scores may not be the stuff of a great first date. However, hypothetical what-ifs are a less pointed way to get to know each other while finding out if you’re financially compatible. Asking questions — What would you do if you won a million dollars? — or talking about your last big purchase or upcoming vacation plans can provide insight into financial decision-making without putting a potential partner on the spot during a first date, notes Bonnie Winston, a Manhattan-based matchmaker and dating expert.


4. Notice differences; don’t try to change them

A study by financial planning firm Ameriprise found 73% of individuals have money management styles that are different than their partner. According to experts, the trick is being able to communicate about spending decisions. So is your relationship doomed if you budget to the cent while your partner regularly overdraws? Not necessarily — but it may be smart to come together and come up with ground rules surrounding how you will manage shared expenses and future financial goals. Some couples find the best way to handle disparate spending habits is to set up yours, mine and ours accounts — where expenses, goals and savings are pulled from the “ours” account, and each member of the couple can use their individual money as they please, says Wyatt Fisher, PhD, a relationship psychologist in Boulder, CO.

Talking about your pasts can also help both of you understand your relationship with money. “Sharing how your family interacted with money can help your partner understand your current functioning with money today,” notes Fisher. If you feel both of you are butting heads about finances, or feel your backgrounds are far too different to find common ground — setting up a couple’s appointment with a financial counselor can be a good way to facilitate a discussion surrounding finances.


5. Be upfront — and avoid snooping

If you are concerned about their spending behavior or if a red flag comes up in one of your conversations, be upfront about it. “I would advise against going behind a partner’s back to investigate a partner’s credit history,” says Winston. “I also think it’s key to be honest about your own history. Omitting information may be perceived as lying.”

Bottom line: Conversations about credit can bring couples closer if you’re honest and willing to work together on financial goals for the future.



Anna Davies has written for The New York Times, Glamour, Marie Claire, Men's Health, Women's Health and Refinery29.



The content reflects the view of the author of the article and does not necessarily reflect the views of Citi or its employees, and we do not guarantee the accuracy or completeness of the information presented in the article.

Talking about why they spent their money a certain way is more important than how much money they spent.
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