Love and money are a potent mix. In this question, a reader has a low credit score. She wonders when it would be a good time to confess her financial past to her boyfriend. Ilyce explains why it is essential to be honest with a potential spouse up front and how this reader can improve her credit score. Sign up for Ilyce’s Love, Money + Real Estate Newsletter. This story was updated December 1, 2021
When love and money collide
Q: I have been dating a guy for the past 18 months who has stellar credit. My credit score is 518, which is somewhere between poor and very poor credit. I’m trying to take steps to pay off my college school loans, my big credit card debts, and medical expenses that I could not afford to pay.
I was unsure of my credit rating, so I applied for a lot of different credit cards. Later, I found out why I was being rejected for these cards. I had too many inquiries, which served to lower my credit score further.
While I’d love to know how to recover financially from collections and charge-offs and raise my credit score, my real question is when would it be the best time to talk to your partner about your credit-worthiness? We’re not engaged, but I’d like to be.
I know that this is an important thing to some couples and I am nervous about it. His spending and paying habits are superb whereas mine would be if I had enough money to pay my past due bills, which I don’t.
Money is the #1 reason couples divorce
Love and money are inextricably tied together. Many studies have noted that money troubles are the top reason couples divorce.
While more than 70 percent of Americans have generally good credit, with credit scores at 720 or above, others have made poor financial decisions. And other, who may be unwise to the ways of creditors, make mistakes like my correspondent, which have proved costly.
Every year, I hear from couples and partners who are mismatched financially. One has money, the other is broke. One has great credit and a strong understanding of how to handle money, and the other has debts, a poor credit score, and doesn’t understand how to right the ship.
Why is the subject of love and money taboo?
What I don’t understand, even after nearly 20 years of writing about real estate and money, is why the subject of money is taboo. Even consenting adults who are supposedly in a loving, trusting, and permanent relationship have difficulty talking about money.
It seems to me that if you’re at the point of true intimacy, and I don’t just mean physically but are sharing your innermost thoughts and feelings with each other, then you ought to level up about your financial past. That way, you can build a financial future together, in good conscience.
It’s never a good idea to hide your money mistakes from the one you love
Hiding past financial mistakes won’t make them go away. Eventually, this stuff surfaces, and it often comes roaring back in your face.
Credit issues, debt, and financial selfishness (putting your material needs before the greater needs of your joint household), can sink a relationship faster than a pair of concrete galoshes.
You have to be able to trust your spouse or partner to make the right choices with the dollars you both work so hard for each week. But more importantly, you have to be able to trust yourself. Remember, no one cares as much about your money as you, because you’re the one who sweats for it, does without for it, plans for it, and saves it. No one except your spouse or partner, who might care about it even more.
Love means trust, even when it comes to your finances
Having total trust in a relationship also means being able to trust each other with money. That’s scary for many people. You have to get deep into a relationship in order to know if you can trust someone at that level.
If you want your love to trust you with their money, you have to have some self-respect about your own finances. And if they’re a mess, you have to admit to yourself that you’ve made some mistakes. And, then you’ve got to figure out what you have to do to get on the right path.
For some, this will mean taking advantage of free financial or budgeting counseling from your local Consumer Credit Counseling Service office (www.cccsinc.org). Or it might mean going into a debt management plan to pay down your debts over 3 or 4 years. Maybe you’ll sign up for a free Best Money Moves account. Maybe you’ll take on a side hustle to bring in some extra cash, which you use to pay down your debt.
Don’t choose between love and money
By adhering to a strict budget, you’ll show your love you have what it takes to prioritize your expenses. And, that you’re willing to pump as much as you can into paying down debt as quickly as possible.
The good news is if you’re working, you’re probably not spending. While this may take away the time you have to spend with your spouse or partner, it’s important to prioritize. If your partner is the real deal, they will respect and appreciate your efforts. And the level of mutual money trust will be elevated.
Of course, there is always the possibility that your honey will walk out the door. Lots of people are scared by their partner’s financial shortcomings. If that’s what happens, so be it. Accept that this relationship isn’t right for you for where you are in your life at this time.
Remember, you can build a strong financial future on your own
While it’s easier to battle money troubles with a partner by your side, you can do it on your own. And, you have to believe that you can, or you’ll never get going.
Remember, as long as you get moving in the right direction, you’ll eventually get where you want to go. Losing your debt will make your life far less stressful, and allow you to build strong future relationships in which you can be honest about your past mistakes.
I hope your boyfriend turns out to be Mr. Right. But until she has the money conversation, she won’t know if it’s love or lust.
Read more about Love + Money:
How do you deal with money in a relationship?
Ilyce Glink writes the Love, Money + Real Estate newsletter and is the publisher of ThinkGlink.com
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