Should You Tell Your Partner About Your Debt?

Not picking up the check at dinner, having bad breath or being late may be excusable on a first date, but one thing isn’t — having too much credit card debt, according to a survey.

The average amount of credit card debt that’s considered unacceptable is $11,525, with more respondents to a survey by finder.com saying it’s unacceptable in a partner than any other form of debt. Some three in four Americans, or 77.55 percent of respondents, found that much credit card debt unacceptable, followed closely by payday loans of $1,830 by 77.35 percent.

Debt can limit how much money you have available to spend going out to movies, dinners, drinks and other dating activities. Over the long haul, high debt can delay life milestones such as marriage and having children.

Student loans can lead to other problems

Almost everyone has some form of debt, from student loans that may be considered OK up to a certain amount if they lead to a good career, to mortgages that are usually considered good debt.

Chances are that if someone you’re dating has student loan debt, it won’t be high enough to get you to not go beyond a first date. Almost 40 percent of adults ages 18-29 have student loan debt, according to a 2016 report from the Pew Research Center, and it’s not enough to send many potential dates running.

Only one in four students owe $43,000 or more in student loans, according to the Pew report. That’s less than the $51,000 threshold many people in the Finder survey found to be a dealbreaker in a relationship.

The potential problem with student loans, however, is that they can lead to other financial problems and debt that could hurt a long-term relationship. Bringing too much debt into a relationship can cause major life decisions to be delayed, including buying a home or car, getting married or saving for retirement.

The Pew study found that college graduates with student loans are more likely than graduates without loans to have a second job or report struggling financially.

Some debts are more tolerable

Perhaps because they’re a sign of trying to improve your life over the long haul, business loans were the most acceptable type of debt in the Finder survey, with the breaking point at about $153,000 in business loans found unacceptable by 70 percent of people. Medical bills and home equity loans were also more palatable.

Finding a partner without any debt, or even just a little debt, is unrealistic. Eighty percent of Americans have some form of debt, with mortgage the most common liability, according to another Pew report.

Younger generations are most likely to have debt — 89 percent of Gen Xers and 86 percent of millennials do — but older generations increasingly carry debt into retirement.

The Federal Reserve’s Survey of Consumer Finances in 2016 found that people under age 35 carry an average of $67,400 in debt. It jumps to $133,100 in debt for people age 35-44, and peaks at $134,600 on average for people in their peak earning years from age 45 to 54. Most of the debt for younger people is college loans and for older consumers it’s a mortgage.

Dealing with debt while dating

Not all debt should be a dealbreaker in a relationship. But the amount that’s acceptable to one person may seem to high to another. To deal with this, you may want to discuss your debt — even on a first date.

While you don’t want to exchange credit scores, it’s OK to talk about your rent, mortgage, careers and how you like to spend money. Maybe you prefer to go on extravagant vacations while the other person likes camping. Or maybe you want to buy a house soon and plan to stay in the same area for a long time.

Such conversations can help each person decide if their lifestyles align and if they should see each other again.

After a couple of dates, you may want to talk about debt specifics. What is your date’s tolerance for debt? Can they handle saving for a few years while you tackle your student loan debt?

If you have high debt, such as above the thresholds in the Finder survey, discuss it with your date to see if it’s a dealbreaker for going forward together. Talk about your plan to pay your debts down.

These can be difficult conversations to have, but they’re better to have now than waiting until you’re far into a relationship when debt revelations can be catastrophic.

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