There's no doubt you're compatible with your mate - you both love the same movies, playing tennis and Cuban food. But are you financially compatible? Many couples overlook the gravity of this issue and the long term impact it can bring to a relationship. While these conversations can be uncomfortable, having open and honest discussions about money is key to a successful relationship.
I met DH (Dear Husband) in the summer of 2010. He was a pretty serious guy having expressed his intentions for the future of the relationship after only a few weeks of dating. We had open and honest conversations about income, credit status and debt history. But I was ill prepared for the debt portion of the conversation. Up to this this point I had had no major debt except a small credit card balance. DH revealed that he had $18,000 in school loans and $20,000 in credit card debt. Subsequent conversations led to some revelations that highlighted a few things about his mindset towards money - he was a spender that had a nonchalant approach towards debt repayment, believing that as long as minimum payments were met on time all was well and lastly he never calculated the math on interest payments.
To be fair, my approach towards money wasn't the best because I was a spender. The clear differences were how we approached debt. With DH's recent home purchase at the time, there were no plans to aggressively pay off these other debts. I expressed my discomfort with his level of debt and suggested that he use tax returns to get ahead of them. He was incredibly smart and reasonably logical so I assumed he understood the gravity of the situation.
Three years later we were married. The first few months were spent without any real financials goals. No Financial Goals = No Budget. No Budget = Financial Mismanagement. One day within the first year of marriage, I decided to conduct a financial health check on DH. I called his credit card company to inquire about the balance and interest rates and to my surprise the balance was still over of $20,000. A balance at this level was carrying monthly interest fees north of $200 while his payments were roughly $300. Simple math indicates that he would carry this debt for more years than I'd like to count. To be exact, if DH continued this trend, it would've taken him over 30 years with total payments nearing $79,591.82. OUUUUUUCH!!! What was more concerning was his passive indifference to how little sense the math made. He simply felt that as long as he allocated more than the minimum payment and paid on time, things were fine. I was baffled as to why a computer science major couldn't understand the simple math behind debt, interest rates and minimum payments. This was another revelation that being college educated and having a great career doesn't equate to smart money management.
DH had been carrying this debt a couple years before I met him. So to address the 6 year long credit card debt problem, I suggested using a balance transfer offer from my credit card providing 15 months interest free to pay off the balance. The cost to do this transaction was about $400. We had the cash to cover the debt in full. A friend asked, “Why pay $400 when you can use cash to wipe out the debt”? I wrestled internally with this question. In the end, I decided that wiping out a 6 year old problem coupled with DH's mindset towards debt, wouldn't leave scars deep enough to avoid creating the problem again. His poor relationship with money warranted the burden of slaving to the debt in an aggressive manner to hopefully learn the right lessons. When I presented the plan to DH, he vehemently disagreed which led to arguments for 3 weeks. From his perspective it was admitting a weakness and facing a problem for which he had perfected an escape. The facade he created over his money management, had finally crumbled and it was time to face the tough reality. This was the first major lesson in marriage….there’s no such thing as SELF. Every problem solved, every burden you overcome and every success achieved is a direct result of teamwork. After 3 weeks of disagreements, he finally agreed. We used $4000 from our tax return to pay towards the debt and he was on the hook for 15 months to pay off $16,400.
What are the bright sides and downsides of this lesson? Thirty days after paying off his credit card free and clear, his credit score jumped 43 points. Mine tanked 40 points because my credit position went from owing roughly $2,000 to $18,400. While he rejoiced at his positive credit change, I chalked up my diminished score as a temporary sacrifice. The debt repayment process began in May 2014 and was supposed to end 15 months later in August 2015. I'm happy to report that DH stuck to the plan but slowed down a bit at the 10 month mark as we anticipated the arrival of our son. The debt was paid in full an additional 4 months later in December 2015.
Stay tuned for PART 2 as I'll discuss another DEBT issue that came the spotlight.
What are your thoughts on having open discussions about money during dating? Would love to hear your feedback so drop a comment below.