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What’s the Best Way to Handle Dating With Debt?



Dating with debt can feel embarrassing. As much as you may want to avoid it, talking about your debt with your significant other is important for the future of your relationship. Not talking about money can put a strain on any marriage or even ruin relationships.

To make things easier, remember to emphasize that you’re making progress toward paying down the debt and ask your partner how you can work together to solve the issue. Healthy relationships are open and collaborative, so being honest about your problem and attacking the debt as a pair can make you a stronger couple. You can even get financial counseling as a couple.

Still unsure of how to broach the subject? You aren’t the only one. Four readers have also been struggling as they’re dating with debt. See how our experts replied to their questions below.

How do I hide debt from my girlfriend until we get married?

Question: I think I might be in deep trouble. My girlfriend and I have been dating for a year, and I really want to marry her. Except I have like $10,000 on like five or six credit cards that I’m paying the bare minimum on.

The thing is, my girlfriend thinks I’m doing really well. I got a real good job, but I lease a car that’s killing me and my apartment rent is going up again. Thing is, if I cut back on the nice car and nice pad, I’ll look like I’m not successful.

Eventually, I’ll ask her to marry me and she’ll find out about the debts. How can I quick-fix this? there must be some hacks. I hear all the time about signing up for plans that freeze your interest rates and late fees. But I’m not sure which one is best. Is there one you recommend so I can just catch my breath here? At least through the wedding?

— David in Washington

Howard Dvorkin CPA answers…

Let me start at the end, David: There’s no “hack” that can delay your debt payments until after your wedding. Even if there was, I wouldn’t want to help you lie to your wife the same way you hid the truth from your girlfriend.

Before we dive deep into your finances, David, let me convince you to come clean with your girlfriend now, before she becomes your fiancée. has written often about the psychology of money, citing studies that prove money is why your marriage will fail. Yet just a few weeks ago, we ran this detailed infographic showing couples aren’t talking about money in marriage.

Hiding debt from a spouse

If you truly love your girlfriend, you’ll tell her the truth about your finances. Financial infidelity is a big deal. If she truly loves you, she’ll stick around — as long as she sees you working hard to climb out of debt, instead of trying to “quick-fix” it. You have several options, although I strongly urge you to consider the last one I’ll mention.

First, never lease a car if you can’t afford it. If you want to drive an impressive set of wheels, do what my friend Stacy Johnson does. The founder of Money Talks News owns a boat but have never bought a new car — because he saves thousands buying older luxury cars for deep discounts.

Second, if you propose to your girlfriend, you can consider living together in your nice apartment as a way to learn compatibility before you get married. If your values (or hers) don’t permit that, I’d urge you to find a male roommate to halve your rent.

Third, I’d usually recommend a balance transfer if you have good income and manageable credit card debt. However, with “like” $10,000 on “like” a half-dozen cards, it’s obvious to me that you haven’t really sat down and added up what you owe and to whom.

So I’m going to implore you to try credit counseling. Don’t fret, David, it costs nothing. can even set you up for a free debt analysis from a certified credit counselor at a nonprofit agency. While a counselor won’t tell you how to hide debt from your girlfriend, you’ll learn about numerous ways to start chipping away at those debts. By the time she says, “I do,” you’ll be saying, “I’m doing better.”

My boyfriend is in debt. Should I still marry him?

Question: My family is well off. We live in a big house on the water, and my parents drive his-and-her BMWs. I graduate from college this December with no student loans, but my boyfriend has around $20,000 in loans and comes from a hardworking family that can’t afford to help him out.

Here’s the issue: We want to get married in the next couple years, but my parents are not supportive. They say his poor financial position will hold me back. The thing is, he’s quite frugal and my parents are not. I remember growing up hearing plenty of fights about money, and fetching the mail and seeing many FINAL NOTICE statements.

How can I convince my parents that my boyfriend may not have any money right now, but he’s actually quite good with the money he does have?

— Morgan in Florida

Howard Dvorkin CPA answers…

You hit on a problem that I’ve been talking about for decades. Namely, debt isn’t just a poor person’s problem.

Sadly, with nearly $1 billion in credit card debt and more than that in student loan debt, this country is hurting across the socio-economic spectrum.

You’re quite right to look at more than just income, Morgan. I’ve counseled many families who earned six figures but also had six figures in debt. I’ve even counseled indebted families who receive a massive inheritance — only to see them again a few years later, after they spent every dime and gotten themselves back in debt again.

Last month, I told NBC News

Let’s be honest, any debt is toxic to your love life. I’ve counseled couples on their finances for more than two decades, and I’ve seen debt nearly destroy their relationships — especially when one partner has a lot and the other has little or none.

Crushed by student loan debt and worried you’ll never pay it off? There is help available.

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Notice I said “debt” and not “money.”

Here’s what I recommend you try with your parents. First, sign up for a PFM like Mint. It’s free online money management tool.

Once you input your data, you can click a button and see your finances laid out in stark terms. Show your parents and your boyfriend how to do the same.

I have a sneaking suspicion that once all three of you call up your PowerWallet accounts side by side, your parents will see they have just as much debt, if not more, than your boyfriend.

Of course, they’ll argue their income is much higher, which is true. Then again, they’re closer to retirement, and I doubt they’re well prepared. As you can see, this is the beginning of an honest conversation about debt, one your family never has had before. That’s a good thing, both for the present and the future. If it helps, show your parents this column, and if they wish, they can call at  for a free debt analysis.

Bottom line, Morgan: You got a good head on your shoulders, so follow your heart.

How do I tell my fiancee about my debt?

Question: I want to ask my girlfriend to marry. Trust me, she wants that, too. She’s not subtle with the hints. (I dread walking by jewelry stores in the mall, because now she makes lots of comments about the rings in the windows.)

Thing is, I have A LOT of debt. I got like $20K in student loans, plus another $10K on my credit cards. My girlfriend is thrifty and has MAYBE $500 a month she carries on her credit cards. If she knew how bad off I am, I’m not sure what she’d say.

It’s worse because we’ve been dating a year, and I haven’t mentioned it before. What do I do now? Seriously, am I screwed?

— Ryan in Maine

Howard Dvorkin CPA answers…

No, Ryan. You’re not “screwed.” In fact, if you use the right debt-busting tools, you can hammer away at your student loans and nail down those credit card bills.

First, though, let me reassure you: This is one of the most common questions posed to personal finance experts. Don’t believe me? Here’s my friend Steve Rhode, better known as the Get Out of Debt Guy. He explains a similar case he heard…

Video Transcript

Debt is probably the most intimate, most embarrassing topic in mankind, because…here’s a story. A guy came to me and he said “I am about to lose the love of my life. We’ve been dating for seven years and she’s saying that this is it, we need to get married now, I’m not going to be strung along forever.”

Then he said, “Steve, the reason I can’t marry her is because I’m embarrassed and ashamed about my credit score.” And he actually ended up losing her. He couldn’t just be open about his credit score. It’s funny, when it comes to financial problems, even partners, husbands and wives, you know, they won’t even talk to each other about the realities of how they spend money. They spend money secretly or they have hidden accounts, and it becomes a whole secret between them that ruins relationships.

I find it funny that people are more willing to swap bodily fluids with a stranger than they are to talk to somebody that they know about their finances. And money and debt shouldn’t be that embarrassing and that stigmatizing that you can’t get help. So what ends up happening is that somebody in debt who has no experience and no expertise in how to deal with the situation is alone, embarrassed, and ashamed to talk to anybody to get advice. So you’re left with a situation where the least capable person of solving this problem is the one that is seeking out some sort of solution — and that’s how they fall for scams every single day.

Crushed by student loan debt and worried you’ll never pay it off? There is help available.

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Now let’s actually tackle your debt issues.

With a free phone call, you can explore the pros and cons for a host of legitimate credit card solutions, so you can find the right one for you.

Same goes for student loans, where there are several federal programs for lowering your payments or even wiping them out entirely. Each has its peculiarities, but a professional debt counselor can line you up with the perfect one for your situation.

In more than two decades of hearing stories just like yours, Ryan, I’ve learned this: You don’t need to complete these programs to get a “yes, I’ll marry you” from your girlfriend. If the relationship is sound, she’ll be impressed that you consulted professionals and are well on your way to financial responsibility.

So if you call today, by next month, you’d have a lot of solid evidence for your girlfriend.

Should I file bankruptcy before I get married?

Question: I have got $12,000 in student loans, and coincidentally, my girl has $12,000 on her credit cards. So we’re both kinda screwed, but at least she has lots of clothes and tech, while I got a college degree and a job where I can’t use it.

(I was a PR major but can’t find work in the field, so I’m working as a substitute teacher.)

We want to get married, but we’re so loaded with debt, I’m thinking we should just declare bankruptcy before that. My girl thinks we should do it after the wedding, so we can have an amazing ceremony. Which way is better?

— Anton in California

Howard Dvorkin CPA answers…

Before you propose to your girlfriend, can I propose another solution?

First, let me talk you out of rushing right into bankruptcy. Student loans are notoriously difficult to discharge in bankruptcy. It can be done, but first you need to read this long, detailed article called, Are Student Loans Forgiven in Bankruptcy?

More likely, you won’t be able to get rid of your student loans. A bankruptcy court will simply put you on a payment plan. This assumes you have public student loans. Private student loans have their own bankruptcy complications.

If you’re thinking right now, “Wow, I didn’t realize student loans were so complex,” I don’t blame you. Unlike a car loan or mortgage, student loans are so very easy to sign up for. Alas, they’re not so easy to pay off.

Going back to my friend Steve Rhode for a moment: The Get Out of Debt Guy is known for his harsh opinion of student loans in general. Here he is, in my office for a visit, ranting about them…

Now that Steve and I have (hopefully) convinced you to try something else first, my suggestion is much simpler than bankruptcy: Call .

You’ll reach a specialist who will walk you and your girlfriend through specific programs to relieve your debt. For her, it might be a debt management program, which could possibly reduce her monthly payments by up to 30 or even 50 percent.

For you, if your student loans are indeed public, you qualify for government programs that can greatly cut your monthly payments. You might even be eligible for student loan forgiveness. The specialist will see if you meet the qualifications.

Let me leave you with three points, Anton…

  1. You have less student loans than most people. The average debt per borrower is nearly $30,000 — and rising.
  2. Your girlfriend has more credit debt than most people. The average debt per borrower is just over $5,000 — and rising.
  3. You need to work through this together to stay together. Money is the major cause of marital stress, and debt just makes it worse. I’m concerned you’d both contemplate running up a big wedding bill and then declare bankruptcy. Even if that would have worked out perfectly for you, the underlying attitude could easily doom your marriage in the ensuing years.

Make that call now, Anton. I recommend you put it on speaker and have your girlfriend present when you speak to our specialist.

Need help figuring out if bankruptcy is the right option? We’re here so you can get the fresh start you need.

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