How Money Can Make — Or Break — Your Relationship

couple worrying about finances

By Susan Johnston

Before you get serious with someone, experts recommend broaching the decidedly unromantic topic of money to make sure you're on the same page. The New York Times even reports that several dating websites go so far as to allow members to view each other's credit scores before they even meet.

That approach might be a little forward for some people, so we asked Jacquette M. Timmons, president and CEO of Sterling Investment Management, Inc., and author of "Financial Intimacy," for her take on the topic. "Every relationship progresses at a different pace," she says. "In one month, a couple might build sufficient trust to talk about money, while it takes another couple six months." In general, though, she says you should never ask a date a question (Salary? Credit score? Net worth?) that you wouldn’t feel comfortable answering yourself.

Here's a look at love and money in stages, as well as some additional suggestions to consider when talking about money with a love interest.

Early stages

Before grilling a new romantic prospect about their spending or saving habits, Timmons recommends observing how they handle money. "What is that person doing?" she asks. "Are you able to pick up any clues about how they may think about money?" Does he drive a flashy car and always swipe plastic? Does she show off designer finds from her latest shopping excursion? Those habits don’t always mean the person is spending beyond his or her means, but they can give you clues about their lifestyle. If during the initial stages of dating, topics like salary or student loan debt come up organically and you feel comfortable discussing them, go for it. However, don’t force the conversation too early on, as that can make the other person uncomfortable.

Defining the relationship

Once you’ve built up enough trust to talk about monogamy and where the relationship might be headed, Timmons says you should also know the basics about the person’s income and the type of debts they may have, whether student loans, mortgage debt, or credit cards. "If it's credit card debt, what is their game plan for taking care of that debt?" Timmons asks. If you’re the person with credit card debt, what is your game plan? As long as you’re living separately, Timmons suggests keeping separate bank accounts.

Moving in together or getting married

Before moving in together or considering marriage, Timmons suggests getting more details about how your honey spends, saves, and invests money. "How do you approach philanthropy, if at all?" she adds. "Some people believe in tithing. If you're someone who doesn't believe in that or doesn't practice that, how will it impact you if your significant other does?" If you're planning to get a joint bank account for sharing household expenses, wait until you're actually living together and put both names on the lease if you're renting. "[Having both names on a lease] implies a whole different level of financial commitment to one another rather than 'I'm just moving into your space and you can kick me out if something goes wrong,'" she says. These discussions may seem unromantic, but knowing you're saving and spending towards the same goals could help bring you and your S.O. closer together and minimize disagreements down the road

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