8 Financial Red Flags in a Relationship

Carrie Sloan
Posted

Love is blind—and never more than when it comes to our money.

But how do you keep from choosing a dubious financial partner while falling head over heels? It isn’t easy, as any of us who’ve loved and wound up in the red can tell you.

That’s what this list is for. In between the flowers and the heart flutters, take the time to see if the person you love fits any of these eight signs.

By the way, this advice is steeped in real-life experience, as well as a survey by TD Ameritrade about the biggest financial dealbreakers in Americans’ love lives. Not to mention research from the National Marriage Project about the most likely predictors of divorce—many of which center around money.

After reading these signs, if you’re tempted to say, “Oh, but my lovebunny isn’t really like that…,” call your mom or your closest friend and discuss. One sign alone doesn’t mean your relationship is in jeopardy. For each, we’ll give you a recommendation of what to do next if your true love fits the profile.

Check out the signs the one you love just might be bad for your financial health.

1. She’s in Major Credit Card Debt (and Not Doing Anything About It)

We know: Life happens. Icky things like a job loss or divorce can put you in the hole quickly. (Which is why we always recommend you build at least a six-month emergency fund.) We’re not saying you shouldn’t date anyone with debt to her name. The red flag in this situation is someone who continues to accrue it—and doesn’t have a plan to undo it.

Not only does the habit suggest you’re falling for someone who can’t handle money responsibly, there’s also evidence it can hurt you both long-term. “Consumer debt is an equal-opportunity marriage destroyer,” according to a 2009 report by the National Marriage Project. “It does not matter if couples are rich or poor, working class or middle class. If they accrue substantial debt, it puts a strain on their marriage.”

Credit card debt increases the likelihood a couple will fight over money—as well as issues other than money—and decreases the time they spend with one another, shows a study published in the Journal of Family and Economic Issues. And the couples in the study who had accrued debt actually grew less happy over time as compared to those without it.

What You Can Do: The flip side of that same study shows that couples who made a plan and tackled their debt together remained happier with each other over the long-term. Debt definitely needn’t spell the end of a relationship, but it does mean you need to have a talk about how either partner got into debt in the first place and what you’ll do together to pay it off. Our “Get to Your Goal” calculator is an easy way to see how long it could take you.

2. He Spends Like a Drunken Sailor

Whether it’s literally getting drunk and buying a round for the whole bar, or just a serious taste for pricey new gadgets, spending as though money is going out of style can be a warning sign.

“When individuals feel that their spouse doesn’t handle money well, they report lower levels of marital happiness,” say the researchers. In fact, one study showed that feeling like your partner spent money foolishly increased the likelihood of divorce 45% for both men and women. Only extramarital affairs and alcohol or drug abuse were stronger predictors of being headed for splitsville.

What You Can Do: If your partner is fabulously wealthy, his spending is well within his budget or he has otherwise healthy financial habits, you can probably relax. But if your heart rate goes up every time he opens his wallet or unveils another new “toy,” it’s time for a talk.

People overspend for a lot of different reasons. Your first goal should be to communicate that his habits make you uncomfortable. One easy way to start the conversation? Take our “What’s Your Money Belief?” quiz together to reveal the emotions behind the financial decisions you each make.

3. You Have Vastly Different Attitudes Toward Money

While opposites do attract, and this needn’t spell doom, having vastly different worldviews when it comes to your finances can cause friction. Maybe you’re the spender and your partner saves, or vice versa. Either way, over time, being nagged can wear thin. The problem is that resentment builds up.

Take a pair of married friends we know: “She has no concept of what a budget even means!” he’ll rail when he discovers yet another shopping bag. She, on the other hand, defends herself, saying: “I work so hard, I deserve to buy what I want.” They’re caught in a money stalemate.

What You Can Do: The goal isn’t to decide who’s ultimately right, just to get on the same page so you’re not fighting every time you head to the ATM. One of the easiest ways is to look at how you pool your money. If you need to have this talk, or you’re just headed for the altar soon, our free “Getting Hitched” bootcamp—which tells you everything a couple needs to know to combine their finances—is a great place to start.

One quick rule of thumb? Allocate money that is yours, mine and ours. LearnVest recommends 75% be shared for household expenses and meeting financial goals, with 25% as discretionary income you can spend on your own.

4. He’s Frequently Unemployed

Lose a job once? Can happen to anyone. We’re talking more about a serial pattern of unemployment, which has been shown to have serious impact on the future of your relationship.

First, the common sense: A pattern like this could suggest there’s something underlying his patchy employment history other than a bad economy or bum luck. Whether it’s a problem with authority or a lack of responsibility, neither bodes well for your long-term happiness. (If multiple employers don’t find him reliable, odds are you won’t either.)

Plus, according to a study by Liana Sayer of Ohio State University, while a woman’s employment status had no effect on the likelihood her husband would head for the hills, a man’s unemployment, on the other hand, increased the chances his wife would initiate divorce and the chances he would leave.

Even men who were relatively happy in their marriages were more likely to skedaddle if they lost a job. The researchers chalk it up to the fact that there’s still more societal pressure on men to be the breadwinners.

What You Can Do: Look at the big picture. Was he affected by the recession? Does he work in a particularly volatile industry? If neither of those explains the pattern, talk to your partner about your concerns and see whether he has a good explanation … or gets defensive. If it’s the latter, you may want to recommend he seek help from a therapist to figure out the underlying issues.

5. He Doesn’t Want to Get Married

This is an interesting one: Dating a commitment-phobe can actually mean you’re hurting your chances not just of walking down the aisle, but also of accumulating wealth.

Researchers have found that getting married improves your fortune in more ways than one. First, there are economies of scale (two can live more cheaply than one, and each specializes in what he or she is good at—like fixing a computer or changing a light bulb, so you can save on hiring someone to do the task.)

But there’s also something about committing to a life together that has a halo effect on your finances. Overall, married couples save and invest more for the future (and, at the same time, act as built-in insurance for each other against uncertainties like an illness or pink slips). And something about committing to a partner makes men more virile economically: Married guys actually earn between 10% and 40% more than single men with similar education and job histories.

What You Can Do: Only you can answer whether marriage matters to you. But for anyone in a committed couple, the best things you can do are to be honest about your approach to your finances, make a joint plan to tackle debt and create lifestyle and savings goals you want to reach together, like saving up for a down payment, or socking away $20,000 in your emergency fund.

Happily, building assets together, researchers say, is one way to grow closer as a couple. “Assets … sweeten and solidify the ties between spouses,” says the National Marriage Project, “by minimizing any sense of financial unease that couples feel, with the result that they experience less conflict.”

6. She Declared Bankruptcy or Got Foreclosed On

Most of us are already on the same page about this one. In a “Couples & Money” survey by TD Ameritrade, women said their top two biggest financial dealbreakers in a relationship were bankruptcy (42%) and foreclosure (32%).

Men, on the other hand, cited bankruptcy and high credit card debt, at 24% and 21% respectively.

There are two considerations at work here: what it says about your partner and what it means for your joint future. Bankruptcy suggests that, at least at one point in their life, the person you love got so deep in a financial hole he or she couldn’t see another way out.

In certain professions (like some areas of finance) a bankruptcy may hinder your efforts to get hired: A District Court ruling found that a non-government employer may choose not to hire someone based on a past bankruptcy. And, since it remains on your credit report for up to 10 years, and a foreclosure for seven, it can also impact whether the two of you would be able to get a loan for a car or a house of your own someday.

What You Can Do:  Have a frank talk about the circumstances that led up to the crisis: Was it a slew of medical bills after an unexpected surgery, or pure financial irresponsibility? “Ask yourself: What was the situation, is it likely to be repeated—and are you jeopardizing your own financial well-being?” says Stephanie Kirkpatrick, LearnVest’s Director of Financial Planning.

7. You’ve Caught Her in a Lie

According to a new poll by CreditCards.com, 92% of Americans say they never hide the details of their financial lives from a significant other. But the 7% that do means that 6 million Americans are hiding something. The most common things they conceal? A credit card account (67%), a secret savings account (45%), a hidden checking account (38%) or a plain old financial secret.

Whether she’s hiding how much she makes, how much she owes, or you caught her red-handed withdrawing money from your account—true story of a friend’s ex—it can lead you to question: 1) why and 2) what else she’s concealing.

What You Can Do: Have a talk about “financial infidelity.” How honest do you expect your partner to be? Are there any money uglies in your past you need to talk about? Here’s a good guide on how to broach the topic.

The issue here isn’t so much your bottom line, but trust, which underlies the foundation of every relationship. If you catch her in a lie that shakes your belief in who she is, it can be hard to rebuild your faith in each other, let alone a solid financial future together.

8. He’s Always Borrowing … From Someone

There’s cheap. And then there’s the eternal mooch.

This is the type who’s always asking his friends to “spot him” and promising to “get them back next time.” If you’re dating, he’ll routinely forget to repay you for that time you covered dinner. And brunch. And he’s no stranger to loans from friends and family—often in the form of help from his parents.

While there aren’t many stats to prove the deleterious effects of the mooch, odds are, if you’re seeing one, you know the drawbacks well yourself. Not only does he sap your bottom line, he can also do a number on your energy. That’s because, often, a financial mooch thinks the world owes him something … or sees himself as a victim who’s unable to pay (or make) his own way.

What You Can Do: In this case, it’s worth it to have a frank talk, and tell him how his money behavior is galling you. If he’s not truly broke, and the behavior still doesn’t change, it’s time to refer him to a good therapist.

Have you dated someone who was a financial red flag? If so, tell us how you coped—and what happened.

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  • mommy24

    Same idea! I’m 24 separated from my 42 yr old husband. Claims he quite smoking drugs looking for work but I’m feeling confused cause I love him but I’m no happy and I’ve caught him lying. People have knocked on our door cause he borrowed from them n didn’t tell me! Help much advice needed.

  • marie

    Looking for some much needed insight.
    I am 29 going on 30. My boyfriend of almost 2yrs is wonderful except when it comes to money. We both came into this relationship with some debt and after being out of work for three months at the beginning of this year we are in a tight bind. Its not impossible to get out of this debt, but both of us have to work together. We have talked about this several times and have made budgets that we have stuck by. But my trouble I keep running into is that he agrees with me, will do much better then the last time, but when it comes to something he really wants it’s like I am talking to a brick wall. For an example, he smokes and uses dip. No matter how many ways I break it down ( money wise ). He will still have his mind made up that he will be buying himself those things since he portrays as though it’s a need not a want. I want to get ourselves out of debt, I worry constantly about it, but he doesn’t see the problem. He just assumes that it will take care of itself. I don’t know when to walk away from this relationship. I don’t want too, I love him deeply. But I want to have a future with marriage, kids and a house. How can I make him see the big picture? What can I do to help motivate instead of nagging?
    If you could respond, it would be very much aperciated.
    Thank you

  • Jex, Tx

    I need help with a live in boyfriend , who now calls himself my husband ( live in Tx, this is considered common law.) We live together with my two daughters from a previous marriage. I receive child support and have a full time job . No nanny, no help at home, I make every meal , including his lunch for work and his carry out meal for nights he attends college, I clean every toilet. And nurse every patient. After a recent fight over money I separated my salary and child support from the joint checking account. We are splitting 59 /50 house payment and bills. Fair? He earns about 10k more per year than I do. He recently received a 4,500 bonus at work and is keeping it for himself. Although earlier this year my pay raise went straight into the bills pot, I am now insisting he pay a slightly larger share of the bills , he refuses he says he has earned his money, as if my money weren’t. But even worse last night he made a scene at a restraunt because I did not pick up the check the night that it was “my turn” what the hell just happened ? I’m spiraling! I was the breadwinner a couple of years ago now he is and my load is still heavy, what gives?

  • Starchelle Reed

    Hi I just met this guy on this online social site…He claims he has his own trucking business..He told me that his bank has a freeze on his account a couple of weeks ago. I keep asking when will the bank release the freeze on his account..Finally he said to me this past Saturday that he received an email from his bank and they are to release the freeze on his Monday! Now this dude is asking me for money to pay his utility bill.I cant even get him to take me out on a date. He attitude is unbelievable saying we have plenty of time to do that..Try to call me a gold digger but yet Im the one who has went out of my way 3 times already to pick him up from an hour and a half away so he can come to visit me at my place. Ive already been helpful by paying his $40 cellphone..I feel like he should be ashame of himself to ask me for any money when he cant show me his gentleman side towards me!

  • katee

    Should I have to help my boyfriend pay his mortgage ? I pay all the utilities, (electric, gas and water) cable and he’s on my car insurance as he forgets to pay his premiums (his Agent made him pay in full for the year on his motorcycle because of this) both cars are paid in full and registered in my name. His mom helped him get the house he lives in now by consigning his mortgage. (This happened long before he met me) she made him use his divorce settlement as down payment. She regrets helping him as he has often forgot to pay his mortgage and her credit gets hit with his lates. He has been better about paying on time but now he’s back to his ways , he refuses to discuss the harp program for his mortgage. One year he had four w2 from four different employers. He’d get mad at his boss and quit. He has a good job that he’s kept, but he’s hitting me up for money with usual replies of “you said you’d help or am I going to sell this house.” If I give him the money he will blow it on “coffee for the guys or lunches for his groundman or a new video game” so I don’t want to give it to him , knowing he not going to use it for the intended need. So how do I manage this and not look like the bad guy. He will fuss , his mom will remind me that “I live there too” she refuses to believe that I pay the bills that I do with what I make at my” cute little job that gives me something to do”. I would think that she would figure it out as she works in the financial realm and does our taxes. I work I retail so my pay has good/bad months and really good months from September to Jan. I am very frugal with my money. My idea of treating myself is buying myself coffee at work I coupon like crazy and am the bargain queen at shopping in general. Ok rant over. Can someone please tell me what to do

  • Jess

    Me and my boyfriend are behind on rent so much i can barely sleep at night, doesn’t have a job and doesn’t even try hard to look for one. My parents are telling me to come back home that there is no reason for me to be going through that (yes im young only 22) im working my butt off but cant even save because everything goes to help him out on bills. What do you guys recommend? Go back to my parents or what? I dont want to take the easy way out and I definitely dont want to miss him if i leave…..:/ feel lik im use to him now which i know its BAD.!

  • Kelly

    I just recently fund out about my boyfriend having debt and a lot of it. He wanted us to be open and honest about everything and I told him about my debts. I now have most of mine paid off. He on the other hand….not even close. He continually gives m different excuses as to why he never told me. 1. He was hoping a bankruptcy would go thru (which didn’t) and then h wouldn’t have t tell me. 2. I never specifically asked. 3. We never talked about it before (even though I told him about mine). And a few others. I feel and worry that he’s keeping more from me. He says if I loved him unconditionally this wouldn’t matter and we are to support each other thru thick and thin. We have only been together for 1 year. I’m ready to give up

  • Nina

    My mom dates a guy like that, and is in total denial. I want to help her see what he’s really like because at this point it’s starting to affect me too.
    I live with her, and he lives here too, though thank God they’re not married. We have no money for anything, and I just started my first job – I haven’t been paid yet.
    She works a ton, and he’s unemployed for almost a year, and he’s being picky about work, which is ridiculous.
    I’ve never really liked him, not even in the beginning, but now I think I hate him. Plus, he just sits around and sleeps all the way and it’s coming to a point where next time we’re alone together I’m going to pick a fight and tell him I want him to leave.

    Any advice, anyone?

  • Mona

    Hi. This is my story…a few years ago, I met a guy who I was very attracted to. I thought he was the one for me until a few times of dating he asked me for gas money, he said he got laid off at his job and he needed my help. I knew right away that was a red flag but somehow I offer to help. During that time, my car broke down and I needed transportation to my work, unfortunately we had no bus transportation in that small town I lived in. So he offered to take me to work and pick me up, of course I had to pay him gas. He asked me for 20 dollars every 3 days. I wasn’t making enough money, I paid rent food aND I was the one paying for our date nighs. He just paid the first one…he took me to a buffet and his eyes opened more after looking at the 20 dollar ticket. He seemed controlling, he just wanted to be around me all the tkme and he will call me when we were not around. He was taking my air away. Time passed and I moved in with him, with his parents and he wanted me to quit my job, he said he would take care of me. I accepted since I thought that was nice of him and agreed to have some time off work for a month or so…he had a job then and made good money, he didn’t pay rent or anything and he didn’t helped me like he said he would. He stopped paying my credit card. He used another credit card I had for hard times and said he will pay it but he didn’t. I had thousands of dollars of debt after that since he messed it uo and my credit got really bad. I knew I had to get a job right away so after getting a job he just started to spend all his money on hunting and fishing things. And would ask me for money. That was the ultimatum. I told him how I felt, that he never cared about me, he was selfish etc. And left him.
    This is my story. Please people follow your heart but take your brain with you.

  • Ari Litchfield

    hello

  • Nicole

    I need some help please. I’m really torn at what I should do. I am 28 and engaged to a 40 year old guy. He’s wonderful to me. Very caring and sweet. Weve been together for 3 years now. He Helps out around the house. He has a good job and is pretty responsible. The only downside is that he is an alcoholic and a smoker. He goes down to the bar almost every night has two cocktails and then buys a 6 pack of tall boys from the gas station every night and usually finishes them all. He is not a mean drunk but he gets emotional and likes to argue. We fight a lot. And it’s mostly about his drinking and the money he’s wasting on it. When he is sober during most of the day he is wonderful. We are trying to do a joint checking account where we can pay off all of our bills and put money into savings for the wedding. (I’m tired of having to halve out the bills and groceries)(After saving for the wedding we hope to pay off our outstanding debt). And what is left we divide equally for allowance. I make a little more than he does so he’s actually getting a larger amount of allowance than he was before we started the joint checking. And i get less than i was. (But thats part of being in a relationship right?. Whats mine is yours?) Anyways, my major issue is that he is spending so much money so quickly that he goes and digs into the savings for more to feed his addiction. He knows he has a problem. He’s even been trying to cut down on going to the bar as much (or so he says). He always says he’ll put the money back in when he gets paid next, which he does but then it just becomes a cycle. Take money out put back in. It feels like we’re getting nowhere and that his drinking is more important than saving for our wedding. And it feels like I’m the only one saving. I don’t want money to get in the way of or life together but I feel like it is. Should we not do the joint thing anymore? Should I put my foot down aInd say no more taking out of savings? Am I stupid for staying with him? (This worries me) Please tell me what I should do. I’m so lost. I should also add that we don’t get to do much. He doesn’t like to go out because he doesn’t have the money and doesn’t want me to always have to pay. I appreciate this and I’m not one to have to be constantly wined and dined, but I sure would like to go out and do something once in a while. I’d like for him to actually surprise me with a gift on my birthday (I usually just ask to go out to dinner because I know he doesn’t have the money to spend on a big gift.)

  • Melissa Hannon

    I loaned a friend a good bit of money a while back. He has come into money now and can pay me back. He says he doesn’t want to write me a check for the entire amt because he is going to declare bankruptcy soon and the check he wrote me would have to be returned. Is this true?

  • lanalee

    My husband retired last year. Problem was, he never opened his pay stubborn that he continued to receive for a year, and they took out No taxes. I opened a credit card account with no interest for 18 months, with the agreement he would pay 300 a month on the bill. Now 7 months lster, he still hasn’t made a payment, and has asked that I give him phone access to another smaller credit card so he can start making payments. He owes almost 6000.00. Pretty much the limit on the card. I very been making payments, but barely making a dent. He didn’t have any credit at the time but recently has aquire a pretty approved 300.00 limit card. Should I try and see if thi
    s card will transfer this large amount to his own card?

  • St Lo

    I have experience with the first point. She told me about her credit card debt, said she was totally fine with it (no plans whatsoever to settle it), and blamed me for not accepting it. Thought of helping her out, but didn’t eventually. She’s not my responsibility and she never will be. Some people just don’t know what it means to be financially responsible.

  • kymykat

    Yeah usually tweakers have a hard time holding down jobs

  • ANNIE

    Eternal mooch. How do I approach him?

  • Babygurl Kay

    my boyfriend is always working but he doesnt pay bills or anything… he lives with his mom buy he is always broke and keep saying he is paying back people he owe money … he kept party and waste his money on flyers i told he not to pay for flyer and he flipped out an went behind my back and pay for it when i tell him to save he gets angry and be like how many times are you gonna tell me that i really dont kno what to do because he hardly give me any money cause he hardly has it sometime my mom have to give him money to go to work and am really fed up and dont know what to do we are together for 2 years and couple months can someone give me a advice

  • Beverly Terry

    Help we are both widowers. We both have something to bring into the marriage but he want to leave his savings to his sister… right or wrong what should I do?

  • rachiti

    I’m married to one of these types. He doesn’t work. I do. He spends while I save then claims it’s my fault I don’t have anything nice. How can I buy anything nice when he’s already spent double what I earn? I pulled $20,000 out of my retirement and used my inheritance to pay down credit card bills incurred when I was too sick to work. I still don’t make enough money to cover our basic expenses because he refuses to stick to any reasonable budget. I can’t divorce him even if I want to because I would still be responsible for his bills as I am his immigration sponsor. I also can’t switch jobs right now because I’m still not well enough to work more than 40 hours, and I have FMLA which wouldn’t kick in for a full year if I switch jobs…so any attempt to change my job or increase my hours would be disastrous. He promises to change but he doesn’t. I’m at my wits end.