You love everything about your Valentine. You adore their dreamy eyes, contagious laugh and witty banter. You know every detail about their past and their family tree.
But how much do you know about your significant other’s financial house? Would you like what you found there?
Money isn’t something most people want to bring up in the middle of looking wistfully into their partners’ eyes. It’s not a sexy topic of conversation. But it’s a part of most relationships, anyway. According to Georgia Credit Union Affiliates’ 2017 Mid-Year Consumer Survey, 58 percent of Georgians think it’s best to combine at least some of their financial accounts and bills with their partner’s at some point during the relationship.
That’s an intimate proposition that can leave even the most financially responsible people vulnerable. Sure, combining financial lives means combining income — but it’s so much more complex than that.
Here are five important money questions you should be able to answer about your partner:
Do they have any outstanding student loans?
Nobody should assume their significant other has made it through college debt-free or that they paid off their student loans quickly. Student Loan Hero estimates the average 2016 college graduate holds $37,172 in student loans. The average loan takes about 10 years to pay off, but borrowers with more than $30,000 in federal student debt could be eligible for payment plans up to 25 years. So if your significant other is in his or her 20s, 30s or even 40s, he or she could be carrying around unpaid student loan debt.
On the bright side, nobody is inherently responsible for their partners’ college debt, especially if it was accrued before the couple got together. But if you plan to combine incomes with your sweetie in the near or distant future, it’s important to know whether he or she is obligated to spend large amounts of that income each month to repay student loans.
Then there are the disaster scenarios. If your partner dies while your finances are intertwined, you could be on the hook for paying back lingering student loan debt, according to Student Loan Hero. You could also be forced into paying your significant others’ student loans if they go into default and have no wages to garnish.
Do they have any credit card debt?
A NerdWallet/Harris Poll survey of more than 2,000 adults found 35 percent brought credit card debt with them when they combined finances with a significant other. Again, most people won’t be directly responsible for their significant others’ credit card debt, even if the couple is married. But excessive credit card debt can be a sign of habitually reckless spending. Couples who completely join finances may also open a joint credit card — and that’s where problems can begin. Both parties are then responsible for any debt and any property owned by both parties could be in jeopardy of foreclosure.
These laws also vary by state, according to National Debt Relief. Click here to figure out how you could be responsible for your significant other’s credit card debt in your state.
What does their credit score look like?
Marriage doesn’t merge credit scores. You’ll still have your own score to maintain, as will your partner. However, if one half of a couple carries a bad credit card score, the pair could have a difficult time reaching certain financial milestones together. It could be tougher to finance a new house together or to take out an “adoption loan” to help finance the adoption of a child.
Again — a bad credit score could indicate erratic spending behaviors or an inability to pay bills. It’s important your significant other is transparent about what led to his or her poor credit. Maybe he or she is haunted by the aftermath of unfortunate or unavoidable events that left him or her unable to pay bills for a while. Make sure you understand how your partner plans to improve his or her credit. Also, make sure you both have a plan in place to shield your own credit score from any destructive spending your significant other might be prone to.
Do they budget?
A person’s budget tells the story of their financial life. Somebody with a detailed budget probably has a firmer idea of where they want money to be spent than a person who hasn’t set up a spending framework. Before combining finances with your significant other, it’s important to figure out whether he or she budgets. If not, you both need to get to the root of why. Will he or she be willing to stick to a budget now that finances are combined? If not, it might be best to keep finances separate to some degree so both parties can have the level of control they desire.
If your partner does have a running budget, it’s important to reconcile that with your own. Maybe your partner tends to budget 40 percent of his or her salary toward groceries, while you’re more comfortable with 20 percent. Make sure each side is happy with how your joint finances are spent.
What are their financial aspirations?
Most people don’t aspire to work the same job, make the same salary or live the same lifestyle forever. Most have dreams that can shape and change their financial futures. It’s important to talk about those desired changes when you decide to share that future with somebody else. If your partner wants to begin his or her own business, for example, that could mean a good deal of financial risk for both of you. Or if you want to become a stay-at-home parent, you should make sure your significant other feels comfortable with shouldering your home’s income.
Valentine’s Day brings out the romantic in anybody. Money does not. But look at it this way: knowing each others’ financial lives inside and out makes you and your Valentine closer, happier and more ready to live happily ever after.
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