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  • Dating and debt – should you care and what to do

    Is debt a dating dealbreaker? We look at why it matters and what you can do about it.

    Last Updated: 1 January 2003

    A couple of years ago we asked people whether they’d consider dating someone with financial problems, and fewer than one in five said they would.

    Money isn’t always first date material, and it’s easy to get romantically attached before you’re aware that someone is a walking financial disaster. Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be the end of the relationship, as there are steps you can take to protect yourself, when you’re dating someone in debt.

    There’s a world of difference between someone with modest credit card debts that they’re completely on top of and someone who’s deep in debt and can’t afford the repayments. It’s not enough to know whether they have debts, you need to know how serious the problem is, as soon as possible.

    It can be difficult to bring it up for fear of sounding mercenary. Sometimes it’s best to open up about your own finances, or any problems you’ve had in the past. But in the end, sometimes it’s best to ask them straight out.

    Personally, when I was dating in my 30s, I just came out and asked people how much debt they had. Most of them were relieved to tell someone something they’d always felt they had to hide.

    Debts don’t have to be a big issue

    In many cases, debt might not have an enormous impact on you, until you move in together.

    Even at that stage, if they’re not carrying a worrying level of debt, you might be happy you can live with it. However, it’s worth setting some ground rules around things like debt and bills. If you’re going to fall foul of those rules, make sure you talk to each other in plenty of time. We all make mistakes, but we need to commit to being honest when we do.

    If they have a history of missing bills, you also need to think about how to avoid this.

    Direct debits can be a great way to make sure that the money goes out of their account each month without them having to think about it. This ensures that all the bills are covered. If there’s a chance your partner won’t have the cash to cover the direct debit by the time the bills arrive, you can set up an account for bills that you both pay into on payday.

    Five steps to getting on top of your debts

    If the problem is serious

    If your partner’s money problems are more serious than this, it can have a profound impact on your finances. So, before you move in together, you need to find out exactly how bad things are, and then decide. Consider how you’d manage if they couldn’t pay their way.

    Could you cover their share of the bills in a pinch, or would it lead to debt problems of your own?

    Even if you could cope with them falling short every so often, you also need to decide whether you’re prepared to do it. These are two separate issues, and you shouldn’t feel under pressure to say yes to either of them.

    If you decide to go ahead, and you set up an account for the bills together, it can cause extra problems if it’s a joint account. If they’re unreliable with money, they might be tempted to spend the money elsewhere. Alternatively, if there’s a debt facility on this account, they could run up debts you are equally responsible for.

    Even if they treat the account with complete respect, by getting a joint financial product, your credit records will be linked. It means any financial mistakes your partner makes like running up debts or missing payments on their own accounts, can affect your borrowing ability.

    You could consider having your own separate bills accounts, or one of you holding the bills account that you both pay into.

    Debt doesn’t have to be a deal-breaker. But living with someone that has debt problems can make your life more complicated financially. This could be something you’re happy to live with, but it’s important to go into it with your eyes open.

    How to control your debt

    This article isn't personal advice. If you're not sure if a certain action is right for you, ask for financial advice.

    Help available to manage debt

    If you or someone you know wants to learn more about managing debt, there are plenty of organisations out there offering help. There are others out there, but here are a few places to start with:

    • Citizens Advice – is a free service that will look at options to help you deal with your debt problems. These could be bankruptcy, debt relief orders, debt management plans, administration orders, debt consolidation and Individual Voluntary Arrangements (IVAs). They’ll explain how each option works and if they could be right for you.
    • StepChange – provide free, confidential debt and money guidance. They’ll look at the best solution for your circumstances, support and campaign on your behalf while you deal with your money troubles to reduce the risk of problem debt.
    • National Debtline – is a charity that gives free, independent debt advice over the phone or online. They also have a useful budgeting tool to help you work out what you have coming in, how much you’re spending and what you have left to pay on your debts.

    If you do look elsewhere for debt advice, it’s important to be careful who you go to. Try to look for non-profit debt councillors who are paid to help you, not make money from you.

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