Debt isn’t just hazardous to your financial well-being, it can destroy your relationships as well. Just ask one young lady featured in today’s New York Times article. Three days after she divulged to her fiance that she had over $170,000 in student debt, he broke off the engagement. For her future relationships, she decides that she needs to share that information much sooner, because it can be a “deal-breaker.”
Still, all of this raises the question: At what point do you have a moral obligation to disclose your indebtedness during courtship? On the eighth date? When you get to third base? In your eHarmony online dating profile?
“It’s a sliding scale,” said Ms. Riesel, the Manhattan lawyer. “It depends on the person and the nature of the relationship.” Ms. Winters, the Short Hills divorce lawyer, said it might depend on your definition of a serious relationship. “But I wouldn’t wait until you were signing leases for apartments or picking out engagement rings.”
With a dual-career couple, it’s not unsurprising to have combined debt levels of hundreds of thousands of dollars. An MBA and a doctor, or a pair of lawyers, for example, can easily graduate with over half a million dollars after their studies. If both CB and I attend graduate school as planned, we will probably come out with around $100,000-$150,000 in individual debt loads, baring any unexpected windfalls (ahem, lottery, anyone?). It makes a little easier knowing that any significant debt we incur will be when we are in a relationship together, so no one is blindsided by the topic.
I wonder, though, is there a dollar amount of my significant other’s debt at which I would “walk away” from an otherwise loving and secure relationship? I would say no. But I have never been in a situation similar to what was profiled in the New York Times.
Before a relationship gets serious, I believe in a frank discussion about finances, especially on the debt burden, is certainly in order. Whipping out your student loan statement or your credit report is a bit of a mood-killer, so I’d save that discussion until at least the third date!
Questions for readers:
1. If you have significant debt, at what point would you share that information with your significant other?
2. If you are dating someone who has significant debt, at what point do you expect or would want to know that information?
3. Is there an debt amount that is a deal-breaker?
Photo by Sean Hering Photography via Flickr