Couples Can Clash Over Money Even Before They're Attached

Money issues are sensitive, especially for couples.

When it comes to relationships, Americans rate financial issues high, according to the COUNTRY Financial Security Index. More than half of Americans surveyed (53%) say finances have caused tension in their romantic relationships—but that doesn’t mean they shy away from discussing money matters. An overwhelming majority (91%) said they believe it is important to discuss finances with a significant other.

Not only did survey respondents say it’s important to discuss personal finances with their partners, most (71%) prefer to start the conversation within the first few months of a relationship or sooner.

More than three-quarters of respondents (78%) said someone who is single and dating should be concerned with the amount of debt carried by a potential partner, with men (77%) slightly less concerned about this than women (79%). This concern spiked for people over the age of 65 (88%).

Nearly a third of respondents (29%) said they think couples who work with a financial planner are less likely to have disagreements about finances than those who don’t, with women (31%) slightly more likely to think so than men (27%).

Once people are settled in a relationship, some conflicts may smooth out. According to Fidelity’s Couples Retirement Study, more couples agree than disagree about finances: 53% vs. 47%. When they do argue, the four top causes of money spats are spending habits (67%), not saving enough (37%), bills (33%) and debt (29%). Out of those couples who do have money clashes one in four says those spats are never resolved. On a positive note, nearly three in four couples say they communicate “exceptionally” or “very well” on financial matters. 

The low credit score of a potential romantic interest was relatively acceptable to most in COUNTRY Financial’s survey. Overall, respondents said this could be cause for moderate concern, with men (38%) less concerned than women (43%).

In COUNTRY Financial’s findings, debt was the biggest concern, with 78% believing someone who is single and dating should be concerned with the amount of debt their love interest has accumulated. Thirty-eight percent said they consider a large amount of debt to be a relationship deal-breaker.

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Carelessness is an even bigger red flag, COUNTRY Financial found. More than half of Americans (52%) said they would end a relationship if their significant other lacked interest in managing their finances. And the same number (52%) believe income level is a big consideration for singles when choosing a partner.

“Most Americans can forgive their love interest for being in poor financial shape, so long as they care about changing for the better,” says Joe Buhrmann, manager of financial security at COUNTRY Financial. “Data suggests most Americans are less tolerant of a partner who isn’t focused on improving their financial situation.”

Some interesting differences show up among the generations of those surveyed. Millennials tend to be more accepting of a significant other’s debt level. Just 67% of Millennials are concerned with the amount of debt a love interest has accumulated, compared with 78% of the general population. This youngest demographic is especially at odds with the oldest segment of the population: 88% of Americans over the age of 65 believe a significant other’s debt is cause for concern for anyone single and dating.

Some advice from Fidelity’s survey comes from actual, experienced couples who wanted to share their best tips with younger couples:

  • Save as early as possible for retirement (57%);
  • Make all financial decisions together (41%);
  • Make a budget and stick to it (39%);
  • Definitely have an emergency fund (38%); and
  • Don’t hide purchases from each other (26%).

The 2015 Fidelity Investments “Couples Retirement Study” analyzed retirement and financial expectations and preparedness among 1,051 couples (2,102 individuals). Respondents were at least 25 years old, married or in a long-term committed relationship and living with their respective partner, and have a minimum household income of $75,000 or at least $100,000 in investable assets. This online, biennial study was launched in 2007 and is unique in that it tests agreement of both partners in a committed relationship on communication, as well as their knowledge of finances and retirement planning issues.

The Security Index can be downloaded from COUNTRY Financial’s website.