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Beware these 5 financial red flags in a romantic partner

Financial red flags in a romantic partner
Financial red flags to look out for in a romantic partner 06:28

Thinking of moving your romantic relationship to the next stage this Valentine's Day? It may be wise to consider one aspect of your partner that can make or break a couple: a person's money habits.

Here are five financial red flags to beware of in a partner.

Unwillingness to discuss money

A common assumption is that talking about money is unromantic, according to Dasha Tcherniakovskaia, a Massachusetts-based couples therapist specializing in financial matters. 

"An inability or unwillingness to talk about money in general for various reasons should be a red flag," she said. "The limiting belief is that it's not classy, it's shameful, and that prevents people from talking about finances and spending."

One way to broach the topic is to begin by trying to understand your partner's relationship to money, which is often strongly influenced by their childhood experiences. 

It may not be appropriate or important to talk money in the early stages of dating, compared with when you're considering a future together. But when the time is right, Tcherniakovskaia recommends planning a "money date."

"I suggest couples plan a date over a glass of wine or hot chocolate, so it's something they would actually look forward to, in a nice environment," she said. "Talk about money in a more neutral, non-judgmental way by asking about values as opposed to numbers."

Runaway debt

Uncontrolled credit card debt, fueled by impulsive spending, is another financial red flag in a partner, according to relationship and personal finance experts. After all, being in a serious relationship with someone who has a lot of credit card or other debt can also have financial implications for you.

"People don't realize once they are in a long-term, committed relationship, even though it is the other person's debt, it's kind of your debt too," said money coach Nicole Victoria, founder and CEO of No Budget Babe, a financial literacy company. "Them paying it off will affect your ability as a couple to work toward other financial goals together."

Of course, context matters, and it's important to understand how someone racked up debt in the first place. If your partner is impulsive and has a habit of overspending, for example, that's different from someone who took on debt to deal with a medical emergency. And if an individual is willing to discuss their debt and is actively working to address it, that's a good sign. 

"Still, if you help them pay it off and have to shelve saving for other goals, it becomes yours as well, so it's good to know about those things," Victoria said. 

In terms of attractive traits, having little to no debt ranked as the most positive quality in a partner, according to a recent survey from dating site Eharmony and personal budgeting program You Need a Budget (YNAB). 

Flaunting their wealth

If someone is showy with their money, it could stem from insecurity. They might also be spending beyond their means.

"Lavish spending is a big red flag when they're clearly spending more than their income allows," said Sarah Schweisthal, a personal finance pro at YNAB.

"If your partner is always buying the next round of drinks at the bar, ask yourself why. Pay attention to your partner's motivation behind their financial behaviors — be cautious if their desire to impress overshadows their financial reality," said Emily Irwin, a wealth management executive at Wells Fargo.

Severe frugality

On the flip side, never offering to pay for dates or frequently borrowing money can signal a lack of resources or simple selfishness. While living within one's means is typically considered commendable, behaviors like stiffing service people for tips or only agreeing to eat out on your dime is a different story. 

"I am a massive proponent of everyone having a budget, but you want to think about how your partner treats you, your friends and others with whom you may not have as deep relations," Irwin said. "That includes service workers like waitstaff and Lyft drivers, and you want to make sure you're not with someone who is trying to save a penny at the expense of treating someone else with disrespect."

Frugality doesn't necessarily mean that someone has limited financial means, either. People with vast financial resources can also be stingy.

"Just because someone has a big income doesn't mean he or she can support their spending, and it doesn't necessarily mean there isn't some unattractive frugality that's happening," Irwin said.

Financial "infidelity"

Transparency is key when discussing money matters, and that can go a long way toward ensuring a couple's financial compatibility.

Consider a partner who hides debt or isn't honest about the extent of their assets. If a couple is saving for something like a down payment on a house together, one partner's evasiveness can hinder the couple's decision-making and hurt the other partner financially. Such habits amount to what money experts call "financial infidelity." 

"Things like being overly secretive with your money, lying about spending and refusing to share financial information with you are red flags," Victoria said. 

Financial abuse can also occur in relationships. Some people use money to manipulate or wield power over their partners, particularly if one person in the couple has significantly more resources than the other.  

"A lot of times it comes down to control," she said. "It could be one partner not allowing the other to spend any money or have autonomy over what happens financially within the relationship." The other partner might not have access to the couple's bank accounts or may need to ask permission to make certain kinds of purchases.

"I see women who have to ask for money, or they get an allowance. It's abusive and it's a tactic that's used to control them," Victoria added. 

Unhealthy dynamics can also arise when there is a wide discrepancy in how much each partner earns.

"When the power to make decisions is based on each person's contributions to the finances, it leaves the person making less money in a constant state of disempowerment," Tcherniakovskaia said. "They have to yield to the preferences of the person who makes more."

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