Dear Tori: How Do I Disclose Debt to a Partner?


Personal finance is just that—personal. Most people don’t discuss credit scores on the first date or calculate their student debt on Valentine’s Day. Many of us are raised with specific complexes about money that end up negatively affecting their romantic relationships.

If you were raised to feel shame about your choices regarding money, then it can be difficult to open up to people (especially if you’d had money missteps). Let’s say you racked up $10,000 in credit card debt in your early twenties and are now in a serious relationship. You might wonder if you need to tell your partner or if your finances should stay your business. If you’re planning on building a life with someone, then it’s smart to be open about your finances so you can work together to achieve your money goals.

If you’re unsure how to navigate that, you’re not alone. It’s a common challenge among couples.

Dear Tori,

My finances are really stressing me out lately. My boyfriend and I want to move in together, but I’m worried because I’ve never been great at handling my money. I’m nervous that if I tell him the amount of debt I have, he’ll think twice about wanting to live together and one day, get married.

I went to college out-of-state and am still paying it off even though I graduated ten years ago. A few years ago, I had a medical emergency and my emergency fund wasn’t enough to cover it so I put some bills on my credit card. He knows I have debt, but we’ve never talked numbers and I’m afraid my debt will freak him out.

How do I bring this up with him?

First of all, props to you for taking the step to being honest with your partner. It’s not easy to talk about money, especially when it comes to debt. It’s important to remember that you get to choose what you want to share in your relationship. This is not a one size fits all kind of deal.

If you and your boyfriend are looking to be together long-term and you want to create money goals together then yeah, it’s time to disclose your debt. It doesn’t have to be stressful. I recommend following my three-step plan.

1. Set Aside Time

It’s time to choose a money date and put it on the calendar. Sit down with your partner and go over your finances. Share information about your savings, current budgeting, debt, retirement plans, and money goals. Leave any shame or ego at the door. This is the time to be transparent with each other and offer each other—and yourself—grace.

2. Choose Goals

Now that you have an understanding of where you’re starting, you can see where you want to go from there. I like to choose first, second, and third priority items. Some of my clients decide that paying off credit cards is their number one financial priority. Others might focus on growing their emergency fund to cover six months of expenses instead of their current three. You need to decide your individual money goals and your money goals as a couple.

3. Build a Plan

No one ever got rich by wishing it to be true, right? If you want to get financially healthy and build wealth, you need a plan. This is where I usually recommend using Personal Capital’s free financial tools as a resource. These free tools allow you to sync all your financial accounts so you get a clear picture of where you stand. I check Personal Capital daily for tracking my net worth and my progress towards goals like retirement, debt payoff, and (yes!) saving that first $100k.

Get Started with Personal Capital’s Free Financial Tools



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