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Debt and dating don’t mix for Canadian singles

Gail Johnson
Pay Day

In her 30-plus years in credit counselling, Margaret Johnson has talked to a lot of young couples about debt and dating. What stuns her time and again is how so many of them are far more comfortable making pillow talk with their partners than chatting cash.

“When I work with young women in particular, they’ll say ‘I really want to find out about his finances, but I’m afraid to ask him,’ says Johnson, president of Solutions Credit Counselling Service, an independent credit-counselling and education agency. “I’ll say, ‘are you sleeping with him?’ They’ll say ‘Yes.’ ‘You’re sleeping with him but you don’t want to find out about his finances? Are you kidding me?’

“It always amazes me that people will talk about their sex life but they won’t talk about money,” she adds. “It’s a very sensitive subject.”

Maybe the almighty dollar is avoided because once the issue of debt comes up, it can be a dating deal-breaker. According to a new survey by dating site, 94 per cent of Canadian singles believe a person’s ability to manage their finances is very important in a relationship. And 47 per cent say they would not date someone who’s in debt.

The survey also found that:

  • 57 per cent of singles have stopped dating because of their own lack of funds
  • 50 per cent of singles stopped dating someone because of that person’s lack of funds
  • 75 per cent of Canadian singles wouldn’t borrow money from a partner, while 53 per cent say they wouldn’t lend money to a partner
  • 42 per cent of singles say they have loaned money to a partner in the past, and 18 per cent have borrowed from a partner, and
  • 52 per cent of singles say the ‘financial talk’ should take place within six months to a year of dating.

“There’s no doubt that it’s awkward to ask someone what their credit score is on your fifth date,” says Toronto psychotherapist and relationship expert Kimberly Moffit. “An open and honest discussion can be difficult, but it can help you to avoid surprises down the road.

“To get a sense of how a new partner is with money, you can ask them what their views are on debt or on credit cards, or open up about your own financial goals,” Moffit adds. “Your willingness to discuss the topic and their response can help you decide if your views are similar.”

Red flags

If you’ve recently started dating someone, Johnson suggests watching out for these signs, which could signal financial trouble:

- Do you always have to pay when you go out?

- Do your date’s credit cards get rejected?

- Does your date need to borrow money “just until he/she gets paid”? “If it’s Tuesday and he gets paid on Thursday, he probably shouldn’t be out,” Johnson says.

- Would your date regularly rather stay in than go out, and always go to your place, where you provide the dinner and the wine?

- Does this person have a “money is no object” approach or a job that doesn’t fit with the amount of money he/she’s spending? “Sure, at the beginning they might be trying to impress you, but if it goes on for a long time, I’d be worried,” Johnson says.

- Does your partner get calls from debt collectors or reminders that their bills haven’t been paid?

- Does your date strictly use cash? “Somebody who pays cash for everything and has no credit cards at all could mean they just don’t use them, or it could mean they’re bankrupt or have been bankrupt,” Johnson notes.

- Has your partner ever said something like “No bank would ever lend me money”? “You want to listen to that one,” Johnson says. “People don’t joke about that. In my experience when that’s said, it’s looking for some kind of reaction: Are you upset by this? There’s something behind that.”

Protect yourself

It may seem as if you’ve met your dream date, but you need to protect your finances. Keep these tips in mind:

- Keep your PIN numbers to yourself.

- Never co-sign a loan for anybody.

- Don’t buy everything for the relationship. “If you’re going to move in together and he didn’t bring his ID to the Brick so he can’t sign a contract, don’t you sign it,” Johnson says. “A lot of women will take on all the debt, then when he’s gone, he’s gone; you still have the debt.”

- Create a list of your assets going into a relationship. “Keep bank statements and make photocopies of investments; put everything put in a safe place—their parent’s place or safety deposit box—so if the relationship unravels, you’ll be able to prove what you brought into it.”

“So often people are not thinking with their financial hats on,” Johnson says. “Their hormones are thinking, and that’s not a good thing for your finances.”