Valentine date

Swipe left for debt: financial red flags on a date

Swipe left for debt: financial red flags on a date.

Swipe left for debt: financial red flags on a date

  • The biggest financial red flag on a date is discovering that your potential new partner doesn’t expect to work – chosen by 16% of people.
  • The second biggest is discovering that someone has lots of debt – 15% of people chose this, then finding out they were bad with money generally – selected by 7% of people.
  • Only 5% said the worst thing would be if their date didn’t offer to pay, and 5% would be most put off if they used a voucher.
  • Women were far more worried about this (42%) than men (28%).
  • Men were only half as likely to be put off by any of these things. Some 22% weren’t bothered, compared to 11% of women.

Figures from a survey of 2,000 people by Opinium in October 2023

Valentine’s Day can be a difficult day to navigate regarding money at the best of times. Whether you are on a first date with someone, or even in a relationship. Debt and money can make it Valentine’s Day a struggle. Hargreaves and Lansdown recently conducted this survey into what people perceive to be red flags on a date. Interestingly, 15% of people found it to be a red flag that someone had lots of debt and 35% said it was even worse red flag that someone was bad with money.

Money can become a problem in relationships if you both have differing views about how to spend and save money. Many people are in debt, but the question here is when it becomes a real problem.

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Valentine's Date

“Dating seems to require more red flag vigilance than a conversation in semaphore, as we analyse every passing comment for deeper, more alarming truths that could sink the relationship before it starts. If it emerges that someone is carrying major debts, refuses to work, struggles to manage their money, or shows signs of penny pinching, they’ll raise the alarm for almost half of daters.

It’s easy to see why daters aren’t keen to match with someone who will make their life more difficult and complicated financially. It’s also perfectly understandable that the less you earn, the more worried you are about dating someone who doesn’t want to work, or who is deeply in debt. If you’re already having to work hard to make ends meet, there’s a much bigger risk that someone else’s problems could push you under. 

Higher earners, by contrast, might feel they have space in their budget to cope, so they’re less likely to be worried by these things. However, they’re less willing to accept a date who looks like they’re trying to cut costs. They’re twice as likely as normal to say not offering to pay or using a voucher on a date is a red flag (9% and 11% respectively). This may be because they don’t understand the need, or because they’re concerned their future partner could eventually curb their own spending.

Sarah Coles, head of personal finance, Hargreaves Lansdown

There’s a generational divide on cost cutting on a date.

Penny-pinching was most frowned on by younger people (aged 18-34). 10% would be most put off if they didn’t pay towards the date and 12% would disapprove if they used a voucher. This was far less of a worry for older people, many of whom have embraced it to thrive on a fixed income, with only 3% of those aged 55 and over put off by someone not offering to pay and 1% by someone who used a voucher.

Those who know what it’s like to live with money worries can be more forgiving of them. Younger people, aged 18-34, who may be carrying student debts and have borrowed to deal with the fact their income tends to be lower and more stretched, were half as worried as the average person about dating someone with serious debts.

There’s also the sense that people who have been around for a while know just how stressful it can be to live with someone else’s money worries. It’s one reason why the older you are, the less likely you are to be willing to date someone with debts. A fifth (21%) of those aged 55 and over said it was the biggest red flag. This may also owe something to the fact that further on in life you may have more to lose, and less time to make it up if your finances are damaged by a financially unreliable partner.

Debt is a difficult topic to raise early on.

However, this assumes that you know in advance whether someone has financial problems. In reality, very few people are open about it from the outset. It can be an incredibly difficult topic to raise early on. The person with a problem can be embarrassed to talk about it, and the person who wants to check can be worried about coming across as mercenary. By the time it comes up, it may be too late. It means that anyone who is currently dating needs to consider how they’ll get an idea of their potential date’s financial position.

If you know someone has financial problems, you may want to date them anyway. And if you didn’t know, but are now in a relationship, you may not want to call it a day for financial reasons. Fortunately, there are things you can do to protect yourself.

How to talk about money

  1. Ask early on. It’s not necessarily something for the first date, but don’t wait until you’ve already committed. You need to know where you stand well before then.
  2. Start with the easy questions, like whether they’re a spender or a saver, or what they dream of achieving with their money.
  3. If they don’t volunteer any information about their finances, don’t be afraid to get to the point, and ask if they have any money concerns, including debts, overspending or things like gambling.
  4. Be honest about your own circumstances. It’s easier to ask someone to be open if you’re willing to be.
  5. Try not to react immediately. If they have money problems, you need time to process what this means for you before you make any decisions.
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How to protect yourself if your partner is bad with money

Don’t try to hide from serious problems:

If they’re in real hot water financially, are they prepared to tackle their problems? If they are, are you willing to make compromises while they do this? And what will you do if they fall short? If this is linked to a wider problem, such as addiction. It’s not going to be an easy problem to solve. So if you want to stay together, you need to be prepared for some hard yards.

Think carefully before moving in together:

If they have financial problems, it becomes even more of an issue if you move in together. At that point you need to know where you stand. Then make a decision. Can you cope financially if they can’t pay their way, and are you prepared to do so? These are two separate issues, and you shouldn’t feel under pressure to say yes to either of them.

If you move in together, take steps to ensure the bills are paid:

If you’re living together, you want to be sure that all the bills are covered. You can either share direct debits fairly from both of your accounts on pay day. Or your partner can set up a direct debit to you and you can cover the bills. That way they’re the first thing that’s paid every month. However, you need to be certain that their problems aren’t so bad that pay day just brings their current account back to zero – or less.

Be very wary of joint credit cards:

Some couples will both have a card on the same account. This isn’t a joint credit card, because one of you will have an account and the other will have a second card on it. Whoever’s name is on the account is responsible for the entire bill. So if your partner has had financial issues, these are best avoided.

Consider carefully before you take out joint financial products:

If you have joint financial products, your credit records will be linked. This doesn’t happen automatically when you move in together. If you have a joint account or any other financial products together, a link will be formed. It means if your partner makes financial mistakes and runs up debts or misses payments. It will affect your ability to borrow. If you are moving in with someone who has a history of credit problems. Think carefully before taking out any products that will link you. While joint accounts for bills can make life easier in general. If one of you has a terrible credit record it can cause more problems than it solves.

Draw up a prenup:

If your partner has debts, or historic problems with debts, and you’re getting married. You can help protect yourself with a prenup. These aren’t legally binding. As long as you both get independent legal advice, and explain why you want to divide the debts this way, they will be considered by a divorce court. You will still be responsible for any joint debts. However, you can lay out how you want to deal with pre-existing debts or debts they run up in their own name.

Build an emergency fund:

You need to provide your own safety net. Whether to help you both out of a corner, or to escape from the relationship if things turn sour. The usual rule of thumb is 3-6 months’ worth of essential expenses in an easy access account. However, consider whether your partner’s circumstances indicate that you might need more than this.” Read our Top Tips on how to build an emergency fund.

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