Debt Deal Breaker: Could Your Finances Deter A Fiancé?



My stomach turned a little as I transferred the amount to my student account. Thankfully, it’s only one course, and it’s the last tuition payment I’ll make — until the loan payments begin next summer.

When I graduate in December with a master’s degree in art history, I’ll also be facing graduate school’s price tag.

Most of us who have one — or more — college degrees are still paying for it several years after commencement. According to, the U.S. college grad had an average of more than $27,000 in cumulative debt in 2007-2008. And that doesn’t even take account of credit cards or car payments. Give college grads a few years, and they may be adding more education and a few European trips (like I did), or a house or condo.

Even if you’re pinching your pennies, your future spouse may not be. And, as Ron Lieber reports in this New York Times story, the longer you wait to talk about debt with a date, the bigger your problems could be. According to a Boston-based financial counselor, half the couples she sees involve both members bringing significant debt to the relationship. Another quarter have one person with significant loans.

Of couples counseled, that’s 75 percent with significant debt. (Unfortunately, the story didn’t quantify “significant,” although I’d guess it’s loans weighed against income.)

The story begins with a worst-nightmare scenario: an engagement broken-off when one partner learned of the other’s $170,000 debt. The husband-to-be accused his fiancée of lying, but she admits she was also deceiving herself. “I didn’t really want to know the full amount,” she said.

Talking about money can be awkward, and there’s a vast middle ground between wearing a sandwich board declaring your debt and keeping your lips zipped until you’re four seconds away from walking down the aisle. Careers certainly come into play — hundreds of thousands in debt look very different for an aspiring anesthesiologist and an aspiring actor.

So when do you tell your special someone you’re in debt — or when do you have the right to ask? The story offered some advice: Do it if you define yourself as in a serious relationship (i.e, for the Catholic — heading toward marriage) and do it before engagement. Concretely, the author suggests consider doing it around the eighth or 10th date.

And if you haven’t been responsible with money, start. Lieber quotes the San Francisco girl who lost her fiancé over finances:

“What would I have done differently, besides bringing a copy of my credit report on the first date?” she said, with a rueful chuckle. “I would have been more responsible.”

As unromantic as it may seem, fiscal responsibility could be the first means of honoring your future husband or wife.

Fast Fact

When asked “Which personal issue outside of being single most concerns you,” the most common response among CatholicMatch members was finances. The second most common: family. Read the poll results here.



  1. Cat S. September 15, 2010 Reply

    Although it might not be appropriate to name hard numbers in the very beginning, I think it’s important to discuss attitudes toward spending, debt, etc. It would be a deal breaker for me if I learned a guy was a spendthrift, took a casual attitude toward credit card debt, etc. It’s vital to be on the same page regarding how you spend your money.

  2. DionysiaDamayanti-497168 September 15, 2010 Reply

    We have to be open even from the first time of our date. We should tell about our conditions including the debts. This is important to make each other comfortable in continuing the relationship. Moreover, this is one of the ways we can show our honesty to our becoming husbands or wives.

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