Should I tell my partner I’m in serious debt?



Q. I’m overwhelmed by student loan and credit card debt, and I’m embarrassed to admit it to my partner. Should I come clean?

A. Some secrets are harmless, such as eating the last slice of your partner’s favorite cake. Or saying you’re sick to avoid his aunt’s retirement party.

Hiding thousands of dollars in debt does not fall into the “harmless” category. While having debt is just one piece of your identity, it could directly affect your partner also: Maybe you’re unable to contribute to joint savings or keep up with your share of the bills, or you’ll have a harder time qualifying for a mortgage as a couple.

The debt might not come as a surprise if, say, your partner already knows about your lavish sneaker-buying habit. But the longer you wait to divulge the details of your financial stress, the more betrayed your beloved may feel when you eventually do it, says Don Cole, clinical director of the Seattle-based Gottman Institute, which conducts research on relationships.


First, nail down the specifics of the debt for yourself, says Kelly Luethje, a certified financial planner and founder of Willow Planning Group in Boston.

Understand your loans’ and credit cards’ outstanding balances, accompanying interest rates and payoff dates. That may help you gain some control, and it’s also the first step toward developing a plan to get out of debt.


Confessing your debt balance isn’t first-date fodder. Tell your partner the truth once the relationship gets serious, such as by the time you’ve hit the six-month mark.

At the very least, get everything out in the open before you decide to move in together. At that point, your debt will have an immediate financial impact on your partner.


Ask your partner to set aside time to talk. Pick a weeknight rather than a Friday or Saturday, says W. Bradford Wilcox, director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia. He says weekends should be reserved for having fun, reconnecting and maintaining spontaneity, all of which strengthen long-term relationships.

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