If money and relationships are an uncomfortable mix, then credit and romance are downright strange bedfellows.
"You may say you know everything about a person, but you probably don't know anything about his credit record," says Adam Levin, founder of Credit.com.
Now, a frequently-aired TV commercial featuring a forlorn young husband forced to live with his in-laws because he was clueless about his bride's abysmal credit is aiming to spur young lovers to share credit scores.
Of course, the commercial's sponsor, the Web site freecreditreport.com, is hoping to rev up its credit information sales. Romantic partners are a big, untapped market.
It’s important that consumers know that the only Web site where they can obtain a free credit report is AnnualCreditReport.com, a site set up by the government. One credit report per year from each of the reporting agencies is available for free to consumers.
"We have found that people often aren't interested in reviewing their credit report until there is a life event which makes them aware of how important it is," says Heather McLaughlin, spokeswoman for Experian Americas, the parent of freecreditreport.com. "The commercial about the couple living in the basement addresses one of those life events where knowing each other's credit prior to getting into a financial obligation together would have been helpful," she says.
But according to relationship experts, it will take much more than a commercial to get someone to present his partner with a report detailing his sinking debt.
Don't mention itIn a recent study of 50,000 couples who went through its marriage preparation course, Life Innovations finds "a large percentage of partners don't talk about money or credit issues in any detail at all," says Peter Larson, clinical psychologist and vice president of the Minneapolis firm.
They may prefer to remain mum about finances and credit, but these issues are major irritants to the 50,000 couples, adds Larson.
"Seventy-two percent of the 100,000 individual respondents said they wished their partner would be more careful about spending," according to Larson, "and 56 percent say major debts are a problem."
Not my problem?As long as you don't have an account held jointly in both names, you're not responsible for a romantic partner's debts. And debts that someone brings into a marriage under his own name are not legally the responsibility of the spouse, notes Alton Abramowitz, vice president of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers.
But even when you're not legally liable for someone else's debts, if you're living together you'll suffer the irritating calls from creditors coming into your home, says Levin.
Look for cluesNot only is credit an unpopular topic of conversation, but it's only human nature to keep a bad record to yourself. "It's hard to bring up because of the shame factor," says Levin.
Often, you don't have to actually to talk about credit or pull a report to know that your partner is on shaky ground.
Nancy Michaels, founder of the Web site Match Gone Wrong, believes there can be plenty of warning signs, among them:
Warning signs of bad credit
- Someone has his or her credit card denied on more than one occasion.
- A grown adult has a "temporary" living situation that seems inappropriate, like living with multiple roommates or with parents.
- Someone pays for everything in cash.
- Spending habits are either unusually frugal or exceptionally extravagant -- indicating they have money management issues.