Does he or she send you flowers at work? Wine and dine you at the best restaurants every weekend? Wear designer threads and always gets tickets to the hottest concerts?
Living the life of the rich and fabulous — a la Paris Hilton and the “baller” set — costs money. If your mate doesn’t have the income (or a trust fund) to support this spending, you should be suspicious. As David Jones, president of the Association of Independent Consumer Credit Counseling Agencies, says, financial woes are often relationship killers.
“Today, we see that family financial difficulties are probably responsible more for spousal abuse and child abuse and low performance on the job than substance abuse. It’s a big cause of divorce,” says Jones. “It’s been shown in actual studies to be the biggest contributor to low productivity at work as well. It’s a very serious thing in this country. We obviously need better education about it and to be financially aware.”
That said, my colleagues at CreditCards.com have helped me compile some advice for those who think they have found the right mate only to realize he or she is really Mr. or Ms. 300 — as in 300 FICO credit score:
1. The numbers just don’t add up. Is he or she earning enough in salary to support their lavish lifestyle? Figure out approximately how much he might make, add up the cost of the dinner, theater tickets, the car, etc. If there’s no way he could be paying off the balance each month, then he’s carrying hefty credit card debt.
2. Diva to the max? Is she perfectly coiffed? Designer fingernails? Spa treatment twice a month? Boob jobs? Chances are she may be maxed out on the credit cards.
3. Getting mysterious phone calls. It could be another love interest, but it could also be a debt collector calling and calling.
4. Racing to the mailbox. A mate who sprints to the mailbox every day during the week when the credit card bill usually arrives can be a sign of trouble and efforts to hide credit card purchases. (Honey, did we buy something from an escort service last month?)
5. Honey, can I get a loan? A mate who utters this sentence: “I just know that the (Pick one: lawsuit settlement; inheritance; big lottery win) is going to come in any day now.” (Often followed by “And can I borrow $200 until then?”) Watch for requests to “borrow” your credit card or if he or she doesn’t have a credit card of their own.
6. Everything on plastic. This could mean several things. Your mate has figured out how to maximize rewards points and get the most from his or her credit cards by charging everything. Or, it could mean they don’t have any cash left in their checking and savings account.
7. Bar hopping. Everybody likes the guy who picks up the tab at the club. This high-roller probably wins the popularity contest but loses the credit check. If you’re looking for a long-term relationship, avoid him. If not, have a drink. It’s on him.
8. Moving a lot. Changing jobs and apartments frequently is not a sign of stability. In fact, dodging debt could be the reason.
9. Candlelight meals. Okay. This is romantic, but the apartment may be darkened not for the ambiance but because the utilities were shut off for nonpayment.
10. A wallet full of plastic. If that bulge in their wallet is a wad of credit cards, it could give you a clue about their FICO credit score. “If somebody has 45 credit cards, they will have a low score because they have too much credit available to them compared to their income and ability to pay,” says Jones, the consumer credit counseling association president.
11. The bare minimum? Ask if they are making minimum payments on their credit cards. If so, they will be paying that debt off for many years to come. Kiss your comfortable retirement good-bye and the kids’ college fund too.
Disclaimer: Some of these signs may be red flags for other problems. It’s up to you to figure out what’s really going on.
Don’t let the suit fool you
Bankers and other well-educated people get into trouble with credit card debt. “There are a lot of educated people — stock brokers, lawyers and doctors — who are in debt management plans. We see them with $70,000, $80,000 and $90,000 in credit card debt. It’s amazing the level of financial illiteracy we see in otherwise well-educated people,” says Jones.
Have a heart to heart about money
Ask their philosophy on saving versus consuming. Where does he or she want to be in 10 years? Owning property, starting a company of their own? Living with you on your dime? Be leery if the answers are vague.
Says Jones: “Talk about it openly.” He says there’s definitely a gender gap when it comes to finances. “Men will just absolutely refuse to admit they have any trouble whatsoever dealing with money. Women are more likely to admit there’s trouble. The woman of the house realizes what kind of trouble they’re in and reaches out for help. Men won’t. It’s like asking for directions.”
This is just a partial list. Want to share any other signs or tips? Leave a comment.