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Have You Caught Sexually Transmitted Debt?

Have You Caught Sexually Transmitted Debt?

Your romantic relationship could have disastrous consequences for your personal finances. Dr Ayesha Scott, senior finance lecturer at AUT, explains how to safeguard yourself from ‘catching’ debt from a partner.

28 October 2021

If you’re in a romantic relationship, whether this is your second date or you’re celebrating your 30th wedding anniversary, here are some things you need to consider.

What’s your partner’s attitude to money and debt?

Find out about your partner’s debt: the past, the present and the future. This includes the home they have a mortgage on, as well as the credit card they defaulted on 10 years ago. All of it. Every single dollar. Why?

It’s about a pesky thing called ‘sexually transmitted debt’.

Like its medical namesake disease, you catch sexually transmitted debt from a romantic partner. Without protection, you can catch it easily. It spreads quickly and, without effective treatment, the consequences can last a lifetime.

What’s sexually transmitted debt?

Sexually transmitted debt is an (un)sexy name for debts you take on in a romantic relationship.

Under New Zealand’s Property (Relationships) Act, after three years you can be liable for your partner’s debts and they’re liable for yours.

However, if you borrow together, by getting a joint loan or credit card, for example, or sign as a guarantor, then that time line is shorter. You’re responsible for that debt as soon as you sign.

How bad is it?

It’s bad. In a 2017 survey, New Zealand-based company Credit Simple found almost a third of us had suffered financial consequences from a romantic relationship.

Roughly 18 per cent of people surveyed came clean on having a secret stash of cash or hidden debt that their partner didn’t know about.

As a researcher interested in healthy financial relationships, I’m not surprised. We know that money is a taboo topic for too many couples, and money conversations don’t happen often enough.

Are you at risk?

No one signs for their partner’s loan or opens a joint account expecting they’ll end their relationship.

But surely the most demoralising impact of sexually transmitted debt is paying off the debt of your ex-love. But you don’t even need to break up to carry their debt burden.

Think about your financial goals. Do you want an overseas trip? To buy a house? To pay off your student loan, or your own debts?

What impact does your partner’s financial situation have on those goals? What are their goals? Do you know?

Do it all together

Hopefully, your joint finances are exactly that: joint. You share your debt burden and repayments equally, and share responsibility for saving together.

Your communication channels are open, and you frequently do a relationship stock-take of all things money as a couple. Go you! Congratulate yourselves on being in the minority.

For the rest of us? We may be the saver of the relationship, they might be the spender. Maybe it’s the other way around.

The reality is, one person in a couple often makes more money than the other. And it’s likely that your financial personalities are slightly different.

It’s also very likely that one partner has more debt than the other when you’re going into the relationship. So, short of requesting a credit score on your first date, how do you avoid paying for someone else’s debt?

Practice safe finance

1. Be aware of your own AND your partner’s money matters, what both of you own and owe. If your name’s on it, you must have complete visibility of the account. No exceptions.

2. Understand your financial set-up, including your partner’s business interests. It isn’t enough to know about something, make sure you understand it.

3. Schedule regular chats about money, including your financial hopes and worries. Be open, and demand honesty in return. Money’s no different to any other issue you’ll face as a couple.

4. Never sign anything without receiving independent advice first.

First published 31 October 2018

Story by Ayesha Scott. Ayesha is a senior lecturer in finance at AUT, with a PhD in Financial Econometrics from Queensland University of Technology, Australia. She’s previously worked as an administrator for a small superannuation fund based in Brisbane. Her research areas include violence against women, personal finance, empirical finance and financial econometrics.

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