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5 signs your date is a financial mess

May 20, 2015

By Dan Rafter | Money Rates Columnist

denied credit card

Your date reaches for the check at the end of your meal, but the waiter returns with embarrassing news: the credit card provided has been declined.

Is this a sign your date has financial problems? Maybe. It's important for couples to talk about their finances as a relationship progresses. It is equally important to look for indicators that your partner is keeping money secrets from you.

"This is your financial future on the line, too," says Bruce McClary, vice president of public relations for the National Foundation for Credit Counseling. "If your spouse has a bad credit score, you might struggle to qualify for a loan in the future if you decide to apply for one together. Your spouse's bad credit might keep you from qualifying for a mortgage."

While clues might indicate your partner is struggling financially, be careful not to jump to conclusions.

"There are signs, but it can be very difficult to decipher them," says Armando Roman, wealth manager with AXIOM Financial Advisory Group. "People who are financially stable can have some of the exact same habits of people in the opposite camp, those who are financially unstable."

The best advice? Look for these five warning signs of financial trouble:

1. The denied credit card

There are few things as embarrassing as having your credit card denied. If it happens to your date, you are right to be wary. This situation may be a result of money mismanagement: exceeding the credit limit or late payments -- both financially irresponsible.

Credit card debt can be one of the worst financial traps to fall in to. Credit card debt comes with high interest rates -- as high as 19 percent in some cases -- and can take a long time to pay off.

2. A debit card but no credit card

Roman also suggests looking at how your partner pays for items -- are they only using debit cards to make purchases? That's not necessarily bad, unless it's a sign that your significant other's finances are so bad they can't qualify for a credit card.

"A debit card is available to people who don't even qualify for a credit card," Roman says. "Maybe the person you are dating is using a debit card because that's the only option available."

3. Refusing to talk about finances

You bring up money matters, but your partner won't reciprocate, even as the relationship progresses -- potentially, a big red flag.

Be nervous if you have no clue whether your beloved is carrying a credit card balance, has a miserable credit score or has been receiving ominous letters from the power company. Money issues can quickly strain a relationship. Your partner won't talk about finances? There could be trouble.

"It is so important to talk about financial issues," says Kemberley Washington, a CPA and business professor at Dillard University. "Too often people talk about anything but their financial situations. If you haven't had that talk, you need to have it."

4. They don't make a lot of money but spend a ton

You know what your date does for a living. You know, in general, the range of income their particular profession makes. Yet, he or she spends big dollars on expensive computers, TVs and video-game systems that are seemingly out of financial reach.

This could be a sign of people who are spending more money than they make. People who overspend their incomes rarely escape debt-free.

5. Look at their phone

Does your date use a prepaid cell phone? It's not always the case, but such a phone could be a sign of financial distress.

As Roman says, people who can afford or qualify for a monthly or yearly cell phone plan will usually get one. Those who can't? They are the ones who choose prepaid phones.

While none of these clues are sure signs that the person you are dating is in financial distress, they are warning signs to watch out for. If you're concerned, use these clues to spur a conversation about money. Sit down with your partner and share your finances and then encourage them to do the same. If you are moving your relationship to a more serious level, this type of honesty is important.

What if you see problems such as big credit card debt or a nearly empty savings account? It's time for an even longer discussion.

"If you get to the point where you are trying to come up with a joint budget and the numbers don't add up, you need to talk with your partner," McClary says. "Numbers don't lie. The numbers are the ultimate lie detector. If they are telling you things are fine and the numbers don't add up, go with the numbers."

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