I started dating the most amazing man a few months ago. It’s going so well that I feel he’s going to ask me to marry him soon. The problem is that I’m too embarrassed to tell him that my credit is really terrible. We’re both professional, successful people, but I’m so afraid that he will judge me negatively for my past. I’m not irresponsible, but I went through a terrible divorce several years ago and it hit me financially pretty hard. How do I bring this up?
– Afraidy Katy
Dear Afraidy Katy,
Thank you so much for this question, money and financial issues are such an important topic to be able to discuss and in many families and societies, the subject is taboo or dealt with in unhealthy ways. The good news is that you’ve recognized that this issue is an important one to deal with in your new and loving relationship, sooner rather than later.
Money can be very emotional for many people and it’s often wrapped up with how money was dealt with in your family when you were growing up. Guilt and embarrassment over money issues is very common, as are shame and fear. Go gently on yourself as you navigate through this issue. Try to recognize that decisions you made about money years ago are not a reflection of your character, but more likely your circumstances, such as your divorce. Divorce in particular can be extremely hard financially, especially on women, as they pick up the pieces and try to re-establish a new life.
One of the steps you can take before you tackle this subject with your loved one is to begin by monitoring and repairing your credit as much as you can. This is something you may have already started to do, but if you haven’t, there are lots of credit report and repair resources available to help you do so. It’s also something you should do whether or not you are in a relationship. Once you decide on the right time to raise this topic, it will demonstrate commitment to your partner that you are making good financial decisions for your joint future.
Start by keeping track of your credit score. In the United States, you’re entitled (by law) to a free credit report from each of the three credit bureaus (Experian, Equifax and TransUnion) each year. You can obtain your annual free credit report from AnnualCreditReport.com, which is maintained by Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. You can also order your credit score by phone or mail if you prefer.
Since this is a new-ish relationship, it seems you are still not certain how much vulnerability to share with your partner. You may feel your partner might judge you harshly, but if you had a legitimate reason (in this case, divorce) for your previous financial difficulties, your partner is likely to be very understanding. I would approach this topic when you are both relaxed and in a good state of mind, and then raise the question of how credit scores can fluctuate depending on life circumstances if you want to see how he reacts before you share more details.
Finally, it’s always better to find someone’s approach to money and finances, and shared responsibilities before you marry. Another tool is a prenuptial agreement, which would outline financial situation in case of divorce or death. While “prenups” can prevent money problems after divorce (not always), they can also be helpful to get couples talking about their true attitudes towards finances and their values about money and commitment.
And by the way, do you know what his credit score is?