'You had me at no debt': Valentine’s Day offers opportunity to explore love-and-money connection

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Posted: Thursday, February 13, 2014 12:00 am

Valentine’s Day is all about hearts, flowers, chocolate, maybe some bling. What it’s typically not about: credit cards, credit scores and anything as crass as cash.

Except lately. Whether it’s because recession-rattled consumers are still focused on their bottom lines or whether personal finance experts are trying to capitalize on Valentine-y sentiments, there’s been lots of attention recently on romance and money.

“Love and money cannot be separated,” said Gail Cunningham, spokeswoman for the National Foundation for Credit Counseling in Washington, D.C. Because money is “intertwined with just about everything we do, it can impact a relationship — even before it gets off the ground.”

A few finance-romance topics on the eve of Valentine’s Day:

Too many couples never talk seriously about their finances. Financial experts say that’s a major mistake, whether it’s a new romance or a yearslong marriage.

“It really is an act of love to share your finances with your significant other,” Cunningham said. “The more you’re on the same page (financially), the less trouble you’ll have down the road.”

Without a clear financial picture, the first time you go together to rent an apartment, buy a car or take out a home loan, it could be potentially embarrassing — and costly. If one partner has an iffy credit history, it likely will mean much higher interest rates or even having a loan denied.

Schedule a time for a serious talk in a casual setting, Cunningham suggested.

For new couples, it could be looking together at income (yes, bring out the pay stubs, she said), existing debt (credit cards, car loans, etc.), investments and even credit reports. Being honest about your financial past and current situation can put a relationship on a healthy financial footing.

For established couples, it might be having a talk about retirement readiness, how to share financial tasks more equally, understanding the family investments, or checking beneficiaries on life insurance and bank accounts. Or review your goals for some of life’s big-ticket items, like a new house, kids’ college or special vacation.

Money squabbles are often cited as a major cause of marital tension and divorce.

Last week, in its annual Couples Retirement Study, Boston-based Fidelity Investments said 51 percent of U.S. couples admit that they “frequently or occasionally” fight about money.

Especially for couples just starting out, being reluctant to share your financial history can be a sign of potential trouble.

“It’s a form of financial infidelity to hide negative financial information from someone you’re considering having a serious relationship with,” Cunningham said. “If someone is unwilling, it sends a red flag.”

Valentine’s Day is the second-most-popular day for marriage proposals, according to a survey last December. (The most popular? Christmas Eve.)

For those putting a ring on it, there’s one aspect that’s frequently forgotten: insurance. Engagement and wedding rings are often the first sizable investment a couple make together. But you don’t want to leave it uninsured in case it’s lost, stolen or damaged. (And the same goes for fine jewelry, a perennially popular Valentine’s Day gift.)

“Jewelry is one of the most common insurance claims that pop up,” said Tully Lehman, spokesman for the Insurance Information Institute in Walnut Creek, Calif.

Pulling out your credit card on a first date could affect your love life, said NerdWallet, a San Francisco-based personal finance website.

While flashing an American Express card might be expected to impress, it’s not always so, according to NerdWallet’s recent online survey of 500 never-married adults, ages 25-59.

Given a list of 13 credit cards, respondents were asked which they’d find most “impressive” when a date pulled it out to pay for dinner. Not surprisingly, an American Express Platinum and a Visa Black card ranked second and third, scoring roughly 28 percent each. But the most popular choice? A “local credit union” credit card, which was favored by 39 percent.

“That surprised us,” said Jelena Ewart, a NerdWallet credit/debit card analyst. While the flashier cards might mean a date is a big-spending, high-income, globe-trotting professional, that’s not always appealing. While admittedly a “khaki-pants” kind of choice, a local credit union card might indicate your date has a “well-researched, responsible, well-thought-out” approach to money, Ewart said.

In some cases, especially among women, it appears so.

In NerdWallet’s survey, 40 percent of singles say they are “somewhat more likely” or “much more likely” to date someone with excellent credit, defined as a FICO score of 750 or above. And single women apparently value a high score more than men, roughly 52 percent to 29 percent. The survey also found that 9 percent of 30-to-44-year-olds — the highest of any age group — admitted to “snooping” into their dating partner’s credit history.

Perhaps the easiest piece of money-and-Valentine’s advice: It doesn’t have to cost a fortune to be heartfelt.

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