Should You Credit Check Your Potential Long-Term Partner?

What does your ideal partner look like? Someone who treats you right? A Wikipedia on legs? Or someone you share a deep connection with? Well, all of these are appealing characteristics of a good long-term partner to keep an eye out for. But relationships can be tricky, and we need to look beyond a person's facade to detect what baggage they bring to the table and see if we can deal with that before we can commit. It's not the best idea to step into a steady relationship with someone only to slowly dredge up secrets of their past — such as financial baggage.

That probably explains why, according to a 2022 survey polling 2,000 U.S. adults conducted by Life Happens, financial security stood out as the top most attractive characteristic to look for in a partner alongside intelligence and a sense of humor. Meanwhile, a 2020 survey by LendEDU revealed that over 30.50% of 1,000 polled U.S. adults factored in a person's credit card debt when deciding whether or not to date them. The study also disclosed that respondents were less likely to enter into a relationship with a person with high levels of debt. Obviously, for many people, money problems are generally not welcomed in a relationship, especially when you're planning to build a future together. But money is never an easy topic to open up for discussion — unless you're a credit officer. So, should you credit-check your potential long-term partner?

You should check your partner's credit score

It's common for many of us to have this idea that money talk is off-limits when you're in a romantic relationship — unless you're all settled into a marriage and you're making major decisions together. But it's a concept lost on many people that financial security plays a major role in relationship stability. According to a 2014 survey by The American Psychological Association (APA), about 31% or a third of U.S. adults with partners attributed money problems to a significant source of conflicts in their relationships. 

Being clued in on your partner's financial health can help you do more than just develop financial intimacy or walk into a long-term union knowing full well what you've signed up for. It can also help you spot financial red flags in your potential partners and deal with any issues early on before your future becomes too closely entwined with theirs. 

As Helen Fisher, the chief scientific adviser at told CNBC, a person's financial history can give us insights into the kind of partner, friend, or parent they will be. When you tie the knot, you have to make many financial decisions together, and spending discrepancies can cause you lots of stress. While it's up to you to decide whether to go steady with someone with a huge debt or if financial hurdles are a deal breaker for you, knowing your potential partner's financial habits early on helps you make decisions that serve your best interest. 

When should you start talking about a partner's credit history?

Actually, a first date can give us numerous clues about how a person deals with their money, such as by the way they offer to foot the bill or separate tabs. However, if you're planning to get fully invested in the relationship, it's important to have a proper money talk instead of relying on hints and assumptions. While there is no set rule for how many dates people should go to before they should get serious, there are signs to help you know that you're ready. "If you can talk, and the other person hears you, and you feel heard, and the other person wants to understand you, those are good, healthy signs," clinical social worker Sarah Kahan tells Brides

Similarly, Rod Griffin, Experian's senior director of consumer education and advocacy, explained to CNBC Select that it's wise to pay attention to any potential financial red flags. "If you are with someone, and you are suspicious of how they are spending money ... that may be a time to start talking about money," he urged. For example, if your partner earns modestly but is always flaunting flashy, new items on their social media or splurging on big, non-essential purchases, they might have a spending problem. Still, there might be a chance that they are secret trust fund babies and stealth wealth is their game, but you'll never know until you make them open up about it.  

How to put it the right way

There's no easy way to talk about money, but you'll still have to do it if you want to enter the next phase of your relationship. "I find that money comes up pretty naturally if we let it, that it gets harder the more we think of it as a very special talk about money," says financial therapist Amanda Clayman to NPR. It's easier for communication to flow when the conversation is not stressful. You might want to start slow, and invite the person to a heart-to-heart money talk with an open question like, "How comfortable do you feel being open about money?" Attacking a potential partner with a barrage of overly direct and specific questions about their debts and tax returns can be in bad taste and put people on the defensive.

As psychologist Yvonne Thomas tells HerMoney, setting the right tone with such a conversation is crucial for nurturing an honest response. "It is important to discuss things in a way that allows you to gain an understanding and clarity about that person's situation while having [them] feel emotionally safe and not judged," she explained. "Otherwise, the other person may be unwilling to share or be as honest with you as is needed for you to get a true picture of [their] financial situation."

Why you should let your partner credit check you

If your potential partner wants to perform a credit check on you, what would you do? As financial planner Natasha Knox points out on Elevate Network, it's harder to talk about one's credit card debts or lines of credit than bigger debts such as mortgages. Those smaller debts speak volumes about our spending habits, and we're understandably afraid of being scrutinized and judged.

However, if you plan to step into a long-term relationship at any point in your life, you should ditch the guard and keep your partner in the loop about your financial health. And you should know about your partner's financial foundation too. It's hard to maintain your lifestyles under the same roof when you have cosmically different financial expectations as well as spending and savings habits. "Separate finances are fine. Secret finances are not. Whether separate or joint, the important elements are trust and honesty," writes Knox. 

If you really like and appreciate the person you're seeing, you shouldn't be afraid to have hard conversations with them and maintain your integrity. If you are the one with the debts and spending problems, be honest about them and let your potential partner know how you're working on your issues and making progress. If the person doesn't like what they hear and decides to back out, they're just not the right person for you.  

How to react to your partner's credit card debt

Let's get the facts straight: your partner's poor credit score cannot affect you, and they alone are liable for any debts they incurred. However, if you apply for a joint account later on, the individual credit scores of both you and your partner will be affected by the use of your shared credit card. Therefore, if your partner has accumulated huge debts on their other cards and they're struggling to pay them, think twice before co-mingling your finances. 

So, in case your potential long-term partner has a really bad credit score, you should ask more questions to find out the reason why. Maybe they've failed to make payments on time or have declared bankruptcy before. "Life happens, and so there may be a perfectly valid reason that their score has suffered a bit or isn't very strong," Rod Griffin tells CNBC Select. "But you can work together to improve it. If you approach things from that goal perspective, it might be a positive for you as a couple."