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My Partner and I Aren’t on the Same Page About Credit Card Use – Help!

June 4, 2014
Credit Cards
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We’re told that opposites attract. But if you couple up with someone who has financial habits different from your own, tough questions are bound to pop up.

For instance, what should you do if you and your partner don’t share the same credit card habits? The good news is that if you take the right steps, this issue doesn’t have to be your relationship’s undoing. Take a look at the Nerds’ tips for straightening out credit card disagreements before they get out of control.

When love is blind — to credit card habits, at least

There are two extremes on the credit card use spectrum: enthusiasts and avoiders.

Enthusiasts plunk down their plastic at every opportunity; they love the convenience of credit cards and get excited about earning rewards. It’s important to note that enthusiasts aren’t necessarily in credit card debt – many pay their balances in full every month.

Occupying the opposite camp, avoiders never use credit cards. In fact, an avoider might not own a card at all. They prefer to use cash or debit for purchases and tend to view credit cards as risky.

To be clear, not everyone is an enthusiast or an avoider. Most people fall somewhere in between. But in the event that your partner tends toward one extreme and you tend toward the other, serious disagreements could ensue.

Get to the bottom of your differences

If you’re in a serious relationship with someone whose credit card use patterns don’t match your own, the first step is to open the lines of communication. Most people develop their spending patterns for a reason, so understanding your partner’s views is essential.

If you’re not sure where to start, here are some questions to consider asking as you talk through the issue:

  • How did your parents handle credit cards? Many people learn how to use credit cards from their parents. Discussing family history is key to understanding your partner’s views on plastic.
  • Have you ever been in credit card debt? Past experience with credit card debt is a big factor in determining attitudes about credit cards. For instance, avoiders might have sworn off cards after paying off a big balance. You never know until you ask!
  • When did you get your first credit card? This will help you get a better sense of your partner’s level of expertise with credit card use.
  • What do you worry about when it comes to money? For some people, getting into debt is a huge financial fear – this could be motivating an avoider’s behavior.
  • What’s your philosophy about borrowing money. Talking extensively about when and how money should be borrowed will make future financial decision-making easier – with credit cards and beyond.

Make an arrangement that suits you both

Once you’ve hashed out your credit card differences, it’s time to come up with a plan that both of you can live with. The exact parameters of this arrangement are highly personal; for example, some couples combine their finances, and some keep them totally separate. This factor alone will have a huge effect on how you decide to deal with credit cards.

But every good money agreement has certain qualities in common. These include:

  • Sensitivity – After discussing your respective views about credit cards, be sure to incorporate each partner’s values into your money plan. Even if you don’t totally understand all of your mate’s beliefs, it’s important to be sensitive to them.
  • Compromise – Partnerships are about give and take. Avoiders probably won’t convince enthusiasts to totally renounce plastic, but agreeing to pay for big purchases with cash might be a good middle ground. If you give a little as you negotiate your financial plan, you’ll get a little, too.
  • Experimentation – It’s unlikely that your way of managing money is 100% correct, 100% of the time. Experiment with elements of your partner’s style to see if it works for you, and ask your mate to do the same.
  • Reevaluation – The financial plan you and your partner decide on shouldn’t be set in stone. Reevaluating the plan a few times a year will help you stay on the same page and ensure that you’re moving forward together.

The bottom line: Credit cards might not be the most romantic topic, but it’s essential to talk about plastic with your mate. Aside from helping you understand each other better, it will allow you to come up with a money plan that works for your partnership.

Couple arguing image via Shutterstock