For relationships to work, couples need to be willing to discuss their finances. Fortunately, 81% of Americans who live with a partner or spouse said they’re “very” or at least “somewhat” comfortable having conversations about money, according to a new survey from the AICPA, which also shows avoiding the topic can have negative consequences.
The survey, which was conducted online in January 2021, polled 1,157 U.S. adults living with a spouse or partner.
Nearly three-quarters (73%) of respondents said financial decisions have caused tension in their relationship, with more than a quarter (26%) stating that happens at least once a month.
Among couples who are married or cohabitating, 69% have disagreed over financial decisions in the last year, according to the survey. Most of the rifts came down to needs vs. wants, spending priorities, making purchases without discussing them with a partner first, and paying off debt.
Having a frank conversation about money early in a relationship might help couples avoid these pitfalls, said Michael Landsberg, CPA/PFS, a member of the AICPA National CPA Financial Literacy Commission.
“If things progress into marriage, then both spouses should feel comfortable that there’s nothing hidden that could be unsurfaced down the road. It’s not always the happiest of conversations, but, remember, you inherit your partner’s debt in most cases,” he said.
More than 40% of Americans who live with a spouse or partner said it’s at least “somewhat likely” they’d end a relationship over financial dishonesty, such as discovering a partner had large amounts of undisclosed debt or secret bank accounts, according to the survey.
Even for couples who choose not to combine finances, it’s important to have open conversations about where each person stands on financial matters, Landsberg said. Partners should discuss their current and potential assets and liabilities, he said. These can include significant student loan debt or the possibility of having to financially support an aging parent.
“None of these situations are deal breakers, but laying all your cards on the table can only galvanize the relationship and reinforce trust,” he said.
Not getting on the right financial footing can have dire consequences. Almost half of married or cohabitating couples who experienced financially driven tension in their relationships (47%) said that their financial decisions have had a negative impact on their intimacy with their partner.
Speaking with a professional can help couples come to alignment on money matters, Landsberg said.
“Having an unbiased resource to talk through financial issues with can be quite beneficial,” Landsberg said. A knowledgeable professional, such as a CPA financial planner, he said, “can take a look at things from a different angle and assist in getting the couple to see eye to eye.”
— Megan Hart is a freelance writer based in Wisconsin. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Courtney Vien, a JofA senior editor, at Courtney.Vien@aicpa-cima.com.