14 financial red flags in a relationship

Financial red flags in a relationship often signal impending disaster. After all, money troubles are among the biggest drivers of divorce.

In this article, I’ll share a few common red flags you’d be wise to address with your partner sooner rather than later. In some cases, you may even want to walk away altogether.

14 financial red flags in a relationship

1. Hiding money or pertinent financial information

It’s very hard to be on the same page financially in a relationship when your partner hides key information.

This often takes the form of concealing negative facts, such as excessive debt or spending.

Hiding money in secret bank accounts can also be damaging, though.

To be clear, there’s nothing inherently wrong with partners maintaining their own financial plans. Some even sign prenups to explicitly hedge against the possibility of a split. If your partner creates contingency plans without any discussion, though, that’s a problem.

Perhaps they lack communication skills. Maybe they don’t trust you. They may be attempting to hide certain transactions or activities. Whatever the case, there’s a reason relationship experts call hiding money a form of infidelity.

The bottom line? Any serious relationship will affect your finances. You have a right to information that would contextualize this impact. When a partner withholds it from you, that should prompt concern.

2. Blatantly lying about money

Hiding financial information – essentially lying by omission – is bad enough. Deception becomes even more problematic, though, when it’s direct and intentional.

Commonly-told financial lies in relationships include:

  • disguising a transaction’s nature to hide questionable behavior
  • understating personal debt because reality might cause a confrontation
  • insisting items purchased recently are actually old (i.e. “I’ve just never worn these shoes before”)

Now, a partner may tell these and other lies about money for many reasons. They may fear you’ll judge them. In a more nefarious scenario, they could be trying to get ahead at your expense.

No matter the reason, blatant financial deception rarely bodes well for a relationship. In fact, nearly 60% of respondents to a U.S. News survey said it’s just as bad as – if not worse than – physical cheating.

If you agree, catching your partner lying about money represents a potentially devastating red flag. Even if it isn’t a total relationship-ender, though, you should be concerned enough to address the issue directly.

3. Impulse control problems

This red flag doesn’t always present itself in a financial context at first. Rather, you may initially spot substance abuse, risky sex, compulsive lying, and other reckless behaviors. Look close enough, though, and you’ll likely notice financial impulsivity accompanies – or even directly fuels – these habits.

According to American Addiction Centers, many disorders and experiences can cause impulse control issues. I know firsthand these challenges aren’t impossible to overcome, especially with professional help. If your partner is unwilling to change, however, their impulsivity could have unacceptable financial consequences.

Look at it this way. Even people without impulse control problems often find it difficult to prioritize long-term savings goals above short-term pleasure. When that behavior is a key feature of someone’s personality and they’re not actively working to counteract it, things typically don’t go well.

4. Frequently falling behind on bills

First, frequently falling behind on bills suggests a lack of personal accountability. The implicit message being sent is, “I only fulfill obligations when it works for me. Until then, everyone should wait.” You’ll likely be on the receiving end of this message one day.

Consider, for example, that you’ll likely co-sign on bills with your partner at some point. If they don’t uphold their end of the bargain, you’ll be on the hook. Unless you can scramble and make payments solo, your creditworthiness will take a serious hit.

Of course, a lack of personal accountability can also cause issues in non-financial contexts. After all, relationships are essentially built on dozens of implicit and explicit agreements. When a partner habitually reneges on their commitments, the entire structure falls apart.

In other words, falling behind on bills – as with most red flags – is often just the tip of a very deep iceberg.

5. Having nothing to show for years of decent earnings

If your partner has been pulling in a respectable wage for years yet has little to no savings and can’t pinpoint anything productive they’ve done with the money, be very concerned. This may be a sign of shortsightedness that will affect you eventually.

To be clear, limited savings may not be a huge behavioral red flag in and of itself. Some people choose to aggressively pay down debt (i.e. student loans) instead of saving, for example. That’s still well-intentioned and productive to a point.

Conversely, let’s say your partner has little to no savings and spent most of their earnings over the last few years on discretionary items (i.e. costlier vehicles and rental spaces than they could actually afford). That’s a problem.

For one, your savings would likely need to do most of the heavy lifting in regards to major goals or unexpected expenses. That’s not entirely fair to you.

It also doesn’t bode well for the future. Unless your partner has made a significant effort to become more fiscally responsible, you may be stuck paying for their recklessness going forward. Again, that’s not very fair.

6. Excessive debt

This is among the biggest financial red flags in a relationship.

For starters, excessive consumer debt may keep your partner from contributing fairly to shared expenses. You may even be tempted – or worse, pressured – to help eliminate their debt at the expense of your own goals.

Further, even if your partner’s credit is rock solid, their debt burden could prevent you from qualifying for favorable loan terms as a couple. This can leave you paying thousands of dollars more for things like houses and cars.

As with the other financial red flags I’ve mentioned, you should also think about what this behavior suggests. Your partner almost certainly has a hard time living within their means, which will jeopardize your financial progress as a couple.

“But not all types of debt are equal!”

High-interest consumer debt – namely credit cards and other unsecured loans – is more or less universally frowned-upon. Many people, however, look the other way when it comes to low-interest secured debt like mortgages and car loans.

However, I’d argue a partner overextending themselves on these loans should absolutely raise red flags as well.

After all, cars and homes are among the most expensive things people ever purchase. Consequently, spending too much on them can be even more financially devastating than a large credit card balance.

Excessive borrowing for homes and cars also often accompanies a strong desire to look rich, which I’ll discuss shortly.

7. Terrible credit

Excessive debt is enough of a problem on its own. If your partner also has terrible credit, you may be in for a wild financial ride.

As mentioned earlier, many couples eventually co-sign on loans and other obligations. If your partner has terrible credit, this will likely happen sooner rather than later out of necessity. They simply won’t qualify for most loans on their own.

In these situations, you’re essentially banking on your partner’s ability to overcome whatever issues left them with bad credit in the first place. That’s not always an outcome worth staking your future on.

Of course, their terrible credit will also limit your financing options as a couple. Even if you have a stellar score, lenders may see your partner as a liability and charge a higher interest rate or deny your application altogether.

Lastly, a terrible credit score is typically only achieved in one of a few ways, including:

  • missed payments
  • bankruptcy
  • loans sent to collections
  • an excessive credit utilization ratio

Some of these factors constitute red flags on their own. None of them speak highly of your partner’s ability to manage money.

8. An obsession with looking rich

Some see money as little more than a tool for impressing others. These people are incredibly frustrating to be around, let alone share a financial future with.

First of all, impressing others is an endless pursuit. A partner who makes this their mission will keep you on a hedonic treadmill and limit your ability to ever feel financially fulfilled.

This red flag is also typically accompanied by excessive debt. After all, it’s much easier to look rich by purchasing luxuries with borrowed money. That makes wealth creation virtually impossible, though.

Indeed, people who strive to impress others with one financial flex after another rarely become rich. You don’t want to hitch your wagon to someone headed down that path.

9. Frequent borrowing from loved ones and failing to repay them on-time

If your partner frequently borrows money from loved ones and stalls on repayments, it’s likely only a matter of time before they do the same to you.

This goes back to a lack of accountability. It’s even more egregious than stiffing financial institutions, though. In this scenario, your partner arguably has no problem letting money jeopardize relationships with people who care about them enough to offer assistance.

Unless you want to be a plaintiff on an episode of Judge Judy someday, think very carefully about getting too involved with someone who exhibits this red flag.

10. Financially controlling behavior

Even in the most committed relationship, you should always have a say in how shared resources are used. Your partner should never make unilateral decisions – especially concerning your income, career, or savings – unless you’ve given them permission.

They should also never pressure you into protecting their financial interests at your own expense. That doesn’t mean you’ll never make sacrifices to help them. It should just be your own call rather than something they manipulate you into doing.

Specific examples of financially controlling behavior include:

  • forcing you to help run their business for unfair pay
  • limiting your access to essential resources (i.e. by putting you on an “allowance”)
  • physically or emotionally abusing you for spending money
  • spending pooled resources on their own without consulting you

This controlling behavior likely won’t stay limited to financial concerns. Hence, it’s very important to address the issue – and perhaps even leave the relationship – promptly.

11. Jealousy

This financial red flag often goes hand-in-hand with controlling behavior.

Some people just don’t like to see others – let alone those closest to them – succeed. Rather than celebrating your wins, they may even try to demotivate or sabotage you.

This is a red flag because it can lead to tremendous animosity in a relationship. You may come to believe your partner doesn’t support you enough while they feel left behind.

This is especially common among men. According to a University of Bath study, men typically become increasingly stressed when their female partners earn more than 40% of the household’s income. It’s an ego hit thanks to the traditional view of men as providers.

The common nature of this attitude doesn’t make it any less of a red flag, though. You shouldn’t have to temper your ambitions for fear of upsetting a partner who can’t keep pace. They should be able to understand that when you win, so does the household (provided you don’t hoard every penny for yourself).

12. Incompatible goals

It should go without saying that in any healthy relationship, partners are more or less aligned regarding major goals.

Of course, you won’t agree on everything. But unresolved disagreements over core financial values will likely make you both miserable.

Unlike other financial red flags in a relationship, this one shouldn’t necessarily send you running in the other direction immediately. Couples can work through some pretty massive financial disagreements and become better for it.

That requires effort and a willingness to negotiate before issues blow up, though. Don’t expect the situation to resolve itself. Treat this red flag as an invitation to discuss your differences.

13. Neglecting any personal responsibility whatsoever

In the modern world, people often find it difficult to save for many valid reasons. At the same time, some people use the existence of those challenges as an excuse to never try.

This is among the most worrisome financial red flags in a relationship. It suggests your partner has a victim mentality. If so, they’ll likely drag you down to their level of apathy sooner or later.

After all, it’d be hard for them to reconcile viewing the world as a fundamentally unfair place with watching you succeed and being genuinely happy about it.

Thankfully, there’s a pretty wide swath of territory between acknowledging wealth inequality and using it to justify being a world-weary bum with no ambition. In other words, avoiding people who exhibit this red flag won’t limit your dating pool to Libertarian Party members with “MUH BOOTSTRAPS” tattooed across their chests.

14. Constantly pursuing get-rich-quick schemes

At best, get-rich-quick schemes will merely distract your partner from pursuing more meaningful financial goals with you. However, it often goes beyond that, leading to habitually questionable behavior (i.e. trying to rope loved ones, including you, into pyramid schemes) and lots of wasted money.

Whether your partner is gullible or actively trying to defraud people, this is a major red flag. It’s hard to shake the get-rich-quick mentality. I’ve seen people fall for it over and over again. Even when I show them how people become rich every day through legitimate strategies, they just can’t shake the lure of becoming millionaires overnight.

I’d never want to be in a relationship with someone caught in that loop. I’d encourage you to avoid it as well.

Deciding whether financial red flags in a relationship warrant walking away

Financial red flags in a relationship don’t always justify an immediate breakup. Here’s some food for thought on that point.

How serious are you about the relationship?

In relationships, people have very different goals and approaches. Some only date people they could see themselves moving in with and marrying. Others, meanwhile, look for more casual arrangements (or “entanglements,” as Jada Pinkett Smith calls them).

In the latter scenario, you may be willing to tolerate certain financial red flags. After all, it’s unlikely you’ll merge finances with someone in such a casual engagement. Therefore, the damage will – theoretically, anyway – stay contained within their world.

However, if your intention is to establish a serious, long-term relationship, you should absolutely be more mindful of red flags.

Is your partner willing to change?

Nobody’s perfect. Look at anyone – including yourself – close enough and you’ll likely spot a few red flags. People can change, though. A partner who’s willing to put the effort in and get their finances under control arguably deserves some patience.

Keep in mind, however, that you can’t force anyone to change.

Look at it this way. You wouldn’t want to replace your financial values with someone else’s. Why would you expect them to do that for you? If you don’t see eye to eye on something so fundamental and you’re both willing to change, perhaps the relationship isn’t meant to be.

Deception should be a non-starter

If your partner is upfront about their financial shortcomings, that’s one thing. Deception is a different beast entirely. If you can’t trust your partner to be honest regarding something as important as money, that’s a huge issue.

If the lying persists, walking away is completely justified, in my opinion.

Consider what caused their financial shortcomings to begin with

Not all financial red flags are the result of negligence or malicious intent. Sometimes people struggle due to issues beyond their control, such as unexpected illnesses or recessions. This doesn’t make them bad or undateable people.

Make sure to get the full story before passing judgment. Just keep an eye out for red flag #13.

About the author

Brandon-Richard Austin

Brandon-Richard Austin is the founder of Rinkydoo Finance. He is an avid investor and digital marketer for startups and publicly-traded companies alike.