Marriage plus debt equals trouble. Married couples make up half of the clients at the Consumer Credit Counseling Service of greater Denver. But husbands and wives don't always seek credit counseling together, says the service's education specialist, Judith Stevens.
"Occasionally we have the husband or wife come in on the sly, looking for help," she said. "One person's been able to run up $20,000 in debt and the spouse doesn't know it."
With money issues a leading cause of divorce in the U.S., it pays to be honest with your spouse about your money personality.
Spotting the symptoms early in your marriage, either in yourself or in your spouse, could keep both of you out of debt. Stevens says sometimes one partner is possibly an impulse buyer, but it's not always the woman. But more often, trouble starts with unforeseen medical bills not covered by insurance, car repairs, unemployment or underemployment. Living paycheck to paycheck is also a problem, a sign that the two of you haven't hammered out a money plan.
For married couples, losing sight of their financial picture also comes down to societal pressure. "Couples might be living above their means because they want to give their kids everything, and they're using credit cards to make up the difference between salary and spending," Stevens said. "Or they want to live the way a friend is living."
Do married couples fall victim to fear when it comes to their mixed-up finances? "Oh, absolutely, because it's admitting you have a problem," Stevens said. "And talking about money is the last taboo."
For the debt-laden, counseling offers a low-cost, easy way to approach your finances together as a couple. Credit counselors offer over-the-phone advice for people who would feel more comfortable with some anonymity. And the agency's sliding fee scale also takes the financial burden off for many. The Denver CCCS, for example, offers low-income clients debt repayment plans for just $5. Even high-wage earners, such as those making $100,000 a year, only have to shell out $12 a month.
If you are tired of budget battles, do not give up, Stevens says. "We see couples come in arguing, but by the end of the counseling, they see they can take care of this," she said. "They can come out on the other side and feel good about it."