Relationship upkeep 101: Be open about debt and reach financial goals together

Carla Oberholzer, Debtsafe Debt Advisor and PRO.

“When it comes to taking care of your romantic relationship (involving the money side of things), you have to consider two essential aspects. Firstly, having regular discussions and open communication about your financial or DEBT situation, and secondly, proactively taking on the best solution(s) together as a couple to reach financial goals. One goal can be, for example, to build an emergency fund, or two, to get your DEBT out of the way through the help of professionals offering a regulated, legal process. Incorporating these aspects into your ‘relationship upkeep’ aspirations can set you and your partner up for a win-win money situation AND contribute to a healthy relationship,” highlights Carla Oberholzer, debt adviser at DebtSafe.

Oberholzer recommends the following tips (whether in the start of your relationship, in a long-term relationship already, or being married) to help kickstart and continue the conversation about finances.

COMMUNICATION = EDUCATION = ACTION

  1. Treat the ‘taboo topic’ as an everyday discussion point. It is never too early or too late to learn from yourself and your loved one when it comes to finances.
  2. Be empathetic towards (yourself and) your partner and never jump to conclusions aboutyour loved one’s situation. Assumptions can ruin trust within your relationship and can add negative connotations to a discussion that initially started with good intentions.
  3. Practice makes perfect. Start with basic finance questions and learn how to improve your questions by adding more details to the discussion points. Questions can range from how you understood the money concept as a child, experiencing the actual value (of money) as an adult, to what has led to becoming over-indebted and losing track of your personal financial goals, for example. You and your partner can set up a few questions to begin your ‘communication journey’ concerning finances. And develop them as you go.
  4. Regular communication and ‘financial goal setting’ conversations are essential. What about a monthly catch-up with your loved one? In severe cases, you can have a weekly discussion with your partner.As your relationship develops, your understanding of your financial situation, your partner’s journey, and your mutual, aka couple goals, grow. Plus, you will create a vision of what you need to do and start actioning to be where you want to be TOGETHER.
  5. Don’t avoid the “Let’s talk about DEBT” topic. Include the d-word (debt) in your communication and figure out what the degree of it entails. Are you both managing your debt situations well, are one of you perhaps over-indebted, or are you both struggling to make ends meet and not taking care of your monthly debt obligations?

If it so happens that you and your partner realise that you are facing over-indebtedness, for example, you have to seek the best relief option available that will fit into your particular financial and couple goal (getting out of debt). There is a string of things that you can do to lower your debt pile (cutting unnecessary costs or using a specific payoff strategy to reduce your debt). BUT if, and when you agree that you need professional help to attain financial freedom again, Debt Review/Counselling is a viable and legal option to consider.

Here are a few insights about the DEBT REVIEW process that can help you and your partner make informed decisions, specifically when it comes to a ‘getting out of debt’ solution:

  1. For you to consider Debt Review as a suitable solution to fix your debt, a stable form of income is necessary, and a registered Debt Counsellor has to declare you (or your partner, or both) over-indebted. You can ask for a free, no-obligation assessment to see if the repayment plan will indeed suit your (and your partner’s) needs and goals.
  2. Suppose you decide (together) that Debt Review can help you to reach your specific financial goal (fixing your debt situation/getting financial freedom again). In that case, you have to be proactive, keep communicating with your registered Debt Counsellor and stick to the repayment plan – ensuring that your assets (a car and house) are protected in the process.
  3. Even if you are not married, but in a romantic relationship – when there are debts that you both signed for, then you and your loved one are responsible for the debt obligations, and both have to apply for Debt Review. However, if only one party is over-indebted, it will either be only you or your partner who will have to go under Debt Review.
  4. If married – here’s what you need to know:
    1. If you are married in community of property (COP), the application to the process will be a combined one, and all the debt will be added into one pool. Both of your income amounts will also be included in the calculations. And the payment of all your debt will be joined into one single instalment.
    1. If you are married out of community of property (ANC), both parties do not have to go under Debt Review/Counselling. Your spouse will not be affected – only your finances and personal information will be considered. If, however, there are debts that you are both responsible for, then you will both have to go under Debt Review.

When it comes to taking care of your relationship – finance, or debt is a key and crucial discussion point. Talking to your better half about money can sound intimidating, especially if you know that you have a debt-filled problem and situation going. But, try and move past your fear, start communicating about your finances, and start actioning solutions or ways to reach financial freedom TOGETHER. It’s beneficial for you, your partner, and those couple goals that you have and want to reach.