Hi, world, I’m Megan. I’m the personal finance editor here at BuzzFeed, and welcome back to Money With Megan, where we talk through the sticky work and money situations that keep us up at night.
This week, I’ve got a letter from a person who’s recently discovered that their partner hid some hefty credit card debt from them. They’ve been talking about buying a house together, but the letter-writer feels understandably uneasy about the whole situation. Here’s what they had to say:
“I recently finished a PhD program, and I was fortunate enough to have a tuition waiver and receive a stipend. I ended up going a little into credit card debt (about $2k), which I was honestly pretty ashamed of. After I graduated, I paid it off and have been saving and trying to be good with my money. My partner was also in a PhD program, but he dropped out when it was time to write his thesis.
In the meantime, I’ve been saving for a down payment on a house. I’ve asked him if he can help, and he’s said he needs to pay down his credit card bills. Up until a few months ago, he kept assuring me they were low and he was almost done. Then I found out that he is $30k in debt. He says he was too embarrassed to ever look and calculate how much debt he was actually in, until I kept pushing and asking when he’d be done paying it off.
However, I don’t know if I’m comfortable having joint ownership of a home with him if I make the down payment myself, and I may also end up just getting the loan by myself for a better interest rate as I’ve got an excellent credit rating and his isn’t great.
There’s a lot to unpack here, but first of all, congrats on finishing your PhD!! That’s a ton of hard work and it sounds like it’s put you in a great place to start thinking about your future. But at the same time, I’m getting some concerning red flags from your partner here.
Red flag #1: When he dropped out of his PhD program, he didn’t even talk to you about it first. That’s a huge decision, both financially and just in terms of your day-to-day lives, and he dropped it on you without any discussion. You deserve open communication from your partner, but what he served up instead was a big ol’ red flag.
Red flag #2: I’m sorry, but his whole “I wasn’t hiding anything from you because I didn’t know” excuse smells like BS to me. Even if he didn’t know the precise total amount of his debt, he knew enough to be afraid to look. And he still told you that he was “almost done” paying it off. He 100% knew he was lying to you, and he probably would’ve kept it up if you were less persistent. That’s not okay, and it makes me wonder if there’s anything else he’s not telling you.
Red Flag #3: I’m getting the sense that your partner relies on you to clean up his messes. He asked you to be his domestic partner so he could have health insurance after making a major decision WITHOUT consulting you. And later on, he asked you to cover rent so he could leave his job without lining up a new one. It sounds like he sees you as the responsible one — which frees him up to be the wildcard. Maybe you don’t mind this dynamic, but it’s really not fair to you.
As the great Maya Angelou put it, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them.” I think your partner has unfortunately shown you that they’re someone who will make big life decisions without even talking to you, lie to you, and then ask you to fix it for them. And I don’t think you’re overreacting. If anything, you may be underreacting.
This isn’t what you wrote in to talk about, but I’m curious why you’ve chosen to stay with someone who treats you this way. Sure, it’s possible that these red flag behaviors are isolated incidents. But if they aren’t and he acts this way pretty consistently, is this really someone you want to commit to for the rest of your life? Only you can answer this question, but I hope that you know that you deserve to be with someone you can trust who treats you well.
So now let’s talk about your question. I think it’s perfectly reasonable that you don’t feel comfortable putting this person on the deed to your house. He’s done things to damage your trust. If you continue this relationship, it’s going to take a long, long time for him to earn that trust back.
But just for fun, let’s say you go along with his plan. If you put his name on the deed and then you broke up, he could be legally entitled to half of the house. Having ownership rights could also give him the power to make major decisions about what happens to the house. For example, if you wanted to sell and he didn’t, he could stop you. And based on what you’ve told me here, I’m just not sure how much he cares about what you want.
So I agree that if you do buy a house, you shouldn’t put him on the deed until he’s paid for his half. Which brings us to how should you even talk about this???
One thing that many couples like to do is have a regular, standing money date. This is time that you set aside to look over all your joint accounts together, talk about your goals, reassess your budget, and make sure you’re on the same page. If you aren’t already doing this, it could be a great way to make sure your partner is actually following through on his financial commitments and start rebuilding trust.
So say to him, “Hey, can we schedule some time every month to go over our finances together?” and put, like, an hour on your Google calendars or whatever you prefer. That way, you’ll have time already set aside, and the subject of homebuying will come up naturally.
When it does, this is your chance to say something like, “I’ve been thinking, and I’d really feel more comfortable with having the house in my name only until you’ve paid for your half. I still feel uneasy about the way you neglected to tell me about your debt situation, and I need time to fully trust you again. Please understand that this is a hard boundary for me. I still care for you deeply, but this is what I need to feel safe.”
Then watch how he reacts to this. If he is able to come around and see things from your point of view, great. But if he tries to manipulate you or bulldoze your boundary, I’m afraid that’ll be Red Flag #4.
And one final thought: you mention being ashamed of your $2k debt, and that your partner also said he was embarrassed about his credit card situation. I just want to say to you and everyone reading this that it’s very, very normal to have some debt, and having debt is not a moral failing. Debt can be a useful tool — it helped you survive while you got your PhD. So use it wisely, and don’t money-shame yourself when you need it.
And that’s all the advice I have for today! If you have a sticky work or money situation that you’d like some advice on, write to me via this anonymous form. And you can also follow me on Twitter or LinkedIn.
All requests for advice sent to me are for publication on BuzzFeed only. I do not respond to individual messages or provide any advice one-on-one. Please don’t submit a question unless you want it published on BuzzFeed. We’ll always keep you anonymous. You must be 16 or older to submit.
Do you have any advice for this letter writer? Sound off in the comments! I’ll be reading…