If money and relationships are an uncomfortable mix, then credit and romance are downright strange bedfellows.
"You may say you know everything about a person, but you probably don't know anything about his credit record," says Adam Levin, the founder of Credit.com.
A recent TV commercial features a forlorn young husband forced to live with his in-laws because he was clueless about his bride's abysmal credit; it's aiming to spur young lovers to share credit scores.
Of course, the commercial's sponsor, the Web site Freecreditreport.com, hopes to rev up its credit information sales, too. Romantic partners are a big untapped market.
Despite its name, that site enrolls people in a credit monitoring service costing $14.95 a month. The only Web site where consumers can obtain free credit reports is AnnualCreditReport.com, a site set up by the federal government.
"We have found that people often aren't interested in reviewing their credit report until there is a life event which makes them aware of how important it is," says Heather McLaughlin, a spokeswoman for Experian Americas, the parent of Freecreditreport.com. "The commercial about the couple living in the basement addresses one of those life events where knowing each other's credit prior to getting into a financial obligation together would have been helpful."
But according to relationship experts, it will take much more than a commercial to get someone to present his partner with a report detailing his sinking debt.
Don't mention itIn a recent study of 50,000 couples who went through its marriage preparation course, Life Innovations found that "a large percentage of partners don't talk about money or credit issues in any detail at all," says Peter Larson, a clinical psychologist and the vice president of the Minneapolis firm.
They may prefer to remain mum about finances and credit, but these issues could become major irritants to the 50,000 couples, Larson adds.
"Seventy-two percent of the 100,000 individual respondents said they wished their partner would be more careful about spending," Larson says. "And 56% say major debts are a problem."
As long as you don't have an account held jointly in both names, you're not responsible for a romantic partner's debts. And debts that someone brings into a marriage under her own name are not legally the responsibility of the spouse, notes Alton Abramowitz, a vice president of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers.
But even when you're not legally liable for someone else's debts, if you're living together, you'll suffer the irritating calls from creditors coming into your home, Levin says.
Look for cluesNot only is credit an unpopular topic of conversation, it's only human nature to keep a bad record to yourself. "It's hard to bring up because of the shame factor," Levin says.
Often, you don't have to actually talk about credit or pull a report to know that your partner is on shaky ground.