How do I get him to lay his cards on the table?
January 16, 2009 6:30 PM   Subscribe

Getting married in September but my husband-to-be won't come clean about his finances.

My fiance is all-in-all a great guy. The most recent example: He rode several miles on his bike in the middle of the night in 20 below weather to get medicine for my cat that he doesn't even like that much---three times.

Despite his myriad good qualities, we have a major problem. He refuses to divulge how much debt he is in (I know he at least has student loans he's not paying by his huge stack of unanswered mail), nor his exact credit status which he has admitted is bad and on top of that, he appears to be in dutch with the IRS.

Neither one of us make a lot of money but we get by okay and are generally quite happy. We are looking forward to getting married but I need to have our finances straightened out (not necessarily completely paid off, but just have a plan) in order to feel secure doing that.

I know he fears my reaction when I find out the extent of things but I am sincerely not interested in judging or chastising him. I've been where he's been and know how scary it is. The difference is that I made the decision at 25 to clean up my act and be financially responsible while he's 38 and still acting like he's too cool to be concerned about such things.

I'm still working on getting my credit back but I am willing and able to be completely transparent with him about my financial status. When I try to get him to talk about his stuff he always attempts to put it off or make me feel bad for nagging him.

I'm not going to love him less if he's a million dollars in debt and has a credit rating of zero. I just need to know where we stand financially as a couple so we can make a plan to get to where we need to be.

The IRS thing is the most pressing concern for me. In 2007, he made a lot more money than he normally does and ended up owing taxes on it for which he was (surprise, surprise!) not prepared. After April 15 I asked him if he had filed and he said no, that he had gotten an extension till October. So I asked him from time to time up until the middle of October if he had filed yet and the answer was always no. I was, admittedly, a little miffed because I felt like he was procrastinating himself out of the free money that was the economic stimulus package. Technically, the money was his to do with as he wished but it still seemed unfair to me as I had spent my tax refund and stimulus bonus on furniture for the both of us and sort of assumed he would do the same as we desperately needed furniture. In addition, it just seemed emblematic of his financial irresponsibilty.

Finally, after the second filing deadline had passed I asked him again if he had filed and the answer was finally yes. I accepted him at his word and let it go. Fast forward to a couple months ago when he receives a thick letter in the mail from the IRS--addressed to the apartment we had moved from in July, long before he had supposedly finally filed.

At this point I am pretty sure he lied to me about filing and told him as much and asked to look at the letter from the IRS. He refused and insisted I let him take care of the tax situation himself. I told him all of the things I stated above...that I just wanted us to be honest with each other...blah blah blah, but he insisted it was a point of pride for him to take care of it on his own. I told him that he needed to take care of it then and I would need proof it had been taken care of and he agreed.

Currently, he claims to have asked his parents for a loan to pay his tax bill. I have no idea how much the bill is for and have no way too verify that he did what he said he did other than to call his parents and humiliate him which I won't do.

At this point, I really doubt he has done anything about his taxes and I'm feeling deceived, though I have no proof. I think he's just hoping the problem will go way on its own or I'll forget about it.

I don't want to lose an otherwise great relationship because of this, but I can't just stick my head in the sand and marry him.

This is obviously an ego issue for him and a practical and trust-related one for me. How can I get him to realize how important this is before I have to ditch him at the altar?

Also, any online resources or advice regarding the combining of finances, financial couples counseling, etc. would be greatly appreciated.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (79 answers total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
Ultimatum time. He needs to come clean or call off the wedding.
posted by mynameisluka at 6:34 PM on January 16, 2009 [12 favorites]

He refuses to divulge how much debt he is in

I skipped everything after that. Except for the question part at the end.

Do not marry this man until he is honest about his finances. Honest in this case means transparent. I'm not saying "ditch him at the altar" but you do not want the financial entanglement of a legal marriage with someone you know has been financially irresponsible and who refuses to be honest with you about it. You can postpone, you can seek counseling, but save yourself the monumental headache (actually, I think a more accurate term might be shitstorm) of jumping into marriage without knowing this stuff.

I think you should seek standard relationship counseling first, and then see a professional financial advisor.
posted by Meg_Murry at 6:41 PM on January 16, 2009 [23 favorites]

anon: This is obviously an ego issue for him and a practical and trust-related one for me. How can I get him to realize how important this is before I have to ditch him at the altar?

Say that. Exactly that. You're lying to yourself when you say you're not being judgmental (that much is clear from your tone) but when he tells you you're being 'judgmental' or 'chastising,' feel free to tell him the truth: you don't want to do those things, and you'll have to fix that, but that has nothing to do with the two issues at hand, which are honesty and money.

Don't throw it at him, and say it in the most loving tone you can, but realize that being loving means being honest, and you require the same from him. "Honey, I would hate to make some kind of ultimatum or threat, but I don't intend to have the kind of marriage where we separate things like finances and build a wall. I want to share those things with you because I love you and I want to shoulder your burdens with you. We need to share this or our marriage won't work." Sit down and say something like that to him and be prepared to talk it out; it won't be easy for either of you, but it's necessary.
posted by koeselitz at 6:44 PM on January 16, 2009

when you get married, "his" financial life becomes the financial life you both share. his debts will become your debts. it's outrageously unfair that he won't share this information with you, as it asks you to make a decision that could significantly impact your life without any knowledge of what you're getting yourself into.

and let's be fair, too : regardless of all of that, you're willing to be completely transparent about your finances in this. why would you want a partner who wouldn't show you the same respect?
posted by radiosilents at 6:47 PM on January 16, 2009 [9 favorites]

I wish I could make this anonymous. Please memail me.
posted by desjardins at 6:49 PM on January 16, 2009

How can I get him to realize how important this is before I have to ditch him at the altar?

Tell him you won't even go to the altar without full financial disclosure. It is that important. If he will not disclose his financial state now, it will drive a wedge between the two of you at the very outset of your marriage: he won't trust you to still love him after he does disclose (even if this worry is unfounded), and you won't be able to trust him with combining finances until he discloses.

Moreover, you should be able to sit down with him, explain it to him like the posters here have, and expect a reasonably helpful response. If he's still not communicative, he isn't ready for marriage. At that point, you should look into relationship counseling before making that commitment.
posted by voltairemodern at 6:49 PM on January 16, 2009 [17 favorites]

Neither one of us make a lot of money but we get by okay

I hate to break it to you, but you do NOT get by okay - or at least he doesn't. He is deeply in debt, has no credit, and it appears he is not even paying his taxes. This indicates an extraordinary lack of financial responsibility and may even be criminal depending on his exact tax status.

Plainly he is quite embarrassed about this and I can't say I blame him, but this head in the sand approach is not going to cut it. AskMe is often quite harsh on relationship questions and you will probably get quite a chorus of people telling you to run, don't walk, away from this relationship. I know you're going to resist hearing stuff like that, so I'll just offer an analogy for you to do with what you please: your fiance is essentially like an alcoholic, only with debt/money instead of alcohol. I'm sure you know the destructiveness that alcoholism can cause, the way that people frequently hit "rock bottom" and take down a lot of people around them before they start to recover or even admit they have a problem.

So it is with this guy and his money issues - he is really on a bad path and he will wreck your life as well if you sign on for the ride. If you do stay with him, please make sure he gets his life in order BEFORE you are married and legally co-responsible for his financial affairs.
posted by rkent at 6:50 PM on January 16, 2009 [8 favorites]

(A lot of people will view this as harsh.) To me, not revealing financial information (especially when it involves debt!) before marriage is the same as not revealing a STD before marriage. His disease/debt will become your disease/debt, seriously affecting you for the rest of your life.

Couch it in those terms if he really doesn't get it. Though it also seems that pre-marriage personal counseling might be helpful for you guys if you're already not communicating huge, important things like this.
posted by meerkatty at 6:54 PM on January 16, 2009 [2 favorites]

I was feeling bad until I got to the part where you said he was 38 and then I groaned out loud. This is bad. This guy has not learned to live within his means and you want to be financially tied to him? You want his inability to budget, his his inability to face the facts to determine your future as well as his? Oh honey.

You both need to see a financial counselor. His finances sound like they are a nightmare which could rule out the chance of you ever buying a home or even a car. Please, you owe it to yourself to postpone the wedding and get everything straightened out first. I suggest that you talk to him as soon as possible and get everything out in the open. I would even suggest a background check because it is possible he may be hiding things. I know it sounds like the opposite of love, but protecting your future (and the future of any children you might have together) is vital.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 6:57 PM on January 16, 2009 [10 favorites]

I knew a woman married to her best friend who was a bit happy-go-lucky and who got in trouble with the tax department and in some credit card debt, and then he lost his job. The fall out very nearly broke them up. The stress had her anxious and depressed, and on medication and in therapy. I don't know that it was truly worth it to her to stay together, but they had kids, and you know how that goes.

I would tell him that without full financial disclosure, there's no wedding, because sure enough, without honesty, there's no real marriage.
posted by b33j at 7:04 PM on January 16, 2009

I just need to know where we stand financially as a couple so we can make a plan to get to where we need to be.

No, you need more than that. You need a partner who will agree with you about where you need to be, and work with you to get there. This guy is way far from either of those. This is just a terrible sign. I can't imagine moving ahead with wedding plans with something like this hanging over me.
posted by jon1270 at 7:05 PM on January 16, 2009 [6 favorites]

I'd reverse-engineer this. The operative emotion on his part is likely shame. He fears you will reject him if you know the truth. Ultimatums will result in a breakup because he is fighting to avoid feeling ashamed about this. Tell him the part about even if in debt for a million bucks you'd still be with him. He needs to hear it. Over and over again.
posted by Ironmouth at 7:05 PM on January 16, 2009 [3 favorites]

An astounding number of disagreements and fights in marriages revolve around finances and money. Right now you aren't fighting about it because he isn't telling you about it, but that isn't a good strategy for future happiness. You seem to already understand that this is a serious issue (the non-disclosure). You need to be straight with him about just how serious it potentially is.
posted by OmieWise at 7:07 PM on January 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

This is tough. If it's his tendency to see this as his own private affair now, it seems unlikely it will be much different after you get married. He already knows how important this is to you, and evidently he's pretty ashamed and/or paralyzed at how far he's let things slide. But at this point--especially now that he knows how much this worries you--this really shouldn't be about his feelings. As soon as you define the issue that way, it becomes your job to cajole, hint, beg, forgive, accept, reassure, etc. The bottom line is that YOU probably can't convince him to lay his cards on the table (In eight years, I don't think I've ever managed to convince my husband to do anything he doesn't want to do, but I have seen him negotiate or concede on things that clearly matter a lot to me; it's the difference between trying to "convince" and stating the terms of what you'll allow).

What you guys probably need to be doing is addressing your different expectations about financial openness in the relationship; I wonder if couples therapy might not be a bad idea. And THEN some kind of debt counseling?

I hate to be joyless, but something like this can (as I'm sure you've suspected) make married life... unpleasant. Just remember, it's not all up to you. At the risk of stereotyping, I think sometimes women can spend a lot of time coming up with strategies for how to make our partners realize/understand/see, when really what we should be doing is thinking long and hard about our own values-- and stating them really directly.
posted by cymru_j at 7:09 PM on January 16, 2009 [5 favorites], religion and children, those are the three things that two people must see absolutely eye to eye on in order to have a future together. You don't have the be in absolute agreement, but you need to have a plan on how you're going to handle your differences.

Believe me, I've been there. I loaned a significant amount of money to my boyfriend to help pay an overdue credit card and dealt with his general poverty. Now I'm married to that same guy and I know to the penny how much he has in savings and how much his last raise was. He keeps a monthly budget and has a Roth IRA. You know how that happened? First, he wanted to make the change, and second, we talked the shit out of it.

Everyone loses when one member of a long-term relationship can't help the other. The helper ends up powerless and in distress, and the helpee feels nagged and unable to dig him/herself out. Maybe he's really embarrassed or scared that if he contacts the IRS that it will be worse than he expected. Still, it's really troubling that he doesn't seem to trust you enough to even let you help him.

Plus, he's not just in trouble with the IRS; he has a terrible credit rating and stacks of unopened bills...and you think he's lying to you about it all. Lying, especially about something serious like finances, should be unacceptable in any adult relationship. You need to demand more accountability and some serious change from him or you're going to end up with a financial albatross around your neck. His stubborn, boneheaded decisions (or lack thereof) are going to make buying a house more difficult and you could end up responsible for his debt. Plus, should you marry, enormous debt hamstrings your future as well as his. It can put affording to have kids, going back to school or finally buying a non-junker car out of reach.

I was going to recommend taking a financial planning workshop like Financial Peace University (or a more secular equivalent), but this is way, way beyond that. You need counseling now. You need him to come clean now. He might need an accountant and a lawyer now.
posted by Alison at 7:09 PM on January 16, 2009 [4 favorites]

I have a friend who was married to someone like this -- great guy in certain ways who just couldn't be bothered to act like a grownup about his finances. When they eventually got divorced, she was on the hook for half of his IRS bill and he was entitled to half of the retirement funds she'd accumulated while they were married (because if he couldn't be bothered to pay his taxes for all those years, he certainly couldn't be bothered to contribute to his own 401k). Then he declared bankruptcy so he wouldn't have to pay any of his other debts, then he cashed out the money he got from her 401k and took his new girlfriend to Paris. Oh, and he fights about paying the child support, too.

In other words: there are major issues of honesty, trust, communication, and responsibility involved here -- the very qualities on which marriages rise or fall. They are not trumped by being sweet to the cat. These issues must be resolved, almost certainly with the help of a professional (if not multiple professionals), before you can walk down the aisle with a chance of having a healthy marriage.
posted by scody at 7:10 PM on January 16, 2009 [25 favorites]

Just ask him for the exact amount. It is your right to know if you are getting married. My fiance was 30,000 USD in debt when I met him and now, 4 years later, we financed a small business loan (we bought a bar in Europe) and have "excellent credit". When I first met him, he was denied living as a roommate in my apartment because of his low credit rating. Older debts count less and less towards your credit score as the years go by. Student loans won't fall off your credit report after 7 years like most debts but the payments should be pretty minimal.

Once both of you know exactly where you stand, you can begin making progress towards a better credit score. My fiance and I used Crown Jewelers and an Orchard Bank secured card to bump up our credit score by 30 points in less than 2 months.

If he owes student loans, they will take all of his possible tax refund until it is paid off. This is a good thing unless the two of you are counting on that money to pay other bills, in which case you are in bad shape.
posted by Ariadne at 7:14 PM on January 16, 2009

His behavior is frankly unacceptable (I might go so far as to say inexplicable) in a man planning to get married. The only thing making you wait until you are married to find out the details can possibly accomplish is to piss you off. Saying that he does not want you to have information about his finances is equivalent to him saying he doesn't want to get married, because once you're married he simply cannot keep that secret any longer.

Whoever is officiating at your wedding will almost certainly insist on counseling you well in advance, and this issue will come up then. You might want to get the ball rolling on that as soon as possible.

Do not marry him without full disclosure of everything. You cannot keep major secrets from your spouse. A marriage simply cannot work that way.
posted by kindall at 7:18 PM on January 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

He is treating your needs and feelings like he treats those letters from the IRS, i.e., as something to ignore in hopes that it will stop bugging him eventually.
posted by milarepa at 7:21 PM on January 16, 2009 [25 favorites]

I'd say you're not getting married in September unless this turns out being really minor debt which he's ashamed about for no reason. You likely need some prenuptial arraignments that prevent his debts from becoming your debt, especially if you find out his debt isn't student loans. Some prenup obviously doesn't substitute for knowing about his debts, but this might both protect you and let him feel independent about his debt.
posted by jeffburdges at 7:33 PM on January 16, 2009

If I were to play devil's advocate to everyone who has answered this question so far and say "no no, helping the cat is way more important! Love conquers all, you'll be fine" ... if I were to say that, how would that sound? There's your answer.
posted by eccnineten at 7:45 PM on January 16, 2009 [2 favorites]

Under NO CIRCUMSTANCES should you marry him, without full and verifiable disclosure.
posted by IAmBroom at 7:48 PM on January 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

What everyone's said, plus don't share checking and savings accounts with your fiance. In most states, the IRS can levy bank accounts for arrears even when the accounts are jointly held.
posted by terranova at 7:56 PM on January 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

You likely need some prenuptial arraignments that prevent his debts from becoming your debt

Depending on where you get married, what state adjudicates your prenup, and where you reside, you may not actually be able to do this.
posted by Netzapper at 8:19 PM on January 16, 2009

I will not marry you unless you are honest about your finances. Next Saturday, we are reviewing all of your and all of my bills. When our W-2's arrives we will create a budget.

Marriage is financial partnership as much as anything. You need to do your due diligence.
posted by 26.2 at 8:25 PM on January 16, 2009


If the man can't be honest about money, there are other things he is hiding. I've heard bazillions of times that statistics site financial issues as being the number one cause for divorce.

Not to mention that the government and creditors will be frothing at the mouth to get to you the second you say 'I do'. It will ruin your relationship, and any future you see for yourself, with, or without him.

He obviously cares for you a great deal, but can't get over himself and his money baggage. If you tell him you are done until he comes clean, he may rethink his present state of denial, especially if he understands that he will lose you.

If not, you dodged a bullet. Much easier said than done, but take care of yourself, okay?
posted by inquisitrix at 8:28 PM on January 16, 2009 [3 favorites]

Lots of good advice here, but scody absolutely nails it:

In other words: there are major issues of honesty, trust, communication, and responsibility involved here -- the very qualities on which marriages rise or fall. They are not trumped by being sweet to the cat. These issues must be resolved, almost certainly with the help of a professional (if not multiple professionals), before you can walk down the aisle with a chance of having a healthy marriage.

If I could favorite this a thousand times I would.
posted by Sublimity at 8:48 PM on January 16, 2009

This is a non-starter. Tell your fiancé as nicely as you can that there will be no moving forward with wedding planning until the financial stuff is out of the way. Actually, I would recommend that you postpone the wedding. I would want to first figure out what the financial stituation is, work out a plan to improve it, and then have a full year of both of us sticking to a agreed-upon budget behind me before I started planning any wedding.

If he won't agree to this kind of thing now, he never will, so don't rush into a legal committment.
posted by orange swan at 8:51 PM on January 16, 2009

Neither one of us make a lot of money but we get by okay and are generally quite happy.

You don't get by okay. Your future husband has a mountain of debt that he is hiding from you.

His other redeeming qualities completely aside you are essentially walking into a financial trap and he refuses to tell you how much it will hurt when you do. On top of that, I'm pretty sure any reasonable person would take his deceptiveness/unwillingness to deal with financial issues as huge flags regarding other problems.
posted by JFitzpatrick at 8:57 PM on January 16, 2009

Oh honey, don't marry this guy. I already married him and it didn't turn out well. It's charming and all when you're dating to have this carefree lifestyle and not worry about stupid things like debts but then when you actually get married it turns out that you owe that money too all of a sudden. And then when he gets mad and runs up a nice bill on the joint credit card because why not, you only live once and etc? Yeah, it took me YEARS to claw my way out from under his financial issues.

He's 38. He is not going to change. You, on the other hand, still can. And if you love him madly, awesome, live together forever happily and keep your money nice and separate from his, because if you marry him, there's no escape, you are taking on his debt and habits. It is not going to be good.
posted by mygothlaundry at 9:06 PM on January 16, 2009 [6 favorites]

I don't want to get into it, but I've been in a very similar situation. You can't marry him with his finances in this situation; as everyone else is saying, his finances become yours. Legally, marriage is like practically forming a two-person corporation.

I can say that Debtor's Anonymous really helped my guy, at least for a while, which is more than I can say for the many ways I tried to help and advise him (I've never been in debt and have always lived within my means). I'd strongly recommend he start attending meetings; it may seem a less scary step than therapy. Besides being able to talk with people who were similarly troubled, the group was great for sharing tips and resources such as credit counseling services, etc.
posted by chowflap at 9:23 PM on January 16, 2009

What's the difference, really, between what you are now and being married? You can already live with the guy, have kids, and whatnot. You can declare your eternal love from the mountaintops. So, really, getting married in the legal sense essentially boils down to a financial union. You are forming a small company. You would never even think about forming a company with someone where you had no idea of any of their financial details, so how does this step even make any sense?
posted by kosmonaut at 9:32 PM on January 16, 2009 [2 favorites]

If you two are talking marriage, you should be talking finances too. Tell him like it is- simple as that. (And do not do anything you are not comfortable with. Period.)
posted by xm at 9:36 PM on January 16, 2009

Besides agreeing with EVERYONE above, let me put it another way:

His ego is more important to him than his love for you is. He knows that this is important to you. He essentially doesn't care. His own feelings of shame/masculinity/whatever are higher priority than you, your relationship, your feelings, your marriage, your future.

If God forbid he should lose his job, will he tell you? Or will he hide it as long as possible, preferring to avoid embarrassment while you and your children walk blindly toward a cliff?
posted by thebazilist at 9:40 PM on January 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

A little sympathy, please: it is really hard to fall in love with someone who otherwise seems great, and then to run smack into a big ol' dealbreaker like this one. So while I agree with the consensus here -- you can't marry him, at least not yet -- this isn't necessarily irreparable.

You're going to need a couples counselor to deal with the emotional piece -- i.e. getting him to open up about his finances -- and I'd recommend asking around for referrals and seeing if you can find someone who takes your insurance. My and my SO had a great couples counselor once. How'd we know she was great? I'd walk out of there thinking, "She was so totally on my side," only to have the SO say, "I really felt like she got what I was saying."

Then you're going to need help sorting out the finances, and you're not going to want to pay a lot for it. Maybe start with the Garrett Planning Network -- they specialize in financial plans (i.e. budgets, debt management, saving, etc, as opposed to investments, though they do that too), and you pay them by the hour.

Good luck.
posted by janet lynn at 9:42 PM on January 16, 2009

Oh dear. this is why people get divorced. please try to make him come clean about everything, even if you have to issue an ultimatum. good luck- you sound like a great couple.
posted by emd3737 at 9:47 PM on January 16, 2009

You're not getting married in September, you're getting married in September if he comes clean. You should probably point that out to him.
posted by Benjy at 9:58 PM on January 16, 2009

there are major issues of honesty, trust, communication, and responsibility involved here -- the very qualities on which marriages rise or fall.


While settling my mom's estate, I found bag after bag of old bills dating from the several years in my childhood when the tension in our house was thick enough to make me afraid. Mom was scrambling to keep our family out of bankruptcy due to my dad's financial irresponsibility. Just reading bill after bill saying "$1437.91 [or whatever] due [6 months previously, or whatever, but always a very much past due date]," and in Mom's handwriting, "$100 paid Nov. 23/81; $150 paid Jan. 4/82" etc., made my heart thump and my breath come short. It must have been nightmare for her.

Not incidentally, before they married, there were warning signs such as his having borrowed money from her for long-outstanding bills. She found out later that he used the money to pay for gifts for relatives. Just today I was telling somebody about the great things she could have accomplished with her abilities and talents, if only she hadn't had to pour all that energy into making up for Dad's denial about his financial habits.

I don't want to lose an otherwise great relationship because of this

Money problems can seriously, fatally corrode the rest of an otherwise good relationship. There's lots of great advice above. Please protect your financial and emotional health first. (And potentially physical, too, really, come to think of Mom's insomnia due to fretting at night over how to pay the bills and feed us.) Marriage is enough of a leap of faith as it is.

Nobody's linked Get Rich Slowly (by Mefi's own JD Roth) yet? He's got several posts in the archives dealing with couplehood + finances, and he's written lots about his own journey from serious debt to a comfortable bank account balance.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 10:00 PM on January 16, 2009 [9 favorites]

Having been in the bottom of a hole, I sympathize with him how hard it can be to be up-front about things, but even if you marry in a state that doesn't make his debt yours* this is CURRENT reckless behavior. It's possible you haven't necessarily approached the subject in the most delicate manner you could have. Doesn't matter.

It's easy to be cold-blooded about this from my own each chair, and from here I'm inclined to agree with the people above and say run. This is scary shit, both in what may already be around his neck and what it says about what he might get into once you're married.

It's harder for you, of course, and if you really want to salvage things I think you should definitely put the wedding on hold and insist on some joint counseling. No matter what you want to hang this one - his shame, your approach, how you draw your financial boundaries - it doesn't really matter other than that you two need to find a way to communicate about the important life behaviors that are going to impact you once you're a unit. The current way is not working and that has nothing to do with what he does or doesn't owe.

* Really not the major point, but I am not as confident as some here are that you will find it to be that way in many or any states - debts incurred -in- the marriage may be shared but what you come in with may not become your headache once you marry. However even if that's true you don't really want to have to unwind that thread.
posted by phearlez at 10:16 PM on January 16, 2009

This needs to be about more than just him telling you a number. He has already shown, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that he is unreliable when it comes to money and will lie or hide things from you.

So listen to him the first time he gives you a number. Don't believe it though until you see actual, real proof of the debt.

His debt will not only become yours, but you could go to prison if he defrauds the IRS.
posted by yellowcandy at 10:22 PM on January 16, 2009

Some things are dealbreakers. This level of financial irresponsibility is certainly one. If you marry this person, his financial irresponsibility taints your credit and your future joint financial affairs. I would flee from the relationship you describe.
posted by ikkyu2 at 10:31 PM on January 16, 2009

Marriage is (largely) a financial obligation. By marrying someone, you meld your "house" with theirs - that means that your debt is theirs and vice versa. By refusing to reveal his financial situation, your fiance is displaying what is probably his biggest flaw, avoidance. He avoided his financial responsibilities, and now he is avoiding the highly necessary conversation that will let you know what type of financial situation you are entering into. You really need to make sure that his situation is in order before you tie the knot.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 10:46 PM on January 16, 2009

If he had a incurable or chronic disease you'd absolutely want to know about it. Financial reasons cause more problems in marriages than almost anything else. Demand absolute honesty and openness about this (from him and yourself.)
posted by ruwan at 10:55 PM on January 16, 2009

Honestly, just... don't. Really. There's a reason that divorces and abuse spike around Christmas, and it's money. And once you're married, you're on the hook for life.
posted by rodgerd at 11:28 PM on January 16, 2009

I'm not going to love him less if he's a million dollars in debt and has a credit rating of zero. I just need to know where we stand financially as a couple so we can make a plan to get to where we need to be.
No, this is not completely true. You need two things: you need honest financial disclosure but you also need him to be willing to cooperate with any plan to get out of debt. I don't believe that this debt is just a one time mistake with the IRS - I think this represents a pattern of financial irresponsiblity.

This is the difference between marrying a former addict who has been in recovery and marrying one is still using (and trying to hide his use from you.) Just disclosing isn't enough - he has to really want to change. You are like the recovered addict, you know how bad it was and you are working hard to create the financially stability that will let you have the future that you want for yourself. It will be very hard to stay in love with a man who is constantly undermining your efforts to give your family a nice life by living within budget and saving for the future. This will get even worse when you have to deprive your children because of his financial irresponsibility.

My advice - don't get married until he has demonstrated on-going financial responsiblity. Just disclosing is only a first step - he needs to prove he can follow through or you should refuse to mingle your money. You can stay engaged, you live together all you want but don't set a date until he has demonstrated his ability to be a reliable partner.
posted by metahawk at 11:40 PM on January 16, 2009 [5 favorites]

He's not ready to get married yet. Until he can approach this like an adult, he's not ready.
posted by batmonkey at 11:44 PM on January 16, 2009 [3 favorites]

Once you get married, you are jointly and severally liable for all taxes owed. What does that mean? It means that the IRS can come after you for all tax liabilities during the marriage.

Just something else to think about....
posted by bananafish at 11:45 PM on January 16, 2009

The most important financial decision you will ever make in your life is the decision of who you are going to marry.

This exact same thing happened with me and my wife -- I was the bad husband who didn't come clean about the finances until after the wedding.

Big mistake. BIG mistake. Turns out on top of all of the normal bad state my finances were in, I made a couple of mistakes and wound up defaulting on a student loan -- the week after we got back from the honeymoon. You do know if he defaults on those student loans they turn it over to a debt collector and then ask for it all at once? With penalties? And interest? It all would have been avoided if I would have come clean the summer before, because she would have spotted it in an instant.

And the IRS? Really? I have a friend with IRS troubles, and he decided to go on the run, about 15 or 20 years ago. I have not seen him in years; he calls me I don't call him; he cannot get a drivers license or hold a regular job. I'm not even sure what state he's living in. His girlfriend is dying of cancer with horrible tumors and spitting up blood and he can't take her to the hospital because *she's* in trouble with the IRS too. At least, this is what he told me last time we talked -- I personally can't imagine being in so much trouble with the IRS that I wouldn't go to the hospital if I was coughing up blood. I suspect it's now beyond problems with the IRS. Even so, it's problems with the IRS that got him into this mess.

Look, if your fiancee is avoiding you about these bills it's not a point of pride, it's a point of shame. He's ashamed about the state he's in and the more you hammer on him the more he's going to want to curl up in his little ball and forget about it all.

You can't let him do that. He might not be a total slimeball, you see something good in him, and you have until September. Tell him I told him to tell you everything. Tell him you're very concerned about his finances, and although you love him very much you cannot marry him until you open all that unopened mail and account for every last dime that he owes. (When my wife finally went through my stack of unopened mail and bills she cried for weeks.)

Don't threaten. Don't punish. Just state your feelings, ("I'm confused, I'm hurt that you don't trust me," whatever YOUR feelings are) and then sum up the situation, and tell him the consequences. "If you can't spend a couple of days or weeks or however long it takes to straighten out your financial mess with me by the end of February, we can't get married. I'm not angry at you, I'm not upset, I'm just telling you what's going to happen." I'd set a deadline of the end of February at the latest, because you need to see if he can maintain that transparency and openness with you. And then stick to your guns and start canceling the hall, the caterer, the flowers, etc. once the deadline is past. Do NOT extend the deadline, and make it clear that it will not be extended. Seriously, if you say the deadline is February 28th, start calling it all off on March 1st. But don't nag him about it, just make it perfectly clear once, maybe twice, maybe give him a warning a couple days before. But then do it.

I don't quite have enough data to see whether or not he's deeply ashamed or a total slimeball. I'm assuming he's not a total slime ball here. If he starts acting skeezy and doesn't come clean once you make it clear you're serious, or gets angry or abusive or he gets this nasty petty streak in him that you've never seen before, or whatever sets off your creep alarms, then you need to heed your creep alarms and GTFO. If he crawls under the bed and starts mewling in a little ball then he's probably just ashamed and maybe there's some hope.

You still need all of the advice you can get, and probably need professional financial assistance. And he probably needs professional counseling (and I don't mean debt counseling) to deal with some of his shame issues, although what do I know I'm just some guy on the internet. I don't have the foggiest idea of how to tactfully broach that subject, or if it should even be broached at all.

I'm also going to second, and third, and fourth all of those folks up there who pointed out that getting to the bottom of the debt and figuring out what he owes is the FIRST step not your final destination. The only thing that worked for my wife and I was for me to sign over my paychecks, and let her handle the money. I got a small spending allowance (20 bucks a week, and that's it), and NO CREDIT CARDS. She didn't even let me write a check for the first year or so, and it was several years before she (mostly) trusted me. She still gets nervous when I pull out the checkbook, although now it's mostly because I tend to forget how much I write the checks for and don't always write them down in a timely manner.

Was this easy for me? Hell no. I chafed, I fought, I put it off, I longed for little luxuries and big ones, I constantly put pressure on her to give me more money or to use the joint account to buy things that were mostly for me. I snuck money out of our "misc." budget without telling her what I used it for; I skimmed money from the gas budget by not quite filling it up and pocketing the difference. I obsessively collected every scrap of loose change. Eventually I realized that HER financial goals needed to be MY financial goals. You need to ask yourself if you are willing and able to be the strong one here, if you are willing to say "no" the seventy-fifth time he asks for a new blu-ray player or 42 inch tv or fly fishing rod, or whatever.

At any rate, until he pulls his head out of the sand and owns up to the position he's in he's going to be a fool. And if you put your head in the sand and marry him before he owns up you're a bigger fool than he is.
posted by the_W at 12:47 AM on January 17, 2009 [188 favorites]

Marriage, when it comes right down to it, is a business deal. You can't make a business deal with someone like this. Unless he cleans up his act, why not just live together.
posted by hazyjane at 12:53 AM on January 17, 2009 [2 favorites]

Be prepared to hang it up. I have a great marriage, and money remains the most stressful thing, and that's with us both being up-front and honest about funding (for instance, before we got engaged she volunteered a breakdown of all her debt, which I then started paying off, and we finished paying it off a few years into our marriage.)

Going in without him being honest, though? That's a really huge red flag not because of the reasons most folks are saying (although they're good reasons, and true reasons) but because he deals with his problems by hiding from them. His financial problems likely started out small, and now they've snowballed out of control. What happens if your marriage starts having problems? Likely he'll ignore the issues until they snowball. What happens if there's a problem with your kids? Likely he'll ignore the issues until they snowball.

This man may make you happy, but he's unlikely to be a strong partner in plowing through the troubles and trials that every marriage and every family experience, considering he can't even take care of himself. I'd hate to see you become his mom, but that's what you're opening yourself up for, except that instead of nagging him to take out the garbage you'll be nagging him to help keep you out of bankruptcy (and worse.)
posted by davejay at 1:28 AM on January 17, 2009 [5 favorites]

the_W, you are a strong man. Congratulations for overcoming the shame you must have felt.

I knew my husband as a friend for nine months before things turned romantic. One of the early things he told me after we surfaced from our first kiss was that he was a bankrupt (due to poor accounting and not opening his mail...). Two years later when we decided to marry I set the wedding date for the day after his bankruptcy expired. I did not want to marry a bankrupt. Later we went on to have successful business together but he was always a bit loose with cash. I did the books so I could see where the cash was going. When we both began university in our 30s/40s, our income was minuscule. I presented our options to him in a spreadsheet and asked for the financial reins. I gave him pocket money (more than I gave myself because he smoked more) and became the financial gatekeeper (we are having pasta not steak tonight, dear. No, you can't fly to Melbourne for the grand final but I'll budget for an extra $20 so you can watch the match at the pub with drinks). Sometimes he balked, but mostly he loved knowing the bills were paid on time and that we were not in debt ($1 in the bank the day before payday and no debts was a win for us then). Being the financial decision maker was hard, but in exchange I compromised other areas and let him make decisions for us both.

Anonymous, you can not marry this man before you know the ins and outs, upsides and downs of his financial situation. As others have said, marriage is a financial decision as much as a romantic one. Sorry, but that is the reality.

However, in some places, married people can have financial separations where each spouse is documented as being legally responsible for their own assets/debt. You may want to look into this option in your state.
posted by Kerasia at 1:40 AM on January 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

the_W, your post (and wife, and moral fiber) flagged as fantastic.

anon, if you skip every other comment, read that one.
posted by ottereroticist at 2:48 AM on January 17, 2009

what's the big rush to get married anyway? it's just a title...unless one of you has some amazing health benefits that the other needs...i say remain separate, or risk being REALLY screwed, screwing your future children, and living a life on the lam. he may be able to ignore the calls, threats, and emails...but once your name is on those bills (and marriage will make that so), they'll start calling YOU and ruining YOUR life!

you might want to get married 'cause you feel it's the mature and right thing to do, but seriously, if someone asks "why aren't you married yet?" answering "FINANCES!" is a totally legit and mature reason. best of luck!
posted by citystalk at 3:38 AM on January 17, 2009

Do not marry this man. Unless he can do what the_W did, and prove to you that he can keep it up. But frankly I don't think that's likely. Addicts almost always relapse, and this guy is an addict. He's addicted to debt and financial chaos rather than drugs, but the end result for you will be the same. I know it's painful to think about, but try to imagine what your life will be like in 10, 20, 30 years if you marry him on the basis of promises and/or hope and he doesn't change. That starry-eyed feeling you have now will be a distant memory, and your life will be in such a shambles you won't know how to go on. Please think very seriously before taking that step.
posted by languagehat at 6:43 AM on January 17, 2009 [2 favorites]

I suspect he's not coming clean with you because he's not coming clean with himself about his debt, and the big reason is fear. I hid from the IRS for a while because I was terrified of how much I owed. And it's a lot. But it was just growing because I wasn't addressing it. I didn't make much money, so there wasn't much I could do about it, or, at least, that's what I thought.

Believe it or not, the IRS only plays hardball when you don't pay. Once you contact them, they're your best friend. They will set up a payment play based on how much you make, and then your (or, at least, your potential husband's debt) debt starts falling, rather than rising.

Until your potential husband addresses these things, though, they are going to go after him as hard as they can. And, once you are married, they'll go after you. They'll seize assets. They'll levy everything you own, so you cannot make a significant purchase or sale. Want to buy a house? Out of the question. Got a car you want to sell? Nope. And the levy won't be lifted until the debt is paid.

If you're willing to help him through this, more power to you. But until he actually faces his fears and finds out exactly what he owes, all he is doing is dragging you into a nightmare.
posted by Astro Zombie at 8:30 AM on January 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

I think a lot of us were married to the same guy!

Please, for the love of Pete, do not marry this guy. A counselor is the very least of what you need, but I agree with those who say this a trust issue and he comes up way too short.

Do not comingle your finances or make a contract (marriage) with this man. He may be lovely in all sorts of ways and no doubt he loves you, but this is a big, big red flag.

languagehat is right about the addiction thing.
posted by pointystick at 8:44 AM on January 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

Believe it or not, the IRS only plays hardball when you don't pay. Once you contact them, they're your best friend. They will set up a payment play based on how much you make, and then your (or, at least, your potential husband's debt) debt starts falling, rather than rising.

This is absolutely true.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 9:56 AM on January 17, 2009

I just had to hide my car from the repo man for a week and beg money off my grandparents to save my car. I stuck my head in the sand because I didn't have the money and didn't want to deal with it. Last year I did the same thing with some credit cards.
And do you know what I found out? If you TALK to your creditors, they're usually willing to offer some sort of plan or compromise to help you out. Getting some money from you is preferable to getting nothing at all. Once I came clean about my financial situation to my credit card people, they dropped my interest rate drastically and gave me a set amount to pay each month. I put that payment on auto-pay, and it's been on time every month. Same with my car people--even though the car was in repo, the woman I spoke to let me put off one of the late payments until the end of this month so that I could manage to pay most of what was due. No one yelled at me or tried to make me feel like shit, like I thought they would.
I agree with everyone above about not going forward with the marriage until he is honest with you, but maybe he doesn't realise that his creditors will work with them IF he calls them and faces his problems.
posted by catwoman429 at 11:39 AM on January 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

Once you're married, the IRS and the banks and credit card companies see you as the same person. I paid the $23 grand husband owed, you see, because once you're married, it's your debt, too. The next year, after our divorce was finalized, I paid the 5 grand he owed the IRS, even though we were divorced, because hey! He failed declare reimbursement checks for work travel to the tune of 15 grand the we separated and then divorced! It wasn't even my mistake, and we weren't even living together, but does the government care? NO.

Awesome, huh? Even after consulting a lawyer, I was screwed. You ready to eat all his debt, however much it is? It could be a hell of a lot more than I paid. The IRS compounds interest by the day, too. Just letting you know.

Oh, and by the way... we NEVER shared a bank account or credit card. Ever. I never even saw his paychecks. I never knew which credit cards he had, or what have you. BECAUSE I TRUSTED HIM.

If he lies about money, he'll lie about other things. Marriage is a contract based on honesty, love and mutual respect. If he's hiding things from you, you're screwed. Sorry to be blunt. I thought because I kept my accounts, savings, 401k, credit cards, EVERYTHING separate -- even our mortgage was in only one of our names -- I was protected. I was dead wrong.

The IRS even acknowledged that the debt was 100% from my husband's documents. And they 100% went after me for it, because he was currently unemployed. I managed to pay it but they were going to dock my paychecks. Just know that the federal government isn't going to give two shits about a pre-nup or who did what when. Married = same person, to them. The only way around it is for you to file Innocent Spouse, which is incredibly difficult to prove (i.e., he held a gun to your head and made you sign the tax return against your will type of stuff). You literally have to show abuse and so forth to remove your responsibility...

DO NOT MARRY HIM. You can try couples counseling, though. If he won't come clean and work through these trust issues, I don't care if he is the best thing you've ever experienced in your life. You can't marry somebody you don't even know... and right now he's just a smokescreen. He might even be hoping to use you to get out of some of this financial mess. Is that what you want? Is it worth it?

I sure would like my life savings back. I barely got out with my freedom. Don't be me.
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 1:04 PM on January 17, 2009 [18 favorites]

If God forbid he should lose his job, will he tell you? Or will he hide it as long as possible, preferring to avoid embarrassment while you and your children walk blindly toward a cliff?

Maybe he will do something like this guy did?
posted by jayder at 3:26 PM on January 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

And the IRS? Really? I have a friend with IRS troubles, and he decided to go on the run, about 15 or 20 years ago. I have not seen him in years; he calls me I don't call him; he cannot get a drivers license or hold a regular job. I'm not even sure what state he's living in. His girlfriend is dying of cancer with horrible tumors and spitting up blood and he can't take her to the hospital because *she's* in trouble with the IRS too. At least, this is what he told me last time we talked -- I personally can't imagine being in so much trouble with the IRS that I wouldn't go to the hospital if I was coughing up blood. I suspect it's now beyond problems with the IRS. Even so, it's problems with the IRS that got him into this mess.

What's really sad about the_w's friend's situation is that the moron probably went "on the run" for something for which the IRS would routinely set up a payment plan and send you on your way. Some excitable people have such a sense of drama that they flee from offenses that are no big deal and would be routinely worked out if they weren't so fucking stupid and love feeling like a badass fugitive.

As for anonymous's fiance, if he reads this post, is that his problems are common, understandable, and solvable, but due to his massive ego he is about to destroy his relationship with a loving woman. Sad.
posted by jayder at 3:32 PM on January 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

You need to talk to a lawyer. Take someone with you that you trust, like a parent, or best friend. Tell the lawyer everything. Listen to what he/she says and then do it. You can ask at what point it would make sense to marry this man if you want - like if he does X, Y and Z, then you can get married.

Sorry, this guy sounds like he is very nice in many ways, but him not disclosing is not good. Him not willing to disclose is just plain scary. And ultimately he does not have your best interests at heart or he would let you know what is going on and let you decide what you want to do. Yes, he is scared that you are going to leave and all that, but he shouldn't keep you in the dark. You know that in your heart, or you would not have asked on here.

wife of 445supermag
posted by 445supermag at 5:31 PM on January 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

Believe that he has a huge amount of debt, and that his credit is completely shot. Assume that he just has no sense at all when it comes to money. Then see a good accountant; tell him/her you're going to marry the guy, and you need to know how to protect your own credit rating, and your present and future assets. There are ways to do this. I know two couples who, financially, are like you and your fiance. I haven't asked specifics, but each couple has a prenup, and each keeps their money separate.

Maybe your man is financially impulsive or a dreamer or just disorganized. The two of you don't have to be alike, but you do have to have a plan.

I don't know how you can get him to be open about his money, but somehow, he needs to find a way to tell you what's going on. Maybe you and he can go to a therapist, or he can go himself.
posted by wryly at 6:48 PM on January 17, 2009

I married the same guy, but I did 1 smart thing. I wanted to know my responsibility for his debt. I had some assets, not a lot, but I didn't want to lose my business to pay off his dept. We saw a lawyer. He had us do full financial disclosure, and he explained the legal nature of marriage and marital in our state. It was really helpful to have that understanding when we got married, and to be honest, it was really helpful to have that understanding when we got divorced.

Your boyfriend has to learn to share his finances with you, and you both have to come to an agreement about how you'll deal with money. Good luck.
posted by theora55 at 7:41 PM on January 17, 2009

For online resources, Debt Proof Living is pretty good. They have forums and online calculators that make things add up the way they need to.

It could be a way for him to get to know other reformed spenders and learn what type of spender/saver he is.

It can help you, too. Don't to into this thinking you're the more responsible one. We all have things to learn.
posted by lysdexic at 10:11 PM on January 17, 2009

I did not marry this man; but I was the daughter of this man. I cannot tell you the money-related anxiety, fear, anger and despair that clouded my family home. It became much worse when my father lost his job when I was about 11. There were three mortgages on the house, and no money for much of anything-- certainly not for allowances, or clothes, or any other things which seemed so important to my teenage self. There were fights, and horrible tense conversations behind closed doors and my mother running out of the house in tears and strange, intrusive phone calls. I grew up wishing I could be anywhere else other than home, most of the time; my parents were so involved with all this-- my mother working all hours, my father taking jobs here and there which never lasted long-- that our family life fell apart. I couldn't approach them with any of my adolescent problems because their own burdens were overwhelming, and so I felt utterly alone. My father was charming and engaging, but my mother had to carry him the whole way. One effect of this was that I drastically lowered my expectations of the men which I became involved with when I was older.

When my parents finally sold the house (the taxes hadn't been paid for years, and the place was sadly neglected, the beautiful garden gone to ruin, and so on) and bought another one in a less expensive area and were finally close to debt free, my father took out a massive loan using the house as collateral, without telling my mother. The betrayal was an awful one. They stayed together, as she felt responsible for him.

Don't let your children grow up with this kind of fear and uncertainty.
posted by jokeefe at 10:20 PM on January 17, 2009 [11 favorites]

The most important financial decision you will ever make in your life is the decision of who you are going to marry.

You can marry more money in five minutes than you can make in a lifetime.
posted by caddis at 6:06 AM on January 18, 2009

Over 25 years ago I married this man. Ten years ago, we divorced as a result of his debt addiction (that is what it is) and I have still not completely crawled out from under the terrible financial, legal, emotional legacy of his ... no, OUR life of denial. I still wake up every single morning worried about my future.

Postpone the wedding -- nthing the advice to get serious counseling and do not proceed until a year of transparency and integrated recovery is absolutely documentable and you have a strict plan for going forward, with a professional financial advisor managing whatever you've got and ongoing therapy. Remember, a debt addict can't function in the world without exposure to money, and it's the drug.

the_W, I admire you and wish I had been as strong as your wife was. jokeefe, my own daughters could have written your post, it hurts my heart.
posted by thinkpiece at 10:21 AM on January 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

Yes, if not for yourself, please, please, please, oh God, for your future children if you're going to have them. Do not marry him until you both have straightened this out. Ditto with the father who flirted with this problem. I sat at the dining room table and watched him send unsigned checks to creditors to buy himself time to pay. This was hell on my parent's marriage and hell on us. I wish I could have had a childhood where I felt safe from all of this. I did not and, to this day, I have not forgotten the fear.
posted by jeanmari at 11:42 AM on January 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

He sounds untrustworthy and it will only get worse. I'd see a therapist privately first (rather than go through couples' counseling) and try to sort this out.

You want to protect yourself monetarily, emotionally, legally, etc. So take care of you, figure out if this is a risk you are willing to take, figure out if this is the kind of person you want to marry and go from there.

It's a decision you have to come to terms with yourself and while I'm all for the hivemind and consulting friends, I think you'd benefit more from professional help, especially for something this big.

I just see couples' counseling turning into a thing where your fiance divulges a bit, says he'll work on it and continues to go back to it and eventually stops going to counseling with you.

He probably loves you, he just loves whatever it is he's keeping from you more.
posted by HolyWood at 12:43 PM on January 18, 2009

What's really sad about the_w's friend's situation is that the moron probably went "on the run" for something for which the IRS would routinely set up a payment plan and send you on your way.

Yeah, this. If you really can't pay your tax obligations, you can make what's called an "offer in compromise" and cut the bill by a whole lot -- if the IRS concurs that the full amount of tax you owe is uncollectible. Of course, if you are about to marry a guy with IRS problems, he should get this taken care of before you marry him, because with your income in the picture, they can collect a whole lot more. Yet another reason to be wary.
posted by kindall at 12:06 AM on January 19, 2009

It might be debt addiction or worse, but it might also just be hiding from the monster under the bed. I know some people who unreasonably got afraid of finances in general or their taxes in particular, hid from them, and then found out the situation was not bad at all. (Details available by Mefi Mail.)

So, I ditto Ironmouth. What's going on here is likely just fear, avoidance, and shame. "Tell him the part about even if in debt for a million bucks you'd still be with him...Over and over again." Also tell him, "this stuff is not that bad," and "you can get this cleaned up" and "we can figure this out together." Tell him your own financial redemption story, including the times when you were frightened or thought things were hopeless. Tell him you want to help him. Tell him there are professionals who exist to handle this stuff for people; a majority of self-employed people find taxes too complicated to handle on their own. Help him break things into little steps (not: "have you paid your taxes?" but "why don't you call Mary to ask the name of her tax accountant?"). Help him do the small things that reduce anxiety enough to face the bigger questions (e.g., set up auto bill pay). Unless you think it's pointless, I'd support him in cleaning up his own finances rather than insisting that he turn everything over to you to handle (not that I hear you saying that). He might have a serious problem, but he might just need some hand-holding to stop avoiding this issue, and facing it might reveal that it's not as bad as he fears.
posted by salvia at 5:16 PM on January 19, 2009

This is why I believe in AskMetafilter. You, dear poster are about to make the biggest mistake of your life. You may not even realize it until the reality bubble bursts several years from now, but you will certainly remember it for the rest of your life. As you stand on the brink of making the decisions that will lead to financial ruin (and everything else is 10x harder when this happens, no), this community has come to you with insightful and heartfelt admonitions based on their own personal experiences with this very same issue. Please measure your love for this man with the kind of future will likely bring you if he (and you) don't make fundamental changes in your relationship.
posted by mrmojoflying at 6:37 AM on January 20, 2009

Lots of good advice above. Since you have asked him nicely and he has lied in the past I feel you would be morally justified in going into his stack of unopened bills and opening a few to give yourself peace of mind about exactly how much he owes. I have known some people that are so afraid of ANY debt that they won't even deal with debts of only a few hundred dollars. Yes, obviously it would be best if he told you himself but giving yourself peace of mind about how big the problem is may help you. If you are determined to go ahead with this relationship then you can take a good look at what he owes to the majors (student loan debt and the IRS) and then look at the minor debts he has such as credit cards (the fact that you don't mention it indicates either he has never gotten into credit card debt or more likely has been written off as a bed debt by all of them so he can't get a card). Would he allow you to take control of ALL finances? Including putting a credit alert on his file so he can't open any lines of credit without you knowing (the credit alert would need to be for your work contact so he couldn't tamper with it). Are you okay with being solely in charge of finances? That means you are the one who will be blamed if he can't get $big ticket item. I feel for you. I hope the answers here have given you lots to think about and feel free to mefimail me if you want my personal experience.
posted by saucysault at 7:41 AM on January 20, 2009

Since you have asked him nicely and he has lied in the past I feel you would be morally justified in going into his stack of unopened bills and opening a few to give yourself peace of mind about exactly how much he owes.

My grod in heaven, don't do this or anything like it - including credit alerts or any other kind of snooping unless it's with his full and informed consent.

You have to be able to trust your partner. Someone who is determined to deceive you can find ways to do it, so if you can only be okay by sneaking and peeking then you can never be okay.

That's the real problem here: the lack of forthright communication and disclosure from him, not his debt or shame. Even if you could puzzle out his situation without his help, he's still be a person unwilling to grit his teeth and do something hard for the sake of your relationship.
posted by phearlez at 11:00 AM on January 20, 2009

I love this post, I love the advice given above, but I can't help but feel like I've just watched the first 45 minutes of a 90 minute movie, and the projector just broke.

I want to know how it ends!
Does she marry him? Does she give him the ultimatum? Does he come clean? Just how much debt was he in?

And I may never know.

I wish you the best. Really, really read all the above and take the advice to heart, because it's given from the heart.
posted by willmize at 11:54 AM on January 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

I did not realize before I got married how much of our married relationship would be tied into money: how we make it, how we split it up once we make it, and what we agree to do with it once it's made. The folks above aren't lying to you about how important money is. When I fell in love, I honestly thought that sort of thinking was silly, because, you know, it's love. You know, a soulmate, someone who really gets you, who meshes up with you in feelings and emotions etc. Against all of that, money seemed sort of trivial. Once you're married, though, you realize how your finances are completely tied together, and money affects so many decisions you make every day. Please don't underestimate how important this whole money thing is to your future together. Not being on the same page here will break down the emotional bond that you do have here really, really quickly.
posted by onlyconnect at 6:59 PM on January 20, 2009 [4 favorites]

The pain of financial stress does not end for the children when they leave home. It becomes a background issue that haunts their relationships and feelings about trust, security and attitudes towards money and responsibility. It haunts with thoughts of what happens to the elderly parents in financial stress, financial stress created and exacerbated by dishonesty.

I was not sure if I should respond because this is so personal. I can tell you this, the financial stress I experienced as a child affected my choices, beliefs and aspirations. It made me smaller souled. I hope you consider this before committing to a life with a person who is dishonest about their finances; in denial of financial problems and passively selfish to those around him.

Mefi mail me if you want to hear more, but it is a sad story of a small souled girl.
posted by jadepearl at 6:40 AM on January 21, 2009 [3 favorites]

"I'm not going to love him less if he's a million dollars in debt and has a credit rating of zero. I just need to know where we stand financially as a couple so we can make a plan to get to where we need to be."

That is really understanding of you... I recommend a real financial advisor - they kid you have to pay for... and establish a relationship with. They act as kind of a financial counselor of sorts. My husband and I got one through Ameriprise Financial and have been really pleased because it just opened the door of communication. You should not tie yourself lawfully until you do know more because his debt WILL be your debt. If you end up having kiddos with this guy, you are then bringing in another being to the possible debt and stress that brings. Marriage is hard enough as it is - but to go into it knowing that he is hiding finances, the number one cause of all marriage fights and divorces, would be setting you both up for complete failure. Trust your gut and don't be afraid to be bold - you must ask for what you deserve and trust if he is the guy for you, he will rise up... no one strives to meet LOW expectations... keep your expectations high. They ARE reasonable.
posted by Mrs. Much-too-Busy at 11:08 AM on March 15, 2009

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