MONEY home buying

Buying a House Together Before Marriage? Read This First

house keys in a ring box
iStock

Love may be blind, but don't go into a real estate purchase with your eyes closed.

Serious young couples used to mark their commitment to each other with an engagement ring, but now they’re in the market for a bigger asset: a set of shiny new house keys.

One in four couples between the ages of 18 and 34 bought a house together before they were married, according to a study by Coldwell Banker Real Estate. MONEY found in our own poll of 500 millennials’ financial attitudes that 40% think it’s a good idea for a couple to buy a home together before marriage, while 37% think the purchase should take place prior to the wedding.

Low-rate mortgages, rising rental costs, and the ability to deduct mortgage interest from income taxes all make being a homeowner now rather than later seem like an attractive option. And while making that move first can work out well, as it did for Seattle couple Katy Klein and Charles Hagman, not every story has that same happy ending.

In fact, many financial planners advise against it. That’s because buying a home is often the biggest and most financially complicated move a couple makes, and unwinding it can be especially difficult for unmarried partners if the relationship ends. So if you’re buying a home with your beloved before getting hitched, spare yourself any potential financial heartbreak by following these tips.

Compare Credit Scores

You and your partner have probably already shared details about your income and savings when determining if you could afford to buy. But another piece of information you’ll need to share well in advance of closing is your credit report.

“If a couple is entering into a business deal, which is what a home purchase between two nonmarried people is, they should know the creditworthiness of their business partner. A person’s credit score will impact your ability to obtain a mortgage and the interest rate you will pay,” says Pewaukee, Wisc.-based financial adviser Kevin Reardon.

If you or your mate has a poor score, it could influence how you decide to title the property and who takes responsibility for the loan. Married couples are generally viewed by creditors as a single unit, but unmarried couples are assessed as individuals, even if applying for the loan together.

“This can work to your advantage if you have the person with stronger credit purchase the home,” says Sandra O’Connor, regional vice president with the National Association of Realtors. By eliminating the poorer score from consideration, you can secure better rates. On the flip side, with only one person applying for the loan, and thus one income on record, the amount you qualify for could be lower than what you could get with two incomes. And, of course, only one person’s name will be on the loan and deed, leaving the other partner vulnerable in the event of a breakup.

Open a Joint Account

Consider setting up a joint bank account, if you don’t already have one, that can be used to pay the mortgage, property taxes, insurance, and maintenance, Reardon suggests. Each of you can set up automatic monthly deposits into the account from individual bank accounts; this way neither party can forget. You can further simplify bill paying and budget tracking by having home expenses automatically deducted from the account each month.

Decide How to Manage Costs

When you cosign on a mortgage, you are 100% liable for the debt, which means if the relationship turns sour and your partner stops paying, you must assume the entire obligation. For this reason, financial planner Alan Moore, co-founder of the XY Planning Network, recommends choosing a home with a mortgage you can swing on one income. That can also be a huge help down the road in the event of unexpected illness or injury, since you’ll still be able to afford the monthly payments.

Before setting a housing budget, both partners need to have an honest conversation about the amount of debt they’re comfortable living with. Just because you can borrow the maximum amount doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. Stretch your combined budget too far, and any unexpected expense will likely have one of you coming up short when the monthly payments are due.

Put Your Agreement in Writing

Contact a real estate lawyer to prepare a written document, such as a property, partnership, or cohabitation agreement, that clearly outlines the full details of your arrangement, including what percentage of the home’s equity each partner is entitled to, especially if you contributed different sums to the down payment or mortgage balance, and what will happen to the property if you split up.

“The contract should specify whose name will be on the deed or lease, one or both, who will pay for what—I pay the utility bill, you pay the cable bill—etc.,” says Reardon. “It would be productive to note what happens if one party can’t pay. Will both parties move out? Will one party take over the payments for the other, if they are able to, then create a note receivable from the partner who can’t pay to the partner who can? Will this note be collateralized? It’s great to iron out these details in advance because it removes any doubt or emotions in the event things turn out badly.”

Title It Right

You and your partner must decide how you will own the home or take title. You have three options: One person can hold the title as sole owner, both of you can hold title as “joint tenants,” or you can share title as “tenants in common.”

Typically, you would want both parties to hold title, as putting the property in only one partner’s name leaves the other partner without equity in his own investment. (You’ll certainly want that separate written contract mentioned above if you go this route.)

If both partners sign the title as tenants in common, then each owns a specified percentage of the property. One person may own a 60% interest, while the other owns 40%, for example. This split is specified in the deed. If one partner dies, ownership will not automatically transfer to the other homeowner unless that person is named in the will; instead the deceased owner’s heirs will inherit his or her share.

When you hold title as joint tenants with right of survivorship, you are considered equal owners, and if one of you were to die, the other would automatically inherit the other’s stake and own the entire property.

Bottom line: No matter how you hold title, it is important that you and your partner enter this agreement with a complete picture of each other’s finances and a written contract outlining your desires for the property’s division should the relationship end.

MONEY Love and Money

Financial Habits That Will Make You Sexier

couple on first date, man paying with credit card
Alamy

Money skills are more important than good looks when seeking a mate.

Ditch the makeup and hair products. Your budgeting skills might be the thing you should really show off on your next date.

In a recent survey about relationships and finances, MONEY found that both baby boomers and millennials agree on the three most attractive traits in a potential mate: a sense of humor, compassion, and—yes—financial responsibility. For both groups, those qualities all rank higher than physical chemistry, diligence, and even intellect.



Don’t worry if you don’t make a ton of money now. The survey, which included about some 500 millennial and 500 boomer respondents, found that smart financial habits were deemed more important than current salary among members of both age groups.

Both generations ranked budgeting and timely bill paying as particularly attractive behavior, though younger survey takers were more likely to value future earning potential in a mate. Property ownership was the least important for both generations.

Read next: Are You and Your Partner a Money Match?

MONEY credit cards

Help! I’ve Fallen In Love With Someone Who Has Credit Card Debt

couple doing expenses
John Lund—Getty Images

There is light at the end of the tunnel.

It finally happened. After all the bad dates and heartbreak, at last you’ve met The One, and you’re ready to start down life’s road together. Except your new love is carrying one piece of baggage you hadn’t counted on: credit card debt.

You’re not alone. In a new NerdWallet/Harris Poll survey of more than 2,000 adults, 35% of those who combine at least some part of their finances with a partner brought credit card debt into the relationship. (Men are more likely to do so than women, by the way). Millennials are particularly likely to commingle I.O.U.s and romance, with 45% of those between the ages of 18 and 34 toting a revolving balance. In fact, millennials were more likely to have credit card debt than student loan or car payments.

On average, people entered relationships with $4,100 in credit card debt, and 25% of couples with at least one indebted parter reported experiencing negative consequences. One-sixth of respondents said debt kept them from doing something they planned on, such as buying a home or taking vacation.

The findings dovetail with MONEY’s research into couples and financial harmony. Our recent poll of 1,000 millennials and baby boomers found that two in 10 couples regularly fight about credit card debt. Millennials are more tolerant of debt than older generations, with 40% saying a lot of debt is a romantic turnoff, versus 60% of boomers who said the same.

If you—or someone you’ve fallen in love with—is struggling with debt, here’s how to keep it from ruining your relationship.

Don’t hide it. “Being open and transparent about your debt is very important,” says NerdWallet credit card expert Sean McQuay. “When you’re dating someone and you have the conversation about introducing them to your crazy parents, you also need have the talk about your debt.”

By opening up about debt early, you won’t cause a fissure down the line. And once you put your cards on the table, you and your partner can come up with a plan for getting out from under. One strategy suggested by Beverly Harzog, author of The Debt Escape Plan, is to start paying off the smallest balances first. The math may say to go after the card with the highest interest, but unless there’s a big difference in the two cards’ rates, it’s often more helpful to get the mental boost from clearing a debt so that you sustain your repayment plan.

Transfer your balance to a cheaper card. If you’ve squeezed every last penny from the budget and still can’t seem to make much headway, one powerful tool is a balance transfer card. MONEY recommends the no-annual-fee Chase Slate. Not only is there no interest on purchases and balance transfers for 15 months, there’s also no balance transfer fee if you move your debt within two months of opening the card.

More from the Love & Money series:
Poll: How Boomer and Millennial Couples Feel About Love and Money
Why Couples Need to Get Financially Naked
The Single Most Important Money Talk for Couples
How Money Can Improve Your Sex Life (It’s Not What You Think)

MONEY Love + Money

How to Start a Money Conversation With Your Mate

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Peter Dazeley—Getty Images

Use this dialogue to let your partner know it's time to come clean financially.

Most Americans would rather have a talk about the birds and the bees than any conversation related to finances.

In a Northwestern Mutual study, money outranked other uncomfortable topics that included not only sex but also asking adult-age children to move out and discussing one’s own death.

While you can argue for a certain level of discretion when talking about money with friends and even family, the one person you need to come financially clean with is your mate. Couples who are on the same page about issues like saving, budgeting, and retirement feel more financially secure, argue less about money, and have hotter sex lives, MONEY found when we polled 500 boomers and 500 millennials on their behaviors and beliefs concerning money and relationships.

For many couples the hardest part is simply getting started. “I can guarantee that you and your partner won’t have the same views on finances. There are always variations in thinking about how much goes to what and what goal should take top priority,” says Jonathan Rich, author of The Couple’s Guide to Love and Money. “You want to work out those differences and reach compromises before there is an actual money problem.”

If you’re having trouble getting your partner to open up, follow these tips to steer the conversation in a productive direction.

THE STRATEGY: Solicit your partner’s opinion about someone else’s financial situation.

WHAT YOU CAN SAY: “My dad is thinking about retiring this year, and he wants my mom to retire with him. I’m worried about my mom retiring that soon. What do you think?”

WHY IT WORKS: “People are always more comfortable discussing others’ choices and responsibilities than they are their own,” says CPA Kitrina L. Wright. Talking about a financial decision made by a family member or close friend can be an easy way for you to get your partner to share thoughts about money without feeling like all the attention is on him. Then you can use the moment as a springboard to related topics or questions that hit at more personal issues.

Financial planner (and Kitrina’s husband) Brian Wright recommends opening by sharing a detail about a parent’s financial behavior, since most people learn their financial habits and attitudes from Mom and Dad. “Everyone has lessons they learned about money from growing up. Getting your partner to open up about those experiences, good and bad, can give you the best insight into how they view money and what their expectations are.”

Hearing about family experiences can give you added perspective on your partner’s financial choices, or insight into why they may be reluctant to talk about money, says Ed Coambs, a marriage and family therapist. “”Maybe they’re quiet because they grew up in a household that never talked about money, not because they’re hiding thousands in debt.”

THE STRATEGY: Pose a hypothetical question.

WHAT YOU CAN SAY: “If you inherited $100,000 from a relative, what would you do with it?”

WHY IT WORKS: Asking an open-ended question is a way to talk about financial priorities without being confrontational, says Paula Levy, a marriage and family therapist. “People tend to get defensive when taking about finances. The key is to focus on your future hopes and dreams more than the money itself, because after all, when we talk about money we’re really talking about it as a tool to achieve what we want,” Levy says.

Avoid launching into too much talk about your own plans; instead, Levy advises, let your reticent partner speak first. “You want to avoid interrupting as well,” she says. “If they get a strong reaction from their partner, then they’re even more hesitant to be open about that topic again.”

THE STRATEGY: Make an appointment

WHAT YOU CAN SAY: “I’ve been wanting to go over our monthly bills with you. Can we set aside some time tomorrow night to do that?”

WHY IT WORKS: If there is something in particular stressing you out about your union—maybe you don’t feel like you have a good handle on where the money is going, or you’re concerned about debt—it’s best not to blame or blindside your partner when bringing the topic up.

Rather, be intentional and make time, says Coambs. “It’s about pacing. It’s going to take time to get all the information you want, and you need to be patient.” Avoid delving into the nitty-gritty when you’re feeling heated or stressed. Your already defensive partner will feel under attack and clam up even more. By creating a time for this kind of talk, you’ll both feel prepared and can keep things free of an emotional charge.

You’ll also want to start small. Set yourself a time limit, maybe 10 to 15 minutes to talk about the issue, then go out and do something fun together, recommends Kitrina L. Wright. “Keep having these talks and work your way up to longer conversations.”

THE STRATEGY: Show your appreciation.

WHAT YOU CAN SAY: “I’m glad we’re doing this. I feel like I know so much about you except in this one area.”

WHY IT WORKS: You want your partner to know that you understand these discussions are difficult and uncomfortable—but at the same time you don’t want to let them off the hook. Stress why it’s important to you that you and your partner discuss finances together, and that this is just one piece of a much larger and ongoing conversation. You want your partner to know that you appreciate the openness and want this kind of exchange to continue.

THE STRATEGY: Engage a neutral third party

WHAT YOU CAN SAY: “I think we should meet with a financial planner to make sure we’re on the right track.”

WHY IT WORKS: If you’ve tried to start the financial conversation several times with little engagement, involving an objective third party might be the icebreaker your partner needs.

“A meeting with a financial adviser can help with this process. They’ve done this many times before and can ask the right questions and make your partner feel ok talking about money” says Alan Moore. You can also consider meeting with a therapist or counselor trained in the area of financial therapy, a new field of study that merges money and psychology.

Shelling out for the extra help, even as you tussle over money, will be well worth it in the long run when you consider the rewards—financial, emotions, and sexual—that being in sync financially can bring.

MONEY couples and money

The Surprising but Essential Thing You Don’t Know About Your Spouse

couple sitting in separate chairs
Steve Hix—Corbis

Many people don't even know how much their partner earns.

If you harbor any doubt that money remains a taboo subject around the household, consider these findings from the 2015 Fidelity Investments Couples Retirement Study:

  • 43% of couples do not know how much their spouse earns annually, and of those, 10% cannot guess within $25,000;
  • 36% of couples disagree on the amount of their household’s investable assets;
  • 60% of couples have no idea how much their Social Security benefits might be worth, including 49% of boomer couples—a group in or on the cusp of retirement.

Not talking about money around the house can have broad reaching repercussions. Without discussion, odds are there is little financial planning. Nearly half of couples say they have no idea how much they will need to retire, and a similar number disagree over the amount, Fidelity found. Those with a plan are twice as likely to expect to live comfortably in retirement. Other surveys also have found that people who have a plan are more confident about their future.

On another level, the taboo around money conversations may be passed down generationally. We do our children no favors by making the subject mysterious. Young people are coming of age in a period of diminishing social safety nets and would benefit immeasurably from discussions around the house about budgeting and saving. That such conversations do not take place in many households has given rise to a broad effort to require money management courses in schools.

Among the more confounding aspects of the money conversation is the misperception that it is actually taking place. Some 72% of couples in the Fidelity survey say they communicate exceptionally well with each other, and 90% say that starting a conversation about budgets, savings and investments, and estate planning is not difficult. Yet these are some of the same respondents who said they don’t know how much their mate earns.

Meanwhile, nearly half of parents say they strongly encourage their kids to talk to them about money, but only one in five kids strongly agree that this is the case, a T. Rowe Price survey found. Nearly three-quarters of parents say they talk regularly with their children about spending and saving, but just 61% of the kids agree. A third of kids believe their parents are leaving them in the dark about money issues.

Clearly, money is a tougher family topic than most of us realize. But it has never been more essential to talk about. This quiz might help you get started. And here are four questions that can help you and your spouse get on the same page when it comes to household finances.

  • What are the next big goals? Buy a house? Save for college? Identify what you want to achieve in the next three to five years, and make saving a habit.
  • Do you have an emergency fund? What if you get laid off? What if the car breaks down? You should have three to six months of living expenses safely tucked away, just in case.
  • Do you share a vision for retirement? Travel the globe or tend the garden? Downsize and live near the kids or move to a warmer climate? Make sure you see eye to eye.
  • Are your documents in order? Plan for the inevitable by having an estate plan, a durable general power of attorney, and a health care proxy. Designate beneficiaries for investment accounts and insurance policies. To do this as a team you will need to talk about things like inheritance, estate planning and eldercare.

Read next: How to start a money conversation with your mate

MONEY Love + Money

The Trick That Helps One Couple Overcome Spender-Saver Tension

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The Cohens The Cohens

Being financial opposites can actually be good for your relationship.

Ira Cohen and his wife, Lisa, have been married for 34 years, and they are the first to admit that they are financial opposites: “She’s a ‘let’s live for the moment’ person, and I err on the side of caution,” says Ira, a mutual fund executive.

Having two different and, at times, opposing money management styles has created conflict for the Sugar Land, Texas, couple in the past. When the pair remodeled their kitchen several years ago, Lisa was insistent on a $1,500 warming drawer that Ira didn’t think was necessary. The couple bickered over it, then “I overrode him and bought it anyway,” says Lisa, a high school administrator. He wasn’t happy but finally succumbed. “If she is that passionate about this, am I really going to fight and scream over it?” he asks.

In a poll last year, MONEY found that 70% of couples argue about money, putting it ahead of conflicts over chores, sex, or snoring. In this year’s survey, we identified the No. 1 source of conflict: “spending too much on frivolous purchases.” A partner’s frugality is another major trigger, as the Cohens can attest.

“It’s easy to agree on the necessary expenses. The big thing is where you draw the line on the wants,” says Ira. “I tend not to try and debate the value of it with her, but be the voice of reason on timing and assessment of need.”

When Lisa wanted to redo the bathroom right after the kitchen, Ira pushed back; they ended up waiting five years. “I tell him what I want, and then I let him tell when the time is right,” says Lisa, who patiently advocated for 10 years before she got her husband to agree to spring for a trip to Europe. “I rarely override him,” she says, “but you have to push each other and be honest if it is important to you.”

The pair admit that even when the other’s ideas on spending frustrate them, they are grateful that they’re such opposites. “If you have two people who spend all the time, they’re going to be unhappy when an emergency comes. At the same time, there are lots of people with money in the bank who just let it sit there,” Ira says. “I like to be somewhere in between, and I think our different styles get us there.”

MONEY Love and Money

Why a “Wife Bonus” Won’t Help Your Marriage, but This Will

wife and groom figurines on piles of change
Jamie Grill—Getty Images

How to keep income disparity from ruining your relationship.

Feeling and acting like financial equals can be a big challenge when a couple’s incomes differ dramatically. But there are better ways to acknowledge the hard work a lower-earning or stay-at-home spouse does for the family than by doling out a “wife bonus.”

In her new book, Primates of Park Avenue, writer Wednesday Martin reveals the practice by which finance executives, bankers, and other high-earning New York husbands reward their spouses with the aforementioned bonuses, “distributed on the basis of not only how well her husband’s fund had done but her own performance—how well she managed the home budget, whether the kids got into a ‘good’ school,” according to an excerpt that ran in the New York Times.

Martin uses the “wife bonus” to highlight the large power imbalance within these marriages, where the money is viewed as “a ticket to a modicum of financial independence” for Upper East Side society wives. And while it’s hard to feel too sorry for a woman who carries a $15,000 Birkin bag, the reality is that even for average folks, anytime a couple has radically different incomes, it takes a lot of work to make both spouses feel like true financial partners.

But the benefits of doing so are clear. Couples on more equal financial footing report that they are happier—83% said they were very or extremely happy, vs. 77% for couples where the woman earned less or nothing at all—according to our 2014 Love and Money poll. These couples also reported the hottest sex life, with 51% saying things in the bedroom were “very good” or “hot” vs. 43% of spouses overall.

The good news is that you and your partner don’t need to radically change your income or roles to feel the way more egalitarian couples do. These four habits can keep an income disparity from taking a toll on your relationship.

Stay Transparent

Partners in more egalitarian marriages report higher levels of satisfaction because neither one shoulders the financial burden alone; they’re working together to secure their family’s future.

Make financial togetherness easier by sharing information, says Manisha Thakor, co-author of Get Financially Naked: How to Talk Money With Your Honey. For example, have both names copied on the trade confirmations when making investing decisions, or set up online banking accounts so that each partner gets the same notifications when a bill payment is due or a certain amount has been deducted from the account.

Most important, both spouses need to have full access to all financial documents, accounts, and passwords. Even if you each have credit cards or separate accounts in your own names, either should be able to view past transactions. It’s critical that both partners have an equal understanding of the family’s assets, so that lower earners don’t feel kept in the dark about what is, after all, their money too.

Make Decisions Together

Earning power should never equal authority within the relationship. Just because one spouse brings home more bacon doesn’t mean that he (or she) gets to be the louder voice in financial decision-making. But in many households, that’s not the case. More than a quarter of lower-earning wives feel like they’re not a financial decision maker in their own family vs. only 4% of lower-earning husbands, our survey found. And fewer than half of husbands and wives in households where the men earned more said they shared financial decision making with their partner.

For greater harmony, the high earner needs to let go of that possessiveness over the paycheck, even if it means pulling back on the lifestyle they may feel they can afford (or deserve). The important thing is making decisions together and agreeing to compromise when opinions differ. When thinking about a major purchase, call your spouse and say, “Hey, can we afford this? Is it worth it?” Avoid venturing out solo on big decisions like car or home buying.

That’s not to say that a couple needs to do every single financial chore together. It’s fine for one partner to take the lead on bill-paying or making investment choices; one person is usually more interested or able to handle a particular responsibility anyway. The important thing is that you both agree on who is best suited to what job, and take care to maintain the distinction between a task and a decision.

Allow for Some Money Autonomy

Everyone wants a little bit of financial freedom, and if you’re a lower earning or non-earning spouse, that sense of independence is hard to come by. And spending on yourself could irk a spouse who still thinks of household income as “my” money.

To avoid having to justify every desire or feel guilty when you do spend on a personal indulgence, create “yours, mine, and ours” accounts. Together, agree on a monthly amount you’ll each put into a separate account, to be used at your discretion. You can fund the accounts proportionally, say, with each putting 80% of their paycheck in the joint account and the rest into their own kitties.

One-income households can divvy up money along similar lines, by allocating a percentage of the paycheck to the joint account, to be used for mutually agreed-upon goals, and an equal portion into the two separate accounts. Then, set a dollar spending amount above which you agree to consult each other before purchasing. (The figure most couples set store by: $154.)

…But Be Careful What You Call It

The “wife bonus” and its predecessor—the allowance—may seem like the three-bucket system by another name. Yes, both involve setting aside money for a spouse who earns less or nothing, but the message behind them differs radically.

Creating equal “fun funds” or “joy funds” or “personal expense accounts” that you’ve discussed highlights a partnership in which no spouse has greater control or authority over the finances.

Wife bonuses and allowances are just the opposite. In this arrangement, there is clearly a subordinate. “It’s all about the intent and spirit in which the funds are disbursed that makes this so different,” says Thakor, director of wealth strategies for women at Buckingham and the BAM Alliance. “This is all about power. It is demeaning, and one person is being controlled and made to feel small and judged. In business, bonuses and bosses are fine, but healthy loving relationships don’t operate like that.”

MONEY Love + Money

How to Win a Money Fight With Your Spouse

man and woman arm wrestling
iStock

Keep money spats from turning into all-out wars.

Married 38 years, Ron and Carol Beck are the picture of financial compatibility: They split the money chores (he pays the bills, she invests), decide together on big purchases (like their new Corvette), and align their savings goals (retirement has long been No. 1). But the San Jose couple haven’t always been so fiscally united.

Unlike many young couples today, they didn’t discuss money before marrying. So just months after taking their vows, they took their lumps. One day Ron came home with papers for Carol to sign. It was the first she’d heard of the $35,000 rental property he planned to buy. “We had a huge argument,” recalls Carol, 65, a community college counselor. What upset her most was not that their mortgage payments would go up 50%, but that Ron acted without her: “I should have been part of the process,” she says.

“I knew I overstepped, and I haven’t done it since,” says Ron, 65, who retired last year from a job as an educational technology supervisor. That night the couple resolved to always act together on major money decisions.

The Becks figured out early on just how critical it is to work as a team when it comes to finances. And a new survey by MONEY underscores the lesson. The poll, which compares the perceptions and behaviors of some 500 millennials and 500 boomers when it comes to their relationships and money, reveals distinct differences in their approaches to financial matters. But one theme crosses generations: Couples who are in sync on issues like saving and budgeting feel more financially secure, argue less about money—and have hotter sex lives. In other words, financial synchronicity can help you achieve not only greater financial stability but greater marital satisfaction.

But let’s face it, even if you and your partner are constantly improving your financial compatibility and see eye to eye on things like the budget and savings goals, you’ll still occasionally argue about money. How you handle the disagreements is what matters most. Carol and Ron Beck’s first marital money fight may not have felt good at the time, but they dealt with it healthily: They talked it out.

A Fidelity survey found that 38% of money arguments are never resolved in a way that makes both people happy. And no wonder: Some 16% of millennials and 15% of boomers in MONEY’s poll say they resort to the silent treatment; 12% of millennials and 8% of boomers say someone walks away.

That’s not good for your marriage or your money. Not talking about the problem compounds the stress and makes it more likely the argument will recur, says Kim Olver, a relationship coach and the author of Secrets of Happy Couples. Plus, leaving the situation unresolved can put stress on your finances. “Do you want to be right?” Olver asks. “Or do you want a strong union? That takes compromise.”

Here’s how you can keep money tiffs from becoming money wars.

Acknowledge the argument. If you need to cool off, fine. But don’t go more than 24 hours before touching base with your partner. Consider starting with an apology even if you don’t think you need to. “Accept that you are 50% of the problem,”says Brad Klontz, a financial psychologist and the author of Mind Over Money. (Remember, the goal is not to “win” but to achieve agreeable resolution.) And rather than hijacking your spouse, ask for an appointment. You might say, “Honey, I’m sorry I pushed back when you mentioned buying a new car. Can we set aside time to talk more about it?”

Focus on the fear, not the fight. Klontz suggests that before meeting, you each write down the money worry prompting the argument, then face each other for a discussion. The ground rules: One person talks uninterrupted about his or her fears, avoiding blame and concentrating on facts. The other must repeat back what is said until the speaker is satisfied he or she was heard correctly. Then switch and repeat.

After Carol Beck blew up at Ron about the condo, they sat down, and “he explained to me why he thought it was a good decision.” She agreed to sign the papers. “After the property got rented, I relaxed a bit and saw that Ron was right,” she says. “Now we talk about everything together. We handle investments very differently than we did that time.”

More from the Love & Money survey:
What to Do When Financial Opposites Attract
Why Couples Need to Get Financially Naked
The Single Most Important Money Talk for Couples

MONEY Love + Money

The Money Problem Most Likely to Kill a Relationship

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Roy Hsu—Getty Images

Debt will chip away at your relationship. Here's how to conquer it together.

MONEY’s new poll of the behaviors of some 1,000 millennials and boomers when it comes to relationships and money found that couples who are in sync on financial issues feel more secure, argue less about money—and have hotter sex lives. But there’s one issue that consistently gets in the way of marital harmony: debt.

Two in 10 boomers and millennials say they fight about credit card debt, making this one of the five most common conflicts for both groups. Among the older generation, 61% find excessive debt unattractive. On the surface, Gen Y seems less concerned about debt, with just 41% saying it’s a turnoff. But that’s deceiving. Millennials, sometimes called “generation debt,” are so weighed down by student loans that many just accept debt as a condition of being young.

In any case, the impact of debt on relationships is undeniable: “It is a silent killer, chipping away at your self-confidence,” says psychologist Kathleen Gurney, author of Your Money Personality. In fact, Jeffrey Dew, associate professor at Utah State University, found that marital satisfaction is correlated with assets, so that as debt increases, happiness wanes. A big IOU, of course, also stands in the way of your goals. Case in point: More than 70% of young adults say student loans keep them from saving, a National Foundation for Credit Counseling poll found.

The good news is that “as couples experience success paying down debt,” says Gurney, “they start to see themselves and their partners differently, and the arguing ends.”

Here’s how you can beat your debt together.

Open with someone’s misfortune. Got debt that’s burning a hole in your goals? Again, it helps to use a life event to spur the conversation, but in this case a negative one can have more impact. Particularly if one or both of you have been avoiding facing facts, “a soft-and-fuzzy approach won’t get results,” says Bruce McClary of the National Foundation for Credit Counseling. You might mention how a friend’s aging parent needs help or bring up the challenges your brother has faced since being downsized, noting how if it had happened to you, your debt might make it tough to respond.

Create a pay-down plan jointly. In MONEY’s survey, 70% of millennials and 77% of boomers say properly managing debt repayment makes for a healthy relationship. Indeed, a systematic approach is the best way to erase balances, says McClary. Some people start with the highest-rate credit cards, to reduce the total interest paid, then move on to other debt. An alternative tack is to start with the smallest balances to enjoy early success. Or follow the lead of Lisa Dell and Cory Tiffin, who began attacking their combined $10,000 on four credit cards after marrying three years ago. Initially the Chicago couple, now 31 and 29, started paying the minimum on their lowest-rate cards and double the minimum on their highest-APR cards. “But we kept feeling we weren’t making progress,” she says. So they transferred the balances to one card and, by paying $900 a month, vanquished the debt in 20 months.

There’s no right answer. What’s important is that you make the decision together. Same for choosing what sacrifices you’ll make. Also be sure to review your progress regularly. As you whittle down the debts, says financial planner Wallace, “you’ll be more motivated to stick to the plan.”

More from the Love & Money survey:
Poll: How Boomer and Millennial Couples Feel About Love and Money
Why Couples Need to Get Financially Naked
The Single Most Important Money Talk for Couples
How Money Can Improve Your Sex Life (It’s Not What You Think)

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