How Not to Fight About Finances

Credit coach Shanté Nicole knows all about the ups and downs of debt, bad credit and a rock-bottom credit score. She has lived a lifetime of experiences—a cancer diagnosis and a mound of medical bills when she was only in her early 20s was followed by a divorce and job loss, which resulted in past-due payments and dings to her credit report.

She had no idea how to repair her credit at the time. “At one point, bill collectors called so frequently, I felt like we were dating,” she says.

Nicole is transparent about her background when teaching young couples about money management and credit scores. She recommends they sit down and schedule a time to talk with each other about finances. “It sounds so simple, but it’s scary for couples to talk about the subject,” she says. “People don’t talk about money until they start fighting about it.”

Have the Money Talk with Your Spouse

The best way to avoid fighting about the hot-button topic of finances in marriage is all in the approach, according to Nicole. Here are some talking points she suggests for couples:

  • Avoid judgment – Everyone has a past. Your spouse may have spent money recklessly when he was single or ignored his credit score, but remember that you may have some credit blemishes of your own. Start the discussion with a soft approach. For example, say to your spouse: “I know you love that house we saw, and I do, too. Let’s talk about how we can get our finances in order so we can buy a house of our own one day.”
  • Confess your part – Once you set judgment aside, it is easier to admit your past financial sins, even if your only faux pas is being completely uneducated about money matters. Perform a self-analysis: Why do I handle money the way I do? Am I mimicking the behavior of a parent? What is one thing I can improve?
  • Maintain open communication – Sit down regularly and revisit the plan as your life changes, such as with the birth of a baby, the need for a new car or the creation of a business. “My husband and I have a ‘business meeting’ every six months about our finances,” says Nicole. “It’s like buying a new car. You must protect it by performing routine maintenance such as changing the oil.”

Repair Your Credit

 Couples often argue about the state of a spouse’s credit report. You can fix a credit report on your own, with help from a financial consultant like Nicole or by hiring a credit repair company. But be aware: Credit repair services is a $4.4 billion industry, according to global research firm IBISWorld.

In a sector this large, it’s inevitable that some companies will make fraudulent claims. In fact, the Federal Trade Commission says it pursues thousands of cases each year against fraudulent credit repair companies. When you’re overwhelmed and vulnerable, it’s easy to get sucked into a deal with a company that promises to solve all your problems. The company may take your money and promise to fix what’s wrong with your credit situation. Some companies promise to negotiate with creditors on your behalf to settle credit card debts but may not follow through and actually do it. “I spend time clearing up the misconception that just because you hired a company to settle your debts doesn’t mean the debt is removed from your credit report,” Nicole says.

With the help of independent financial consultants and coaches such as Nicole’s nonprofit organization, Financial Common Cents, you can clean up your credit report in just a few months. A clean slate erases the opportunity to argue about past overspending.

It all comes down to talking openly with your spouse so the two of you can create a solid plan. End money disagreements by discussing every money decision regularly with your spouse—credit repair, job changes, savings, bill payments and large purchases. That meeting may happen every week, once a month or every six months. Just be sure to talk often to avoid surprises.