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Why it’s important to have the money talk

Financial activist Dasha Kennedy — also known as The Broke Black Girl — says couples should be having conversations about money as early as the very first date.

Kennedy, who has worked as an accountant and loan default counselor, divorced her husband after realizing they weren’t financially compatible. The divorce left her $25,000 in debt and took her five years to financially recover from.

“Had we initiated more financial conversations in the beginning, we probably would have either decided early on that we were just not financially compatible to be in a relationship, let alone to be married,” Kennedy told Moneywise in an interview late last year.

“When we look at the data, we see that not talking about money or money-related issues is one of the leading causes for divorce.”

In May, Forbes reported that 38% of divorced couples cited financial problems as the reason for their divorce.

Kennedy added that “initiating those conversations as early as possible and trying to get ahead of that curve is very important.”

She and her ex rarely spoke about money over the duration of their relationship and they always dealt with their finances separately. While Kennedy was concerned about long-term financial goals, her ex typically focused on the present.

After the divorce, Kennedy says her financial responsibilities doubled while the household income was slashed in half — on top of the $25,000 in debt she had to pay. She made it work, but it was tough: she downsized her apartment, took public transit instead of buying a car and bartered for services like child care.

Read more: Here's how much the typical baby boomer has saved for retirement — how do you stack up?

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How to talk about money

You don’t necessarily need to ask a potential partner about their salary or what their credit score is on the very first date, but you can bring up more general topics around money, Kennedy says.

You want to get a sense of how someone views money rather than their habits, which don’t matter as much when you’re still getting to know someone. She suggests asking dates about their relationship with money and just seeing if they’re open to having conversations about it.

“In so many ways, money exists from the very beginning,” Kennedy said. This includes deciding where to go on your first date to splitting the bill. Financial decisions exist from the very beginning.

Watch out for these red flags

It's possible for a relationship to work if each partner has different philosophies with regards to money, but don't be afraid to set firm boundaries. Kennedy warns you should be suspicious if your partner suddenly needs to borrow money or if they have a tendency to hide important financial details.

Lying about your finances or hiding parts of it, such as a credit card balance, is sometimes called "financial infedility."

According to the Bread Financial survey, this appears to be more common among millennials and Gen Z, where 61% and 60%, respectively, admit to not sharing a key financial fact with their partners. Older generations aren't quite off the hook, though, since 30% of men (overall) admit to hiding a credit card balance from their partner, along with 19% of women.

Red flags such as financial infidelity can be especially concerning if it seems like your partner is trying to live beyond their means. According to the Western & Southern Financial Group study, personal loans and credit card debt were the top dating deal breakers for thosem surveyed.

For example, there is research that shows that act of dating itself is causing some Americans — namely millennials — to fall into debt.

According to a LendingTree study, almost a quarter of millennials have gone into debt to pay for their dating habits and 10% have had a credit card decline while on a date.

Kennedy says that it’s important to be mindful of the current economic climate when considering a person's financial situation. For example, living with parents or not owning a car aren’t necessarily indicators of financial instability these days.

“It is essential to know that some financial goals and habits can be seen as deal breakers, which is OK,” Kennedy said. “You and your partner will not always agree on everything, but that doesn't mean you have to conform to values that go against your financial morals.”

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Serah Louis is a reporter with Moneywise.com. She enjoys tackling topical personal finance issues for young people and women and covering the latest in financial news.

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