30% of Americans owe billions in debt from a relationship | finder.com

1 in 3 Americans suffer from sexually transmitted debt

Our survey reveals an estimated $250 billion absorbed by significant others.

When you first start dating someone, one of the more awkward conversations on the table is your “number.” Not your phone number, rather how many people you’ve slept with.

The answer can give you minimal (though not-at-all useful) insight into a person. The more distressing figure you should worry about, however, is your partner’s debt.

Sexually transmitted debt is an increasing problem for many Americans, with 1 in 3 contracting it from their partners, according to the latest findings from finder.com.

Our recent study revealed that roughly 30% of the adult population — or some 74 million Americans — has some form of sexually transmitted debt. To put that number into perspective, the most pervasive of all reportable STDs is chlamydia, affecting roughly 1.5 million Americans, according to CDC data.That means debt is by far the most prevalent sexually transmitted “disease” in America.

What’s the total of this sexually transmitted debt?

On average, the numbers shake out to $11,485 in debt per American contracted from their current partners. Staying with our subtle(wink!) analogy, sexually transmitted infections account for roughly $16 billion in health care costs annually, whereas American adults share a ludicrous $250 billion in accrued debt from those who don’t practice safe spending.

The ties that bind: 28% of Americans say “I do” to debt

As it stands, the most common way to catch somebody else’s debt is to marry them. Of those surveyed, 28% say they took on their partner’s debt at the wedding altar, closely followed by those who say purchases were made in their name (25%) or through a joint account (20%).

Plastic is king

The most common type of debt we take on from our partners is the trusty credit card, with 37% of respondents saying they paid off their partner’s credit cards. Auto loans (19%) and student loans (14%) aren’t far behind. Five other loans round out the list, all of which were personal, short-term or business loans.

House of the rising debt

While only 10% of Americans took on their partner’s mortgages, it’s unsurprisingly the largest figure transmitted from one partner to the other — and by a wide margin: $93,149 on average. That amount drops for the next expensive on our list, student loans at $12,805, followed by home equity loans at $11,966.

Generations of debt

Infection through matrimony is the No. 1 way to transmit debt across the generations: 24% of baby boomers, 26% of Gen Xers and 31% of Gen Y say they took on a partner’s or ex-partner’s IOUs after saying “I do.”

Then there’s the other side of marriage: divorce. Debt divvied up in divorce settlements affected 23% of boomers, 15% of Gen Xers and 8% of Gen Y. (Hang in there Gen Y!)

Men and women: Who’s infecting whom?

While women are more likely than men to contract debt due to purchases made in their name — 27% of women versus 24% of men — men are more likely than women to take on debt due to marriage: 30% of men compared with 26% of women.

Interestingly, we see the overall gender gap reflected in our findings, with women more likely to take on their partner’s debt in four out of seven scenarios.

An ounce of protection is worth a pound of cure

Like with any other STD, the best way to protect yourself against transmitted debt is to start an open conversation with your partner:

  • Have “the talk.” Crucial to any good relationship is talking honestly about your finances. Get an idea of the types of debt your partner carries for insight into how fiscally responsible they are. Many of us still have student loans to pay off, but an aging personal loan for a jet-ski bought a decade ago could be a red flag.
  • Use protection for plastic. There’s no condom equivalent for debt. Still, you can get control of your finances and protect yourself from credit card debt with responsible spending.
    Drastic measures include cutting up your cards or freezing them in ice. Or take only cash to avoid the temptation to swipe at 2 a.m. on a Friday night.
  • Develop a treatment plan. Your or your partner’s debt isn’t a terminal illness. Your first step toward a cure is working out together how to do away with the debt. Consider tactics to pay it off quickly or over time.

For media inquiries:

Jennifer McDermott

Consumer advocate helping people improve their personal finances.

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