What types of debt do we consider unacceptable in a partner?

Would debt stop you from saying "I do"?

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Couple looking stressed over paperwork and debt

You’ve got more than your credit score to worry about when under a pile of debt. Some 72% of Americans say they’d reconsider a romantic relationship because of another person’s debt, according to the latest findings from Finder.com. That means if you’re among the many Americans saddled with debt, you may be shrinking your pool of potential matches by roughly 182.8 million adults.

Kevin O’Leary, star of ABC’s Shark Tank and Founder of O’Leary Financial Group, seems to confirm our findings. We reached out to seek his expert advice on debt, love and the “money talk.”

O’Leary first discussed harsh truths of relationships. “The majority of unions break up,” he explains. “Marriages within five and seven years, 50 percent fail. Most people think it’s from infidelity. It isn’t. It’s from financial stress. Most marriages can survive infidelity, but they can’t survive financial stress. It’s an incompatible relationship financially.”

O’Leary suggests couples “set goals on a three- to five-year basis and agree on them,” adding, “If you express a financial interest in somebody on, let’s say, the third date or even the second date, that’s a sign you’re really interested in a future with that person.” He adds, “It can be a powerful aphrodisiac.”

How much is too much debt?

According to O’Leary, too much debt starts the second you have “the inability to support it.”

“What happens with people is they make the assumption that they can take on a student debt averaging $58,000 and then start buying crap and putting on $2,000-a-month worth of clothes,” O’Leary explains. “It’s a very simple task: If you’re servicing debt with more than one-third of your free cash flow after taxes from your salary, you’re going to fail. You’re in trouble.”

For the Americans surveyed by finder.com, too much depends on the type of debt and amount you owe. Of all debt, it appears the least “desirable” is credit card debt. However, while least desirable, the average credit card debt amount people say they find most unacceptable falls in the third lowest among all debts: $12,615.96.

Nevertheless, O’Leary is less discriminating. In his view, the type of deal-breaker debt for any relationship should be “any type of debt.”

“If you’re starting a union with someone, say, OK, how much student debt do you have?” — Cohost of ABC’s Shark Tank Kevin O’Leary

Interestingly, for those finder.com surveyed, student loans are in the second spot, with 52% saying this type of debt is unacceptable. The amount of education financing found unacceptable comes in at an average $48,761.15. This is particularly jarring, given two in five Americans graduate with student debt.

In third place is payday loan debts, with 49% of those surveyed saying these types of debts are unacceptable. However, payday loans come with the lowest threshold for the amount of debt considered acceptable: $4,885.52.

Type of debt %
Credit card 56%
Student loan 52%
Payday loan 49%
Mortgage 49%
Auto loan 49%
Personal loan 45%
Medical bill 45%
Family and friends 42%
Home equity loan 39%
Business loan 39%

The “Money Talk’ with Kevin O’Leary

If you’ve ever been tempted to tell financial fibs, O’Leary says don’t. “You can’t lie about money,” he insists. “You have to be transparent about it, particularly in a relationship. You might as well fess up to it, because it’s going to come out one way or another. It always does. You can’t avoid it.”

The money talk can be difficult, but it’s a key discussion for any relationship. “People should realize in a relationship, there’s always a third person there. It’s called money. It’s always there. It’s sitting right beside you,” O’Leary says. “The best way to work with it is to have a good relationship with it, and not a secret one. Be open and transparent.”

O’Leary believes that “great financial pillars keep people together for their whole lives.”

Men and women accept debt differently

Overall, women are more likely than men to shy away from a romantic partnership if their paramour has debt. Men are more likely to hesitate if a partner owes either student loan or mortgage debt. However, women are more likely to take issue with debts related to payday loans, auto loans, personal loans, credit cards, medical bills and home equity loans.

Type of debt % of women % of men
Student loan 51% 52%
Mortgage 48% 50%
Payday loan 51% 47%
Auto loan 49% 48%
Family and friends 42% 42%
Personal loan 46% 45%
Credit card 56% 55%
Medical bill 46% 43%
Home equity loan 40% 39%
Business loan 39% 39%

There’s also disparity in how much debt is unacceptable. The highest amount considered unacceptable for men looking for a potential partner involves a business loan at $196,541.56. Whereas, the top figure for women is a partner with a mortgage of $272,995.37.

Gen Y don’t want no scrubs

It looks like Gen Y might be all about that paper, as they’re most likely to find all categories of debt unacceptable in a mate. Both student loan and credit card debt top their list, with 59% saying they’d steer clear of someone with this type of debt.

For the most part, Gen X and baby boomers flip-flop as most accepting generation of debt, though baby boomers are most open overall.

Type of debt % of Baby Boomers % of Gen X % of Gen Y
Student loan 46% 51% 59%
Mortgage 46% 47% 53%
Payday loan 48% 47% 52%
Auto loan 47% 46% 54%
Family and friends 37% 41% 47%
Personal loan 44% 44% 49%
Credit card 56% 53% 59%
Medical bill 43% 42% 50%
Home equity loan 37% 38% 43%
Business loan 35% 38% 44%

Ask the Expert

Kevin O'Leary

Kevin O’Leary

Star of ABC’s Shark Tank and Founder of O’Leary Financial Group

“My No. 1 piece of advice is talk about money. Talk about it. It matters. It helps you build a relationship with somebody. Don’t be scared to talk about money. Most people think it’s a turnoff. It isn’t. It’s absolutely a very positive thing when people are getting together. So that’s my No. 1 thing: Just be ready to talk about it. It’s not bad. It’s good for you.”

Past Unacceptable Partner Debt Stats

We calculated these figures from an November 2018 survey of 2,035 American adults commissioned by finder.com and conducted by global research provider Pureprofile.

For media inquiries:

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Allan Givens
Public Relations Manager

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Nicole Gallina
Communications Coordinator

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