10 signs that debt stress is affecting your marriage

It’s unfortunate, but many couples allow debt issues to get way out of hand before recognizing the problem and taking corrective action. Here are 10 warning signs of debt distress you can use to determine whether debt is causing problems in your marriage.

1. Do you argue with your spouse over bills?
With 50 percent of marriages ending in divorce, and finances playing a key role, this should be a hot button for taking corrective action.

2. Do you find an increasing percentage of your income being used to pay off debts?

It’s not uncommon for families to be spending thousands of dollars per year on interest charges that could otherwise be applied to basic needs. It’s an interesting paradox to note that, while families will spend 10 percent of their income on interest payments, they can only “afford” to donate 1 percent or less toward charitable causes. These numbers should be reversed.

3. Are your credit cards at or near their credit limits?
Do you keep applying for cards to expand your limits?

4. Are you only paying the minimum balances due on your credit card and other revolving credit accounts?
Getting out of the minimum-payment mentality is a requirement for sound debt management.

5. Are you chronically late in paying bills?
Nearly half the country fails to pay bills on time, but barring exceptional issues, we have a responsibility to pay vendors in a timely manner.

6. Do you borrow to pay for items you used to pay cash for?
This is an early warning sign of future problems.

7. Do you put off medical or dental visits, or necessary things like car maintenance because you don’t have the money?
Delaying true needs such as these often end up causing much greater expenses in the long run.

8. Would a job loss place you in immediate financial difficulty because of pre-existing credit card debts?
The high interest becomes impossible to manage with a major reduction in income.

9. Are creditors calling you and threatening repossession or other forms of legal action?
The stress from these calls and notices can cause all types of fissures to develop in a marriage relationship.

10. Have you avoided adding up your total debt out of fear?
Avoiding the problem doesn’t help to solve it.

If you answer yes to any of the above, your debts are placing you in financial bondage. Proverbs 22:7 reminds us that, “The borrower is the slave of the lender.” The sooner you acknowledge the problem, the sooner you’ll be able and willing to develop a strategy that will help you achieve true financial freedom. Let’s review five steps you can take in order to be debt free:

— Make a commitment to go no further into debt;

— Develop a realistic budget that incorporates an amount to repay your existing consumer debt;

— Review your budget for spending habits that can be changed to allow for a more rapid debt repayment;

— Be accountable to someone;

— Set up a visual system to show your progress.

Finally, families too often fail to plan for what I call “irregular expenses.”

Just when they think they are making progress, a major “problem” takes them by surprise, whether it’s the transmission on the car or the washing machine breaking down. These aren’t really surprises; it’s just that they don’t occur as regularly as most other bills. The solution to this problem is to include a reasonable amount for these items in your budget and to set the money aside so it will be there when you need it.

While becoming debt-free takes time, the rewards of financial freedom are worth the short-term sacrifice.

God love you!

Phil Lenahan is the president of Veritas Financial Ministries (VeritasFinancialMinistries.com) and the author of “7 Steps to Becoming Financially Free” (OSV, $19.95). Submit questions for columns to askphil@osv.com.