Sense & Centsibility Blog
Woman and man sitting at a table.  Man is pointing at something in a document he is showing to the woman.

Is your partner struggling to pay their bills? [Take these steps]

Talking about finances is rarely a fun topic of conversation for the average person, especially if you’re going through tough financial times, such as a layoff or a large, unexpected repair. Financial stress is real! What would you do if you found out your partner missed a rent, mortgage, or car payment? What if they told you they have credit cards or loans you weren’t aware of? Here’s what to do next.

Review ALL your expenses together

Sit down and look at all ongoing expenses and bills, whether they’re weekly, monthly, semi-annually, or annually. If neither your partner nor you have opened/viewed bills recently, it’s time to “rip off the bandage” and look at everything.

Create an action plan

Make a list of priorities. For any past due accounts, contact the creditor/company and let them know what’s going on. See if they’re willing to work with you on a payment plan to catch up, but never agree to anything you can’t afford. Focus on making on-time payments and catching up on anything you’re behind on. Note: When creating a plan to deal with your debt, be sure that you prioritize mortgage/rent, utilities, car payments, etc. Always focus first on what you need to have a roof over your head and keep you safe and healthy.

Ditch the credit cards

If you or your partner are still charging any credit cards, stop this as soon as possible. More debt only makes it harder to get back on track financially. If either of you are having trouble, cut up the cards. You can always save one if needed for emergencies. Avoid opening any new credit accounts or taking out any more loans.

Begin “crisis budgeting mode”

This is probably the most painful part, but it’s also the best way to get back on track. Cut as many non-essential expenses as possible. Unless you can get a part-time job or increase income in some way, you will have to spend less to stabilize your finances. If your partner ran up debt without you knowing, perhaps gently suggest they find ways to increase income to pay off the debt. Always keep in mind that the temporary pain of cutting costs and working more will be worth the long-term financial stability.

Pay off debt

If your partner incurred the debt, determine how much you're willing to sacrifice. If you are in this together for the long run, never shame or blame. Instead, focus on supporting your partner and remaining positive. That assistance can be emotional support alone or doing some of the work with them to reduce the debt.

Again, determine what's most important to you. If your credit has been negatively affected by missed payments, focus on getting caught up on bills. Once everything is current, then your partner can work to pay off the debt they incurred.

Check your credit report regularly

Visit to get a free copy of your credit report from the three credit reporting agencies (Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion), especially if you need to rebuild credit after missed/late payments. By checking your report regularly, you can ensure all your debt is accounted for and can double-check the status of your accounts. However, keep in mind that your credit score really doesn't matter right now. What does matter is that you and your partner get back on track to prevent any further financial damage. Credit will improve with on-time payments and getting caught up on anything past due. Just remember that this is not a quick fix; it takes time to increase your credit score.

Prevent this from happening again

The good news is that you and your partner are now on the same page. Conversations about finances should now feel more natural, even though they may not be easy. It’s important to learn from this situation. Talk about what caused it and how you both can prevent it from happening again. Do you need to ditch cards for good and use the “envelope system” for your expenses? Consider how you currently bank. If you don’t already, should you open a joint checking account for all bills to ensure you both see the balance and what’s getting paid? Setting up automatic payments is also a great way to avoid falling behind in the future. What’s important is finding a system that works well for the two of you.

While it’s not an easy subject to bring up, your partner needs to commit to stop using credit cards, and both of you need to commit to continue talking about issues that come up. Meet on a regular basis about your finances. For the first month or two, start out chatting once a week. Then reduce that to every other week. Once you feel like your new system of managing finances is in place and working, a monthly meeting should be enough. These discussions might last only a few minutes, but do make a concerted effort to have financial conversations on a regular basis indefinitely. For even more ideas, read Three Money Talk Tips for Couples.

Start saving

Even with the most solid plan in place, that doesn't mean you’re immune to a financial emergency. Unexpected expenses pop up all the time. Cars and appliances break down, pipes freeze, and people and pets get injured or ill. Therefore, always make room in your budget to pay yourself first each payday. This means you should set aside money in an emergency fund, ideally a separate savings account, and let it build up. The best way to prepare for a financial emergency is to have money set aside so you can avoid accruing any more debt.

See if a Debt Management Plan is right for you

A Debt Management Plan (DMP) for your partner (or both of you if the debts are shared) is an excellent option to pay off debt faster. A DMP sometimes even helps you get current faster if you’re past due. Another major benefit is that a DMP saves you money in interest costs along the way and overall since you’re paying off debt faster.

Ask for help

LSS Financial Counseling has certified, trusted, and nonjudgmental financial counselors who can explore whether a DMP is right for you and/or your partner. We can also work with you to create a workable budget to cut your expenses. Schedule a free appointment by calling 888.577.2227 or emailing us; or start your online appointment by creating a financial profile.

Adult woman with blond hair extending below her shoulders, smiling for the camera


Author Elaina Johannessen is program director for debt management operations and support with LSS Financial Counseling.