Dear Penny: My Boyfriend Won’t Tell Me How Much He Owes. Can I Pull His Credit?

A couple talk over breakfast at their dining room table.
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Dear Penny,

I’ve been living with my boyfriend for eight months. Here’s the problem: He won’t tell me how much debt he has, and I’m pretty sure it’s a lot.

He has two degrees from private schools that I know he’s still paying for, but they haven’t paid off jobwise. I also know he has some credit card debt (again, don’t know how much) and about $9,000 left on his car loan.

We keep our finances separate. He gives me his 50% for the bills each month, and he’s never late with his share.

I have some debt too, so I’m not judging him for having it. But I’m worried that if it’s significant, it could impact our plans to eventually buy a house, get married, etc.

Whenever I ask him about his debt, he responds by saying he always gives me his half of the bills on time and tells me to worry about my own debt.

I know the passwords he uses for everything and we share a laptop that has our tax forms on it. I’m pretty sure I could get the info needed to pull up his credit report. I know it seems wrong, but isn’t this important info to have about someone you’re living with?

— In the Dark

Dear In the Dark,

“Honey, I know you use your Netflix password for everything, so I used it to pull your credit.” Does that sound like a good way to start a conversation?

Though I am curious about where this talk would go, let’s agree that it wouldn’t be anywhere positive. 

With all the credit monitoring services available, I get how easy it can be to lose sight of the fact that they’re providing highly personal information. But let’s be clear: The Fair Credit Reporting Act requires you to have written consent from someone to obtain their credit report in most cases. 

There are some exceptions. For example, a debt collector doesn’t need your consent to pull your credit report if they’re pursuing action against you. Sorry, there’s no exception for curious significant others. That means what you’re suggesting is a crime.

But I’m pretty sure you didn’t expect me to say “Hey, that’s a swell idea to pull your boyfriend’s credit without his permission.” I think what you need is help navigating what could be a very uncomfortable conversation.

And I agree with you that this is an important conversation to have — important enough that you should have had it before you moved in together, but you know what they say about hindsight.

What I wonder is whether you’ve conveyed why you think sharing this information is so vital. If you treat this as a fact-finding mission into your boyfriend’s past, his resistance is understandable. 

You’ll probably get a lot further if you approach this as an essential part of planning your shared future. Explain that the debt you each carry will matter if you ever apply for a mortgage together, and that debt is an important consideration if you get to other milestones, like planning a wedding or starting a family.

Keep in mind why he might be so reluctant to talk about his debt. Sure, there could be evidence of some secret past life that would be revealed on his credit report. But I think a likelier explanation is that he’s embarrassed. Maybe having two expensive degrees without a fancy job title or salary to match makes him feel like a failure. 

One thing I’m curious about is whether your boyfriend is usually the guarded type. If so, I’m more inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt. But if he gets cagey specifically when money comes up, my spidey senses would start working overtime.

Ultimately, if he continues to refuse to talk about his debt, I’d treat this as a pretty big red flag. If you can’t communicate honestly about something as important as money, this is not a healthy relationship. I would consider this a dealbreaker.

A good rule of thumb: Whenever you’re tempted to hack a partner’s account to find information that affects you, it’s a sign that something is broken.

Figure out now, after eight months of living together, whether this is a problem that can be fixed.

Robin Hartill is a senior editor at The Penny Hoarder and the voice behind Dear Penny. Send your questions about debt to [email protected]