Financial STDs are spreading at epidemic proportions. And many people either don’t know or don’t care that they are infecting or being infected by others—until the damage is done. What are financial STDs and why should you be concerned about them?
Tarra “Madam Money” Jackson (MadamMoney.com) is the author of Financial Fornication: Avoid Financial and Credit Dis-Ease. A financial coach and frequent financial contributor on television and radio, Jackson explains why it is critical to be proactive about dealing with financial STDs before engaging in acts of financial intimacy, including commingling funds and taking on joint financial obligations, with another person.
“In my book Financial Fornication, I define financial STDs as substantially tremendous debt,” she explains. “That’s derived from when we are financially promiscuous with our credit cards, and we have all these financial one-night stands, then we get these financial ‘dis-eases.’ And one of the main financial dis-eases that people get affected and infected with are financial STDs.”
To protect yourself and those you care about against financial STDs, Jackson offers the following advice:
Recognize that financial STDs are contagious, and act accordingly.
You may think that your financial past is your business. However, once a relationship leads to acts of financial intimacy, your financial health impacts your partner’s, and vice versa. It’s naïve, at best, to assume that there will be no consequences for being less than open and honest about your financial situation before committing to a relationship.
“The problem is that not only do financial STDs affect and infect the person, it affects and infects their household, their ability to go on vacation, their ability to save, their ability to be prepared for emergencies or to get the things that they actually need. That’s why it’s important to understand what financial STDs are and how to avoid them, or how to cure them.”
Be open about financial STDs before becoming financially intimate.
Just as it’s important to take precautions before engaging in sexual intimacy, Jackson says it’s critical to protect yourself before committing acts of financial intimacy. In either case, there’s no way to ensure the safety of both partners if you are not both open and honest.
You may be fearful that bringing up your financial challenges might douse the flame of a new romance. However, Jackson warns that financial STDs do far more damage to a relationship when they are hidden and allowed to fester and grow until they become impossible to conceal. Remember, thanks to interest and fees, unaddressed debt issues just get bigger, uglier and scarier. Better to get out in front of it, so you can protect yourselves and each other.
“Just like with normal STDs, we’re getting to a point in society where financial stress almost kills people,” Jackson explains. “It kills us emotionally, physically, and spiritually. So it’s very important to have that conversation early on, so you can cure them or figure out how to manage them appropriately.”
“Most people go into relationships with the debt, but sometimes they don’t fully disclose all the debt that they have, and by the time the other person realizes how deep they’re into it, their already bound by marriage,” Jackson says. “So it’s important to have the conversation because there are certain things you can do before you get deep into a relationship, or if you’re already deep in the relationship, there are ways to cure financial STDs and to avoid them.”
Be as comfortable talking about money as you are talking about sex.
Jackson came up with the concept of financial fornication as an effective way to educate people about the risks and rewards of managing your money properly when she realized that while people avoid talking about their financial issues, they often have no problem discussing the intimate details of their relationships.
“About seven years ago,” says Jackson. “I was the interim president and CEO of a financial institution in Atlanta, and I had several clients who were local celebrities—reality TV stars, athletes, entertainers, rappers—and they used to come to my credit union to try to get loans to buy things to ‘bling out’ on TV. When I finally realized who they were and I decided to watch them on TV, I noticed that they always had conversations about who they slept with, who they were in relationships with, what they wanted to get, what they wanted to buy. But nobody wanted to talk about their crappy credit because eight out of 10 of them had ‘colorful’ credit.”
“What I realized is that people are more comfortable talking about their relationships than they are talking about their financial situations,” Jackson explains. “So I figured if you tie both of those in, we can giggle a little, we can relate a little, but we can start having that conversation.”