Dating in debt: How pressure to impress is causing nearly 1 in 3 young adults to overspend on dating

Young hipster couple eating ice-cream and taking selfies and going into dating debtImage: Young hipster couple eating ice-cream and taking selfies and going into dating debt

In a Nutshell

A new Credit Karma survey finds that many young adults have gone into debt to pay for their dates — in some cases more than $500 in debt. Millennials are more likely to go into dating debt compared to Gen Z, and Gen Z might be changing the dating game altogether.
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Dating is driving many young adults into debt.

A recent Credit Karma/Qualtrics survey shows that nearly a third (29%) of millennials and Gen Zers have gone into debt to pay for dates — with 21% piling up more than $500 in dating debt in the past year. (Learn about our methodology.)

With data previously showing that FOMO — fear of missing out — is a big driver of spending among those ages 18–34, it also looks like pressure to keep up a certain image is extending to young Americans’ dating lives. Of respondents who went into dating debt, 28% said they did so to impress their dates, while 24% said they simply have expensive taste.

Yet a full 20% of those surveyed also said that having “too much debt” is a top dating dealbreaker — even ranking above being bad in bed.

All said, learning how to “swipe left” on dating debt might be key to helping millennials and Gen Z find their happily ever after — in both love and finances.

Key survey findings

29% of people ages 18–34 have gone into debt for a date. Of those, 21% have gone more than $500 in debt in the past year.
When asked why they went into dating debt, 29% said they accidentally overspent, 28% were looking to impress their dates, and 19% admitted they hoped it would get them laid.
Of those who have gone into dating debt, millennials are more than twice as likely as Gen Z to go at least $250 in debt for dating (48% vs. 22%).
20% of people 18-34 years old said having too much debt is their biggest dating dealbreaker, ahead of being bad in bed (19%), being a bad kisser (13%), or having a bad or low-paying job (13%).
73% of young adults from the survey say they wouldn’t talk about finances on a first date, and 69% of those in a relationship said ‘I love you’ before discussing their salary or other finances.

Many young adults have gone more than $500 in debt for dating

Our survey shows that 29% of 18­–34-year-olds have gone into debt for dating. Of those, most (67%) have more than $100 in dating debt in the past year and almost half (41%) have gone more than $250 in dating debt.

But perhaps what’s most concerning is that about one in five young adults (21%) who have gone into dating debt in the past year racked up at least $500 in debt to fund dates.

And yet, despite young Americans’ willingness to spend big on dates, many young adults view “too much debt” as one of their biggest turn-offs when considering a partner, our survey shows.

When asked what they view as dealbreakers when it comes to a potential romantic partner, debt comes into play as a top-five reason respondents would rule out a relationship with someone.

Top Five Dating Dealbreakers

Not liking their personality/sense of humor 61%
Not enough in common 47%
Not attractive 35%
Having too much debt 20%
Bad in bed 19%

The top reasons young adults fall into dating debt

So it’s clear that many young people are going into debt to date. But why? Some of the reasons probably seem obvious while others might be surprising.

For example, nearly a third of those who went into dating debt (29%) said they did so accidentally.

Given that 75% of those who went into debt said they used credit cards to finance their dates, it makes sense that ease of credit access could encourage daters to spend in the moment and worry about consequences later.

Still, some daters indicated they overspent on purpose, for a variety of reasons that seem to indicate today’s youth are looking to present a certain image to potential romantic partners. Of those daters in who have gone into debt:  

  • 28% said they went into debt in order to impress their dates
  • 24% said they simply have expensive taste
  • 19% indicated they went into debt hoping it would get them laid
  • 17% said they wanted their dates to think they had more money than they did

Millennials are racking up more dating debt while Gen Z could be changing the dating game

When it comes to dating debt, millennials are the bigger spenders. Some 48% of millennials who fall into dating debt end up more than $250 in the red, compared to just 22% of Gen Z, according to our survey. What’s more, among those who went into debt to finance dates, millennials were also more likely to say they’ve gone into more than $500 in dating debt compared to members of Gen Z (26% and 8%, respectively).  

How is Gen Z avoiding dating debt? It could be their changing expectations around dating.

According to our survey, Gen Zers were more likely than millennials to say they expect to split the check on a first date (36% vs. 26%). And on a typical date, 42% of Gen Zers expect to split the bill compared to just 29% of millennials. This shift in expectations could signal a greater change in dating culture, perhaps reducing the dating debt load for future generations.

Both generations struggle to talk finance with partners

One thing that transcends whatever differences exist between millennials and Gen Z: The difficulty of talking about money with a partner.

According to our survey, 95% of young adults in a relationship think having conversations about finances with their romantic partners is important. However, 69% of those partnered said they told their partner “I love you” before they discussed their salaries or other financial information.

And 73% of survey respondents said they wouldn’t talk about finances on a first date.


Tips for dating without going into debt

It might seem like going into dating debt is par for the course these days. But there are ways young adults can avoid it — by being more honest and transparent with their dates, and by planning ahead.

Be honest about your financial situation. Based on the latest survey results, you’re far from alone if you’ve ever gone into debt for dating. But remember — our survey also reveals that similar interests along with personality traits like a good sense of humor are more important to young daters than impressive jobs or wealth. So don’t be afraid to speak up. Suggest dates you can honestly afford, or agree to split the tab.

Keep your credit cards at home. Our survey found that 75% of those who went into dating debt did so by using a credit card. One way to avoid the temptation to overspend is to leave your credit cards at home and use cash or a debit card instead.

Suggest free activities. A great date doesn’t have to come with a high price tag. Remember, today’s daters are looking for traits that aren’t defined by your wallet. Think of fun ideas that could be free (or low cost), like wandering around local museums, having a picnic in the park, or doing some volunteer work together.


Methodology

On behalf of Credit Karma, Qualtrics conducted a nationally representative survey online in January 2019 of 786 Americans aged 18-34 to learn about their spending habits when it comes to dating. All percentages have been rounded to the nearest whole.


About the author: Paris Ward is a content strategist at Credit Karma, providing readers with the latest news that will aid their financial progress. She has more than a decade of experience as a writer and editor and holds a bachelor’s… Read more.