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Almost 70% of online daters say financial responsibility was a very or extremely important quality in a potential date (even more than attractiveness or ambition), finds a survey by Discover and Match Media Group.

In fact, talking about money can help clients understand whether a potential partner is responsible and reliable. It sets them up to approach finances honestly and fearlessly as a couple. But deciding when to get down to the details is hard.

Here’s when, and how, to build an understanding of a partner’s finances.

Listen and learn

In the first few months of dating, pay attention to the basics, like whether the other person says they keep a budget or are saving up to buy a home, says Matt Gellene, managing director with Bank of America Consumer Banking and Merrill Edge in Boston. You’re looking for indications that they apply some discipline to their money habits, which is important throughout a long-term relationship.

Read: How gifts and inheritances are shared between spouses

That’s because if you stay together, “there’s going to be fluctuations in your financial picture,” Gellene says. Each person’s ability to adjust their budget and lifestyle will help prevent strife if, along the way, one partner loses their job or incurs hefty medical expenses, he says.

Notice whether your date drives a car that seems too luxurious for their income, or if they mention having credit card debt, adds Helen Fisher, a biological anthropologist and chief scientific advisor to Match.com. Make a mental note to ask about the backstory behind their spending habits or debt. That can provide insight into whether they experienced a one-time setback or have chronic money woes.

Getting serious

“Where marriage used to be the beginning of a relationship, now it’s the finale,” Fisher says.

That means there are many smaller milestones you can peg a money conversation to. Here’s one option: Learn about each other’s finances within the first six months of a relationship. That was the earliest online daters said they would be comfortable discussing their debt, income and spending habits, according to the survey.

Read: Homeownership rights for cohabiting clients

Another is to talk about financial red flags, like poor credit, before love enters the picture, Fisher says. “Because once you’ve fallen madly in love with somebody, very often it doesn’t matter, at least for the time being. Nothing matters. He’s cute even if he’s got three heads.”

And definitely have the discussion before moving in together. A partner’s subpar credit could affect whether your client would even qualify for the apartment he wants.

Further, clients should share how much credit card and student loan debt they have, plus credit scores, incomes and progress toward savings goals, says Olivia Mellan, a psychotherapist and money coach in the Washington, D.C., area. Also seek to understand a partner’s money personality, and how his family’s approach to money might have affected him.

Mellan suggests saying, “I think it would be really healthy of us if we talked about our attitudes toward money and our money history, up front, early on in this relationship. Because it’s so often a source of conflict in relationships, and I don’t want us to have undue conflict.”

Originally published on Advisor.ca
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