Over 30 000 people responded to an online survey done by Fin24 as part of its special Debt Issue. Of the 23 778 respondents answering the question on how debt affected their relationships, an overwhelming 94.5% indicated that their relationships were worse off because of debt.
The survey showed that the spousal relationship was most negatively affected by debt, with 43.07% of respondents indicating that their relationship with their spouse was worse because of debt.
In a marriage, it is possible to incur debt without the knowledge of the other party as dual cards on credit facilities and retail accounts are common nowadays.
Comments debt expert Moeshfieka Botha: “Even though stats show that nearly 20 million South Africans are credit active and nearly 10 million of those have impaired credit records, we have found that there is a huge amount of guilt and shame associated with debt.
“Debt is no longer a taboo and as a society, we need to start speaking about it... it is too big an issue to avoid,” Botha said.
Casey Amoore, operations director of the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (Sadag) on Thursday confirmed that the number of calls to their helpline has virtually tripled in the last three years - from 150 to close to 500 a day.
“Some of the most common problems of the callers include debt, financial strain, unemployment or retrenchment,” she said.
Debt expert Friedl Kreuser said it is dangerous and unhealthy for a spouse to try and deal with a stressful debt situation alone.
In an answer to a Fin24 user question about her rights in keeping her debt problem from her husband, Kreuser advised the involvement of an objective third party to help break the news to the spouse.
“We believe it is vital for couples to work together in managing their finances - and the related stress - like a unified household,” Kreuser said.
He said if the Fin24 user is married in community of property or if any of the debts are in both their names, the husband can be held fully accountable for the debt and his spouse’s debt behaviour.
Should couples be struggling and need to go under debt review, there would need to be a joint application by both parties, irrespective of the fact that one party has more debt than the other, said Botha.
Once under debt review, neither party will have access to credit any more.
“It is often during the process of applying for debt review that many individuals find out for the first time about their partner’s debt.”
Attorney and debt adviser Francis Erasmus strongly suggested open and frank discussions between couples, especially about finances.
“Getting married out of community of property or with the protection of an antenuptial contract could safeguard you against debt incurred irresponsibly,” she said.