What is sexually transmitted debt (STD)?

December 13, 2021

Like other forms of STDs, sexually transmitted debt is something you can catch from your partner.

Sexually transmitted debt, or STD, is often used to describe situations where one person in a relationship becomes responsible for their partner’s financial debt.

It can happen unknowingly, by one partner bringing previous debt into the relationship and restructuring joint finances, or by one partner being convinced or misled into taking on debt in their own name.

Sexually transmitted debt can happen to anyone, no matter their background, and the impact can last a lifetime.

“My partner didn’t tell me about his debt when we got together. He convinced me to get a joint credit card to buy things together. It sounded good but he paid off his historical debt with our card. I didn’t know and ended up just as responsible for paying it”

If you’re borrowing together, it’s important you check with the bank or lender to understand exactly what you will be responsible for.

Usually, you will be both joint and severally liable, which means that you are both 100% responsible for the total amount of the debt. If either one of you can’t or doesn’t pay, the other person can legally be pursued and held accountable for the whole amount.

It’s normal in relationships for one person to take on more responsibility for household financial arrangements. However by staying involved in the planning and decision-making about debt or how money is spent in your relationship, you can lessen the risk of catching STD.

What can I do to prevent STD?

Talk about money together

It may seem unromantic, but it is important to know how your money will be managed in a relationship. Try to be open and transparent about financial positions, credit history, investments, goals and spending habits.

If you’re nervous to talk to your partner, we have a toolkit, developed with AUT, that will help you understand relationships and money, as well as how to discuss money with your partner.

Click here to visit our Healthy Financial Relationships Toolkit

Be informed about joint accounts and loans

When banking, we encourage you to read the fine print to fully understand what you’re signing up for. If you’re not sure about something, you can ask questions. If you’re able to, we also encourage you to seek independent advice.

If you are not sure where to start, we have various online resources that may be helpful – including information about the support that’s available when things go wrong, and if you are experiencing economic harm.

Click here to visit our banking resource

Keep your banking secure

It’s important to follow the terms and conditions you have agreed to with the bank.

For example, the terms and conditions of your credit card will likely say that you are not allowed to let others use your cards or tell anyone your PIN or password.

If your partner wants to use your card, talk to your bank about your options for having another cardholder on the account.

Read your financial statements

If you think your partner isn’t disclosing or being transparent about what’s happening with your or your family’s money, check your financial statements. This should help you become more aware of your costs and understand which debts and bills are in your name.

Information is power. Understanding as much as you can about what is happening with your and your family’s money is important for making financial decisions that are in the best interests of you and your loved ones.

Real life stories


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Lara’s relationship, like many, started out healthy – but over time things started to change and when she decided to leave the relationship, she footed the bill.

“Paul wanted me to go on a trip to Australia with him, but I couldn’t afford it, so he offered to pay.

I didn’t want to go because I didn’t want to owe him money. In response, he said – “Well you better come, or I might find a new girlfriend over there.”

I still said no but he bought me a ticket anyway and told me I was going.

When we returned, he gave me a bill made up of all the money I owed him.”
Read story


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Paige met her partner at a party when she was 15 and moved in with him when she was 17.

She had always worked – she’d had after school jobs since she was 12 and worked full-time once she left school. Her partner didn’t work.

Paige told us her partner never forced her to give him money, but she didn’t feel like she had a choice. If she didn’t give him money, he became abusive.

When Paige fell pregnant, He received the benefit and would give Paige some of it, but it was nowhere near enough - let alone half their costs.

When Paige’s relationship ended, she was left to figure out how to pay off over $30,000 in debt and the rent they were behind in.

“I ended up with Baycorp, and the bills kept coming. I thought it was because I was bad with money because that’s what he’d told me.”
Read story

Getting support

Achieving and maintaining a healthy financial relationship is not always an easy task. Money for many of us is a taboo subject that is well known to cause relationship stress.

To support you with financial challenges in your relationship, we have a range of information on our website that you can access for free.

Click here to visit our Healthy Financial Relationships hub

If you are concerned about the money side of your relationship, you can call our support team – 0800 466 370 option 4.

You can also contact our team by completing our online form.


In 2017, a survey by Credit Simple found that almost 18 per cent of New Zealanders admitted to having money or debt that their partner was not aware of.

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