What they don't know won't hurt them. Is that an OK motto for a relationship? About 20% of Americans seem to think it works for them. About 1 in 5 say they have spent $500 or more without telling their partner.
Then there are the independents who make up 6% and maintain a hidden checking or savings account and use secret credit cards. Of course there are couples who are open about separate accounts, and they have the freedom to spend as they see fit.
Creditcards.com did a national, random telephone survey of 843 American adults who said they were currently living with a spouse or partner or significant other. If you extend the results to the general population that would mean about 7 million Americans are keeping financial secrets and committing financial infidelity.
Paula Levy, a marriage and family therapist in Connecticut who just happens to be a certified public accountant as well, says there is nothing out of the ordinary about couples keeping some financial secrets. “In most cases, the secret is mostly to avoid conflict and to make sure they get what they want," said Levy.
Lack of trust
The problem arises when one of the parties finds out that a secret has been kept from them. That creates a lack of trust and can undermine a relationship.
"Hidden accounts are way more common than people think," said Paula Langguth Ryan, a financial advisor who helps consumers work out debt problems.
Such problems often arise when one spouse is afraid to tell the other how much debt they have run up. The truth usually emerges after something hits the fan such as a car in the driveway being repossessed or a lien on the house pops up seemingly from nowhere.
Who do you think is more likely to be hiding a credit card or checking account? It seems that men hold the wallet closest to their pants pocket; 8% of men admitted to having had secret accounts, compared with 5% of women. Men were almost twice as likely as women to say they spent $500 or more without telling their partners: 26% of men, versus just 14% of women.
On the other hand, men don't seem to be bothered if their spouse or significant other spends large amounts of cash without telling them. Thirty-one percent of men and 18% of women say they would have no problem with their partner spending $500 or more without letting them know.
How do you know?
So how do you know if someone is committing financial infidelity? There are ways to spot it, according to Terry Savage, a financial columnist and co-author of "The New Love Deal: Everything You Must Know before Marrying, Moving in or Moving on."
"The first warning of financial infidelity often comes when something doesn't feel quite right," she said. "Unexpected debits for cash from a debit card, unusual credit purchases, or accounts that don't 'balance' will lead you right to the money leak." Look at bank statements. You should have access to those if you have a joint account.
Like anything in a relationship you need to talk about it. The best time is probably not when you are out to dinner or in a movie. Pick a time where you both can take a look at your credit report and go through it and figure a way to work together to solve the problem. Most money issues aren't about money -- they're about power.
People have money personalities -- you are either a saver or a spender. These personalities were years in the making. If you are spending more than you have -- or if your spouse is -- and you can't seem to work it out, get a financial counselor who can help set up a plan that will work for both of you.