Husband's secret debt destroying marriage
To Her Credit
Sally Herigstad is a certified public accountant and the author of "Help! I Can't Pay My Bills: Surviving a Financial Crisis" (St. Martin's Press, 2006). She writes "To Her Credit," a weekly reader Q&A column about issues involving women, credit and debt, for CreditCards.com, and also writes regularly for MSN Money, Interest.com and Bankrate.com, and has guested on Martha Steward Radio and other programs. See her website SallyHerigstad.com
for more personal finance tips and free budgeting worksheets.
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Dear To Her Credit,
I discovered recently that my husband is back to his old
tactics. He's acquired debt using credit cards that he is unable to make the
minimum payments on. He sneaked around and got them without me knowing. I finally
found the statements, and now I'm upset over the balance, complete with late
fees and balance transfers.
We went through this before several years ago. That time, my
husband used my cards without me knowing it and hid the statements by having
them come to a different mail box number. Before all this happened, my credit had
been excellent, and I didn't owe anyone. We went to credit counseling and we've
been making payments of over $900 a month for the past five years. He filed for
bankruptcy at the time.
I have been watching the money carefully and my credit is
making a comeback. Now I discover this! I am concerned that his bad credit will
affect my credit. My name is not on the cards that he has, and we live in
We have our own business, and I have everything in my name
since he has no credit, bank account or savings whatsoever.
The debt my husband has acquired is from sheer carelessness
and always having to get what he wants --and ending up with nothing to show for
it. I do not trust him at all with money, or with much of anything.
He has no discipline with money. I think the D word is what you might tell me
to do. -- Kathleen
Don't dump your husband over just money. Good men aren't
easy to find, and if overspending is his worst trait, you can find ways to deal
with it. Try to remember that we all have shortcomings of some kind.
On the other hand, if you can't trust him with anything, including finances, you may come to the conclusion that divorce is in the cards. A
marriage without trust is no marriage at all. I would never tell someone to get
a divorce, but I would certainly understand if you made that decision.
motivational speaker and author of "Brilliant Frugal Living," says
she's been asked questions like this on the air. "She has every right to
take the action she's taking -- a majority of divorces happen due to money
problems," says Hagopian.
Just because you have a right to do something doesn't mean
it's a good idea, however. Consider your kids, if you have them, and how much
of your life you have invested in each other. Divorce, like bankruptcy, is a
last resort. It's not the easy way out. It's not even cheap, by the time you
split assets, pay the lawyers and court costs, and maintain two households
instead of one. The fact that you have a business together makes it even more
Instead of divorcing, first try to find ways to help him act
like a financial grown-up. "It sounds as though the husband has indulged
in overspending because he's always been bailed out," says Hagopian.
"Believe it or not, divorcing him won't cure him of his spending
problems. My truest advice would be to
stay together a while longer, keep the finances completely, utterly separate
and keep assets (cars, homes) in her name."
If all of your income comes from your business, you should
determine together how much of the business cash flow should go each month to
mortgage, car payments, savings, groceries and so on. There should also be some
money to go into your husband's accounts that he can squander if he wants. When it's gone, that's it. You should come to
an agreement that neither of you is going into debt without the other person's
It may seem as if you're having to play the part of your
husband's "parent," teaching him the money lessons that his actual
parents never did. That's OK. Try to graduate to a true partnership as quickly
as possible, however. You can do that by being open with each other, planning
and making goals, and building that trust level back up, one day at a time.
If you're not sure you can get him on board, Hagopian
recommends a money counselor -- an independent third party that can get the
message through to him. Doing so will
help him understand that things have deteriorated to a tough point -- that
you're ready to take drastic counseling measures to try to save your marriage.
See related: Who pays secret debt in divorce?, 9 steps for restoring trust after hidden debt is revealed
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Published: December 6, 2013
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