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Tips for uncovering, dealing with hidden credit card debt

You could scream or ask for divorce; experts offer better choices

By Adrienne Samuels-Gibbs

What should you do when you suspect that your significant other is pulling a fast one on you regarding your credit? You could scream, fuss, fight or even ask for a divorce. But before you do all that, you could do some research and some thoughtful introspection. After all, everything happens for a reason, right?

How to find your partner's hidden creditConsider the following statistics from the book "Financial Infidelity," by New York therapist Bonnie Eaker Weil: 57 percent of people use money as a means of control, 37 percent argue more about money more than sex, and 47 percent do not discuss money before marriage. (See: Hiding credit card debt)

The trick here is to not allow money and debt to become bigger than your relationship, and here's how.

Why do people hide credit card debt?

  • "They're trying to hide a problem," says Michelle Evard, president of Phoenix-based Evard Financial Advisors PLLC. "A gambling problem or a shopping problem. Or sometimes they hide things from their spouse because they're ashamed or they want a certain amount of control."
  • "They do it because they are afraid of what their spouse might do if they found out that you had other resources," says Marlin Bryant, president and CEO of Chicago-based ATA Data Systems. "Also because you don't know what your spouse is capable of doing."
  • Women who are in abusive relationships often hide one single credit card account so that they can leave town if necessary.
  • Couples, prior to getting married, might be skipping over the debt conversation. If so, hidden debt remains out of sight.

How do people hide credit card debt?
People who are hiding debt can be quite devious, and quite smart. So be on your toes if you suspect something.

  • Married women sometimes hide credit by keeping a card in their maiden names and accounts at banks in their maiden names.
  • People often opt for paperless bills and have the e-mail statements sent to a private e-mail address of which their partners are unaware.
  • Businesspeople often send their hidden credit bills to their primary places of employment.

How do you find hidden debt?
This could require a little sleuthing. Keep in mind that marriage experts say that if you have to snoop, you might want to reconsider why you're married.

  • Pull your spouse's credit report from one of the many online credit report websites. You will need your spouse's Social Security number; however, the jury is out on whether this is a legal maneuver. The credit report will list all sources of debt. Under the best circumstances, it would be advisable to obtain permission from your spouse to run the credit report.
  • Check your spouse's key ring for a post office box and the mail for receipts for a post office box. Snag the key and check the P.O. box.
  • Pay attention to the household accounts and especially grocery accounts. If more money shows up on grocery receipts than shows up as food in your fridge, be aware that the money might be used to pay off hidden debts.

How do you confront your partner?

  • Don't attack your partner. First, put on what Weil calls an "emotional bulletproof vest" so you don't get defensive or angry. Be prepared for them to get angry with you, but don't react.
  • Weil then suggests speaking in the "language of attachment." Says Weil:  "You say these things in a nice and emphatic, loving, caring way. Something like 'I know you've been very lonely lately and I know I haven't been there for you. I know you're filling up your emptiness by shopping until you drop and I know that this probably gives you a high or an adrenaline rush.'"
  • Then, allow the person to deal with the consequences of the debt. Decide to work as a team together to tame the desire to spend money.

See related: Hiding credit card debt, Don't say 'I do' to bad credit, 12 debt questions to ask before you get married

Published: August 11, 2008


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Updated: 09-27-2016


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