Financial infidelity poll: 31% say hiding accounts worse than cheating

Brady Porche
Staff Reporter
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Financial infidelity survey

Many Americans may prefer to see their significant others take secret lovers than hide bank accounts from them, according to a new CreditCards.com poll.

In our national survey of 1,372 U.S. adults who are in relationships, 31 percent said keeping a credit card, checking or savings account hidden from a spouse or partner is worse than physical cheating. Fifteen million who are in live-in romantic relationships said they’re currently guilty of this kind of financial infidelity, and another 9 million said they had been in the past.

Experts agree that a secret account – depending on what it’s used for – could be a violation of trust on par with a tryst in the eyes of the other partner.

“You don’t know what the other person is spending money on,” said Sonya Britt-Lutter, associate professor of personal financial planning at Kansas State University. “Are they spending it on another person, or are they spending it on something else that pleases them in a way that you’re not pleasing them as a partner or spouse?

“I think it’s the same type of ‘What am I doing that’s not good enough for you?’ feeling, whether it’s financial or physical cheating.”

Financial infidelity poll: key findings

Here are our other key findings from our financial infidelity poll:

  • Living together makes secrecy more difficult.
    A full 23 percent of respondents in relationships – living together or apart – said they have kept accounts hidden from their partners. People who don’t live with their lovers were significantly more likely to say this than those who do.
  • Financial cheating may hurt more when you’re earning less.
    People who make less than $40,000 per year were more likely than those with higher incomes to say that keeping a secret account is worse than having an affair.
  • Most of us shoot straight with our partners about money.
    Eighty-five percent of spoken-for respondents said they’re honest with their significant others when it comes to money.
  • Some of us don’t think the honesty is mutual.
    However, only 77 percent said they believe their spouses or partners are truthful to them about finances.
  • If you don’t talk about it, you can’t fight about it.
    Eleven percent of people in relationships said they never discuss money with their partners. Women were significantly more likely to say this than men. 

The survey of 1,372 adults in romantic relationships was conducted online Jan. 10-11, 2018. See survey methodology.

 

Your cheatin’ card will tell on you

Suppose you’ve just discovered your significant other has a credit card account you knew nothing about. Do you feel betrayed, deceived and ashamed? Or do you chalk it up to a misunderstanding?

It could be innocent: Your boo could just be planning a surprise party or an elaborate gift for you, and he doesn’t want to you figure it out the moment you log in to your joint bank account. Perhaps he signed up for it thinking he had already told you about it, but he actually forgot to bring it up.

Or maybe, just maybe, he’s aiming for a 50,000-point rewards bonus to fund a weekend in Waikiki with Wanda from accounting.

Kansas State University’s Britt-Lutter said it’s difficult to pin down reasons why people financially cheat. One simple explanation: We like to keep spending on things we used to while single, even though a partner finds it wasteful or frivolous.

“A lot of it boils down to a difference in values,” Britt-Lutter said. “If there’s something that I value that you don’t value, I’m still going to spend money on it because it’s something that I think is important. I’m just not going to tell you about it to avoid the argument.”

Money mishaps and relationships

Minneapolis-based financial educator Ruth Hayden noted that a person entering into a serious relationship may also be afraid to let his new squeeze know about past money mishaps. The partner with the checkered financial history may think hiding troubled accounts can prevent the relationship from blowing up before it has a chance to mature.

“We have such incredible judgment of people and their money,” Hayden said. “If I tell you the truth, you’re going to think I’m a terrible person, and then we won’t have a relationship.”  

But sneaking around financially gets harder to do as a relationship evolves. When two people move in together, all their bank statements go to the same mailbox, and they may start using the same devices to manage separate online accounts. Additionally, many card issuers now provide mobile transaction alerts to help prevent fraud. Your partner could see a message about your latest secret purchase while picking up your phone to snap a photo or replying to a text from mom while your hands are full. 

“Most of this stuff comes up one way or another,” Britt-Lutter said. “The long-term consequences are going to be reduced relationship satisfaction and increased likelihood of divorce or breaking up.” 

"The long-term consequences are going to be reduced relationship satisfaction and increased likelihood of divorce or breaking up."

How to make amends for financial infidelity

There’s little evidence of a financial cheating epidemic in America, and most of us communicate with our partners regularly about money. Eighty-five percent of the people in relationships surveyed said they’re honest with their significant others about money. And 63 percent said they discuss finances with their partners at least a few times per month.  

If you are among those keeping money secrets, it can hurt your spouse or partner and damage the relationship, even if the reasons are harmless. But it may not be too late to make amends and commit to greater transparency.

Olivia Mellan, a retired psychotherapist, money coach and author of “Money Harmony: A Road Map for Individuals and Couples,” recommends you “find a nonstressful time to talk about it, be vulnerable about it, share why you found it necessary … and that you don’t want to do it anymore.”

If you discover your partner owns a secret account, address it, but without making accusations or mounting a personal attack.

“Be quizzical and curious about why they found it necessary to do this,” Mellan said. “Anger always makes people defensive, and it makes them shut down.”

Have the money chat

Couples planning to get hitched can prevent extramarital financial affairs by communicating about money before the day of the wedding. Britt-Lutter recommends premarital financial counseling sessions, and that partners share their credit reports and bank account information with one another before tying the knot. If you and your partner are not planning to get married, the best time to have the money talk is before you move in together.

Experts urge people in serious romantic relationships against hiding bank accounts or any other important information from one another. After all, what seems like a white lie to you could feel like a knife in the heart to your partner.

“I think secrecy is never a good idea in a relationship,” Mellan said. “It’s a wedge to intimacy.” 

Survey methodology

CreditCards.com commissioned YouGov Plc to conduct interviews with 1,372 adults living in the United States who are in romantic relationships. The survey was conducted online between Jan. 10-11, 2018. Statistical results are weighted to correct known demographic differences between the sample and the U.S. population. 

See related: How couples can recover after financial infidelity 


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Updated: 08-21-2018