Our latest financial infidelity poll showed that 40% of respondents who are in serious relationships admitted they were hiding a checking, savings or credit card account from their partners.
If you found your partner committing adultery you might leave them – but how would you feel if you found out they were two-timing you with an undercover savings or checking account, a credit card or a large debt they’ve accrued?
In CreditCards.com’s latest financial infidelity poll, 40% of respondents who are in serious relationships came clean about hiding a checking, savings or credit card account from their partners.
And 74% of them who have ever had extramarital financial relations did so in 2020.
Twenty-eight percent said they think financial faithlessness is worse than physical cheating, 38% believe physical cheating is worse and the rest are undecided. The percentage of those who said being financially hornswoggled is worse breaks down to 32% of millennials, 27% of Gen Xers and 25% of baby boomers.
Ted Rossman, industry expert for CreditCards.com, said money is very personal for millennials and that it’s hard for many of them to mesh their money management styles with a romantic partner.
He offered several possible explanations, including that millennials tend to get married later than previous generations, they’re more likely to be in a two-income household and they’re more likely to have divorced parents.
Rossman stressed the need for millennials – and couples of all ages – to communicate about money so that you don’t lose each other’s trust.
“A growing number of couples, especially in their 20s and 30s, seem to be benefiting from the ‘yours, mine and ours’ approach to divvying up their finances,” Rossman said.
Financial infidelity poll: principal findings
Check out some other significant results from our financial infidelity poll:
- Betrayal breakdown: Of those surveyed, 30% said they’ve spent more than their partners would be OK with, 11% kept secret debt, 9% and 7% hid a secret savings or checking account (respectively) and 7% stashed a credit card. Of those who came clean, 37% of millennials, 33% of Gen Xers and 23% of boomers reported they spent more than their partner would like. And 12% of millennials, 5% of Gen Xers and 6% of baby boomers admitted they kept a credit card account, while 13% of millennials, 6% of Gen Xers and 3% of boomers admitted to having a secret checking account. Fifteen percent of millennials, 8% of Gen Xers and 5% of boomers fessed up to keeping a secret savings account. Only 15% of millennials, 9% of Gen Xers and 9% of boomers said they hid debt.
- Mendacity motives: The No. 1 reason respondents listed for keeping secret debts and accounts was privacy or a desire to control their own finances (30%). Some said it never came up or they didn’t feel the need to share (25%), and some claimed they were ashamed of the way they handle money (23%). Others said they didn’t trust their partners with money (23%) and that they hid money in case the relationship ended poorly (21%). A small percentage said they needed the money to support an addiction, such as gambling, drugs or alcohol (17%).
- Gender grounds: Among those who kept secret debts or accounts, 29% of men and only 17% of women said they didn’t trust their partners with money, while 22% of men and only 12% of women said they needed the money to support an addiction.
The survey of 2,448 U.S. adults was conducted online between Jan. 6-8, 2021. See survey methodology.
2020 was a good time pull a fast one
Hanna J. Morrell, holistic financial coach at Pacific Stoa Financial Wellness, wasn’t surprised that our data showed 74% of people who have ever hid an account from their partner did so in 2020.
She said her own clients had underlying obstacles amplified last year due to the pandemic – in both individual relationships with money as well as their relationships with each other – and so far, it’s carrying over to 2021.
“Money stressors combined with a changed or strained relationship with our partners is a perfect recipe for things like financial infidelity,” Morrell said.
On the other hand, Morghan Leia Richardson, a divorce attorney for Davidoff Hutcher & Citron LLP, was a bit surprised that so many people were able to keep secret debt or accounts in 2020 when everyone’s privacy was at an all-time low due to pandemic closures.
It was and continues to be a difficult time for marriages as we deal with school closures, restrictions and limitations that keep us all more in our homes, she said.
“People are financially suffering in this economy and I wonder what percentage of those who are hiding debt are struggling to keep their families afloat,” Richardson added.
See related: Taking financial control amid a global pandemic
Millennials say financial infidelity is worse than actual cheating
Although 51% of millennials in serious relationships admitted to betraying their partners about money matters, 32% said that financially cheating is worse than having an affair with someone.
Richardson said millennials who are getting married these days are far more likely to enter into prenuptial agreements that clearly define what is separate and marital property.
They are usually much more open than other age groups to discussing finances or how much of their working life and wages they are willing to use to support the relationship goals, while carving out personal finances for themselves.
Still, she said, many millennial divorce cases she’s handled involved couples who grew up watching their parents divorce and they learned to have a separate account “just in case.”
Today, she said, they are intent on protecting themselves from the mistakes they’ve seen their parents and grandparents make.
Combine these elements and it’s not shocking this group would feel that having a financial affair is worse than physically cheating.
Three reasons financial cheaters do what they do
Howard Dvorkin, CPA & chairman of Debt.com, said that in his three decades as a financial counselor he has noticed three distinct kinds of financial infidelity.
The first is fueled by shame, he said.
A spouse is embarrassed by their therapy shopping, their gambling or their addiction, so they hide bank accounts or credit cards to avoid an uncomfortable confrontation.
The second is provoked by insecurity.
Dvorkin said he sees this most often in second marriages or with someone who’s had at least one long-term relationship that went bad.
“They hide money because they’re not sure they can trust their significant other, and they want to maintain some financial freedom,” he said.
The third kind is more maniacal.
These are people who cheat on their significant others, just because they can and they get a thrill out of it.
“I’ve never been able to help these people, because the problem is well beyond what I can do,” Dvorkin said.
Secret debt can wreak havoc on families
Richardson has handled a number of divorce cases in which one spouse was blindsided by extensive debts that they didn’t know about, and when such cases involved children, she said the quality of everyone’s lifestyle was often negatively impacted.
People hiding their spending may be simply trying to avoid a fight over it, but over time the dividends of lying compound.
Lying about money erodes marital trust – not surprisingly, there are quite a large number of divorces that involve not only secret accounts but spending secret money on affairs, she said.
Coming clean about financial infidelity
What might help people avoid nasty financial surprises in a marriage?
For starters, Richardson suggested setting milestones during the marriage for discussing finances, which can give everyone the opportunity to “come clean” about any issues they may have been avoiding.
Financial coach Morrell said financial infidelity is an indicator of larger problems in a partnership.
Beginning the work of having open, productive conversations about money with a partner is the best way to first recover from financial infidelities and ultimately prevent them, she said.
In Morrell’s article on how to have a money conversation with your partner, she lays out a scaffold of questions a couple can use to start and then grow their conversations about money.
To follow her tips you don’t have to be using a budget or even have talked about your goals with your partner – it simply outlines how couples can begin to have the dreaded money conversations in a safe, sane way.
CreditCards.com commissioned YouGov Plc to conduct the survey. All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 2,448 adults of which 1,245 are in a serious relationship (i.e., married, civil partnership, living with partner). The survey was conducted online between January 6-8, 2021.