Financial infidelity: 12 million Americans admit to hidden account
By Tony Mecia | Published: February 7, 2017
Rewards expert who writes the "Cashing In" reader Q&A column for CreditCards.com
An estimated 12 million Americans confess that they have kept a source of money secret from their romantic partners, according to an analysis of a new poll by CreditCards.com.
Relationship experts warn, though, that keeping a hidden bank account or credit card is a risky move with potentially explosive consequences. Electronic snooping can reveal the truth and lead to a lack of trust that imperils the relationship.
“Any time you get into these kinds of things where you are operating behind the scenes, it usually comes out at some point,” says Corey Allan, a marriage and family therapist in the Dallas area. “We can’t keep things hidden, especially in today’s technological world. Any spouse who has any kind of suspicion can become a detective and find it.”
Financial deception in a relationship might be more common than most people think. According to the CreditCards.com poll, 5 percent of respondents – about 1 in 20 – said they are in a serious relationship and admitted they have concealed the existence of a credit card or bank account from their partner. Extrapolate that out to the entire adult population, and it comes to 12 million Americans with secret accounts.
Older Americans are more likely than younger ones to say they have maintained a secret account.
No matter the age, though, keeping significant secrets can strain a relationship. Allan says financial secrecy springs from the human desire to cling to one’s identity.
“It falls under the umbrella of, ‘I love you, but don’t tell me what to do,’” he says. “When you hit threshold areas of identity, that’s a natural pressure that happens in a relationship on every topic. … Marriage brings that stuff to the forefront. I can either fight my partner, or I can fight myself and realize maybe I do need to grow up in how I view money.”
Allan advises not just a one-time conversation about money before getting serious, but an ongoing discussion of finances and priorities – maybe even monthly, as the bills pour in.
Christa Hardin, director of Reflections Counseling & Coaching Center in the Sarasota, Florida, area, says there might be legitimate instances when concealing spending is acceptable – such as if somebody is in an abusive relationship or just wants to surprise their partner.
But generally, she says, she advises her clients that “complete vulnerability” is the right approach.
“It’s important for couples to be upfront about their financial situation from the beginning,” she says. “In those first conversations, they can say, ‘Here’s what my financial portfolio looks like. Here are my assets. Here’s what I hope to do.”
She says a good rule of thumb is to clear purchases of more than $100 with your partner beforehand. Ideally, couples would be talking regularly about budgeting and what they can afford.
“It’s nice to have an open budget and plan out what you’re going to spend before you spend it,” she says.
Other key findings
The CreditCards.com poll also revealed that:
- As people age, they tend to become more accepting when their partners make big purchases without telling them. Just 24 percent of respondents aged 18 to 29 said they were OK with their partner spending $500 or more without informing them. But 42 percent aged 50 to 64 and 36 percent of those 65-plus said that was acceptable. In addition, older people answering the poll questions were more likely than younger people to have spent $500 or more without telling their partners.
- Among people of different political parties, there was no difference in the rate that they concealed accounts from their partners. Five percent of Republicans, Democrats and independents said they have had secret bank accounts or credit cards.
- People with children are more likely to have an unfavorable view of big expenditures than those without children. Asked if they were OK with their spouse or partner spending $500 or more without disclosing that purchase to them, 37 percent of respondents with no children said it was fine, compared with 27 percent of those with kids.
The telephone poll of 1,003 U.S. adults was conducted Jan. 19-22, 2017, by Princeton Data Source on behalf of CreditCards.com. It has a sampling error of plus or minus 3.7 percentage points for the full sample, and 4.3 percent for those currently living with a spouse or partner.
See related: Video: overcoming financial infidelity
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