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Many Americans may prefer to see their significant others take
secret lovers than hide bank accounts from them, according to a new
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
“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
Financial infidelity poll: key findings
Here are our other key findings from our financial infidelity poll:
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.
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
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.”
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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