It may begin innocently. You just couldn’t face another lecture from your significant other about how much you’re spending on shoes or online sports betting sites, so you hide the credit card bill. This describes “financial infidelity,” and it can ultimately destroy trust between partners.
BILLSHARK wants you to know how damaging such secrets are to a relationship. Even worse, if carried to extremes it can end up ruining both partners’ financial future.
It is “just as serious as a sexual betrayal,” Mary Gresham, an Atlanta psychologist, told Bankrate.com. “You’re taking resources that belong in the couple or partnership and funneling them off. It leads to a lot of divorces.”
A common problem
Whether you’re fibbing about the price of something you bought, or making investments your partner knows nothing about, financial infidelity is surprisingly common.
According to a 2016 survey by Denver-based non-profit National Endowment for Financial Education (NEFE), as many as 33 percent of those surveyed said they’d lied about money or hidden financial details from a spouse or partner.
A poll taken earlier this year by CreditCards.com found 44 percent of respondents admitted hiding a checking, savings, or credit card account from their partner, have secret debt, or are spending more than their partner would think was okay.
In addition, the survey revealed that millennials are much more likely than GenXers or Baby Boomers commit some form of financial infidelity with their current partner.
How financial infidelity starts
Shelly Church, an advisor with Raymond James financial services in Naples, Florida, told NBC News that many people fall into financial infidelity the same way they commit romantic infidelities.
“It wasn’t planned, it just ‘happens,’ ” she said. “And once it starts, quite often people end up getting deeper than they thought they would. They figure the market will save them over time, or they’ll be able to get things paid off before it’s noticed. But, more often than not, they can’t work themselves out of it and the hole gets deeper.”
That’s because one lie leads to another.
“Money fibs can start out relatively innocently—like concealing a charge account in order to buy a surprise gift for a spouse—but the behavior often develops a compounding effect for those who are susceptible,” financial planner Kimberly Foss, told NBC. Foss is founder of Empyrion Wealth Management and author of “Wealthy By Design.”
“After you get away with it once, it becomes easier the next time, and if you are able to successfully lie about buying a $400 blouse, it’s easier to try it again with a $2,000 piece of jewelry. And it goes from there.”
When it becomes sinister
The lies can cover a range of situations, from lending to or borrowing from family or friends, buying or mortgaging personal property, siphoning off money from a retirement account, making risky investments, or starting an ill-conceived small business, all without the other person’s knowledge or consent, according to Bankrate.
While these examples are relatively innocent—despite the damage they eventually cause—one category of financial infidelity is downright malicious.
“I’ve heard stories of people taking their income and funneling it into a separate account, and then using their spouse’s income to pay all the household bills until they’re ready to end the marriage,” certified financial planner Jill Fopiano, CEO of O’Brien Wealth Partners, told NBC.
Other examples of serious financial infidelity include hiding money to support a drug or gambling addiction. The most dangerous type is when one partner uses money to control another, a form of domestic abuse.
Red flags to look for
Bankrate lists several signs that your partner is being financially unfaithful:
- You get off from a joint credit card.
- You see no activity by your partner on a card you’ve both normally used.
- Your partner intercepts bills and statements so you don’t see them.
- You receive statements in the mail from a financial company you’ve never heard of.
- Cash goes missing or is unaccounted for.
One other major sign is when your partner has bank statements, credit card bills, or other important financial information sent to their office instead of your home.
“If the office is taking care of personal accounting, that usually is a huge flag,” Lili Vasileff, founder of Divorce & Money Matters LLC, a divorce financial planning firm in Greenwich, Connecticut, told Bankrate.
What to do about it
Whatever the reason, both partners can be ruined financially—possibly for years—if it continues.
The only way to get control is through communication. Whether you’re the one doing the cheating or the one being cheated on, it’s important to sit down and have a conversation about the situation.
If you can’t work out a solution on your own, talk to a financial planner. He or she can help restore balance in your financial goals. A couple’s therapist or marriage counselor might be necessary if the root problems are more serious.
If you suspect your partner is withholding financial information as a form of domestic abuse, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233), visit their website at https://www.thehotline.org, or text LOVEIS to 22522.
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