Money is traditionally thought of as a taboo subject.
Most people reserve their conversations about money for the teller at their local bank and maybe a financial advisor.
But when it comes to the people closest to us, we’re embarrassed to share the truth about our numbers.
It’s this culture of secrecy in finances that’s made relationships ripe for financial infidelity.
What is Financial Infidelity?
Financial infidelity is when your partner is hiding or being dishonest about significant financial information. It can be malicious like someone siphoning money while having an affair before leaving their spouse. Or it can be due to personal issues such as a shopping addiction or poor impulse control.
According to a recent study from Finder.com, men are significantly more likely to lie to their partners about finances, with roughly 26.2% (31 million) of men admitting to having misled their significant other about money, compared to just 17.7% (24.2 million) of women.
Marital infidelity is well-known, but financial infidelity might actually be more common.https://t.co/leLRgBb7zJ
— NPR (@NPR) April 29, 2019
Thinking that someone you love may not be telling you the truth about their finances can cause extreme anxiety. And finding out that you’re right is downright heartbreaking. But there are ways to identify it early and work through it to save your relationship and protect yourself.
Related: 4 Options for Managing Your Finances as a Couple
1. You find bills you didn’t know about
The first sign of dishonesty about money usually comes in the mail in the form of a statement or bill for a credit card, product financing, loan, or line of credit you didn’t know about.
Financial attorney and author Leslie Tayne overlooked red flags she should’ve been aware of and ultimately called off an engagement with her partner of four years due to his debt and money secrets. She said if you’re finding bills or statements you weren’t aware of, make photocopies.
“This may sound sneaky, but it could help you in the long run,” Tayne said. “Take a good look at what is contained in the bill to be sure it’s truly a cause for concern. If so, a conversation with your partner is definitely in order.”
2. Your partner gets defensive when talking about money
Money can be an uncomfortable subject for anyone. If you and your partner had been able to have conversations about money in the past, and now they get defensive or angry, that’s another red flag.
Talk to your partner about money in general and observe their body language. Do they clench their fists? Deflect the conversation? Or leave the room altogether? Those could be signs they’re hiding something.
Related: Should You Marry a Spender If You’re a Saver?
3. Things keep “appearing”
If you notice that your partner has a lot of new stuff or wonder where the money for their weekend trips is coming from, this could be another sign.
Mental health consultant, Adina Mahalli, said to watch out for the same explanations coming up.
“Your partner will tell you that there was a sale or that a friend was giving the item away,” Mahalli said. “If you notice that this story keeps repeating itself, or your partner tells you that it’s an old piece of clothing that they found but you see that it still has the tag on it, know that your partner might be lying to you.”
4. You’ve been removed from a joint account
Check your joint accounts, investments, and credit cards periodically to see if your name is still on them and you have access to them. Tayne says having your name taken off a joint account or being removed as an authorized user is a significant red flag.
“Typically, this signals that your partner wants to use that account without you knowing what they’re doing with it,” she said.
How to Deal With Financial Infidelity
Financial infidelity doesn’t mean the end of your relationship. With time, you can work through it and regain the trust you had before. Unfortunately for some, it’s better to leave than to stay. There are steps to take in those situations as well.
Related: How to Create a Financial Plan to Reach Your Goals
Finding out your closest companion is keeping something from you can stir up feelings of betrayal, anger, and hopelessness. When confronting your partner about it, don’t let these emotions get the best of you.
Remain calm, be honest, and avoid being accusatory. Yelling and accusations are likely to result in defensiveness and hurt your efforts to resolve the issues that started the infidelity.
Understand when your viewpoints differ and agree to disagree on some things. This can be the first step to moving forward together.
Find the cause
A partner spending and taking out debt in secret doesn’t typically happen overnight. There’s usually a build-up and motivation behind it. Mahalli says to truly put an end to the financial infidelity, you have to work on the root cause for why it started.
- Is your partner hiding money because they don’t think you are financially responsible?
- Do they have previous trauma that makes them want to hide money in case they ever need to run?
- Do they simply need to learn proper spending habits?
“Making the effort to figure out the cause will help you two figure out how to best proceed,” Mahalli said.
Get outside help
Marriage and money expert Andy Hill says financial transparency and open communication are essential for avoiding financial infidelity. Otherwise, you may need to seek outside help.
“If for some reason your partner starts communicating less and withdrawing more from financial conversations, marital counseling may be a smart move,” Hill said. “Involving a third-party professional may open up doors of communication and lessen the chance of financial infidelity.”
You may also consider hiring a financial planner to mediate conversations and aid in decision making or reach out to your local community center that offers assistance to victims of domestic violence.
As a last resort, Tayne recommends seeking an attorney. A debt attorney can let you know your rights when it comes to debt collection and may also be able to leverage your hardship to settle your debt for less than you owe.
Related: How to Get Your Spouse on Board with Paying Off Debt
Pull your credit report
It’s good financial practice to pull your credit report at least once a year, and it’s especially important if you think your partner may have taken out debt in your name.
“Seeing your credit report can allow you to assess how much damage has been done to your financial situation and what you may be able to do about it,” Tayne said.
You can access your credit report free annually from all three credit reporting bureaus – TransUnion, Equifax, and Experian – at AnnualCreditReport.com and websites like Credit Karma. Consider spacing credit pulls out over the course of the year.
File a dispute or police report
“Whether or not you’re married to the person who’s opening credit cards in your name, it’s still considered identity theft,” Tayne said.
If your partner has created debt using your identity, fill out an identity theft affidavit and bring it to your local police precinct. By law, they should give you a police report. You can then send the report and the affidavit to your creditors and to the three credit reporting bureaus to dispute the unauthorized transactions.
You can also file a dispute with the financial institution on any accounts opened in your name or transactions that you didn’t authorize. File your dispute in writing and include any relevant documents, especially police reports.
Related: Should Debt Be a Marriage Deal Breaker? How to Have the Debt Talk
Financial Infidelity is More Common Than You Think
According to an NCBI study published in Couple Family Psychology, 40% of divorces were due to how one spouse handled money. And for over a decade, the number of non-business bankruptcies filed each year in the U.S. has been higher than the number of divorces filed for.
Take the steps to create open communication with your partner about money today and put safeguards in place to protect yourself from its aftermath.