Just ask Leslie Tayne. The attorney from Long Island, who was
engaged to be married a couple of years ago, found her fiance was
evasive whenever she brought up money issues.
"I didn't know anything: How much money he was making, his debts,
his expenses," says Tayne, who, ironically, specializes in financial
While physical infidelity may involve a surreptitious smooch with a
co-worker or meeting strangers through a hook-up site like Ashley
Madison, financial infidelity may involve deceit such as the hiding
of bank accounts or credit-card bills.
"It's one of the biggest things that can impact relationships," says
Tayne, who eventually called the whole thing off with her fiance.
Indeed, if you don't know anything about your partner's income, debt
or expenses, that's a big, fluttering red flag. And judging from new
data from CreditCards.com, there are a whole lot of red flags out
The site's poll found that 13 million Americans, or one out of 20 of
us, have hidden banking or credit-card accounts from their partner.
And 19 percent have splurged more than $500 on a big item without
telling their significant other.
"If you're hiding some big financial secret and it gets discovered,
it's only natural for the other person to ask, 'I wonder what else
he's hiding?'" says Matt Schulz, senior industry analyst for
The age group that's most likely to keep financial accounts on the
sly? Naughty millennials between 18-29.
Those over 65, perhaps not surprisingly, were the most transparent
with each other. (As the saying goes: All secrets come out
New research from Ally Bank also uncovers a surprising amount of
financial hanky-panky. In its latest Love and Money survey, among
respondents who reported serious, ongoing money arguments, 17
percent said that hiding debt was a key issue, while 7 percent cited
the hiding of assets.
So, how can couples avoid this particular brand of infidelity and
celebrate Valentine's Day with some financial transparency?
Here are five tips.
No, not phone numbers. You need to share your credit reports and
net-worth statements, suggests Kathleen Grace, a financial planner
in Boca Raton, Florida, and author of "Prince Not So Charming." Not
just before marriage but before living together, as well.
If there are worrisome signs such as late payments, maxed-out cards
or towering debts, that is where you will find them.
You do not have to merge all your finances. Many couples are more
comfortable with separate accounts. But you should at least trade
logins and passwords so that financial information is available to
partners if they want it, says Grace.
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If your significant other becomes "withdrawn or defensive" at the
idea, that is another warning sign.
Making a big purchase? Set a level at which you have to discuss or
clear it with your beloved, say, $100 or $500. This will help foster
mutual trust and act as a natural barrier to outlandish or
unnecessary purchases you may regret later.
According to the CreditCards.com survey, 41 percent of Americans
have spent more than $100 without tipping off their partner. If
reckless spending happens on both sides, you are planting the seeds
for suspicion, resentment and possible financial trouble down the
Think of apps like Mint, You Need a Budget, or EveryDollar as a kind
of forced marital transparency. When you can see the account in one
display, it makes it hard to hide a different set of off-the-book
If that process brings secrets to light, then so be it.
"Secrets can destroy a budget," says CreditCards.com's Schulz.
"Plain and simple, there's no way to do an accurate, meaningful
budget if you don't know exactly how much money is coming in and
GET IT IN WRITING
Arrange a co-habitation or prenuptial agreement, Grace advises. The
process of writing down your expectations will reveal any serious
money disconnects, and the earlier this happens, the better.
That does not mean shaming or scratching off lower-income partners,
by the way. After all, few spouses make exactly the same amount of
money. It just means acknowledging each other's financial realities,
and calibrating your expectations accordingly.
Having learned her lesson, for instance, Leslie Tayne in Long Island
has taken a different tack in her current relationship.
"We were very upfront, and disclosed everything right away," she
says. "It makes a huge difference."
(Editing by Lauren Young and Bernadette Baum)
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