Love & money: Four ways to avoid financial infidelity
By Chris Taylor
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Sorry to break it to you, but your romantic partner may be sharing a secret relationship.
With guess who? JPMorgan Chase. Or Citibank, or Wells Fargo.
Whether it is a big purchase, a hidden debt or an unknown account, 39% of us have committed some form of "financial infidelity" against the person we are partnered with, according to a new survey from financial information site Bankrate.
"Year after year, we find that people have these financial skeletons in their closets," says Ted Rossman, Bankrate’s senior industry analyst. "People feel ashamed and embarrassed and end up hiding stuff – then the secret starts taking on a life of its own."
Among those who are married, in a civil partnership, or living with their significant other, 12% have a secret credit card, Bankrate found. Meanwhile 11% are racking up big expenses their partners do not know about, 10% are carrying hidden debt, and 9% have a secret savings account.
One interesting note is that younger generations are hoarding the biggest financial secrets. With Generation Z, a whopping 63% hid money details from their current partners, along with 54% of Millennials – both numbers far higher than with Gen X or Baby Boomers.
"There used to be an expectation that couples would totally link up their financial lives, but I find that is really changing with younger clients," says Amanda Clayman, a financial therapist in L.A. "A lot of younger people don’t necessarily have that level of integration. They may not even see these things as secrets."
Whatever your own indiscretion may be, transparency is always a good thing in a relationship. Here are four ways to drag these financial skeletons out of the closet:
Separate accounts are fine – just be open about them. There is absolutely nothing wrong with romantic partners having their own financial accounts. In fact, for many couples, that is the arrangement that works best.
Secrecy is not healthy, though. If you prefer to maintain a pot of money that is yours and only yours, be above board and establish those ground rules from the start. Then on top of that, you can perhaps add a joint account for shared expenses.
ESTABLISH A ‘MONEY DATE’
Since talking about money is such a taboo, it is challenging to know how or when to bring it up. You can get over that particular hurdle by carving out occasional time for you to sit down with your partner and talk about just that.
It does not even have to be long – maybe just five or 10 minutes to start. But having a regular time window is a good first step to air out financial issues and say what needs to be said.
"It’s helpful if there are already money conversations happening, perhaps about planning or budgeting," Clayman says. "Having that money date with your partner gives you the opportunity to talk through whatever challenges may come up."
GET PROFESSIONAL HELP
Depending on the particulars of your relationship, and the years of baggage that may have accumulated, it can be difficult to bring money secrets up. That is where bringing in a third party can help – like a financial planner, or a couples counselor, or financial therapist whose training combines the two realms.
Another pair of eyes can view the situation in a more detached manner, and help suggest a way forward.
"You don’t absolutely need a third person, but I think it can be very helpful," says Clayman. "If the conversation gets into a red zone where the attacks are getting really personal, you have a person who can put the discussion back on the rails."
DO IT NOW
If you imagine that keeping a few little money secrets will not harm anybody, you are wrong. According to a 2021 study by the National Endowment for Financial Education, 85% said financial infidelity affected their relationship in some way.
And in the Bankrate survey, 52% of respondents say furtive financials are as bad, or worse, than any act of physical cheating.
In other words, honesty is the healthier option.
So it is always better to talk about secrets sooner rather than later. You might find that most of the time, people can be pretty forgiving, Rossman says.
"The best strategy is to come clean as soon as possible," says Bankrate’s Rossman. "The secrecy ends up being the worst part, because it’s tough to get that trust back."
(Editing by Lauren Young and Diane Craft; Follow us @ReutersMoney)