Financial infidelity can be just as damaging to a marriage as romantic disloyalty, and the weak economy is making financial indiscretions more rampant.
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A recent poll commissioned by ForbesWoman and the National Endowment for Financial Education [NEFE] found that one in three Americans who have combined their finances admitted lying to their spouses about money. The same study found 58% of respondents conceal cash from their spouse while 30% hide bills.
Here are six ways to help identify whether your spouse is in a spending crisis and how to avoid future predicaments involving money and spending.
Secrets: While it’s not the most comfortable of subjects, if your spouse is not willing to discuss money something is wrong. He or she is either spending it or saving it without your knowledge. Marriage and secrets don’t work. Don’t be afraid to confront your spouse immediately and ask for an explanation – and get one that makes sense.
Credit card applications: Some spouses take these applications and open new accounts in his/her spouse’s name. If this has happened to you beware: You will be responsible for that debt and if it’s not paid off, your credit score will be impacted. If you attempt to dispute the validity of the account, the credit issuer will force you to file a police report, subjecting your spouse to legal issues.
Hiding the mail: Does your spouse insist on getting the mail and when he or she does, do you notice there’s not a lot of it? Many spouses with spending problems retrieve the mail and hide the bills. Demand to get the mail yourself and if your spouse refuses, that could be a sign of trouble.
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New items in the home: Have you noticed new jewelry, electronics, clothing or anything else unusual that you didn’t discuss buying with your spouse? If so, your spouse could be buying on impulse. Check credit card statements and bank statements; if these items can’t be found confront your significant other.
Bill paying: If your spouse insists on paying the bills and doesn’t share financial information with you that could mean something is wrong. Offer to help pay the bills and make a point to sit down and look over the bills while they are being paid.
Calls from a creditor: A call from a creditor looking to collect on an overdue bill or loan is a red flag your spouse might overspent, which could be disastrous to your credit scores and budget.
To avoid financial problems, it’s vital to be upfront with your spouse. Share bill-paying duty and hold bi-weekly money meetings to sort through finances and create an atmosphere that doesn’t enable secrets.
If your spouse continues to hide money problems from you, it’s important to take action.
Don’t help him or her with bills they can’t pay, open up your own account and cancel all joint credit cards. Keep your finances separate, and it might a good idea to talk with a family law attorney to discuss your options and the debt in your name because of your spouse’s secret spending. Money issues ruin many marriage so be sure to let your spouse know how serious you are about this problem.
Howard Dvorkin, CPA, is the founder of Consolidated Credit Counseling Services, Inc., and the author of Credit Hell: How To Dig Out of Debt. He is also personal finance expert and consumer advocate who has been helping people for more than 15 years.