Six million Americans may be committing financial infidelity. 

According to a poll conducted on behalf of CreditCards.com, nearly 7% of the more than 1,000 adults surveyed admit to hiding a secret financial account from their spouse or partner. Two-thirds of those responding said they have a hidden credit card account, and 45% have a secret savings account. 

Understandably, perhaps, individuals who have not formally tied-the-knot and are simply living together are much more likely to keep part of their financial life hidden from the other person in the relationship.

Thanks to online access and paperless statements, it’s easier than ever before to live a double life. Ben Woolsey, director of marketing and consumer research at CreditCards.com, says people can easily hide their financials by having statements sent to work. 

“Men are more likely to have secret credit card accounts, which allow them to make transactions outside the view of their partners.” On the other hand, women are three times more likely to hide a savings account, perhaps indicating a lack of security. 

“This behavior has been around since the dawn of relationships. It is driven by fear and lack of trust,” says Allan Pass, director of National Behavioral Science Consultants and a licensed psycho-therapist in Adams Township, Penn. “People fear that when love leaves, so does the chattel.”

In addition, money has long been recognized as a source of power in a relationship. In Woolsey’s view, socking away your own private stash can represent a “rebellion against control, especially on the part of the lower earner."

According to Dr. Karen Ruskin, a therapist and relationship expert in Sharon, Mass,“Women don’t want to feel they have to ask [for permission to spend money]. When you’re deciding for yourself, you get to be in control.”

While cautioning against jumping to conclusions, Ruskin outlines several reasons people in relationships might create a secret account: 

  • You/they are cheating. It’s the age-old solution. The account is used to launder and hide expenses such as gifts, hotel visits, dinners, etc.
  • Lack of trust. You think your partner over spends and don’t think that they’ve got good financial habits. Having sole access to a special cache of cash is a way to protect yourself.
  • Conflict avoidance. Money is a major source of tension in the relationship. A secret account allows you to spend without having to justify or ask permission. That titanium set of golf clubs you keep at the office, for instance.
  • A way out. You don’t know if you have a long-term future with this person and want to be able to cover your expenses so you can leave when and if you want.
  • Afraid your partner might leave you. You’re insecure about the relationship and afraid your partner will pull out of Dodge, leaving you with nothing.

Regardless of the motivation, hiding financial assets from your significant other is a sign of underlying problems within the relationship. As Ruskin puts it, “Once you go so far as to create a formal account with just your own name on the title, it’s a symbol you’re not a team.” 

Ms. Buckner is a Retirement and Financial Planning Specialist and an instructor in Franklin Templeton Investments' global Academy. The views expressed in this article are only those of Ms. Buckner or the individual commentator identified therein, and are not necessarily the views of Franklin Templeton Investments, which has not reviewed, and is not responsible for, the content. 

If you have a question for Gail Buckner and the Your $ Matters column, send them to: yourmoneymatters@gmail.com, along with your name and phone number.

Ms. Buckner is a Retirement and Financial Planning Specialist and an instructor in Franklin Templeton Investments' global Academy. The views expressed in this article are only those of Ms. Buckner or the individual commentator identified therein, and are not necessarily the views of Franklin Templeton Investments, which has not reviewed, and is not responsible for, the content. 

If you have a question for Gail Buckner and the Your $ Matters column, send them to: yourmoneymatters@gmail.com, along with your name and phone number.