Your husband has been taking furtive phone calls from numbers you don’t recognize. You find a statement for a credit card addressed to your wife’s office. You discover the credit report request form you asked your spouse to mail hidden in a sock drawer. These are just a few of the signs that your spouse might be cheating on you – financially.
Leading online credit information provider Equifax recently released research on the money secrets spouses keep from each other. Their survey reveals that nearly 1 in 5 consumers admitted to previously keeping details of a personal loan or credit card debt secret from their partner.
David Lester, a financial coach and the author of I (Heart) Money, is an expert in understanding and helping Canadians deal with their secret debt. He’s slated to host a new television series titled Hidden Debt by the producers of X-Weighted. “We hope to help individuals who are fed up with keeping a secret debt and are ready to come clean and make real and lasting change,” he says.
Why do people hide debt? There are a myriad of reasons, says Lester. “They might have debt from before the relationship began and the topic simply never came up. They might have gambling debts, debt from over-shopping, a business gone south before a relationship, student debt, car and boat loans, and personal loans to friends and family,” he says. “People hide them because they are afraid of the consequences to their relationship when they reveal this debt and how the debt will change the person’s view of them.”
Do you suspect your spouse of hiding debt? Here are a few warning signs.
• You never see bank or credit card statements come to the house.
• You don’t have access to your online accounts.
• They purchase things from stores you don’t see on your bank statements.
• They avoid talking about your financials.
• They refuse to request and share credit reports.
• You’re denied for credit you’ve applied for together.
Do you recognize any of these signs? If so, it’s time to approach your spouse and let them know you want to be more involved in the household finances. Be prepared to meet with resistance, but be firm – you intend to understand how money flows through the household. You might explain to your spouse that you’d like to set some financial goals as a couple.
If your partner has been hiding something, they’ll likely fess up now. The next step is for each of you to request your free credit reports and share them. In fact, all couples in a serious relationship should make it a habit to request and share their credit reports annually to check for accuracy.
If you’ve discovered your partner has been hiding debt, Lester recommends booking time with a financial advisor or coach to create a realistic plan to repay the debt. Regardless of which partner handles bill paying, both partners should be involved in crunching the numbers monthly.
The financial plan is actually the easier part of the equation to resolve, says Lester.
Tracy Watson, Director of Communications at Money Mentors, has experience counselling couples that have come in together because one of them has recently come clean about a hidden debt. Money Mentors is an Alberta not-for-profit credit counselling organization.
“It becomes a real trust issue,” she says. “These people are keeping something that is a huge part of their relationship secret. Rebuilding that trust is difficult to do.” Watson says often the person being “cheated on” financially may have had suspicions, and if they have, they should talk to their partner right away. “I think if people are suspecting something they should ask those questions in a non-confrontational manner. I think women, especially if they’re not making an income, might be reluctance to press the issue. But you contribute to that household even if you’re not bringing in an income and it’s crucial you have a say in how money is dealt with in the household.”
Can your marriage survive the reveal? Watson says the relationships that make it through this hurdle are characterized by complete and total honesty from that point on. “It’s not really about the amount of debt, it’s about the dishonesty,” says the former debt counseller. “Any further deceit will be disastrous.”