Financial infidelity poll: 20% say a secret account is worse than an affair


    Staff Reporter
    Covering credit scores, personal finance and breaking news

    Financial infidelity poll: 20% say a secret account is worse than an affair

    What would you do if you found out your
    live-in partner was cheating on you – with a secret bank account or credit

    According to’s latest financial
    infidelity poll, 19 percent of U.S. adults who are in live-in relationships – which
    equates to 29 million people – are hiding a checking,
    savings or credit card account
    from their partner.

    And 20 percent of all survey respondents feel
    a partner hiding a secret bank account from them would be worse than physically
    cheating. Forty-five percent disagree that it is worse and 35 percent say it’s
    about the same.

    But only 2 percent of the adults in relationships
    we surveyed would break up with their significant others if they discovered
    their lovers had $5,000 in secret credit card debt.

    Experts concur that withholding important financial
    information from your partner signals a lack of trust. But honesty is crucial
    for any relationship to work – if one’s partner is hiding credit card debt, he
    or she may be hiding other things as well.

    “Discovering that your partner has any kind of secret can have a
    major impact on any relationship. And the nature of the secret itself isn’t
    necessarily an issue,” said Carissa
    Coulston, a clinical psychologist and author of The Eternity Rose blog.

    Where secrets are, lies will follow, and where lies are found,
    trust is completely broken between the couple, Coulston added.  

    infidelity poll: key findings

    Here’s what else our poll found about
    financial infidelity:

    • Millennials are the sneakiest. Twenty-eight percent
      of millennials (18-37-year-olds) in live-in relationships admitted to currently
      hiding an account from their spouse or partner. This group is almost twice as likely to “cheat” as those
      who are older (28 percent versus 15 percent). Other more common offenders are
      those living in the South (22 percent) and West (21 percent), compared to those
      in the Northeast (16 percent) and Midwest (12 percent). 
    • A secret account is rarely a homewrecker. Just 2
      percent who are married or living with a partner would end their relationship
      over $5,000 in secret credit card debt. But
      16 percent said they wouldn’t care much or at all about their partner
      hiding $5,000 in card debt, and 81 percent would be upset but wouldn’t end the
      relationship. Lower middle-class households would take this news the hardest – 9
      percent in the $30,000-$49,999 income bracket would end the relationship.
    • There’s a gender gap in money management confidence. Forty-four percent of those who are living with a
      romantic partner believe they’re better money managers than their partners and
      just 12 percent think they’re worse. Men were more likely to say they’re better
      at it than their partners, and women were more likely to say they’re worse.

    The survey of 1,000 U.S. adults was conducted
    online between Dec. 14-16, 2018. See survey methodology

    is defeating

    Say you trust your partner, but then you find
    he or she has a secret credit card. Would that rock your world? Would you
    wonder why on earth he or she felt the need to keep something like that a

    People cheat financially for
    different reasons, said Emily N. Garbinsky, assistant professor of marketing at
    Mendoza College of Business at the University of Notre Dame. But her research
    has found people are primarily motivated to hide accounts from their partners
    to avoid conflict.

    Simply put, they hide money
    because they know their partners wouldn’t agree with how they chose to spend

    “Many feel it is easier to
    hide these accounts to avoid difficult and uncomfortable conversations,” said

    Tiffany Welka, accredited wealth management
    advisor and vice president of financial consulting firm VFG
    , works with couples to help
    them achieve financial happiness, prior to and during marriage. She feels
    people keep hidden accounts for a very different reason.

    Because divorce is common in our society, Welka thinks
    a lot of people set aside an account “just in case.”

    “They want to make sure that they are going to be OK
    if a separation or a divorce takes place,” Welka said.

    Francisco-based marriage and family therapist Thomas Faupl specializes in financial therapy
    and coaching. He said people often hide accounts because they feel shame and
    anxiety about their irresponsible financial behavior. They fear they will be
    harshly judged or rejected by their partners or might have to face a big
    conflict in the relationship that they don’t think they can handle. 

    are hiding either past or current poor money decisions, compulsive spending or
    perhaps high-risk behaviors, such as gambling,” Faupl said.

    See related: Millennials most candid when discussing money with their future spouses

    Money matters

    Money is one of the most
    pervasive and recurrent sources of conjugal conflict, Coulston noted. Decisions
    about how money should be saved and spent permeate all aspects of life.

    “In some of my research I’ve
    found that a couple’s sense of financial togetherness – the degree to which the
    couple feels their possessions and financial goals are shared – directly
    affects satisfaction with their relationship,” Coulston said. 

    Coulston is surprised the
    number of people who would end a relationship over financial infidelity isn’t

    “There will, no doubt, be
    many people within that 2 percent who would end their relationship over a much smaller
    amount of secret debt, because it isn’t necessarily the money that is the
    problem – it’s the lying,” Coulston said.

    And financial cheating is
    a premeditated “crime,” Coulston added. While physical infidelity can be
    chalked up to a moment of weakness, having a secret credit card represents an
    ongoing series of lies and hiding, which for many is much worse than any
    physical betrayal.

    many of us, money brings up primal feelings, such as survival and safety – and
    represents our personal power to create the material lives we want.

    all bring to our intimate relationships our own biases, hopes and fears, levels
    of financial literacy and experiences surrounding money from growing up in our
    families, Faupl explained. 

    both a challenge and an opportunity to create a healthy financial future
    together from two very different people, which is where the “we” in the
    relationship thrives.

    infidelity cuts at the heart of our sense of safety, trust and security with
    our partners, Faupl added, and it can also “bring up past betrayals when we
    were let down by those we loved in our earlier adulthoods or childhoods.”

    “A couple’s sense of financial togetherness – the degree to which the couple feels their possessions and financial goals are shared – directly affects satisfaction with their relationship.”

    The largest group of hiders is

    Our survey
    showed the sneakiest group was millennials (18- to 37-year-olds) –
    28 percent of them admitted to hiding an account from their partners.

    That could be because they are the
    most tech-savvy age segment of those currently married, Garbinsky said.

    This group is more likely to use
    money management apps on their phones or computers, which often lets them
    choose which transactions or accounts they want to share with their partners. And
    these apps make it easier for people to hide financial information. 

    Coulston feels this group also wants to
    have the financial freedom to spend whatever and whenever they want. They don’t
    want to ask their partner’s permission to buy a treat for themselves or have to
    face conflict when they purchase something.

    “Money is today – as always –
    a symbol of control within any relationship. It’s only natural that no modern
    man or woman would want to cede their own sense of control,” Coulton said.

    See related: Joint bank accounts can help couples curb frivolous spending

    A divorce attorney’s perspective

    Richardson, a divorce attorney based in New York City, said money is still the
    No. 1 reason marriages fail. And he strongly urges women in particular to have
    a separate account – even if it must be secret – for their own peace of mind
    and protection in the event of a divorce.

    separate accounts can be a healthy and normal thing for many couples – it
    protects in the event of a health crisis, death or other emergency. It could
    also come in handy if a judgment or lien against your spouse results in their bank
    account becoming frozen.

    if the person feels that separate account has to be a secret, that’s a sign a
    relationship isn’t healthy – you are afraid of your partner’s response,
    Richardson conceded.

    at the finances with a fresh set of eyes and committing to having positive
    discussions about what’s happening with the finances is a step towards solving
    many marital woes,” he added. 

    “Money is a symbol of control within any relationship. It’s only natural that no modern man or woman would want to cede their own sense of control.”

    How to address financial infidelity

    If you find out your partner owns a secret
    credit card, take a deep breath and count to 10. You will need to address it,
    for sure, but not when you’re in high dudgeon mode.

    your partner with a financial complaint can ignite his or her fuse and lead to
    hurt feelings, resentment and emotional disengagement, Faupl cautioned. 

    trying to control, change or judge your partner about their money management
    skills can cause conflict and, in some cases, lead to epic relationship

    recommends couples agree to have periodic meetings to discuss their financial
    issues – at a time when they are mentally and emotionally prepared to have
    these conversations.

    slowing down the conversation and reflecting back to your partner without
    interpretation or criticism about what they are telling you is a good first
    step in building feelings of trust and safety – as well as building greater
    capacity to address inevitable financial conflict that happens in

    See related: How and when couples should share card rewards 

    Survey methodology

    The study was conducted
    online in Ipsos’ Omnibus using the web-enabled “KnowledgePanel,” a
    probability-based panel designed to be representative of the U.S. general
    population, not just the online population. The sample consists of 1,000
    nationally representative interviews among adults aged 18 and over, including
    636 who are currently married or living with a partner, conducted between Dec.
    14-16, 2018. The margin of error for the full sample is plus or minus 3
    percentage points.


    Please enter your comment!
    Please enter your name here