Couples in long-term relationships have to clear the air on a number of issues: From learning about each other's romantic histories, family dramas, to personal idiosyncrasies.
Digging into those areas takes time and trust, something that's even more difficult when judgment comes into play. So, it's no wonder that delving into each other's financial histories can be a difficult, even though very necessary, thing to do.
In a new survey from CreditCards.com, 15 million adults in the United States who currently live with their romantic partners admitted to "financial infidelity" — keeping a credit card, checking, or savings account hidden from their S.O. Nine million people said they had done so in the past, although nearly a third of those surveyed said they considered keeping such things secret "worse than physical cheating."
Most respondents (85%) said they are honest with their significant others about their finances; 77% said they believe their spouses or partners are truthful. That distinction is important: It's one thing for someone to say they are being transparent, and another for them to be trusted — especially, as it turns out, for lower-income people. "People who make less than $40,000 per year were more likely than those with higher incomes to say that keeping a secret account is worse than having an affair," the report noted.
Matt Schulz, CreditCards.com's senior industry analyst, says that's because staying afloat is obviously harder for people who earn less money, secrets bank accounts or hidden debts aside.
"A secret credit card with $5,000 in debt may not be a huge deal if you make $100,000 a year, but if you make $30,000 a year, it can be devastating," he explains. "There's simply less margin for error financially and every issue gets magnified."
If you want to come clean yourself or encourage your partner to do so, set some ground rules before you get into the numbers — and start with respect. Maybe that's no interrupting, or keeping outbursts and facial expressions of disapproval to a minimum. Decide what that looks like first.
"The biggest thing is that there’s not going to be judgment around what’s shared," says Shannon McLay, the founder of The Financial Gym. "If you don’t like what it looks like, you can make changes and figure that out with your partner, but you want to express yourself without judgement."
Second, she advises, "go through all the financial details about yourself." All of them. You may decide that an intermediary is necessary (a financial advisor, for example), but you should come prepared to bare all. McLay says that includes both assets (bank accounts, retirement accounts, property), and liabilities (credit cards, noting how many you have and the balances; student loan debt; a mortgage; a car loan).
"Then, things like your credit score you can also ask about," she adds. "If one of your goals together as a couple is to own a home, your credit scores are each going to influence that. When a mortgage is originated, they will take the lower of the two scores, so you want to have that information."
Finally, McLay says, don't forget to talk about your goals — an age by which you plan to have paid off all your student loans or credit card debts; a plan to save $10,000 by the end of the year.
"You're letting your significant other know that you have financial goals," she explains, "and even if you don’t look that great from your financial picture, at least you have an idea of where you want to be and where you want to go."