Identifying and Recovering from ‘Financial Infidelity’

“Financial Infidelity” may sound like something new but it’s been around for a long time. It generally means when one spouse is doing something financially substantial without the other spouse’s knowledge.

This typically happens over time as with most couples, one partner generally manages the finances. Consequently, the other partner in the household often becomes oblivious to the couple’s finances.

In mild cases, one spouse may have a checking account or credit card of which the other is not aware. In more extreme examples spouses have discovered foreign accounts and real estate.

What Can One Do?

So what do you do if you suddenly learn your spouse owns a condo in Las Vegas or is seriously behind in payments to a previously unknown credit card account? Once you have gotten over the shock, which is understandably the first reaction, you then have to see how this is affecting things like your finances and credit rating, your ability to pay your taxes and other basic bills. Looking into the future, will you have enough to send your children to college or pay for your health insurance because of your spouse’s financial secrets?

Then what Usually Happens?

In a worse-case scenario, financial infidelity can open a Pandora’s Box. One will naturally start thinking what else is he or she hiding? There can be credit problems if your spouse is in arrears. Are there joint ownership issues? How do you keep this from reoccurring?

Look at it this way. According to the Federal Reserve Board, four in 10 adults, if faced with an unexpected expense of $400, would either not be able to cover it or would cover it by selling something or borrowing money. It can pay to consider these six hints that can help protect you from becoming a victim of financial infidelity:

  1. Know your numbers. Keep track of where how your household money is spent. Include groceries, gas, utilities, entertainment, housing and debts.
  2. Make a Budget. Distinguish between things you need (utilities, debt payments and rent) and things you want (vacations, eating out). Subtract what you have to spend on “needs” from your monthly income to determine what you have left for “wants.”
  3. Communicate. Have a “money conversation” with your significant other. Let him/her know you want a percentage of each paycheck routed automatically into an investment account. Make saving a top priority.
  4. Expect the unexpected. When you unravel the finances expect to be surprised.
  5. Ask for help. Independent financial help is available. Speak with your accountant or contact the College for Financial Planning ( for a professional referral.
  6. Comparison shop for financial products. Take the time to compare insurance policies, bank accounts, savings accounts and credit cards. Pay attention to interest rates. Eliminate credit cards you do not use very much.