Americans Committing Financial Infidelity

Communication Key to Overcoming Trust Issues

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Date: February 7, 2011

Contact: Paul Golden 303-224-3514, pdg@nefe.org

DENVER—It took getting turned down for a mortgage for Olivia to realize her financial infidelity had become a serious problem.

Olivia’s husband Simon had pristine credit, but in 2003 a bank denied the New Jersey couple a loan because of Olivia’s low credit score. Years of overspending, maxing out credit cards, being late on bills and even missing a few payments finally caught up with her.

That was the first time Simon realized just what a financial mess I was, and it was the first time I had to openly share my credit flaws," says Olivia. "Though we had been together for eight years, I had been good at hiding the severity of my situation."

Financial deception is a common problem among couples. Three in 10 Americans who have combined their finances with a partner admit to lying to their significant other about their finances, according to a December 2010 online survey commissioned by the National Endowment for Financial Education and conducted by Harris Interactive. The survey also finds 32 percent of adults say they have been lied to about money by their partners.

Among the offenders, the NEFE-Harris survey finds 30 percent have hid a statement or a bill, 16 percent hid a major purchase, 15 percent kept a secret bank account, 11 percent lied about their debt and another 11 percent lied about how much money they earned. For 16 percent of the couples surveyed, the financial deceptions ultimately resulted in divorce. These deceptions occur evenly across all income levels, and men and women are equally guilty of committing financial infidelity.

Couples from all walks of life face financial challenges, but adding deception about money to the mix can make tough economic times even more daunting," says Ted Beck, president and CEO of NEFE. "Sometimes the breakdown of trust can be too much to overcome. People who are keeping things from their partner or spouse need to own up to their behaviors immediately. Only then, can couples work together to improve their financial well-being."

Coming Clean

"Understandably, it’s difficult to admit to being dishonest with a partner," Beck says. "Deceptions occur because of the fear of confessing financial misdeeds."

Beck suggests couples take NEFE’s LifeValues Quiz to get the conversation started. The 20-question quiz helps people identify their values and understand how those values affect the financial decisions they make. This is especially useful for couples, because it helps them identify how their money values are alike or different, and spotlight the areas they need to work on together.

Keep it constructive with less confrontation. Taking the quiz and discussing your results builds a values-based foundation for honest and productive solutions going forward," Beck adds.

For example, one person may value tangible items, such as a nicely decorated living room in which to entertain guests or a luxury SUV because all the neighbors have one. His or her partner might value traveling and going to sporting events over material possessions. If the couple together can identify how the other likes to spend his or her money, they can break down the barriers that hinder constructive communication.

Money provides a potential conflict point in a relationship, but it also can be something that draws a couple closer," Beck says. "Couples should talk openly about money, and do so early in the relationship. Everyone should understand their partners’ values about money. In doing so, they have a better chance to build a more stable relationship, both emotionally and financially."

Keep the Conversation Going

Set joint goals. Talk about what you and your partner each want financially out of life, and choose goals, big or small, that you want to reach as a couple. Discuss what changes you each can make in your money habits to help you reach those goals. Then write down a game plan that is realistic, that you both are comfortable with and that you both are willing to follow.

Compromise. Money management has many shades of gray. You may think your way is the best way, but your partner has other ideas. Be prepared to give a little, and you will get a little, too. Take, for example, Olivia and Simon. She’s a spender, and he’s a saver. As a compromise, they have a joint checking account for household bills, and they each maintain their own accounts for their personal spending. They have earmarked a certain dollar amount each month for Olivia’s "play money" so she doesn’t feel obligated to defend her purchases.

Set limits. Agree that neither of you will make a large purchase—say, anything over $200—without first discussing it with each other.

Make it a date. It’s easy to let your busy life get in the way, but you can make money management a part of your family schedule. Set a time every month, "a money date" when you will discuss how you are progressing towards your goals. Whether it’s during dessert after a nice meal or a walk around the neighborhood, make it a priority to keep each other updated.

Resist the temptation to fib. If you are going to come clean, stay clean. Olivia says while she has gotten much better about telling the truth, there are times when she slips.

Although I’m much better now, a little of the ‘old me’ still creeps in," Olivia says. "I know when I spend too much, so I try to hide it with white lies, like telling Simon something was on sale or simply lying about how much it cost."

Be positive. Don’t hold past mistakes against your partner. If you are negative or angry when you talk about money your partner will get defensive, and a productive conversation will be over before it gets started. Be encouraging and forgiving, and offer to help. Olivia attributes her newfound success—however imperfect—to Simon. After the bank rejection, the couple sat down and together came up with a plan so she could pay her bills on time and pay off her credit card debt.

It was the worst feeling to be the one who was holding us back from buying a house," says Olivia. "But Simon never got angry; he just wanted to help me through." After working at it, Olivia was able to raise her credit score. The couple found a mortgage and a home they love, and Olivia says she’s never been late with another payment. "I'm definitely trying to change my ways, and it feels great," Olivia says.

For more tips on working together as a couple to handle finances and starting that awkward conversation about money that you have been avoiding, visit www.smartaboutmoney.org

About the LifeValues Quiz

Understanding your financial values and how they differ from those of your partner is one key to success in managing money together as a couple. NEFE’s new LifeValues Quiz helps people identify the values that drive their financial decisions. To learn more and to take the quiz, visit www.smartaboutmoney.org/lifevaluesquiz

Survey Methodology

This survey was conducted online within the United States by Harris Interactive on behalf of NEFE from December 17-21, 2010, among 2,019 adults ages 18 and older. This online survey is not based on a probability sample and therefore no estimate of theoretical sampling error can be calculated. For complete survey methodology (including weighting variables) click here.

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Contacts

  • Paul Golden

    Media Relations Director

    Direct: 303-224-3514
    Cell: 303-918-3620
    pdg@nefe.org

  • Patricia (Pat) Seaman

    Senior Director of Marketing and Communications

    Direct: 303-224-3538
    pas@nefe.org