Celebrate Relationships, But Beware of Financial Infidelity

Recognize the Warning Signs of Financial Deception

Date: February 13, 2018
Contact: Paul Golden 303-224-3514, [email protected]

It’s one of the biggest threats to a relationship. The National Endowment for Financial Education® (NEFE®) has been following financial infidelity for a decade, and the problem continues to be prevalent among couples. The latest findings from a biennial survey conducted by Harris Poll on behalf of NEFE finds two in five (41 percent) of American adults who combine finances with a partner or spouse, admit to committing financial deceptions against their loved one. The survey also finds that three quarters (75 percent) of adults say financial deceit has affected their relationships in some way.

“Financial infidelity may seem benign, perhaps someone hides a purchase, receipt or even a little cash on the side. But this unfaithfulness can escalate to a more severe level of offense like concealing an account, lying about the amount of income you earn, or being secretive about the amount of debt that you owe,” says Ted Beck, president and CEO of NEFE. “This impacts a relationship regardless of scale. It causes arguments, erosion of trust, and regretfully in some cases even leads to separation or divorce.”

Among the reasons survey respondents say they committed financial deceptions in their current or past relationships, over one third (36 percent) say they believe some aspects of their finances should remain private, even from their spouse/partner; a quarter (26 percent) said they had discussed finances with their spouse/partner and they knew they would disapprove; almost one in five (18 percent) were embarrassed/fearful about their finances and didn’t want their spouse/partner to find out; and 16 percent said that while they hadn’t discussed finances with their spouse/partner they feared they would disapprove.

Recognize the Warning Signs

“Does your partner prohibit you from seeing copies of statements, maybe even race you to the mailbox to intercept the bills? Do they get defensive, withdrawn or agitated when the topic of money arises? Those are red flags,” says Beck.

Approaching Your Partner

Confronting your partner may be difficult. According to Beck, you must accept that it will be stressful. He says the best way to approach the situation is to first know what you want out of the conversation before you have it. “Don’t hold past mistakes against your partner, and certainly don’t sabotage your spouse about their deceit when you’re angry,” Beck adds.

Separating Accounts

If financial infidelity is a serious problem in your relationship, it may ease stress to have a joint checking account for household bills, and separate accounts for personal spending. If this feels too disconnected, allow each person some “play money,” an amount of discretionary spending to do with as they choose. “Keep all negative thoughts about how they spend their money to yourself,” says Beck.

Rebuilding Trust

After you or your partner has come clean about committing financial infidelity, accept that it will take time to rebuild the trust you once had. “It will take sustained transparency in all communication, and it takes a commitment from both to stick to the goals that you’ve set together,” says Beck.

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.

Take the Life Values 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 Life Values 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

Harris Poll conducted the study on behalf of the National Endowment for Financial Education from January 23-25, 2018, via its QuickQuerySM online omnibus service, interviewing 2,145 U.S. adults aged 18+. Data were weighted using propensity score weighting to be representative of the total U.S. adult population on the basis of region, age within gender, education, household income, race/ethnicity, and propensity to be online. No estimates of theoretical sampling error can be calculated. Please contact for complete survey methodology (including weighting variables).


  • Paul Golden

    Media Relations Director

    Direct: 303-224-3514
    Cell: 303-918-3620
    [email protected]