Honey I Shrunk the Budget: Letting Your Spouse Know You’re in Debt

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Ever hear of “financial infidelity”? That’s when you hide a debt issue from a spouse, and it’s a toxic poison that eats away at even the most stable marriage.

The good news is that you can do something about it—as long as you’re committed to being open and honest about the problem.

Don’t doubt for a minute how high the stakes are with financial infidelity. Study after study shows that money—or lack of it—is a huge factor in the success of a marriage, especially a new one.

According to the National Center for Health Statistics, a marriage is at its most fragile during the first five years.

In fact, 20% of all divorces occur within those first five years. According to another study from Forbes Women and the National Endowment for Financial Education, 31% of spouses have lied to their partners about money.

“A third of the population admits to not being honest with their spouse,” says NEFE chief executive Ted Beck, in a statement. “That is a big number. These indiscretions cause significant damage to the relationship.”

The need to deceive a spouse about financial problems is a huge issue, and one that grows worse the longer the deception lasts. But spouses who hide debt apparently can’t bring themselves to open up and admit the problem, primarily because they know the rift it may cause in the relationship, and partly out of shame and/or guilt.

What’s the way out for debt-ridden spouses hiding the problem? It isn’t easy, but if you follow this blueprint, you’ll likely address the issue, keep your marriage or relationship intact, and maybe even sleep better at night.

Open Up and Admit the Problem

Yes, it sounds obvious—and likely painful. But honesty really is the best policy when dealing with a hidden debt problem. So by all means, open up. Do so in person, and avoid phone calls, texts or emails. Dialogue is going to be a huge issue, and conducting that dialogue face-to-face should increase the chance of a decent resolution. If your spouse is on your side, he or she will appreciate, sooner or later, the fact that you came clean in person.

Bring Your Debts With You

Another painful, but in the long run, helpful exercise is to bring your debts with you when you discuss the problem with your spouse. Print out your bills and debts, your bank account records and any appropriate receipts, organize them into a binder and show them to your spouse or partner. This tactic serves twin purposes—it helps you acknowledge exactly what you’re up against, and demonstrates to your partner that you’re serious about working the problem out.

Schedule a ‘Budget Meeting’

Don’t make the discussion a one-off. Ask your spouse for a weekly “budget meeting” where you can discuss bills and debts, and work out a long-range program to pay them off. That shows your commitment to solving the problem together.

Sign Up for Online Debt Access

To further the transparency issue, make sure you and your spouse both have the same access to bank accounts, credit card accounts, and other financial obligations. When a spouse shares your banks or credit card account, it’s much more difficult to hide purchases and withdrawals from one another. Also, take advantage of debt repayment tools like BankingMyWay’s Credit Card Payoff Calculator to better manage your repayment campaign.

Create a Debt Repayment Plan Together

There’s no getting around the fact that you have to pay the money back on your debts. In fact, not only is your credit rating on the line, but your marriage may very well be, too. So build a debt resolution plan together. Visit a financial advisor as a couple (if you don’t have one, visit the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors website for help) or contact a debt relief agency together. You can find one that’s legit at the Association of Independent Consumer Credit Counseling Agencies website.

Don’t let financial infidelity ruin your relationships. Get in front of the problem, admit you have a problem and enlist your spouse’s help. Because if you think debt is a big headache, imagine how another “D” word—divorce—will add to your financial woes.

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  • Just Call Me Sucker

    my boyfriend “borrowed” my credit card without asking and then got insulted when I called him a thief…said it was my fault, he called and I didn’t answer so he thought I fell down the stairs with a load of laundry or something, so drove here; problem was, he didn’t have enough gas to get back home…. Not to mention he has borrowed money several times over the 4 years together, very rarely paid any back, and only when nagged – and only after talking the amount down based upon money he says he spent on me! Meanwhile he constantly says I hold things over his head, when he’s the one bringing them up because he feels guilt and it makes him angry at me! I honestly believe he stays in the relationship because I have more money than he does (because I know how to manage my money) and he can’t walk away from the future benefits he anticipates from someone who has a paid for house and car and very little debt, while he lives paycheck-to-paycheck and is always running out before the next check comes. He rents and constantly has to “short” his landlord and pay extra to make up later, only recently bought a car because I was leaving for the winter and he’d have to walk after riding (free) with me for 4 years. His 15 yr old son has no decent clothes, gets basically nothing for birthdays or Christmas from his dad who says he understands…. OK, I know you wonder why I stay with him – and I have only one answer, as many times as I have broken up with him he comes crying and I can’t turn him away.