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Should You Keep Your Salary a Secret?

By Maurie Backman - Feb 16, 2018 at 5:18AM

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In some cases, you're better off keeping your earning under wraps. But there are other times when it pays to share.

There are certain touchy subjects many of us shy away from discussing -- like our weight, for example, or how much we paid for our homes. But if there's one topic that Americans are particularly hesitant to talk about, it's salary.

It's one thing to avoid telling our friends and coworkers what we make for fear of backlash, pity, or any sort of awkwardness that might ensue. But apparently, many of us consider salary such an off-limits topic that we refuse to talk about it with our partners. Specifically, 19% of U.S. adults don't share their salary details with anyone, according to a study by Aspiration. And only about half of men tell their partners how much they make compared to 60% of women.

Personal earnings statement alongside a calculator and pen.

IMAGE SOURCE: GETTY IMAGES.

The question is: Is it smart to shy away from talking salary? Or are there benefits to being more open about it?

Talking salary with friends

Discussing your salary with friends can be a mixed bag. If you find out you're the lowest paid member of your group, you might come away feeling bad about yourself. Share that you're the most highly compensated, and others might start taking advantage.

But if there's one benefit to talking salary with friends, it's this: doing so might give you a better sense of whether you're being paid fairly. Imagine you have friends who work in the same industry as you, and you learn that they're all doing significantly better. That might prompt you to approach your boss and negotiate a raise, or seek out other job opportunities with more generous budgets.

Talking salary with colleagues

Though sharing salary information with coworkers might serve as a much needed wake-up call that you're being underpaid, there's a danger in going this route. First, your company might have a policy forbidding this practice. Many employers do, and if you breach that rule, you and those involved in that conversation could face serious repercussions.

Secondly, if your colleagues come to find out that you're the best-paid of the lot, they might grow to resent you or start treating you differently. And those aren't relationships you can afford to compromise over money.

Talking salary with your partner

It's one thing to avoid talking salary with coworkers and be on the fence when it comes to friends, but if there's one person you should share your salary with, it's your partner -- assuming you're jointly responsible for your collective finances. Without divulging your salary, it'll be next to impossible for you and your partner to create an accurate budget and know where you stand financially.

For example, imagine that you and your partner are looking to buy a home in the next few years and aren't sure how much of a mortgage you can afford. If you're not willing to share your salary, you won't have a reasonable starting point for that discussion. In fact, in this sort of scenario, hiding your salary from your partner isn't just detrimental, but frankly, unrealistic.

While there's no need to blast your salary to the world, if there's one person who needs to know how much you make, it's your financial partner in life. And if your partner has been withholding that information from you, sit them down and ask to be enlightened. It's a move that'll make for not just a healthier budget, but a healthier relationship, too.

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