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Trust Your Significant Other About Money? Maybe You Shouldn't.

By Daniel B. Kline – Updated Sep 16, 2019 at 2:30PM

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More people have secrets than you may realize.

Couples often avoid discussing money for a variety of reasons. One partner may make more than the other, or one may have credit card debt that's embarrassing. The reason doesn't really matter, but the result can be catastrophic for the health of your relationship.

Nearly one out of four married Americans admits to keeping a financial secret from their spouse, according to a new survey from MassMutual. Those numbers increase for younger generations -- Generation Z, Millennial, and Generation X  respondents were about twice as likely to have financial secrets than Baby Boomers (29% of Gen Z/Millennials and 33% of Gen X vs. 15% of Boomers).

A young couple dances in a home.

Not talking about money can lead to problems. Image source: Getty Images.

Keeping secrets

Married people keep a variety of secrets from their spouses, with a separate credit card (38%) being the most cited. That was followed by giving money to a loved one (32%) and hiding a major expense (24%).

Despite these many secrets, more than half of those surveyed said "only a few of their arguments are about money," and 25% said they never fight about money. Of course, people may not be fighting about money because they're not talking about it, and don't know that they should be mad at their partner.

"More than half (55%) of married Americans waited until they were married to first discuss finances with their significant other, but Gen Z and millennials are more than twice as likely than boomers to have talked about their financial situation when dating (38% of Gen Z/millennials vs. 17% of baby boomers)," according to the MassMutual report.

That may be a mistake, because more than two-thirds of those surveyed (68%) said that debt isn't a relationship deal breaker. In addition, 74% said they "would compromise their financial goals to appease their significant other."

Talk about it

Don't talk about money on a first date, but as a relationship grows serious it should absolutely be discussed. Start with the basics. Share an overview of your finances and your overall goals.

A person who saves 25% of their income by living modestly won't necessarily partner well with someone who lives in the moment and never thinks about tomorrow. Like everything, however, financial choices in a relationship involve compromise.

It's also important to know if one or both partners have debt, and what type of debt. Student loan payments are different from credit card debt, but both can impact your ability to buy a home, save for retirement, or meet your other financial goals.

Money isn't a one-time discussion. It's an ongoing negotiation that requires openness. Partners should understand where they are in their relationship. At times buying lunch out may be a joint decision, while a more-established couple might only need to discuss bigger ticket purchases.

Make sure you talk about long-term goals and short-term ones. And remember, it's better to tell the truth now than to get found out later. Lying probably won't go well, and it's healthier for your relationship to come clean and go forward with both members of the couple being fully honest.

Daniel B. Kline has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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