In this episode of Motley Fool Answers, Alison Southwick is joined by Motley Fool personal finance expert Robert Brokamp and Dayana Yochim from HerMoney to talk about and answer your questions on financial infidelity.
First, we have a word of caution if you're looking to refinance your mortgage or have 403(b) annuity plans. Recent surveys point to the pervasiveness of financial infidelity. We take a look at some surveys and some examples that should help you make informed decisions and discuss a fun game for couples to talk about their financials and much more.
To catch full episodes of all The Motley Fool's free podcasts, check out our podcast center. To get started investing, check out our quick-start guide to investing in stocks. A full transcript follows the video.
This video was recorded on March 10, 2020.
Alison Southwick: This is always Motley Fool Answers. I'm Alison Southwick, and I'm joined, as always, by Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Brokamp, personal finance expert here at The Motley Fool.
Robert Brokamp: A Scooby-doobbidi-doo to you too.
Southwick: In this week's episode, we're also joined by Dayana Yochim from HerMoney. Hey, there.
Dayana Yochim: Oh, hi!
Southwick: We're going to talk about financial infidelity. Is it really as bad as good old-fashioned infidelity? All that and more on this week's episode of Motley Fool Answers.
So, Bro, what's up?
Brokamp: Well, in the last episode, we talked about how the stocks and rates were falling and how the 10-year treasury and the 30-year treasury were hitting lows that they had never seen before. Well, since then, stocks have just kept falling, and so have rates. So for the first time ever, the 10-year treasury dipped below 1%. Last week, we talked about how the 30-year mortgage rate was close to an all-time low. Well, as of today, it is now officially all-time low. According to Freddie Mac, 3.2% on the 30-year mortgage. Crazy, crazy.
So you'll see more and more articles about how now is the time to refinance. And it could make sense, because according to Bankrate, the average rate on a current mortgage is 4.4%. So clearly if you're paying 4.4%, you're going to make some money if you refinance. As long as you're in the house for a few years, because you do have to pay some money to do it, generally 3% to 6% of the value of the mortgage for the appraisal and the loan origination fees, title insurance; you have to get that again, believe it or not. So you do have to plan on being there a while. Makes sense.
That said, as I look through articles and Twitter and Facebook and people saying, like, "Hey, I refinanced my mortgage. Lowered my payment by $400 a month. Awesome!" It seems like people aren't appreciating the fact that what they're doing is often exchanging a loan that maybe only has 25 years left and now taking on a loan that is now 30 years.
So you have to do a little bit of adjusting there to make that apples-to-apples comparison. So the only way to do it that I've found is just go to a mortgage calculator online. Most will calculate things, like, if you put in the principal, put in the interest rates, so on and so forth, but then also say, do you want to pay it off sooner? And you just put in some random amount. So let's say you have 25 years left on your mortgage, you're going to refinance, you use that calculator, you just fiddle around, maybe put in an extra $200 a month, extra $300 a month, until you get that new mortgage down to 25 years, because that's the real apples-to-apples comparison.
Another reason why you might want to do this, by the way, is if you're paying private mortgage insurance, you don't have to refinance in many situations to get rid of that, but some loans you do. So the only way to get rid of PMI is to refinance, like, if you have any FHA loans. So that's another reason to consider it.
The other thing, though, that I would point out is that many people are looking at this as an example to take money out of their house. So they're refinancing, and they will always be asked by the mortgage broker, "You want an extra $10,000, $5,000, $20,000? Have you been thinking of redoing a bathroom or something? Now is a great time to do it." Resist that temptation if you can, unless you're planning to do it already or it makes sense for you? But ...
Southwick: Is that your, Rick, caveat? Rick's looking to renovate his kitchen, huh? Is that looking pretty tempting, Rick?
Rick Engdahl: Well, I did refi, but I didn't take any cash out to redo the kitchen.
Brokamp: Good for you.
Engdahl: I sold stock instead.
Brokamp: Good for you. Right at the top, as long as you did it, like, a month ago.
Brokamp: Okay. So that's the one thing for the "What's up, bro? And now I have just one other short thing. And this comes from Dan and Scott from 403bwise.org, who were on our show in October. Those are the guys who are out there pointing out to many people, mostly teachers, but many people with a 403(b) that their plans probably stink, they're often loaded up with high-fee investments, often annuities. Well, they published a blog post with the headline Annuity Huckster Outbreak.
So a teacher forwarded them this email with the subject line, "Coronavirus is Decimating Global Stock Market," and the first line in the email is "Annuities to the rescue." So you're going to find many people, insurance sales people and others, trying to take advantage of what's going on and trying to sell people investments that are going to supposedly protect their wealth hold up in a down market, but will also have a lot of fees. So just be on the watch for that. I would imagine that many of the listeners to this podcast probably won't fall for it. The people you have to watch out for are your family members, especially older folks, who are naturally and normally more conservative. As we get older, we become more vulnerable to financial scams. So keep an eye out on Mom and Dad and Grandma and Prandpa. And that's what's up.
Southwick: Let's start with a stat, shall we? So a CreditCards.com annual financial infidelity poll revealed that 44% of respondents are hiding a checking, savings, or credit card account or are hoarding secret debt from their partner. What? Does that surprise you guys?
Yochim: No, it actually doesn't surprise me.
Southwick: Well, that voice you just heard there is the voice of Dayana Yochim. She's with HerMoney. Dayana, tell us what HerMoney is, again?
Yochim: Yep. We're a women's media company, HerMoney.com. We talk about everything from career advancement, entrepreneurship to bridging the gender wage gap to retirement planning. So basically, it's financial advice by women, for women, and about women without being pink-washed. [laughs] I don't look great in pink, that's why.
Southwick: No, you wear black. Now, back in the day, though, you wrote a little book along with someone who's near and dear to my heart.
Yochim: That's right. Robert. It's like -- I did not write this with your husband.
Southwick: Expand. Yes.
Yochim: Yes. So it's The Motley Fool's Guide to Couples & Cash. Nice little booklet. I believe it is out of print right now.
Brokamp: I'm sure it's still available at fine online bookstores everywhere. Cover designed by ... ?
Yochim: Oh! Rick.
Southwick: So Rick designed the cover and you guys wrote the book ... to Couples & Cash a long time ago. Isn't that fun?
Yochim: Fun fact. Interviewed a ton of couples for the content in there. And I would say a handful of them are no longer together now.
Brokamp: Oh, it wasn't our fault. [laughs]
Yochim: It wasn't. And they really had nothing to do with money, these breakups, I swear.
Southwick: Well, you're here today to talk about financial infidelity, because we noticed a couple surveys recently about financial infidelity, how pervasive it is. And some of the survey results were kind of surprising for us. So let's start off though: What is financial infidelity?
Yochim: So financial infidelity, in general it's about lying or withholding information. So some examples, you mentioned, having secret credit cards or hidden stashes of money that you don't want your partner to know about. Sins of omission, like having debt, that you don't reveal to your significant other, or maybe having bills sent to your office or P.O. box so that they don't see what activity is going on. Lying about your income, one way or the other, is a sign of financial infidelity. Spending money that the other person doesn't know about -- we're talking about spending a lot more money than you're letting on; and making money decisions that affect the state of the household finances without consulting or talking about it with your significant other.
So if you are keeping money secrets that affect the state of your household finances and trust within your relationship, you are committing financial infidelity.
Southwick: So a 2019 TD Bank study found that the most pervasive secrets of financial infidelity were: most common, credit card debt. Second, hidden bank accounts. Third, a gambling hobby. Oh, that's cute that they call it a hobby. [laughs]
Yochim: [laughs] The shopping hobby.
Southwick: Yeah, right. And then the fourth most common form of infidelity was unpaid student loans.
Yochim: Oh! So that's the sin of omission. Not fessing up how much debt you actually have.
Brokamp: I'll point out one that I've come across, especially when I worked with Motley Fool Wealth Management, is people who have investment accounts that they haven't told their spouses about, because they're investing in things that are more aggressive than their spouse would want, so they keep that account on the side.
Southwick: Which is so funny to me.
Yochim: Now, we should talk about the difference between financial infidelity and financial independence. Because having your own investment account, you know, is that your own money that you've agreed that, "Hey, I'm going to invest this amount in a manner that I'm comfortable with." Financial independence is when partners have decided and agreed on information that they can keep to themselves. So let's say that you can have a set amount of money that you spend every month that comes out of your own paycheck. And you don't have to tell the other person about every coffee or your happy hour problem or lip gloss problem, whatever.
Brokamp: [laughs] Even your little gambling hobby.
Yochim: Or your gambling hobby. But having financial independence within a relationship is great; financial infidelity, the lies, not so much.
Southwick: Well, a lot of examples I've noticed of financial infidelity was, I didn't even know he had set up this credit card. I didn't even know that they were this much in debt. I didn't know they were hiding money from me. And it was these things where you just are going to naturally assume that your partner is not hiding things from you. And then suddenly, maybe they accidentally open a letter that they weren't supposed to see and these things come out that way.
Brokamp: Yeah. And then the really insidious ones are when somebody opens the credit card or racks up debt in the other person's name. That's unlawful. [laughs]
Southwick: Yeah. And one thing that I thought was also interesting in some of the stories I read, because I did go down a Reddit hole; we'll talk about that later. But in a lot of the stories, they'd say, "I found out that my spouse had all this credit card debt." And for a lot of them, it wasn't like, "Oh, he spent it on a girlfriend he had on the side," or "It was a gambling addiction." It was funny how many of the stories were like, you know, "My husband just really liked fast food and had spent thousands and thousands of dollars on fast food." [laughs]
And they'd be like, there's no underlying big problem there. They're not on drugs, not gambling, not drugs, not some negative behavior. It's just chipping away, and then suddenly they find themselves in this massive debt hole that they couldn't talk to their spouse about.
Yochim: And that's being embarrassed about something. That's how a lot of these issues come up, because somebody is embarrassed to admit "Here's how much debt I have or here's what's really going on."
Brokamp: The term "financial infidelity" is actually relatively recent. And I have to say my first reaction was it's a bit overstated. Infidelity is a pretty strong word, and maybe, the person who's buying Big Macs on the sly, it's not quite as bad.
Southwick: Maybe he's seeing the girl behind the counter. [laughs]
Brokamp: [laughs] Maybe. That said. So according to one of the more recent surveys from CreditCards.com, it's from the article "Many believe financial cheating is worse than having an affair. 27% of respondents said financial infidelity is worse than physically cheating and 30% said it's about the same." Which I have to say I'm not sure I believe. So I actually did my own survey.
Southwick: Oh, I saw it. It made me chuckle yesterday.
Yochim: Did you AB test this?
Brokamp: Well, so it's not scientific at all. But here at The Fool, we do have a Slack channel called Financial Fitness. So anyone who joins it, generally speaking, is probably someone who cares about money more than the average bear. So I just put up a survey, I explained, we're going to be talking about financial infidelity. And so, here's my survey, I said, What's worse? Four choices. No. 1, financial infidelity. No. 2, physical infidelity. No. 3, they're equally bad. Or No. 4, they're equally awesome. [laughs] And of the choices, of the 22 people who responded -- so, again, not a big sample here -- only one said financial infidelity was worse. Nine said physical infidelity was worse. But 11, the majority, did say they're equally bad. And of course, we had one person who said they're equally awesome. So I am surprised a little bit, because even I, the financial guy, would find an actual affair is worse, but there are people who see it just as bad.
Southwick: Yeah. And a lot of the Reddit articles. I mean, it also depends, the financial infidelity, a Big Mac is not as bad as opening credit cards under your spouse's name. So yeah, I guess it's whatever they thought defined financial infidelity in their mind.
Brokamp: Yeah. I'll talk about a survey that was published in The Journal of Financial Therapy later, but they had lots of examples of what would be considered being dishonest with your spouse. Including saying you bought something on sale and it really wasn't on sale. One of the biggest responses was, spending more on kids, they do admit to. So a lot of what people do is for good reasons, but regardless, it still undermines trust in the relationship.
Yochim: Right. And that is the biggie. I had a reader who fessed up, her husband had been supposedly going to work every day for a year -- yep, you know where this is going -- when actually he had lost his job and he was spending the day at the library. He was going through the motions. And that's a big one. So we're talking about the people who think that financial infidelity and physical infidelity are on par with one another, you have to look at how severe is the issue here, because that, it is you're breaking this bond of trust, and I think that that's the rabbit hole you go down: If they lie about this, than what else. What else is behind the curtain?
Southwick: Right. How bad is your relationship if you're not able to tell your spouse the truth that you lost your job? Yeah, that's rough. Well, let's move on and talk a bit about what are maybe some red flags of financial infidelity and what are some things to look out for.
Brokamp: Right. So there's a large collection of things that would raise some concerns. So obviously, purchases that show up and you wonder where they came from; large ATM withdrawals that aren't accompanied by anything that you knew was being purchased; people being cagey about where you would find financial information, and that can range someone who makes sure that they are the first person to the mailbox to make sure that they're able to filter out things; people who don't want you to see the tax return, they want you to, "You know, I did the taxes, just sign this," or "Just leave it all to the accountant." Because on the tax return, you'll see bank accounts or investment accounts, things like that. If you ever bring up your credit score or credit report and the person is saying, "We don't need to check that," or "I don't have time to check mine." Because that will also reveal either accounts that have been opened or the credit score could reveal they're not as good with their money as they say they are.
And if you read real-life stories about financial infidelity, you will come across many instances of someone being with someone who they thought was good with money and it turns out that they're actually not very good with money.
Engdahl: I don't know, if my wife said, I did the taxes, please just sign it and don't look at it, I'd give her a pretty long leash on that one.
Brokamp: [laughs] And a lot of this does crossover to other types of infidelity. So a red flag is someone who is very protective about their phone or very protective about their computer. They're hiding something.
Southwick: What's some advice on how couples can stay on the same page financially and be open and up front and not try to assume the best?
Yochim: Right. Well, it's funny you say, "assume the best," I think one of the most important things is don't make assumptions about how the other person feels about money. We all have our own baggage, and if it's not one thing, it's your mother. Get it? Yeah. But because all of us, you know, we grow up in different households, money is handled certain ways. So you can't assume that your partner is OK with debt. Or that they're as freaked out about it as you are. You really do have to start talking about this stuff, and, I'm sorry, the emotions behind it. Maybe you weren't taught about savings or spending or allowances, but having conversations is the first step to, sort of, opening up this ongoing discussion that you should be having about money. And making sure that you're both comfortable talking about it. So you know, the embarrassment of the Big Mac problem, you can bring that up sooner rather than later.
Brokamp: In previous episodes, we've talked about a couple of ways that couples can, sort of, talk about their money. One was The Fooly Wed Game, which is something we wrote many years ago, is still available on the internet, but it has some good questions that are good for people to talk about. How much is the amount that I can spend without asking you? How much are we comfortable with having in our bank account before we start to freak out? What are our top three to five goals? So it's kind of a fun little game, it allows you to prioritize different things, but it's a good way to start the conversation.
Another one is the Klontz Money Script. We talked about it in an episode, in 2016. Basically, it's a way to identify your beliefs about money, often having to do with how you grew up. It does give you, sort of, a label of what kind of person you are when it comes to money. In the end, I don't know if the label is as important as taking the test together and comparing your results.
Southwick: I just googled "Fooly Wed Game," and this is what came up: It's Dayana on YouTube playing The Fooly Wed Game with a couple of news anchors, I guess. Do you remember this at all?
Yochim: Oh, yeah. Oh, wait, show that to me again. I think --
Brokamp: It's 2007.
Yochim: Was that Fox?
Southwick: That's Fox News.
Yochim: Oh, my God!
Southwick: Google that if you want to learn more. You can google Fooly Wed Game to find it.
Yochim: And there are also apps out there that can help couples. One is called Honeyfi, and it allows couples to set up shared financial goals and track each other's progress, what they're spending and saving. You can choose what to share with your partner on that, so it's kind of a cool thing to, you know, get a little friendly competition in there. So as you're saving for vacations and down payments on homes and other stuff like that.
Brokamp: Interestingly, I've mentioned the study in The Journal of Financial Therapy, it's actually "2018 Financial Infidelity in Couple Relationships." It has all kinds of research. And that, most people are attracted to financial opposites. So spenders tend to be with savers and vice versa. So it is important to figure these things out. What they did find, though, is that financial infidelity is less common in couples that have a budget and in couples that are more likely to plan and in couples that talk about money more frequently. So it may not be a comfortable conversation. I think one of the issues, one of the reasons why people hide things about money, is because the conversations may not be easy, possibly because you are financial opposites, but the bottom line is, it's still better to do it. And if you can't do it on your own, get professional help with it, whether it's a financial therapist or a financial planner who has some people skills in terms of managing the different goals between two people.
Yochim: You know what else is better between couples who talk about money regularly?
Brokamp: I'm curious.
Yochim: Bow chicka bow bow. [laughs]
Southwick: Yeah, we call it special hugs here on the show, Dayana.
Yochim: Research from Honeyfi actually points to the fact that couples that talk about their financial goals at least once a month are 57% more likely to report having a great sex life than those who don't. Yup. Just saying.
Brokamp: And I have another one for you. This is from a Washington Post article in 2016 by Rodney Brooks according to TD Bank's second annual Love & Money survey -- and, of course, by now they have more than second annual -- but couples of all ages are happier when they talk about money: 78% of couples who talk weekly about money say they're happy, as opposed to 60% who talk every few months and 50% who talk less frequently. It's just good for your relationship to talk about these things.
Yochim: Between the sheets.
Brokamp: [laughs] The spreadsheets. [laughs]
Southwick: All right, let's bring up the therapist's couch, because as I said, I hopped on to the old Reddit and went down the Reddit hole, and I found some real-life stories of people sharing financial infidelity in their life. And so I'm going to read their stories. They're requesting help, and we'll see what your advice would be for them. Keep in mind that nine times out of ten, the resounding advice on Reddit is, "Get a divorce!" So we'll see what you guys say; if you have a more nuanced response.
All right, first story. "Is divorce the only real choice for financial infidelity? Here we go. We just bought our first house. We have kids. We used to do the separate finances thing where we both paid for said expenses, then she tried taking out a payday loan without telling me. I saw this as a big deal, but we worked through it. Two years passed, then there's another big incident of her lying to me about money. I won't go into the details, but it involved a lot of lies and deception. I told her I would either take over the finances or file for divorce. At that time, I offered total amnesty for any other financial skeletons that needed to come out of the closet, and she said there was nothing else. Everything is in my name now, another year has passed, and I thought things were getting better. They weren't. She's opened up credit cards without telling me, and there are other accounts in collection that I don't know about. The extra debt is not financially ruinous, but it'll take years, not months, to pay off and it will impact our children negatively. I know for a fact where the money is going, which is not an entirely separate deal breaker, like, drugs or a boyfriend. Seems like my choices are to work through it for the third time, and live an uncertain future, or divorce. My question for all of you, do I have a legal option to get my wife to stop applying for predatory credit? If not, and if I stay with my wife and there are more debts in the future that I don't know about and don't get paid, can creditors take our home? What about the kids' 529, my 401(k), etc.?"
Brokamp: Well, so there are some legal questions there.
Southwick: They only get worse, by the way, so buckle up.
Brokamp: [laughs] Okay. So I don't want to address them too much, and every state is different. Like, if you're in a community property state or not, that is a big deal. You can't legally prevent your wife from doing anything that she wants. She could agree to freezing her credit, and that's one thing people do to prevent any fraud or anything like that. They freeze their credit and then they unfreeze it when they want to apply for something. She could agree to freeze her credit, but then she can just go around and unfreeze it later. But then, to me, that's, you're setting up certain things that she just keeps knocking them down, then maybe divorce is the answer.
And it could be, divorce is the answer, but you still are functionally married, but you are legally separated so that you are not responsible for anything that she does. Generally speaking, retirement accounts like 401(k)s and IRAs are protected for such things, but I would still just keep things as separate as possible.
Yochim: And I think that the fact that this is an ongoing repeat issue is a good sign that there's something else going on here that it's not just about the money. And you've got to get to the root of the problem here. And this is a situation where regular couples therapy might help, but financial therapy, in particular, to see what's going on. And a financial therapist is someone who can address both the financial, the money side and the psychological issues, that can act as a neutral third-party and help you guys work through it and come up with some rules to put around this and, again, open up and talk about what is the underlying issue here.
Brokamp: Right. There's an addiction or something. There is something more here than Big Macs.
Southwick: All right, next one. "Up to about six months ago, I was a stay-at-home wife with no kids. I thought we were fine financially. However, about six months ago, he told me that we were blowing through money and he only had $500 in his account. The overspending is both of our faults. Most money was being spent on dates and dinners, some of it spent on car repairs. I got a job immediately. However, a week after getting my paycheck, I noticed that all the money was almost gone. No problem, I thought, that means we spent less of his money. I asked him, and that turned out to not be the case. We had just spent twice as much money. He started grabbing expensive coffee for breakfast and had a couple of luxury items. I did not want to go on at this rate and got an idea. I would take out half my paycheck in cash and store it upstairs in my closet from now on. I would not touch this. I would not tell anyone, because the less people that are tempted to get into our secret savings, the better. In the months to come, I spent all of the money I didn't store in cash paying for groceries and other necessities. His money was still draining away, but I was less concerned now. Anyway, yesterday he told me he couldn't move out this summer ... "
They were planning a move, by the way, I think I left that out, " ... because he was still broke and they had pissed away our money. I got the savings box from upstairs and showed it to him, thinking that he'd be relieved. It had nearly $6,000 in it, enough for plane tickets and a deposit for a new place. However, he got angry and told me it was ridiculous that I've been secretly saving up while we were spending his money freely and that I'd used him. I told him that the savings are as much his as they are mine and that they are for us to start a new life together. He was still very angry and wouldn't hear what I had to say. I offered that we go see a financial counselor to help us save up from both of our paychecks and budget more, so that we both save money, but he said no, and he's now not talking to me. I did apologize, of course, but it didn't help. What should I do?"
Oh, good one, huh, secretly saving money.
Brokamp: Right. So obviously trust and transparency and honesty are important in a relationship. I give her a lot of credit, personally, because they're in a better position than if she did not do that. I think the thing for her to recognize -- and he has to recognize as well -- is that money is never really just about money, it's about other things. It's about control, it's about power. Especially when you have two people in a relationship and one person is responsible for earning the money and the other person isn't. Different power dynamic there. So I think it is important for everyone in that situation to understand that something is going on there. They can't get their act together, and it has nothing to do with money, but in my opinion, she did something that was smart to do. I don't blame her for doing what she did.
Yochim: Yeah. I'm going to let Reddit decide on this one. [laughs]
Southwick: [laughs] All right. We can move on to the next one. "My boyfriend said he would hide money from me when we're married. We're currently 100% open about money to the point where I have full access to his bank account, because he needs help budgeting. He tells me when he makes every paycheck, and we sit down and do the math every two weeks to figure out what can go into his savings and what bills need to be paid, etc. I do the same. And we discussed that money needs to be saved from my paychecks too, and what we can afford and put into savings. He didn't grow up in a household where he was taught to be responsible with money. His mom loves to shop, and I've been teaching him skills. And his dad is very anti-women because his mom spends so much money. I don't think this is actually him talking. I think his dad is sowing seeds, but I don't actually know."
Yochim: Okay. Can you please read the first line of that again?
Southwick: "My boyfriend said he would hide money from me when we're married."
Yochim: Okay, give back the ring. This is just the beginning of the slow-motion breakup montage. Now, starting from this place of mistrust is a recipe for disaster, but if we're being really generous here, maybe this is a case where the couple should keep their financial lives separate.
Brokamp: Yeah. And this does demonstrate something that I think everyone knows: that we get our money attitudes and behaviors from our parents, what we saw. And so someone who grew up in a situation where they saw one parent being a spendthrift, the other parent trying to be responsible, it causes nothing but tension. You could see someone, they're like, "I need to protect this for the good of our relationship, because my parents didn't do this and they were miserable." So I don't think hiding money is ever a good idea. Agreeing that you each have separate money, I think, is fine.
Southwick: "For the past two years, I've been hiding around $8,000 in credit card debt from my husband. It's been solely in my name and has not affected his credit. When I graduated college six years ago, he supported me for two and a half months and paid for everything. I started my job, making about $28,000. I've been promoted multiple times. I'm now making $78,000. I have a plan to pay off this debt in about eight months, but ultimately the guilt and stress is killing me. I've already paid off about $3,900 of it in the past four months. I realize that I no longer could handle the debt and I want to be free of it. So his salary has stayed consistently about $45,000, but he's always worried about money and is more of a frugal person than I am, obviously. He also has a tendency to make comments about money, like, when I paid for your car, when I paid all the bills. I love him tremendously, but he is very focused on comparing what we have done for each other and making rude comments about the way I handle money. How can I tell him without it causing serious damage to our relationship?"
Again, he/she has $8,000 in debt and wants to share with their partner the information.
Yochim: I think it's great that this person wants to come clean. And I think the rule here is be honest about it, but take time beforehand to reflect on what motivated you. How did this happen? And to show that I understand the circumstances here and am making moves to make sure it doesn't happen again. So you've obviously made a good-faith effort. She's paying down the debt already; that's all great stuff.
Brokamp: Yeah. One of the people who wrote the study that was in The Journal of Financial Therapy, Michelle Jeanfreau, had a method that she labels "the SAFE methods." I'll just read it.
"S is for speaking the truth or coming clean about financial infidelity; that's always the best thing to do."
The A is for agreeing to a plan which involves setting up a budget."
"F following that agreement and regularly reviewing it."
And I think this is interesting, I asked my wife, who is a mental health therapist, is it good for, if someone's in the situation to be able to check on the spouse who is -- I guess, what we're calling that -- unfaithful, dishonest, the perp, like saying, "Listen, OK, you did this, we're going to work through it, but I get to review your bank account and I get to review your computer, I get to stay on top of our credit score and our credit card. I get to basically check up on you." And my wife agreed that that's the thing. I mean, you have to establish that trust. And so that person, this woman who has the debt, should be open to the fact that the husband might want to check up on things for a while and make sure.
"And then the E is having an emergency plan, which usually includes seeking help from therapists and financial advisors."
When I was a teacher, I had a friend getting married, and I asked one of my teaching colleagues who had been married for a very long time, what advice do you give to people who are married? And she said, let go of the past. And that's what this husband needs to do, and stop bringing up things that he paid for in the past, and at some point he's going to have to let this go too, once they get over it. It's going to be tough, but at some point you have to move on.
Southwick: So talking about straight-up infidelity infidelity. If you're in a situation where you're like, "I was unfaithful in the past. It's over now. I cheated on my spouse, but I still feel like I need to come clean." Sometimes the advice is, "No, it was in the past, you're just going to put undue hurt and stress on your significant other." So why is this different?
Brokamp: Well, she still has the debt, right?
Southwick: I know, but she has a plan to take care of it. And if you're like, "No, I'm never going to see them again. I'm done. It's done. It's over. Should I still come clean to my spouse?"
Yochim: That's a really good question.
Brokamp: It is a good question. I will say, reading through the stories of financial infidelity, including when I went to the --
Southwick: ... conference for financial --
Brokamp: There you go. [laughs] I was looking at, Financial Therapy Conference in May, in Austin. One of the classes was taught by a guy named Ed Coambs, who has his own story of financial infidelity, and it made it on to MPR. And he had -- actually now that I think about it -- I think it was $8,000 in debt. And the thing was he said he kept it secret for so long, because he kept saying, I'm going to pay it off eventually. I'm going to pay it off eventually." And it didn't happen. So if she really has a plan to pay it off and can really wipe it clean and it's not going to affect their credit score and show up later? Maybe. And it's never going to happen again? Maybe.
But the thing is, a lot of the people have intentions of saying, I'm going to pay this off, or this is the last time I'm going to go shopping, or after this, I'm never going to gamble again, and it just doesn't happen.
Southwick: All right. Here's the last question. And this one is just interesting, and so it's not necessarily infidelity. You'll see it. All right.
"I've been on this FIRE journey since I was 18." So again, financial independence, retire early. "I've done pretty well for myself so far and I'm on track to retire by 40." That's awesome. "Well, my mom was in town the other day, and while I was at work, I let her chill at my apartment before an appointment she had. That morning I was working on some papers for a Visa application. For the application I had to account for my current incomes and assets and also include copies of my account statements. Those papers were on my desk in my bedroom in plain sight. I didn't think about it until she called me yesterday and flat out told me that she saw the papers on my desk. Then she started crying and told me in very clear terms that she expected help. She then laid out in detail all the financial problems that she and the rest of my family were having. I honestly didn't know what to do or say, so I just hung up. Yes. Because I'm socially inept. I can't handle confrontation like that. I hung up and ignored the next four or five calls and texts she sent. I also ignored the calls for my sibling and aunt. So I'm thinking that she talked to the rest of my family about this and told them that I am now ignoring her. $525,000 is basically an unlimited amount of money from her perspective, and my family thought that I was just as poor as they are, so I get it. I don't know what to do now. I don't plan on ignoring my family forever, and I can't talk to any of my friends about this, so what would you do? I feel like I've become the family bank account, and everyone is going to constantly ask for a bailout."
Brokamp: Man, that's a tough one.
Southwick: Isn't that a good one?
Yochim: First of all, good for you. Secondly, change your identity. [laughs] Actually, that person might want to put a credit freeze on all their financial paperwork. Wow!
Brokamp: Yeah, it's a tough one. So for me, if I were in this position, I'd have much more trouble not helping out my mom as opposed to the other family members. The other family members, sort of, you're on your own. And it depends on the situation, right? But I would put a hard "no" on most things, because it's just one of those things, if you say, "Yes," to one person or just give a little bit, it's never going to stop.
Yochim: I agree.
Southwick: Do you have any advice?
Yochim: I just keep making this face with all these questions.
Southwick: Just keep hanging up, just don't answer the phone ever again.
Yochim: [laughs] No. I think that that is -- I agree, you know, your mom, man! But also, looking at what's the financial help that she's asking for? $500,000 for this person. Did they say how old they are now?
Southwick: No. I mean, somewhere between 18 and 40. They said, "Chill at my apartment," so I'm assuming they're in their 20s or 30s.
Yochim: Yeah. That's their nest egg. They worked hard for it to save it.
Southwick: Yeah. So Reddit's advice here was that, with all these -- I mean, if you want to help your money, you can help your mom, but for your siblings and other people like that, is say, "I'm not going to give you money, but we'll sit down and I'll go through your finances with you and I will help you." And if they aren't willing to make that effort, then why would you help them financially if they're not even willing to do that?
Yochim: Yeah. I wish I said that, because that's really good. Yeah. Go Reddit.
Southwick: That's good advice. That's why we go to Reddit.
Brokamp: It actually does remind me of one of my professors, when I was getting my certificate in financial therapy, talked about how she had this problem because she came from a relatively poor background. She goes to college, gets a PhD, is a fairly recognized professor in her field. And there's a lot of resentment from the people she left behind in the farmland of Kansas. And, "Oh, you work on financial therapy, you must have a lot of money, which means you should help me." So it's probably a pretty common problem.
Southwick: Yeah. All right. How about a final piece of advice for our friends out there?
Brokamp: I've talked on the show previously about a study that found that in most couples, someone emerges to be the financial family CFO. Basically, handles most of the money and the other person doesn't. And the person who gets that role isn't necessarily the person who's the most knowledgeable with money, it's the person who has the time and the inclination to do it. But then as years go on, and the person who's not doing it, they have a drop-off in their financial literacy. The lesson here is that, generally speaking, with most couples, money should be a joint project. Even if one person is generally paying the bills or something like that, it shouldn't be all left to one person, it's too much pressure, it's too much responsibility. And I think the evidence is pretty clear that couples that regularly work on and discuss their finances together will be much happier.
Southwick: Hey, Dayana, thank you for joining us. Where can they get more Dayana, aside from Fox News 2007 clips that are posted?
Yochim: [laughs] Come to HerMoney.com, or if you'd like some more from us, text, HerMoney, one word, to 888-111.
Southwick: All right. That's the show. It's edited faithfully by Rick Engdahl. Our email is Answers@fool.com. For Robert Brokamp and Dayana Yochim, I'm Alison Southwick. Stay Foolish, everybody.