Ever Hid a Credit Card Balance From Your Spouse? Data Says You're Not Alone

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  • Many couples aren't entirely open about their finances, with 30% of men and 19% of women saying they've hid credit card balances from their partners.
  • Being dishonest about money is financial infidelity, and 76% of married couples who have dealt with this kind of issue said it harmed their relationships.
  • Make a plan to pay off your credit card debt, and be honest with your partner about it.

It's not uncommon, but it's a decision that can do serious damage to your relationship.

It's never easy to tell your spouse that you have credit card debt. You might feel embarrassed or worried about what they're going to think. That's probably why a sizable portion of people in relationships prefer to keep this a secret.

In a recent study by Bread Financial, 30% of men and 19% of women admitted to hiding a credit card balance from their partners. As tough as it may be to open up about this, being honest with your significant other is a much better choice.

The dangers of financial infidelity

Hiding credit card balances from your spouse is a form of financial infidelity, a term for financial dishonesty in a relationship. Even if you think it's for the best or not a big deal, financial infidelity takes a significant toll on your relationship, and 52% of Americans consider it a form of cheating.

Among married couples who went through financial infidelity, 76% said it harmed their relationships, according to a study by the Financial Therapy Association. In addition, 10% said that financial infidelity led to divorce.

The data is pretty clear, and it's understandable why dishonesty about money is so problematic. Trust is crucial in a relationship, and it's hard to rebuild once broken. If your partner finds out you didn't tell them about hefty credit card balances, they may wonder if you've hid anything else from them. And they'll probably worry the same thing could happen in the future.

How hiding credit card balances can impact your relationship

We've covered why hiding credit card debt is problematic in the general sense. It's financial infidelity, and financial infidelity hurts relationships. But it's also important to explain how credit card balances affect you and your partner, and why this isn't something to sweep under the rug.

It's not necessarily because your partner will be responsible for your credit card debt. That's a common misconception. Even if you're married, you're generally only liable for your own credit card balances, not your spouse's. There are just a few exceptions:

  • Spouses are equally liable for credit card debt either one incurs during the marriage if they live in one of the nine community property states.
  • Spouses are equally liable for balances on joint credit cards.
  • If the primary account holder on a credit card makes their spouse an authorized user, then they're liable for charges their spouse makes.

Outside of those select circumstances, your spouse won't be liable for your credit cards. But those credit card balances could get in the way of financial goals you and your spouse have.

For example, let's say you and your spouse want to buy a home. You'll both need to apply for a mortgage together, where the lender will go over your respective credit scores and debt-to-income (DTI) ratios. Here are a few ways having too much debt could impact your mortgage application:

  • Your card balances will raise your credit utilization ratio, a key factor in your credit score. A lower credit score could mean a higher interest rate on your mortgage.
  • Your card balances will also raise your DTI ratio. If this is too high, the lender may deny your mortgage application.

Talking about credit card debt with your partner

It's never a good idea to hide things in a relationship, and that includes credit card debt. Even though this isn't an easy subject to bring up, there are ways to make it easier on you and your partner.

If you two don't discuss your finances on a regular basis already, make money talks part of your monthly routine. Use these to go over goals you each want to work toward and your current financial situations.

Before you have this conversation with your partner, make a plan for how to pay off your credit card debt. If you just tell them "I have $3,000 on my credit cards," and you have no idea what to do about it, that's going to be stressful. Here's an example of what you could say to make this conversation go better:

  • I've made a budget, so I know I can afford to pay $350 per month toward my credit card debt.
  • I'm going to apply for a balance transfer credit card I found that has a 0% intro APR on balance transfers for 18 months. There's a 3% balance transfer fee, but I'll be able to avoid interest this way.
  • I plugged everything into a credit card payoff calculator, and I'll have my cards paid off within nine months.

A plan like that will definitely help you pay off your credit card balances, and it will also put your partner more at ease. Talking about this could still be challenging, but once you've gotten everything out in the open, you'll be glad that you did.

Our Research Expert

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