52% of Americans Say Secret Spending or Lying About Money Is Cheating

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Couple sitting on couch after difficult conversation.

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Most Americans in serious relationships expect honesty from their partner when it comes to money -- but a surprising amount don’t practice what they preach.

A survey from The Ascent, a Motley Fool service, found that just over half of American adults in long-term relationships or marriages believe that financial infidelity is a form of cheating. But that hasn’t deterred a similar percentage from hiding financial accounts and purchases from their partner.

As if finances in relationships aren’t complicated enough, most of those in marriages or long-term relationships feel like they have a good idea of their partner’s spending habits.

Read on for insight into how couples approach financial secrecy and what they think is going on in the financial side of their relationships.

Key findings

  • 52% of those in long-term relationships or marriages think that secret spending or lying about money is a form of cheating.
  • Credit cards are the most common type of account hidden from a partner, followed by checking accounts and saving accounts.
  • 48% of individuals in marriages make purchases they hide from their partners. A similar percentage think it’s unlikely that their partner hides purchases from them.
  • 50% of married individuals share all financial accounts and 35% share some. 15% share no financial accounts.
  • Most people in long-term relationships and marriages make spending, saving, and credit card decisions jointly.

Most people in marriages consider secret spending or lying about money to be cheating; most in long-term relationships don’t

Just over half of those in a long-term relationship or marriage consider secret spending or lying about money to be a form of cheating. (Note: "long-term relationship" wasn't defined as a particular amount of time in this survey -- respondents were asked to choose from several relationship statuses, including "dating," "long-term relationship," and "married.")

Married respondents are more likely to view financial deception as cheating than those in long-term relationships (56% compared to 46%).

About the same percentage of men and women (53% and 52% respectively) agree that secret spending or lying about money is cheating.

All respondents Men Women Long-term relationship Married
Yes, secret spending or lying about money is a form of cheating 52.23% 52.92% 51.75% 46.35% 55.74%
Data source: The Ascent survey of 1,501 American adults, conducted January 25, 2022.

Credit cards are the most common type of account partners hide from each other

Those in serious relationships tend to merge financial accounts or set up joint ones. They also hide accounts.

47% of respondents who share some or all of their financial accounts (about 85% of respondents) said they have at least one hidden account.

Men are much more likely to have a hidden account than women. Among those that share financial accounts, 44% of men have at least one hidden account compared to 29% of women.

16% of those whole share financial accounts have a hidden credit card, making it the most common type of secret account. Secret checking and savings are held by 15% of respondents each.

Which of the following accounts do you have that your partner doesn’t know about? All respondents Respondents that share some or all financial accounts Men (among those that share some or all financial accounts) Women (among those that share some or all financial accounts) Long-term relationship (among that those share some or all financial accounts) Married (among those that share some or all financial accounts)
Checking account 11.24% 15.34% 18.86% 12.64% 17.41% 14.57%
Savings account 11.17% 15.24% 18.86% 12.48% 16.72% 14.70%
Non-retirement investment account 4.37% 5.97% 8.05% 4.38% 7.17% 5.53%
Retirement savings account 5.59% 7.62% 12.08% 4.21% 9.90% 6.78%
Crypto investment account 9.42% 12.86% 22.25% 5.67% 15.36% 11.93%
Credit card 11.98% 16.35% 17.37% 15.56% 16.38% 16.33%
None of the above 46.23% 63.09% 53.60% 70.34% 55.63% 65.83%
Data source: The Ascent survey of 1,501 American adults, conducted January 25, 2022.

If you're interested in more details on hidden investing and crypto accounts, be sure to check out "Study: Men Are 4x More Likely Than Women to Have Secret Crypto Accounts."

Almost half of those in marriages hide purchases from their partner

About 49% of those in a marriage or long-term relationship hide purchases from their partner. Roughly the same percentage think it’s unlikely that their partner hides purchases from them.

Men are more likely to make hidden purchases than women -- 56% of men hide purchases compared to 43% of women. Men also made hidden purchases more frequently than women.

How often do you make purchases that you hide from your partner? All respondents Men Women Long-term relationship Married
Never 51.23% 43.67% 56.50% 49.91% 52.02%
Once a year or less 12.46% 13.47% 11.75% 13.73% 11.70%
A few times a year 17.26% 18.18% 16.61% 16.93% 17.45%
At least once a month 10.86% 12.99% 9.38% 11.76% 10.32%
Every week 8.19% 11.69% 5.76% 7.66% 8.51%
Data source: The Ascent survey of 1,501 American adults, conducted January 25, 2022.

A personal credit card or bank account is the most common method of hiding purchases, followed by paying in cash and simply not saying anything about the purchase.

There are some differences in how men and women tend to hide purchases from their partner.

41% of women use a personal card or account to hide purchases compared to 30% of men, and 25% of women opted to hide purchases by not mentioning them compared to 17% of men.

Men were more likely than women to use cash and cryptocurrency to hide purchases. Just 2% of women hide purchases by using cryptocurrency compared to 15% of men.

When you hide a purchase from your partner, how do you usually do it? All respondents Men Women Long-term relationship Married
Pay in cash 24.73% 29.97% 20.00% 22.42% 26.16%
Pay with my own card or account 35.93% 29.97% 41.30% 33.45% 37.47%
Pay with a payment app (e.g., Venmo) 9.70% 8.36% 10.91% 12.10% 8.20%
Pay with crypto 8.33% 15.27% 2.08% 8.19% 8.43%
Just don't say anything 21.31% 16.43% 25.71% 23.84% 19.73%
Data source: The Ascent survey of 1,501 American adults, conducted January 25, 2022.

It’s no surprise that personal cards and accounts are the most common way of hiding purchases given that 55% of individuals in long-term relationships or marriages maintain them.

Personal spending accounts are more common among those in long-term relationships than those in marriages. 68% of those in long-term relationships have an account only for personal spending compared to 51% of those in marriages.

All respondents Men Women Long-term relationship Married
Percent that has an account only used for personal spending 55.46% 57.84% 53.65% 68.26% 50.75%
Data source: The Ascent survey of 1,501 American adults, conducted January 25, 2022.

Half of those in long-term relationships and marriages think it’s unlikely their partner hides purchases

While 49% of respondents said they make hidden purchases, 50% also said it’s unlikely their partner makes purchases they hide from them.

37% said it was likely their partner makes hidden purchases and 12% said they know their partner makes hidden purchases.

Men are less trusting of their partners than women -- 43% of men said it’s likely that their partners made hidden purchases compared to 33% of women who think it’s likely their partners do the same.

How likely is it that your partner makes purchases that they hide from you? All respondents Men Women Long-term relationship Married
Very unlikely 36.64% 31.49% 40.23% 30.84% 40.11%
Somewhat unlikely 13.66% 10.55% 15.82% 14.44% 13.19%
Somewhat likely 19.79% 21.27% 18.76% 21.39% 18.83%
Very likely 17.52% 21.75% 14.58% 16.93% 17.87%
I know they do 12.39% 14.94% 10.62% 16.40% 10.00%
Data source: The Ascent survey of 1,501 American adults, conducted January 25, 2022.

Partners are more likely to feel as though they know about their partner’s credit card habits then their spending or saving habits

Just 43% of respondents said they think their partner knows everything about their spending habits.

In other words, most Americans in long-term relationships or marriages think that their partner doesn’t have a full picture of their spending habits.

Men were less likely than women to think that their partners have a total understanding of their spending habits, in line with men also being more likely to make hidden purchases.

How much does your partner know about your spending habits? All respondents Men Women Long-term relationship Married
None 3.00% 3.90% 2.37% 4.46% 2.13%
A little 16.99% 18.67% 15.82% 20.14% 15.11%
A lot 37.44% 39.77% 35.82% 36.90% 37.77%
Everything 42.57% 37.66% 45.99% 38.50% 45.00%
Data source: The Ascent survey of 1,501 American adults, conducted January 25, 2022.

The same pattern generally holds true for how much respondents think their partner knows about their saving habits.

How much does your partner know about your saving habits? All respondents Men Women Long-term relationship Married
None 5.53% 6.17% 5.08% 8.38% 3.83%
A little 19.32% 18.83% 19.66% 22.28% 17.55%
A lot 30.51% 32.47% 29.15% 28.16% 31.91%
Everything 44.64% 42.53% 46.10% 41.18% 46.70%
Data source: The Ascent survey of 1,501 American adults, conducted January 25, 2022.

Respondents were slightly more confident in their understanding of their partners credit card habits.

How much does your partner know about your credit card habits? All respondents Men Women Long-term relationship Married
None 9.53% 7.95% 10.62% 12.48% 7.77%
A little 18.32% 18.83% 17.97% 22.10% 16.06%
A lot 25.92% 28.73% 23.95% 24.96% 26.49%
Everything 46.24% 44.48% 47.46% 40.46% 49.68%
Data source: The Ascent survey of 1,501 American adults, conducted January 25, 2022.

Among married individuals, 50% share all financial accounts and 35% share some financial accounts

Having joint access to financial accounts can make it more difficult to hide purchases. Marriage doesn’t guarantee account sharing, however.

Half of respondents in marriages reported sharing all financial accounts and another 35% said they share some accounts. 15% of respondents in marriages said they keep all accounts separate.

All respondents Men Women Long-term relationship Married
We share all of our financial accounts 40.17% 45.45% 36.50% 23.89% 49.89%
We share some of our accounts 32.38% 31.17% 33.22% 28.34% 34.79%
We keep all of our accounts separate 27.45% 23.38% 30.28% 47.77% 15.32%
Data source: The Ascent survey of 1,501 American adults, conducted January 25, 2022.

Checking accounts, savings accounts, and credit cards are most likely to be shared among married couples or those in long-term relationships

Checking accounts are shared by 80% of those in marriages, savings accounts are shared by 76%, and credit cards are shared by 62%. Notably, those three accounts that are most likely to be shared are also the account types that are most likely to be hidden from partners.

Women are more likely to share checking accounts than men but less likely to share savings accounts and credit cards.

Unsurprisingly, those in long-term relationships were less likely to share accounts than those in marriages.

Account primarily shared with partner All respondents Men Women Long-term relationship Married
Checking account 80.44% 76.48% 83.47% 70.31% 84.17%
Savings account 70.52% 71.40% 69.85% 57.00% 75.50%
Non-retirement investment account 15.15% 18.22% 12.80% 13.99% 15.58%
Retirement savings account 24.52% 29.03% 21.07% 14.68% 28.14%
Crypto investment account 16.44% 24.58% 10.21% 18.09% 15.83%
Credit card 57.85% 62.29% 54.46% 46.76% 61.93%
Data source: The Ascent survey of 1,501 American adults, conducted January 25, 2022.

The majority of those in long-term relationships and marriage make spending, saving, and credit card decisions jointly

Over 60% of those in long-term relationships and marriages split spending decisions equally and over 50% split saving and credit card decisions equally.

Across those categories, men are more likely to claim that they are the primary decision-maker while women are more likely to claim that decisions are made equally among partners.

Joint financial decision-making can be difficult and even starting the conversation about money can be awkward. But it’s an important first step for couples that want to set and hit big financial goals, like paying off debt, buying a house or car, or saving for retirement.

Who is the primary decision maker when it comes to spending? All respondents Men Women Long-term relationship Married
Me 28.51% 33.93% 24.75% 28.16% 28.72%
My partner 7.13% 8.44% 6.21% 8.56% 6.28%
We split decision-making equally 64.36% 57.63% 69.04% 63.28% 65.00%
Data source: The Ascent survey of 1,501 American adults, conducted January 25, 2022.
Who is the primary decision maker when it comes to saving? All respondents Men Women Long-term relationship Married
Me 37.11% 41.40% 34.12% 34.58% 38.62%
My partner 10.33% 10.55% 10.17% 12.83% 8.83%
We split decision-making equally 52.56% 48.05% 55.71% 52.58% 52.55%
Data source: The Ascent survey of 1,501 American adults, conducted January 25, 2022.
Who is the primary decision maker when it comes to credit cards? All respondents Men Women Long-term relationship Married
Me 32.58% 35.06% 30.85% 32.44% 32.66%
My partner 10.26% 11.20% 9.60% 11.94% 9.26%
We split decision-making equally 57.16% 53.73% 59.55% 55.61% 58.09%
Data source: The Ascent survey of 1,501 American adults, conducted January 25, 2022.

How to avoid financial infidelity

Relationships are built on trust, transparency, and being faithful to one another. But when it comes to money, things can go amiss. Conversations about money are difficult and letting another person peer into your financial life can be a non-starter for many.

After all, spending habits and how much debt and savings someone has is incredibly personal.

At the same time, most Americans in serious relationships make money decisions together and the vast majority of those in marriages have merged financial accounts.

Those are important steps towards financial trust. Importantly, they can help put couples on the same page financially, which will make tackling large, life-changing decisions, like purchasing a home or getting financially prepared to raise a family, much more manageable.

Stamping out financial infidelity in any relationship probably isn’t possible -- someone will always want to splurge on something their partner thinks isn’t necessary. But you don’t have to track and discuss your partner’s every purchase to build trust.

Openness, joint decision-making and communication are the keys to a resilient financial relationship within a romantic one, and the data suggests that most couples have taken the first steps towards success.

Methodology

The Motley Fool distributed a survey to 1,500 Americans age 18 and up on January 25, 2022 that were married or in a long-term relationship. The respondents were 41.04% male and 58.96% female. 37.38% of respondents were in a long-term relationship and 62.62% were married.

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