It’s wedding season and as many couples get ready to say their vows, they may want to have a talk about fidelity – financial fidelity.
A study by Harris Poll for the National Endowment for Financial Education finds that two in five Americans who have combined finances admit to lying to their partner or hiding information about money matters. And it’s on the rise – 42 percent of those surveyed admitted to financial infidelity compared to 33 percent just two years ago.
It could be something as minor as hiding a recent purchase or something more significant, like hiding a bank account. There are sometimes pleasant surprises, such as money set aside for a gift or trip, but those who study the matter say it’s typically more devious. And experts warn that financial deception, no matter the scale, can cause damage – or even end – a relationship.
NEFE found that the most common offense is that of hiding something: 39 percent have hid a purchase, bank account, statement, bill or cash from their partner. A smaller percentage committed more serious deception: 16 percent have lied about the amount of debt they have or even how much they earn.
“When you agree to combine finances in a relationship, you are also agreeing to a certain degree of cooperation and transparency in your money management,” Ted Beck, president and CEO of NEFE said in a statement. “Yet we’re seeing the implicit promise of collaboration destroyed by financial game playing.”
It’s easy to conceal the information in the digital age – receipts can be texted and credit card statements can be emailed, leaving less of a paper trail.
While that is a component, NEFE spokesman Paul Golden says it’s difficult to say exactly why financial infidelity is on the rise. What the organization does know is that it’s more likely to occur in relationships where finances are combined and only one person assumes responsibility for managing the money.
Golden said having both people involved creates a system of “checks and balances.”
The issue of deception appears to run across all the board. About 46 percent of men have committed an act of financial deception and 38 percent of women. And while it happens at all ages, the practice appears more common among younger adults, with 61 percent of those ages 18 to 34 admitting to the act.
The problems often don’t surface until a major event, like buying a home, car or refinancing, forces it out. Some respondents didn’t find out about hidden spending habits till their divorce proceedings and or after the death of their partner.
The NEFE found that most of the time the deception undermines the relationship – causing arguments, mistrust and even divorce. Although a small percentage of respondents said it brought them closer because it forced them to face their financial issues together.