Financial infidelity may be more common than you think — with boomers more likely than other generations to hide money from a mate.
Just in time for Valentine's Day, CreditCards.com released a telephone survey of more than 1,000 adults in which 1 out of 20 of them admitted to keeping a bank account or credit card secret from their romantic partner. If those figures hold true across all adults in the United States, that means 12 million of us have secret accounts.
"Keeping secrets in your relationships is never a good idea," says Matt Schulz, senior industry analyst with CreditCards.com, an online card marketplace. "Like any indiscretion, what starts out small tends to build. Spending $25 without consulting your partner may seem incidental, but when those purchases become more frequent or if the amount grows, it can wreak havoc on your accounts and your budget."
Among the poll's findings:
- 11 percent of boomers ages 63 to 71 confessed to keeping a hidden account – making them four times as likely have one than millennials ages 18 to 36.
- Older consumers typically have better credit, so they have more opportunities to open an account without a mate's knowledge, Schulz says. Also, millennials tend to be credit averse, so they are less likely to apply for cards.
- More than one-quarter of all people polled — most often boomers and Gen Xers in their prime earning years — spent at least $500 without telling their partner. Again, boomers (39 percent) were twice as likely as millennials to make a big purchase without first checking with their significant other.
- A secret splurge is okay with many. When people were asked how much their mate can spend without their consent, the most common answer — given by one-third of respondents — was $500 or more.
Hiding accounts isn't always a bad thing, Schulz says.
"There are certainly some people who simply would like to have a little bit for themselves within the context of that relationship."
Some may want a little extra spending money or might be saving for an engagement ring or other surprise for a partner, Schulz says. Or, people in abusive relationships may need to build a secret nest egg so they can escape the situation.
Still, financial infidelity may not be the healthiest thing for a relationship.
"There is always the chance that when your significant other finds out that you have a secret account, they could ask, 'What else are you hiding from me?' " Schulz says. "It can open a can of worms, even if it's something done with good intentions."
Generally in relationships, the best policy is to be open, honest and transparent with what you do with your money, Schulz advises. "It just makes things a lot simpler."
And if you haven't had a heart-to-heart on money recently with your partner, maybe it's time to do so.
"It's always better to be proactive with these kind of conversations," Schulz says. "After all, they are much easier to have before something goes wrong than to have them after a disaster."