Of course, if your partner pulls a Kristen Stewart or a Tiger Woods, it’s a clear breach of trust. But there’s another kind of cheating that can be just as devastating to a relationship.
A recent CreditCards.com survey explored financial infidelity, which unearthed surprising revelations: 15 million people with live-in partners admit to being financially unfaithful, with an additional nine million saying they had been in the past. The consequences can be disastrous. Thirty-one percent said they felt hiding a credit card or bank account from a significant other is worse than physical cheating.
Since the signs of financial infidelity aren’t always obvious, we talked to experts about the top red flags to look out for.
Let’s say you notice your honey sprung for a new speaker system or bought an over-the-top wedding present—but when you ask what it cost, he (or she) blows you off, gives a vague answer or segues into a debrief of the Eagles’ big win.
“This behavior usually reflects a desire to avoid conflict,” explains Certified Financial Planner Brad Klontz, PsyD, founder of the Financial Psychology Institute. “They might be hiding a money disorder like chronic overspending or giving too much to others.”
Whether someone’s lying about the last time they texted their ex or how much they’re spending, moods can be indicators that something’s off. If your partner shows signs of stress—particularly, but not necessarily exclusively, when you talk dollars and cents—and you can’t pinpoint what’s wrong, that’s a clue, Klontz says.
And they’re resistant to your participation. Or they want to assume more control over money matters than usual. According to Klontz, any effort to cut you out of financial issues begs further investigation.
Financial infidelity isn’t always intentional. “If couples don’t have an explicit agreement around how much is okay to spend, one person can feel betrayed when the other spends a lot—even though it wasn’t purposeful deception,” Klontz says. To avoid miscommunication, consult one another before making any purchase over an agreed-upon amount.
When someone has a secret bank account or investments, chances are they’ll set up everything online, rather than having paper statements mailed, according to Certified Public Accountant Robert Nemeth of Apple Growth Partners in Ohio. But many tax documents are still delivered old school. Now is the time to keep your eyes peeled for 1099 forms from banks you weren’t aware your partner was affiliated with.
It may seem obvious, but Nemeth says this is the most common financial infidelity giveaway: “Taking out an extra $200 a week, for instance, is an easy way to shore up cash without the other person noticing,” he says. “It slips through the cracks, but quickly adds up.”
An uptick in credit card activity (or cash advances on a credit card) is another seeming no-brainer that happens all the time, especially if your partner pays the bills. “The data is typically there as plain as day; people just don’t look,” Nemeth says.
After someone opens an online bank or investment account, the institution typically begins sending an influx of credit card applications and other offers. “An increase in activity from one particular bank could indicate deception,” Nemeth says.
If you’re not the one preparing your tax return, review it carefully to see if there’s money coming in from a source you don’t know about.
Pay particular attention here: “Schedule B lists all the interest and dividend income, as well as the name of the institution paying it,” Nemeth says. “Schedule D indicates any sales of investments.” For example, if you see that stocks were liquidated for $5,000, but don’t recall discussing it, it could be a sign of behind-the-scenes sketchiness.
Aside from not signing the tax return until you’re on the same page, this is your chance to have a frank conversation about what’s been going on—and how you can be on the same page moving forward.