About a third of people admit they've committed some form of financial infidelity

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Key Points
  • CreditCards.com defines financial infidelity as holding debt that your partner doesn't know about, having secret credit cards or bank accounts, and spending beyond your partner's comfort level.
  • The percentage of people who committed financial infidelity fell almost 10 percentage points from a year ago, according to survey data.
  • Some unfaithful acts, like keeping secret bank accounts, can in part be attributed to a strong independent streak among younger adults.

When it comes intimate romantic relationships, cheating can take many forms: Case in point, a recent CreditCards.com survey that finds that more than half, 53%, of U.S. adults believe financial cheating is just as bad if not worse than physical cheating.

The list of activities that CreditCards.com includes in its definition of financial infidelity include holding debt that your partner doesn't know about, having secret credit cards or bank accounts, and spending beyond your partner's comfort level.

Nearly a third of Americans say that they've committed some form of financial infidelity. Still, that's about 10% less than it was just a year ago, according to the annual survey.

Some of that may be due to tweaks in the sample size and the phrasing of the questions for the survey, but there are signs that there has also been a shift in behavior, says Ted Rossman, senior analyst at CreditCards.com. That includes secret spending, where Rossman saw a "significant shift" from previous years' versions of the survey.

Last year, some 30% of people admitted to spending more than their significant others would be comfortable with. This year, it was down to 15%.

"Was it either the methodology or was it the behavior? It very well may have been some of both," Rossman says. Regardless, thanks to the pandemic, "it really has been harder to hide stuff."

How are people in relationships cheating, money-wise?

CreditCards.com broke down their list of financial cheating into three broad categories: Spending more than your partner would like; hiding debt from your partner; or having secret financial accounts, including credit cards, checking accounts or savings accounts.

Financial cheating goes way beyond "cringe-worthy" stories of spouses or significant others "hiding purchases in the back of the closet or in the trunk," Rossman says, particularly among adults under the age of 40.

There can be "this fear that the relationship is not going to work out, and you're going to be left high and dry, so you might as well protect yourself with your secret account," he says. And "there's that independent streak of, 'I've been doing this on my own for years, and who are you to tell me what to do?'"

A 'yours, mine, and ours' mentality can mitigate miscommunications about money

Money can feel like an icky topic to discuss even with a longtime partner. Whether you've just started dating or you've been married for years, many experts say communication is key to solving your money concerns.

About "1 in 5 couples identify money as their greatest relationship challenge," says Meredith Stoddard, vice president of life events planning at Fidelity. So, "you can certainly understand why people would be hesitant to bring it up."

In that way, the pandemic has been a chance for a lot of couples to reassess how they talk about money and how they plan, and achieve, their shared goals. "Covid presented an opportunity or reckoning for a lot of couples to come together and figure out how to work through challenges," Stoddard says.

As the third year of the pandemic starts, now is as good a time as any to "lean into the things that make you uncomfortable. And, most importantly have that conversation with your partner or your spouse or whomever to make sure that you're aligned and on the same page."

Financial advice and etiquette for dating

Video by Sofia Pitt

Being on the same page doesn't mean you have to share everything. Having separate accounts and shared accounts can be done in a healthy way, and may even remove the notion that an account that is strictly yours is a form of dishonesty from your partner, Rossman says.

"One of the remedies could be this 'yours, mine, and ours' kind of idea where you agree on separate accounts for certain purchases. Like, you each get $100 out of every paycheck that you can spend no questions asked," Rossman says, and the rest goes into a joint account for shared expenses, or vise versa.

"I think that can be healthy," he adds, "but the secrets are not good."

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