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Financial infidelity in America

10 tips and tricks to help spot, and avoid, financial infidelity in your relationship.

Financial infidelity happens when one spouse or partner lies to another about money. It can take on many forms. One partner may spend or borrow money without the other one knowing, hide money in a separate bank account or withhold it as a form of control.

The stings of financial infidelity can be just as mentally and emotionally damaging as physical infidelity. It can take years to recover from it if you’re married as you’re legally on the hook for any debts your spouse collects.

Here’s how to spot financial infidelity — along with tips on how to avoid it. If you’d like to see the numbers behind financial infidelity in America, take a look at our stats.

WATCH: What is financial infidelity? (feat. Winnie Sun)

We sat down with expert financial adviser and entrepreneur Winnie Sun to get the rundown of what financial infidelity actually is, the signs to watch out for, and how to best protect yourself.

How to spot financial infidelity

Technology has made it harder to spot financial infidelity. What was once phone calls and paper statements from financial institutions have now turned into emails and electronic notifications. Still, there are five signs you may be a victim of financial infidelity:

1. You notice unexplained withdrawals or expenses on your bank statements
Take a look at all your bank and credit card statements. Are there any charges or withdrawals you don’t recognize? These could be signs of overspending, addiction or even physical infidelity. “Some people take extra cash from the grocery store every time they buy groceries. Depending on your bank this may not show up on your bank statement as a cash withdrawal just as an increase in your grocery bills,” noted Bev Banfield, CPA and Certified Divorce Financial Analyst at Banfield Divorce Financial Advisors.

Ask your partner about these charges and pay attention to how they react. If they’re defensive, or even angry, take it as a red flag.

2. Your partner has a lot of new stuff
Maybe your partner suddenly has a brand new wardrobe. Or you find cut off tags buried deep in the trash can. They’re flaunting new experiences or expensive dinners and you’re not sure how they’re paying for it all.

Unless these expenses are part of your budget, it could mean that they’re racking up credit card debt you don’t know about.

3. Your partner always rushes to get the mail first
Most banks and credit card companies give you the option of having your monthly statements emailed to you. Still, they may send you a paper notice about account changes or unauthorized charges.

If your spouse insists on always checking the mail first — and even thumbs through the stack before handing it over to you — these could be tell-tale signs of financial infidelity.

4. You see statements for cards or accounts you don’t recognize
Covering up spending is one of the main forms of financial infidelity. It may start out small. A little shopping here, a little shopping there. But before you know it they’ve racked up thousands of dollars in debt. To avoid any fights, the “cheating” partner may use a secret credit card or bank account for these expenses.

5. Your partner is suffering from addiction
Some hobbies can be financially addictive — gambling, alcohol, playing the lottery. Addiction can carry feelings of shame, so your partner may be too embarrassed to confide in you about their spending. Still, be vigilant if you suspect they’re suffering from addiction.

And if you know they’ve overcome an addiction, make sure they’re not replacing it with another. Someone who overcomes an addiction to alcohol, may replace it with a gambling or a shopping addiction, for example.

Five tips to avoid financial infidelity

Whether you’ve been a victim of financial infidelity in the past or just want to avoid it, here are five tips to keep you living in holy matrimony:

1. Don’t “divide and conquer”
It’s easy to divide and conquer in a relationship and let one spouse take on certain household chores. But your finances shouldn’t be one of them. You and your spouse should handle your finances together. This is non-negotiable. Not only will this help prevent financial infidelity, but it’ll ensure both partners have a tight enough grip on finances to take over if there’s an emergency.

2. Have financial date nights
Schedule a financial date night at least twice a month where you and your partner sit down together, review expenses and discuss any financial goals you’re working toward.

Let this date night also be a safe space to talk about any “wants” you both have. For instance, one spouse may want to buy a new wardrobe for their new job. Another may want to start up a new hobby.

3. Gain access to financial statements
Christina Previte, Esq., CEO and Co-Owner of NJ Divorce Solutions noted a case where the wife had a portion of her paycheck being directly deposited into an undisclosed account. “The spouse wouldn’t have noticed since he saw paycheck deposits into the joint checking account, he assumed it was her entire paycheck. However, when we carefully reviewed her paystubs, it was apparent she was diverting funds,” said Previte.

Even if you have separate bank accounts, set the expectation that both you and your spouse can access financial statements at any time. This will hold you both accountable and give you something to review during your financial date nights.

4. Set goals together
Once you’ve gotten financially “naked” with your partner, start planning out your future together. What do you hope to accomplish in the next five years? Do you plan to have kids or buy a house? Dreaming about your future together will help keep you both in check financially.

You may not agree on every single financial goal, but talking through them will give you the opportunity to see things from each other’s perspective and nail down which goals you want to focus on.

5. Get professional help
If you can’t talk about money without fighting, seek help from a counselor or trusted financial adviser. This person can act as a neutral third party and help you untangle the financial mess you’ve been handed.

If your family already has a financial adviser but you don’t meet with them, start sitting in on those meetings. Make it clear that from now on, you’ll both have equal reigns over your finances.

Financial infidelity statistics in America

Interested in how many American adults have committed or been a victim of financial infidelity we also conducted a survey. The survey reveals how many Americans claim to be both victims and perpetrators of financial infidelity. Additionally, we looked at the reasons why some people lie to their significant others about their finances.

One in five American adults commit financial infidelity

While trust is a large part of any relationship over one in five (21.7%) American adults admit to stepping out on their significant other in regards to finances. This equates to roughly 55.3 million adults who’ve lied to their romantic partner about their financial situation.

While only about a fifth of adults admit to lying to their spouse about finances, closer to a quarter of adults (60.5 million) say that they’ve had their romantic partner try to pull a fast one on them in regards to finances.

Karma did its thing with about one-tenth of the population, with 10.2% (26.0 million Americans) saying they were both guilty of lying about their finances and being lied to about their finances by their partner.

Men more likely to lie to their partners about finances

Men are significantly more likely to lie to their partners about finances, with roughly 26.2% (31 million) of men admitting to having misled their significant other about money, compared to just 17.7% (24.2 million) of women.

The inverse is true of those who’ve been lied to (duh), with 25.4% (34.6 million) of women saying that a partner has lied to them about their finances, compared to only 21.8% (35.8 million) of men.

Gen X the most duplicitous with their finances

Whether you’ve lied to your partner may have something to do with when you’re born, with the most financially deceitful generation being gen X, with almost a third (32.5%) admitting to lying to their partner about money. Millennials are not too far behind gen Xers, with 30.5% lying to their partner, followed by gen Z (18.1%).

While millennials are the second most likely to lie to their partner, they were the generation most likely to be lied to about finances, with 31.1% saying a partner had been dishonest.

Financial infidelity

GenderHave committed financial infidelityHave been a victim of financial infidelity
Men26.2%21.8%
Women17.7%25.4%
GenerationHave committed financial infidelityHave been a victim of financial infidelity
Gen Z18.1%24.9%
Millennial30.5%31.1%
Gen X32.5%29.6%
Baby boomers10.9%16.5%
Silent gen6.4%7.8%

Control is the top reason for people lying about finances

Rather than some nefarious reason being the reason for not telling their partner the truth about their finances, wanting “to be in control of my own finances” was by far the number one reason people commit financial infidelity at 61.8%.

Sitting in second spot is a more visceral reason for being underhanded with your finances: shame, with 33.3% saying they lied to their partner because of embarrassment. Rounding out the top three reasons is probably not a great sign of the state of the relationship overall, with 16.4% saying they don’t trust their partner.

Men and women lie about money for different reasons

While both men and women both lied to their partner to be in control of their finances, men were far more likely to do so with almost two-thirds (69.9%) committing this act of financial infidelity, compared to 51.5% of women.

As far as the next most common acts of financial infidelity go, women flipped the script with 37.4% of women hiding their finances out of embarrassment and 23.3% citing that they don’t trust their partner, compared to 30.1% and 11% for men respectively.

Financial lies across the generations

Not only is gen X home to the highest percentage of financial infidelity overall, they’re also the generation most likely to lie to their spouse in order to control their own finances.

While gen Z only came in third place for overall financial infidelity, these post-millennials were the most likely to have lied to their spouse or partner in three categories: embarrassment (50%), not trusting their partner (34.4%) and for revenge (15.6%). Surprisingly, the generation most likely to have lied about their finances to their partner to cover up an affair was the silent generation (11%).

Reasons why people commit financial infidelity

Reason% of those that lied about their finances
I wanted to be in control of my own finances61.8%
Embarrassment33.3%
I don’t trust my partner16.4%
Affair6.2%
Revenge5.6%
Other4.8%
CategoryMenWomen
I wanted to be in control of my own finances69.9%51.5%
Embarrassment30.1%37.4%
I don’t trust my partner11.0%23.3%
Affair6.7%5.5%
Revenge7.7%3.1%
Other3.3%6.7%

Note: Percentages sum to more than 100% since respondents were able to select more than one reason.

CategoryGen ZMillennialGen XBaby boomersSilent gen
I wanted to be in control of my own finances46.9%63.8%68.1%55.2%33.3%
Embarrassment50.0%34.8%28.1%32.8%33.3%
I don’t trust my partner34.4%10.9%14.8%20.7%33.3%
Affair9.4%8.0%3.0%6.9%11.1%
Revenge15.6%5.1%5.2%3.4%0.0%
Other0.0%3.6%5.9%8.6%0.0%

Percentages sum to more than 100% since respondents were able to select more than one reason.

Methodology

Finder’s data is based on an online survey of 1,718 US adults born between 1928 and 2003 commissioned by Finder and conducted by Pureprofile in January 2021. Participants were paid volunteers.

We assume the participants in our survey represent the US population of 254.7 million Americans who are at least 18 years old according to the July 2019 US Census Bureau estimate. This assumption is made at the 95% confidence level with a 2.36% margin of error.

The survey asked respondents whether they had ever lied to a romantic partner about their finances, whether a romantic partner had ever lied to them about their finances, and if they admitted to lying, why they had lied about their finances. Respondents were able to select multiple reasons for lying about their finances.

To avoid skewing the data, we also excluded extreme outliers from our calculations.

We define generations by birth year according to the Pew Research Center’s generational guidelines:

  • Gen Z — 1997–2003
  • Millennials — 1981–1996
  • Gen X — 1965–1980
  • Baby boomers — 1946–1964
  • Silent generation — 1928–1945
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