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Infidelity is a red flag in any relationship. But what if your partner is hiding a secret financial account, rather than an affair?
Today, nearly a quarter (23 percent) of Americans in relationships are keeping a money-related secret from their significant other.
Among American adults with partners (married or living with a partner), 39 percent have been financially unfaithful, with 23 percent currently keeping financial secrets and another 30 percent having kept a secret in the past.
Financial infidelity can take many forms. Maybe you opened up a separate account to stash extra savings, or you’re clicking “buy now” online more than you let on to your spouse or live-in partner. But many Americans believe it can be just as insidious as other forms of cheating.
“It’s so important to communicate openly and honestly about money,” says Ted Rossman, senior industry analyst at Bankrate. “It’s hard enough to accomplish your financial goals when you’re working together — it’s almost impossible if you’re pulling in different directions.”
- 39% of U.S. adults who are married, in a civil partnership or living with a partner have kept a financial secret from their current partner. That includes 23% who are doing so now and another 30% who kept a secret previously.
- 52% of U.S. adults say financial cheating is at least as bad as physical cheating. Of those, 12% believe it’s even worse.
- 24% of people who have kept a financial secret from their current partner say financial cheating is worse than physical infidelity.
- Many couples still combine their finances: Among U.S. adults married or living with a partner, 43% combine all finances, 34% have at least some combined accounts and just 23% keep finances completely separate.
Who is keeping financial secrets?
Younger people are more inclined to keep financial secrets from their significant others. While 29 percent each of Gen Xers and baby boomers plead guilty, more than half of Gen Zers (63 percent) and millennials (54 percent) have kept or are keeping financial secrets from a partner.
Geographically speaking, those in the Northeast are more prone to financial infidelity (44 percent), while Midwesterners are least likely to hide money matters (34 percent). Southerners and Westerners (at 39 percent each) both fall in between.
Types of financial infidelity
Some financial secrets are more prevalent than others, our survey shows.
We asked respondents whether they are currently (or have ever) committed the following types of financial infidelity against their partner:
- A secret credit card account
- Spending more than a partner would be OK with
- Undisclosed debt
- Keeping money in a secret savings account
- A hidden checking account
Among these, respondents were most likely to admit to spending more money than their partner would be OK with (19 percent have done so in the past, while 11 percent secretly overspend today). The next highest response was keeping a secret debt balance, which 14 percent have done in the past and 10 percent do now.
How severe an offense is financial infidelity?
For 52 percent of Americans, financial cheating is at least as bad as physical infidelity. More specifically, 40 percent believe that both forms of being unfaithful to your partner are equally bad, and 12 percent think financial infidelity is worse (including 6 percent who see it as a lot worse).
However, 48 percent of Americans see physical infidelity as worse than being financially unfaithful to your partner, and 39 percent believe it’s much worse.
Navigating money with a partner
Whether you’re getting married, moving in together or working through your annual financial planning, talking money with your partner can be a great way to make sure you’re on the same page.
But your approach may vary — some couples prefer separate finances, while others like joint accounts.
While 23 percent of couples keep their finances totally separate, 34 percent have a mix of separate and joint accounts and 43 percent of couples are financially combined.
“Many couples want some form of financial independence, which is totally fine as long as it’s acknowledged ahead of time,” Rossman says. “Having a separate bank account or credit card works for a lot of people.”
Younger people and people with lower household incomes are more likely to keep their finances completely separate than other demographics — though the majority of couples in every demographic have either combined finances or some mix of separate and joint accounts.
Gen Zers (43 percent) and millennials (31 percent) are more inclined to keep exclusively separate accounts, compared to 19 percent of Gen Xers and 18 percent of boomers.
Households with an annual income of less than $50,000 lead this demographic, with 34 percent separating finances. Following them (at 21 percent) are households in the $50,000 to $79,999 range.
Households in the highest income brackets are least likely to separate their money — just 16 percent of households bringing in $80,000 to $99,999 annually and 19 percent making $100,000 or more keep exclusively separate accounts.
As for generational differences, 50 percent of boomers and 45 percent of Gen Xers prefer to combine finances. Only 33 percent of millennials and 26 percent of Gen Zers are inclined to combine all their accounts.
For any couple wishing to navigate money and partnerships without hiding, Rossman says, “The key is to agree upon the general parameters. Secrets can take on a life of their own and undermine the relationship.”
Bankrate.com commissioned YouGov Plc to conduct the survey. All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 2,542 U.S. adults, including 1,304 who are married/in a civil partnership/living with a partner. Fieldwork was undertaken January 11th – 15th, 2023. The survey was carried out online and meets rigorous quality standards. It employed a non-probability-based sample using both quotas upfront during collection and then a weighting scheme on the back end designed and proven to provide nationally representative results.