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Would you consider it cheating if your romantic partner hid a debt, a credit card or other financial secret from you? While some may not consider financial cheating as harmful as a physical affair, about 1 in 4 Americans in relationships believe otherwise — and it seems keeping financial secrets can be corrosive to romantic partnerships.
A Bankrate survey reveals that 42 percent of U.S. adults who are married or living with a partner say they’ve kept a financial secret from their significant other. More than a quarter of these adults (28 percent) believe that keeping financial secrets from a romantic partner is as bad as physical cheating, with 7 percent saying it’s worse than a physical affair.
“It’s not always easy to talk about money, but it’s so important,” says Ted Rossman, Bankrate’s senior industry analyst. “Financial secrets can take on a life of their own and undermine the relationship. In years of studying this, we’ve often found that the breach of trust has a greater impact than the dollars and cents. If you have a secret spending habit or undisclosed debt or a credit card or bank account that your spouse doesn’t know about, I think it’s best to come clean right away.”
Key insights on financial infidelity
- More than 4 in 10 (40 percent) U.S adults who are married or living with a partner say they’ve kept financial secrets from their significant other.
- While a financial lapse isn’t restricted to any particular group, younger generations are more likely to keep financial secrets from lovers than are Gen Xers and baby boomers.
- The leading form of financial infidelity is spending more than a partner would be OK with (30 percent), followed by racking up debt without a partner’s knowledge (23 percent).
- Main reasons cited for keeping financial secrets are a need for financial privacy or a desire to control their own finances (37 percent), followed by a lack of desire to share or it having never come up (33 percent) and embarrassment about money management habits (28 percent).
Forms of financial infidelity
There are many ways financial matters can be kept hidden from a partner. Beyond the 30 percent of survey respondents who report spending more than their partner would like and the 23 percent who’ve racked up debt without their partner’s knowledge, other common financial infidelities include maintaining:
- A secret savings account (19 percent)
- A hidden credit card (18 percent)
- An undisclosed checking account (17 percent)
A further 11 percent plead guilty to spending $500 or more without their partner’s knowledge, while 7 percent say they’ve spent at least $1,000 unbeknownst to their partner.
Younger generations more prone to financial infidelity
No one party or group is free from the sin of financial infidelity. Democrats (52 percent), Republicans (40 percent) and Independents (34 percent) all confess to having committed financial infidelity. There’s not much difference between genders either, with women (43 percent) and men (41 percent) nearly tied for this lapse.
Generations offer a clearer divide, with younger people more likely to confess to at least one crime of financial infidelity.
- Leading the generational pack is Generation Z at 67 percent.
- Millennials follow at 57 percent.
- Generation X (34 percent) and baby boomers (33 percent) are least likely to keep financial secrets from their partners.
There’s also a divide across income groups, with higher-income households less prone to financial infidelity.
- Of those with annual household incomes less than $50,000, 47 percent plead guilty to financial infidelity.
- In the $50,000 to $99,999 household income group, 46 percent have been financially unfaithful.
- Of those with annual household incomes of $100,000 and more, 34 percent confess to keeping financial secrets from their partner.
Need for financial privacy may lead to keeping secrets
As for the motivations for keeping a financial secret from their partners, 37 percent of those who have kept such secrets say they’re led by a desire for privacy or a desire to control their own finances.
Another 33 percent say they never felt the need to share or the topic never came up. Some respondents (28 percent) were embarrassed enough about their money management to keep financial secrets.
Then there are those who didn’t share out of concern the relationship might end poorly (17 percent), don’t trust their partners with money (14 percent) or don’t want to divulge they’ve used the money to support an addiction such as drinking, drugs or gambling (11 percent).
“Most people are pretty forgiving about financial skeletons in your closet,” says Rossman,”but the longer the secret drags on, the more hurtful it can become.”
Rossman advises that one way to avoid financial secrets is to set up an informal money date once or twice a month to align on upcoming bills and future goals as partners.
Bankrate commissioned YouGov Plc to conduct the survey. All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 2,233 U.S. adults, of whom 1,124 were married or living with a partner at the time of the survey. The fieldwork was undertaken December 18-20, 2023. The survey was carried out online and meets rigorous quality standards. The figures have been weighted to be representative of the entire U.S adult population 18 years and older.