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Nearly half (43%) of Americans are hiding substantial credit card debt from their significant other, according to TD Bank's 2019 Love and Money Survey, which polled 1,753 respondents in the U.S. who are married, in a committed relationship or divorced.
If you're in a serious relationship and are deliberately keeping quiet about your credit card debt, it's not a smart move for you or your partner, experts say.
"Hiding these decisions, as well as ignoring any consequences that may be building, can seriously compound the problem and lead to damage in your overall relationship as well as your financial lives," Peter Hoglund, a certified financial planner with New Jersey-based Wealth Enhancement Group, tells CNBC Make It.
While keeping quiet about your credit card debt may not seem like a big deal to some, any secret — no matter how big or small — counts as financial infidelity. "Financial infidelity within your relationship occurs any time you are not truthful about debt, spending or secret accounts," says Ryan Marshall, a certified financial planner at Ela Financial Group.
Other experts agree. Any money secret kept from a committed partner counts as financial infidelity, even if you weren't intentionally hiding it, says Adam Holt, CEO and founder of Asset-Map, an online financial advising resource.
Covering up debt can lead to much more serious consequences than fibbing about small things, such as downplaying the amount you spent on a shopping trip or keeping your daily coffee run a secret.
"I have seen people almost lose their house without the other spouse knowing before it was too late," Marshall says. "One spouse had a gambling problem and wasn't making mortgage payments. Unfortunately, the other spouse didn't know until they were in foreclosure proceedings."
Hiding significant debt or a bad credit score could also push your partner to end the relationship, the TD Bank survey found. Nearly a third (31%) of millennials (ages 23 to 38) polled say they would consider breaking up with their S.O. over these money issues.
To avoid any sort of financial deceit between you and your partner, open shared accounts that can be accessed by both parties, suggests Hoglund. That way, you can each login and see what's being spent in real time.
"Even if you maintain separate accounts, remove the curtains by allowing your spouse view-only access to your finances," Hoglund says.
It's also a good idea to talk to your partner and try to understand where they're coming from and why they may have been hiding their debt. In this case, "the financial deceit is likely a symptom of a larger problem, and is indicative of something bigger hiding beneath the surface," says Aaron Graham, a CFP with South Carolina-based Abacus Wealth.
It often has to do with "shame, embarrassment or worry," adds Marguerita Cheng, a certified financial planner, CEO and co-founder of Blue Ocean Global Wealth. Covering up debt can be an indication that your partner may be struggling to "live within their means or may have difficulty with managing budgeting and cash flow," Cheng says.
To make sure you're on the same page, transparency and communication are crucial, especially if you plan to get married. "Marriage is a legal merger between two people and one must know everything about the other's money — good and bad," says Kristin O'Keeffe Merrick, a financial advisor at O'Keeffe Financial Partners.
Even if your partner hasn't been hiding debt, it's a good idea to have regular money check-ins to discuss your financial concerns and goals together. These talks can act as a time to touch base regarding your joint financial progress and when done in a thoughtful, understanding fashion, they can promote honesty and transparency between you.
Depending on your financial goals, you may want to check in weekly. Then, once you feel more united on the money front, you can start to have them as you feel they're needed.
"One of the most important tips when forming a strong financial bond between partners is open communication about money and each other's finances," O'Keeffe Merrick says. "This may sound simple, but not all simple things are easy!"
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