Money is one of the biggest stressors for married couples, especially if one or both partners have bad spending habits and a lot of credit card debt.
While a certain degree of financial independence is good in a relationship, some individuals will actively hide purchases or debt from their spouse, either because they don’t want them to worry or they don’t want them to know what they’re spending that money on.
In fact, a CreditCards.com survey found that 5 percent of respondents admitted they had a checking account, savings account, or credit card their partner didn’t know about. The same survey found that 28 percent of respondents spent $500 or more without notifying their partner.
The Impact Of Debt On Joint Finances
Keeping financial secrets from your spouse isn’t just bad for your marriage – it could ultimately be bad for both of your credit scores.
Whatever the motivation is for hiding financial accounts, there are some circumstances under which you might be liable for your spouse’s secret credit card debt. If your spouse is using a joint credit card that you don’t regularly access or monitor, their debt is your debt in the eyes of the law and the credit bureaus.
If your spouse is using their own personal accounts, you could be on the hook for their debt if you live in a Community Property state like Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Washington, or Wisconsin. Under Community Property law, debts incurred by either spouse during a marriage – regardless of whose name it’s under – are generally considered “community” debts. According to Nolo, this means both spouses are equally liable, even if your spouse racked up the debt alone.
If you live in a Common Law state, where married couples are individually responsible for debts incurred alone, don’t think that divorce will save you from your spouse’s bad spending habits: A judge may still assign you obligation for your spouse’s debt in your divorce proceedings.
Although you won’t be contractually obligated to the credit card company, you will be responsible for paying your ex-spouse the designated debt amount. The Nolo article states that, if the credit card company goes after your ex-spouse for a debt you’ve been assigned, they can “sue you for violating the divorce decree and seek reimbursement for any damages suffered.”
What To Do If You Think Your Spouse Is Hiding Credit Card Debt
You may have already spotted some signs of financial trouble – unfamiliar bills or statements in your spouse’s name, “late payment” notices in the mail, money disappearing from joint accounts. If you suspect your spouse is in deep debt that they’re not telling you about, it’s important to sit down and have an honest conversation about your finances.
Give your spouse a chance to come clean by bringing up your concerns about your joint financial situation. If necessary, cite the specific reason(s) you suspect there’s something wrong. Assure your spouse that, if they’re in a lot of debt, you want to help them get out, even if that means consulting a debt relief specialist or declaring bankruptcy. You may also want to consider seeing a marriage counselor to address the underlying issues that caused your spouse to hide the debt in the first place.
Going forward, it’s important that you and your spouse agree on your money management practices, especially for joint accounts and credit cards. Regardless of how you handle it, what matters most is that you make financial honesty, transparency, and literacy a cornerstone of your marriage.
Visit this BeenVerified article for more tips on managing money as a married couple.