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Is Your Spouse Hiding Debt? Comments

  • By Erica Sandberg
  • March 18, 2010


dw_emptywalletErica Sandberg is a credit expert and columnist for Creditcards.com. She is also the author of "Expecting Money: The Essential Financial Plan for New and Growing Families."

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Q: I just checked my credit report and discovered that my husband has run up $18,000 in debt when I thought we only owed $400. I'm so upset I'm shaking. What can I do?

A: Your husband's financial infidelity is frightening—but, sadly, it's not uncommon. You're lucky that you checked your credit report and caught him in the act, so to say. As with any form of cheating, you and your husband have some work to do. Here's my recommended plan:

  1. Find out where the money went. Your credit report contains a list of all open accounts; ask your husband to show you those statements. In addition, he may have accounts he opened in his name. These would show up only on his credit report, so ask him to come clean.

    As you examine the statements, what you discover may be hard to take. Your spouse wasn't just hiding debt; he was hiding habits (perhaps even vices) that he was spending money on.

    Thus, you've got two main tasks, and don't ask me which is harder! First, your husband's secret spending has to stop (and the spending habit addressed). Second, the debt has to be repaid.

  2. Get professional help. If you're furious, it's justified. If he's guilty or resistant, that's normal. I strongly recommend seeking the help of a marriage therapist or a credit counselor because this is a complex issue.

  3. Make a debt repayment plan. As a duo, you need a plan to repay the balances in full, as quickly as possible. Credit counseling may be a good strategy if the debt seems overwhelming. Otherwise, create a budget, reduce spending, apply all excess funds to the debt and stop charging until the balance is at zero. Also, it's not out of line to have your husband sell whatever he bought and use the money toward his debt. While you're at it, propose that he work overtime or get a part-time job.

  4. Talk about money. Your husband's financial infidelity is a red flag that you two are out of sync—and not just about money. Make time for regular discussions about the life you have and the life you want. As the great Russian writer and philosopher Leo Tolstoy once wrote, "What counts in making a happy marriage is not so much how compatible you are, but how you deal with incompatibility."

Have you suffered financial infidelity? Do you worry about it? Tell us.

Erica Sandberg is a credit expert and columnist for Creditcards.com. She is also the author of "Expecting Money: The Essential Financial Plan for New and Growing Families."

Tagged in: Debt, Credit
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