If you're opening a line of credit without your spouse's knowledge and spending behind their back, is it cheating?
One person's splurge is another's maintained independence. However, one person's autonomy is also another person's burden as house bill collector. As CreditCards.com discovered in a recent survey, 13 million Americans have hidden a bank or credit card account from their live-in spouse, partner or significant other. On top of that, 41% have spent over $100 without their spouse or partner’s knowledge, including 19% who have spent more than $500.
If the gender wars matter to you, men are almost twice as likely as women to have spent more than $500 without notifying their spouse or partner. However, that doesn't necessarily mean it's cheating. While 19% of Americans have secretly spent $500 or more, 24% believe that their spouse or partner should be able to spend more than $500 without letting them know. Also, while 41% of Americans say they’ve spent more than $100 without telling, 47% said they’d be O.K. with their spouse or significant other spending more than $100 without being told about it. Matt Schulz, CreditCards.com’s senior industry analyst, thinks that's a recipe for disaster.
“Avoiding secrets is key to a successful relationship,” Schulz said. “It’s important to be honest with your significant other about spending and finances. In the end, secret spending can lead to spiraling debt as well as a messy break up.”
At the midpoint of 2015, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, total U.S. credit card debt hit $703 billion, up $34 billion from a year earlier. That's more than U.S. homeowners have taken in home equity loans ($499 billion), but still less than auto loan debt ($1.01 trillion,) student loan debt ($1.19 trillion) and mortgage debt (more than $8 trillion). Yet, according to NerdWallet 's annual American Household Credit Card Debt Statistics Study, U.S. consumers don't have all that much cash to sneak around with. Median household income has grown 26% percent since 2003, but medical costs grew by 51% during that same span. Meanwhile, food prices were up 37% during that time.
Also, if you're running up credit card bills behind your spouse's back, you're just building the amount of interest you're both paying. The average household already is paying a total of $6,274 in interest per year, which means that 9% of the average household income ($72,641) is being spent on interest alone. The average American household with credit card debt could spend up to 44 years paying down credit card debt if those consumers only make the minimum payment on their debt each month.
That's exactly the kind of debt you don't want, and that Shomari Hearn, certified financial planner and vice president of Palisades Hudson Financial Group, says couples should be working to pay off. It's debt you're carrying that has no value to you whatsover.
“'Good' debt creates value, Hearn says. “Education loans, business loans and mortgages can produce long-term wealth and may also offer tax breaks.”
If both you and your spouse or significant other agree that you're in it together and that toeing the line on spending is something you both need to be responsible for, Hearn suggests creating a budget to ensure your annual expenses don’t exceed income. However, recognize your limitations and set a budget that's realistic for your and your spending habits.
“Set a budget too rigidly, and you run the risk of abandoning it altogether, Hearn says. “A budget you ignore is useless.”
It's a strategy that Millennials hard hit by the financial crisis know all too well. According to the CreditCards.com survey, Millennials and seniors are less likely to spend over $25 without their spouse or partner’s knowledge than people between the ages of 30 and 64. Why? Because they already have enough debt eating into their future savings. When the folks at The Principal asked young investors to list their largest budget items, mortgage/rent (65%), food (38%), cars/transportation (30%), student loans (20%) and credit card debt (16%) all made the list. As they see it, all of the above is cutting into their plans for the future, so chipping away at it any more may not be cheating on their partner, but cheating on the plans they're making together.
“Many Millennials may see these large expenses—especially student loans and other debt—as primary obstacles to saving anything for retirement,” says Jerry Patterson, senior vice president of retirement and investor services, for The Principal said. “But in most situations, it’s possible and necessary to both save for retirement and pay down debt by creating a plan and sticking to it.”
Sticking to the straight and narrow financial plan you've established for your household is important with transparency serving as a guiding force. Of course, if you're going to go on a surprise spending spree, at least make it for your spouse or significant other with careful attention to your budget.
This article is commentary by an independent contributor. At the time of publication, the author held no positions in the stocks mentioned.