Who among us hasn't told a fib or fabrication once in a while?
The financial web site NerdWallet has the evidence that occasional tendency seeps into our financial life as well. In a survey of 2,115 U.S. adults released March 15, NerdWallet states American financial consumers have a laundry list of money issues they think it's actually O.K. to lie about. Here's NerdWallet's "acceptable money lie" run-down:
- It's O.K. to lie about your own age, or your child's age, to receive a restaurant or other merchant discount
- It's O.K. to make use of someone else's account (such as Netflix, Pandora, Amazon Prime) to avoid subscription fees
- It's O.K. to lie about tobacco or marijuana smoking habits to receive lower life insurance rates
- It's O.K. to lie about income on a loan or credit card application
- It's O.K. to lie about the number of miles driven per year to receive lower auto insurance rates
- It's O.K. to not report under-the-table income to pay less in taxes to the IRS
This is not to say all Americans share these sentiments. It just means an alarming number do, and it indicates that they feel there's a good reason to spin a yarn or two over money, primarily to save a few bucks.
"Initially it may be surprising that so many people think it's O.K. to lie about under-the-table income to the IRS," says Amy Danise, editor at NerdWallet, who worked on the survey. "But maybe it's not so surprising if we look at the results through the lens of the likelihood of getting caught. After all, if you use someone else's Netflix account or get a child's meal for a 14-year-old you have low probability of getting busted."
But there are risks involved in lying about some financial actions, not that Americans seem too concerned about them.
"Having 'lying to the IRS' in that same mix suggests that people aren't too concerned about getting caught for tax fraud," Denise adds. "At the other end of the list, there is recognition that life insurance companies have systems in place to catch smokers and marijuana users."
April Masini, a New York City-based relationship and etiquette expert and founder of the advice site AskApril.com, says some people lie about money, because they think the more they have, the more worthwhile they are in life.
"They'll buy knock off fashions with highly visible labels that indicate a higher price paid, and wear faux jewels that make it seem like they're wearing valuable diamonds because wearing and having these seemingly expensive items makes them feel that they can attract real money," Masini says. "It's a funny dichotomy when people lie about having money to attract the real stuff."
Americans lying about their finances on dating sites is another 'red flag' -- at least for potential romantic partners. "Dating sites are full of people who say they're entrepreneurs, which can be shorthand for a budding Mark Zuckerberg, or code for unemployed," Masini adds. "People say they're entrepreneurs when they're broke, because the term is non-specific enough to include being broke without giving the appearance of being broke. And the term is vague enough to imply you're very clever and rich."
While NerdWallet does say men are generally more inclined to lie about money than women, financial experts say both sides have some work to do on the topic.
"Both men and women lie to their spouses about what they spend," says Rosemary Frank, a financial advisor and divorce specialist with Rosemary Frank Financial in Brentwood, Tenn. "Either they conceal the purchases altogether or say they paid less than they actually did, and brag endlessly about the great deal they got."
Only when people realize lying about money has highly negative, real world consequences can the behavior stop.
"Unfortunately, money issues are frequently cited as the number one cause of divorce," states Elle Kaplan, CEO of LexION Capital Management. "Things like financial infidelity or gambling problems can drive a chisel in an otherwise seemingly healthy relationship. Often, a partner is aware that they have a problem, but they're too embarrassed or ashamed to bring it up -- and will even take steps to sweep this under the rug or lie about it."
These problems are usually only uncovered when major financial problems like debt start to surface, Kaplan adds. "The best thing to do -- for both partners -- is to offer an honest and judgment-free way to discuss these problems," she says. "That way, they can avoid any further stress to the relationship, and work on solving the problems together."
A financial white lie here and there might not hurt anyone, but certainly honesty is the best policy.