Financial Infidelity: 'Til Debt Do Us Part

July 9, 2006 — -- For as long as women have been wearing white bridal gowns, couples have been telling little white lies about money.

From leaving purchases in the trunk until the coast is clear to pretending that new outfit isn't really new, these little deceptions are something most people do, according to a nationwide survey conducted for Money magazine by Mathew Greenwald and Associates.

The survey asked 1,001 adults with household incomes of $50,000 or more about their money deceptions. Seventy-one percent of those polled owned up to one kind of money secret or another.

The investment management company OppenheimerFunds came up with similar results in its recently released 2005 Women & Investing Survey. The company found that for both men (24 percent) and women (26 percent), cash was the number one item that they are most likely to hide from their spouse.

Usually, such omissions of truth are harmless, but they can lead to serious consequences. Cindy Silva, of Johnstown, R.I., alleges her husband racked up thousands of dollars in credit card debt, forcing her to refinance her home and get a divorce.

"It made me feel stupid that I didn't know it was going on," Silva said. "It made me feel afraid because I now felt attached to that debt, and I don't live my life like that."

Her ex-husband says that's a lie -- and if anything he was just trying to keep up with her extravagant lifestyle.

ABC's financial contributor Mellody Hobson explains there's a fact about money that not all couples realize.

"If you are married and you have joint accounts with your spouse, and your spouse racks up a whole lot of debt and doesn't pay it back, you are absolutely on the hook as well," Hobson said. "There is no saying, 'It wasn't me.' The creditors aren't going to listen."

As more people get married later in life, they often come into relationships with more debt. But financial advisors say there are things couples can do:

Share credit reports before marriage. They can reveal a runaway spender. Some argue it's more important than a blood test.

Couples can have "money dates," where they go through everything they've spent.

Get a referral from a professional organization like the Financial Recovery Institute, which specializes in helping couples with money issues.

That said, Heidi Evans, author of "How to Hide Money from your Husband and Other Time Honored Ways to Build a Nest Egg," says it can sometimes be a good thing for women to hide money from their husbands.

"We live longer than men," she said. "Our retirement money is less. Women leave the work force to raise children or take care of elderly parents, and so their pensions are not the same as men."

Financial advisors say while it can be important to protect yourself, couples need to know that a spouse's bad financial choices can have long-term implications. If your credit starts to deteriorate and your credit score starts to go down, it raises all of your other interest rates and costs you more money. It also can be detrimental in an emergency situation if you haven't squirreled away enough money to get through a tough period.