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Cheating with credit cards

by Barbara Marquand

An American Express poll found that more than a quarter of Americans, 27 percent, have fudged to a spouse on how much they spent on a purchase, and almost a third of the population, 30 percent, have hidden purchases from their partners.

When asked to tell the craziest things they had done to hide their spending, responses ranged from making sure an item arrived when the partner was out of town to sneaking out in the middle of the night to buy an item and then stashing it under the bed. Respondents also reported removing price tags from new items and pretending they were purchased from a thrift store and concealing purchases in grocery bags to bring them into the house. One even reported burying a purchase in the backyard.

Credit cards are often the weapon of choice to carry out such spending subterfuge, which can lead to big marital trouble as well as heavy credit card debt.

Experts call such behavior financial infidelity -- cheating on your spouse with money. Racking up secret credit card purchases, applying for credit cards without telling your spouse, or lying about how much you spent are examples.

Avoiding dishonest credit card use

Here are some tips to avoid getting into trouble with credit cards and your partner:

• Talk about money early and often. Discuss your financial goals and make a spending plan together. According to the American Express poll, 91 percent of Americans find reasons to avoid money talks in their relationships.

• Set a dollar threshold for consulting one another about a purchase. The average threshold among those polled by American Express was $275.

• Come clean before it's too late if you've been dishonest, and have a plan ready on how to make things right.

• Get help from a reputable credit counselor if you're in too deep, and get professional help to deal with psychological issues triggering overspending.

Almost one in three couples said finances cause the most stress in the relationship -- more than intimacy, children, and in-laws. Don't let dishonesty with credit cards add to the burden.

Published 02/28/13 (Modified 11/20/13)

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