I'm on vacation in Alaska. This is a guest post from MP Dunleavey, editorial director of DailyWorth.com, a free daily personal finance email for women. I've been a fan of Dunleavey's writing for a long time, and am pleased to have her swing by GRS.
Infidelity is always devastating. But if your spouse or partner has been cheating on you by hiding pricey vices or illicit spending sprees, the consequences can be far worse than an affair, for the simple reason that money — often large sums of money — are involved.
My ex took out a credit card in my name and ran up $40,000 debt without my knowledge. Now I'm paying it off. I asked the credit card company to investigate the matter as fraud, but they didn't. It doesn't seem like I have many rights. As I found out, there were many secrets behind the numbers. Right now, I'm waiting for the divorce to come through.
Although incidents of identity theft and fraud are well-documented — and can be prosecuted — spouses who are the victims of their lying, cheating partners often have little recourse. As another woman wrote:
I just checked my credit report, and found out that my husband ran up $18,000 on one of our cards — when I thought we only owed $400. I confronted him, and he admitted it, but now what? He doesn't have the money to pay it back.
To recover from financial infidelity, you need a two-pronged strategy. You need to shore up the non-financial side of your relationship and, at the same time, tackle the actual money mess.
The first step is to find out where the money went and how much is owed, says credit expert Erica Sandberg, a columnist for Creditcards.com. Your credit report contains a list of all open accounts; ask your mate to show you all statements. In addition, your mate may have accounts opened in his or her name. These would show up only on their credit report, so ask them to come clean.
As you examine the statements, what you discover may be shocking. Your spouse wasn't just deceiving you about debt; it's likely that he or she was hiding habits (perhaps even vices) that cost a pretty penny.
To clean up the mess, you've got two main tasks:
- Your mate's secret spending has to stop (and the habit itself addressed).
- The debt has to be repaid.
So, the second step is to make a debt repayment plan. While you may not feel that the debt is your problem, until it's cleared up (or you split up, if that's the case) it will affect you. First, have your mate sell any purchases they bought when they were cheating, and put that money toward the debt. Insist that they get a part-time job or work overtime.
Next, depending on the extent of what's owed, credit counseling may be in order. (Two reliable sources for credit counseling are the National Foundation for Credit Counseling and the Association of Independent Consumer Credit Counseling Agencies.) At worst, you may need to consider bankruptcy.
Otherwise, create a budget, reduce spending, apply all excess funds to the debt, and stop charging until the balance is at zero!
As you address the financial problems, talk. Your partner'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.”
Piggymojo is a new saving site, where couples can set a goal (in this case to save enough to pay down your debt), and find new ways to talk about money.
You may also want to seek professional help. Few relationships can survive this kind of strain without counseling. If you're both invested in staying together, then it's worth spending some money on a therapist who can help you, especially if gambling or other addiction issues are involved.
Lastly, if your spouse has committed financial infidelity, you may need to take a long hard look at your own money habits and head-in-the-sand behavior. As one reader described her sister's loss of nearly $120,000 thanks to her husband's secret gambling problem:
The moral is, you can't afford to become a passenger in your own finances. Looking back, my sister said there were so many warning signs. But because her husband said he was taking care of the bills and expenses — and she believed him — she didn't know what was really going on until it was too late.