Those little white lies about your spending habits could lead to long-term issues.

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financial infidelity
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When it comes to infidelity in relationships, you probably know about physical and emotional cheating, but what about financial? Financial infidelity is the act of lying to your partner or spouse about finances, which can involve hiding purchases, lying about spending or debt, keeping a secret credit card, or any other form of concealing money habits. Think: disposing of the shopping bags before heading inside the house or collecting bills from the mail before your partner can see them. Whether you're familiar with the term or not, financial infidelity is rather common.

A 2018 survey that polled 414 U.S. residents found that 53% of participants said they had kept money secrets, like hiding receipts or lying about the price they paid for something, from their partner. Only 27% of participants, however, actually admitted to committing to financial infidelity. While small lies—or concealed truths—about money may not seem like a big deal, acts of financial cheating can be a red flag in relationships, pointing to underlying trust issues or leading to bigger problems later on. So, it's important to understand what this form of unfaithfulness can look like and learn how to address it.

To learn more about financial infidelity, why it happens, and how to resolve it, we tapped financial expert Colleen McCreary, the chief people officer of Credit Karma. Keep scrolling to find out more—and potentially save your relationship.

Reasons for financial infidelity:

Money can be uncomfortable to talk about in any relationship and we all have our own personal fears, anxieties, and insecurities when it comes to dealing with finances. "Many of us have money baggage—things like debt, thinking money isn't important, and more—that we bring to relationships," McCreary says. "Our culture, history, upbringing, work, friends, and class all have an impact on the way we view money."

On top of one's individual money baggage, people may start financially cheating because of other issues or unmet needs in their relationship. According to the previously mentioned 2018 study, financial infidelity can result from trust issues and poor communication skills in relationships and can be committed out of an attempt to gain power over a partner or avoid conflict. "An individual who is withholding money is likely to be withholding feelings," the study reads. "At times, money can be used as a punishment directed at a partner for not fulfilling their emotional needs."

What are the red flags of financial cheating?

According to Debt.com, the the below behaviors can all be warning signs of financial infidelity.

  • Your partner refuses to talk about credit cards, debt, and personal finances.
  • Your partner guards or is possessive of the mailbox.
  • Your partner refuses to share credit report information.
  • Your partner engages in other addictive behaviors, such as gambling, shopping, drugs or alcohol.
  • Your partner hides purchases.
  • Your partner hides credit card statements.
  • Your partner takes out secret loans.
  • Your partner keeps buying new clothes or other indulgences.

How to deal with financial infidelity?

Start money conversations early on in your relationship.

Don't wait until issues arise to start talking about money. Even though it can be awkward at first, establishing open and honest conversations about finances early on in the relationship can establish a greater sense of trust and comfort around the topic moving forward.

Come from a place of empathy and understanding.

If you suspect or find out your partner has been financially dishonest, McCreary says it's important to consider the baggage they may be carrying with them. "Money can be a sensitive topic, especially for those who know what it's like to live on less," she says. "You and your partner may not agree on everything, so be sensitive to your partner's experiences and thoughts, and be prepared to work as part of a team."

Of course, that doesn't mean you have to simply brush financial infidelity aside and ignore your own feelings. Lying about finances is a betrayal of trust and you are allowed to be upset and decide how you want to move forward in the relationship.

Start from scratch, if needed.

If you're trying to move forward after dealing with financial infidelity in your relationship, McCreary says it's important that both partners try to get on the same page and lay everything out in the open. "This may mean starting from scratch with your finances, looking at where you both stand, what income you have coming in, what your expenses are, and make a plan from your money from there," McCreary says.

Decide how to divide or combine your accounts.

You don't have to combine all of your finances and monitor every move just to avoid financial infidelity in your relationship. If you've established a foundation of trust, you may even find that keeping some bank accounts separate may work best for you and your partner.

According to a recent Credit Karma survey around money and relationships, nearly a third (32%) of millennials somewhat to strongly agree that keeping at least one bank account separate from their partner's helps keep their relationship alive. "This account can be where you each put the money you earn and where you draw from when you want to spend on anything non-essential for yourself," McCreary says. Then, she adds, you can have a combined account, for shared expenses like groceries and utilities, that you regularly check in on and keep receipts for.

Share your larger financial goals.

Money conversations don't always have to be centered on stressful topics like debt and bills. McCreary suggests "bundling" the finance talk into a conversation about your financial goals as a couple. "This may then lead to a discussion on how money is holding you back in some way, or how you plan to pay off your debt," she says. "By framing the money conversation around your goals and dreams, you can talk about your income, saving strategies, and any hurdles like debt without focusing only on numbers—your goals can then help guide your actions."

Schedule financial check-ins.

Just as you shouldn't wait until an issue arises to bring up the money talk, don't stop having it when issues are resolved. McCreary suggests scheduling a recurring time every week or month dedicated to discussing finances, covering how you plan to adjust spending and saving. Discussing your finances regularly with your partner, she says, can help you both hold the other accountable and help create a space where you're both more comfortable bringing money issues up in the future.