On average, when it comes to money, both men and women tend to do some sort of hiding, says Sharon Gilchrest O'Neill, marriage and family therapist and author of "A Short Guide to a Happy Marriage."
"The wife may try to get lunches out of petty cash or spend on clothes while the husband might splurge on cigars," she says.
But if those petty purchases turn into bigger expenditures made on the sly, the opening of new accounts to hide money or even secret investments, problems can quickly develop. "If you can't open up to each other about finances, you're missing some connection in the relationship," O'Neill says.
Here, experts weigh in with tips to help you figure out if your spouse is hiding money, and how to deal with it before the funds are gone and your marriage spirals out of control.
Watch for new accounts
Look for bank statements and credit card statements that arrive at your home in only your spouse's name, says Kimberly Foss, CFP and founder of Empyrion Wealth Management in Roseville, Calif.
You don't need to open them, but make note of the information listed on the envelope. Also look at ATM receipts to see if they come from an unfamiliar bank. A receipt that lists the last four digits of an account you don't recognize could be a sign of a new bank account.
If you find evidence that leads you to think there is indeed a bank account you're not aware of for hiding money, wait a couple of days before approaching your spouse, Foss says. The extra time will give you a chance to calm down and plan what to say. Then find a good moment and neutral environment (avoid a home office or your spouse's workplace, for example) and ask about the account.
Investigate credit card payments
Look through credit card statements for overpayments, says Ken Stalcup, CPA and certified fraud examiner in Indianapolis. Say a credit card had a balance of $100, and your spouse made a payment of $5,000 to the credit card company. "That account is now essentially a new bank account with $4,900 of spendable cash," he explains.
A careful analysis of bank statements also can reveal red flags that your spouse is hiding money. Look for wire transfers or electronic payments to accounts you don't recognize. Also check credit card statements to see where the payments are coming from. If those payments are not coming from a joint checking account, investigate the other bank account that's being used to pay the bill.
Check online activity
Look for PayPal or other online accounts, Stalcup says. Then look through the list of favorites on your home computer to see if any bank name or account is listed that is strange to you. Review the history stored on the computer to check for other warning signs.
What if you find your spouse has a PayPal or other online account unbeknown to you? Don't jump to conclusions, says Kerry Patterson, co-author of "Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes are High." In some cases, especially in second marriages in which spouses often start out with separate accounts and funds, your loved one may simply not have thought of telling you about certain investments.
Let him or her know that you want to work as a team, and set up a meeting once a month to go over finances together, Foss says.
Scout out big withdrawals
If you and your spouse have made an agreement to talk to each other before withdrawing a certain amount of cash, hefty withdrawals that you weren't informed of ahead of time will raise red flags.
Before shaking fingers, start with the facts, says Patterson. "Simply say, 'We had said we'd talk if either of us took out more than $100. I just saw that $300 was taken out and was wondering why you didn't talk to me about it.'"
You may find out your spouse forgot to tell you or perhaps didn't feel comfortable talking about it. Whatever the case, bringing out the facts can help you find a starting point for solving the issue.
If you address it from this standpoint, you won't get sucked into the world of inappropriate behavior, Patterson says.
Get in the investment loop
Foss cites a case in which one spouse handled all of the finances. During the 10-year marriage, this individual purchased rental homes without informing his wife. This isn't a pure case of hiding money, but the investments were risky, and eventually the couple went bankrupt.
Often, the key to getting investments out into the open is to simply sit down and go through finances together, O'Neill says. "Also, make sure each person has at least some responsibility when it comes to finances."
Full disclosure can be hard at first, especially when secrets have been kept for years. But, it's well worth it. "Think of it as short-term pain, long-term gain," Foss says.
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