Couples' Money Secrets: Financial Counselors Reveal Tales of Lies and Debt

couple finances"We do financial counseling, not marriage counseling or therapy," says Mike LeClear, director of counselors at Financial Hope Counseling and Education in Fort Wayne, Ind. But that hasn't stopped clients from asking LeClear to play the "enforcer" role when it comes to marital money spats.

LeClear, who has been helping people overcome their financial hurdles for 15 years, says that when it comes to marriage and money, 90 percent of the time the wife is the money manager in the household.

What's surprising is not which spouse tends to rack up the troublesome levels of debt (it can be either, he says), but how often he discovers that the client has kept the debt a secret from their significant other.

It's Not Just the Money

Besides big balances on credit cards, hidden debt also comes with some heavy emotional baggage.

"Sometimes a couple will come in because one spouse found out about the massive amounts of debt incurred by the other spouse," he says. "The 'wronged spouse' wants me to be angry, too, but I try to get to the root of the issue. Sometimes it's just that one spouse is a tightwad and the other spouse has been living under the gun and using credit cards to buy things for their kids."

Credit counselors say that clients go to great lengths to keep their family from finding out about their debt. They often open a P.O. box for the bills and even get a separate cell phone number to give to their creditors.

Rosemarie Willix, a certified credit counselor with InCharge Debt Solutions in Orlando, says she had a client who provided her sister's address in another state for correspondence relating to the $60,000 in store-card debt she had racked up. She was keeping her financial troubles a secret from her husband because he had helped her get out of debt in the past.

'Til Debt Do You Part

When Bruce McClary, director of media relations at ClearPoint Credit Counseling Solutions in Seattle, was a credit counselor in Virginia Beach, his scariest moment was when he counseled a husband who had kept $80,000 in credit card debt secret from his wife.

The husband had used the P.O. box trick, but when his debt became unsustainable he brought his wife along to a credit counseling session, ostensibly to "tweak their budget."

After going over a budget, the husband dumped a grocery bag of credit card bills on the desk. The husband told McClary that he had taken a significant cut in pay but didn't want his wife to know.

In order to keep up their lifestyle -- which included things like equestrian lessons for their kids -- he had taken cash advances from several credit cards to pay the bills on other maxed-out credit cards.

"Honestly, when this whole thing blew up at my desk it was pretty terrifying," says McClary. "From the wife's point of view, it wasn't just this incredible debt; it was the fact that he had a P.O. box that revealed the level of his deception. She expressed her concerns about a mistress or a whole other life that she didn't know about. This guy even lied to me at the beginning of our session about his income."

McClary says the financial counseling session went "off the rails," and he recommended marriage counseling and a return visit for credit counseling. The couple never returned. "It's pure speculation on my part, but I suspect they ended up in divorce court," says McClary.

Secret Girlfriends and Motorcycle Moments

Financial secrets aren't limited to young couples. Willix, from InCharge Debt Solutions, recalls an 80-year-old couple that came in when the wife found out that he had been hiding his credit card bills from her because he'd been using plastic to take care of his girlfriend.

"The wife said she was not going to leave him and let the girlfriend get all his money, so she took the bills and signed him up on a debt management program," says Willix.

When a husband and wife in Columbus, Ohio, came in for credit counseling with Ann Estes, senior director for national affairs and partnerships with Apprisen, their budget didn't reflect the balance owed on a motorcycle that showed up on the credit report.

"The wife said, 'Oh, that's not ours, it's his brother's, we just allow him to park it at our house and he allows my husband to use it whenever he wants,'" says Estes. "Unfortunately, this wasn't true. The husband confessed that it was indeed his, which led to an interesting remainder of the counseling session."

Gambling Away Marriages

Mike Hoggan, branch director of Rural Dynamics consumer credit counseling services in Billings, Mont., worked with a husband who had a gambling problem. He had gambled away the couple's life savings, but Hoggan was able to help him become debt free and begin saving for a home.
The husband decided to "go big" and win back their savings in Las Vegas. Unfortunately, he came back to Montana with more than $160,000 in debt. The couple is now divorced.

In Stillwater, Minn., Linda Humburg, a counselor manager with FamilyMeans consumer credit counseling services, says a wife found out that her husband was in a debt management program only after they applied for a mortgage refinance. The husband had used credit cards to pay for his gambling addiction and then had spent 18 months on a debt management program to repay them.

Bankruptcy was not an option because they had plenty of home equity, but the wife refused to refinance and take cash out to pay the debt. In the midst of the counseling session, the wife punched her husband in frustration.

Do You Keep Secrets From Your Spouse?

Gail Cunningham, spokesperson for the National Foundation for Credit Counseling, says hiding income or debt is committing "financial infidelity."

Coming clean can be difficult, but it's the right thing to do, says LeClear: "My advice is always to level with your spouse because that's in everyone's best interest."

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September 19 2013 at 2:48 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
mac2jr

Ready to live in the desert as a hermit, I am.... In the last year I have with only one exception NOT FOUND a single person, be he or she a neighbor, businessperson, or government official that can be trusted or looked up to as someone to emulate.

I really feel for the youth of today, no more trusted Superheros, no more trusted sport's figures, no more political folk that are not on the take; cannot trust teachers or religious folk to do right, cannot not trust to be in a movie or school, cannot trust siblings or parents to always be there or do the right thing, and now he or she cannot even trust his or her mate.

Getting ' ' is suppose to be natural and enjoyable, but today's getting ' ' mean you got ' ' big time and recovery can be very difficult, if at all, or ever.

Salespeople lie, police lie, text books lie, news media lie, television ads lie, politicians lie, mates lie; students cheat on test, people steal from work or shoplift, car windows smashed, tires slashed, it is fun to some.

The authorities and the Corporate entities that we once tended to trust have over and over proven that they are not to be trusted as their Greed destroys the air, water, and lands we live and use daily. They poison our food, and cheat on their taxes, as they stand in front of the camera bragging about their charitable contributions.

Time to be alone, the world as I once knew and trusted as an honest place to live has left me....

February 10 2013 at 9:25 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
ectullis

Sounds like you know who

February 10 2013 at 3:51 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
learningtruth

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February 09 2013 at 7:09 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
learningtruth

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February 09 2013 at 2:33 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
cslinz62

Geeezus folks....this is 2013. Stay SINGLE!!! Have your own job, money, car, cellphone, bank accounts, place to live, credit cards, IRA's and so on. No MAN or woman is worth losing what you've worked hard to have. A broken heart in the end....is it worth it? I'm speaking from experience. I am a 50 yr. old gal and I don't date. I got myself a Harley and made some new friends and joined a MC. The traditional family/husband life is OOOOVER!!! Never again. Just read Kay's story beneath me. I still can't believe there are women out there today that are still this dumb and naive. Lord have mercy.

February 09 2013 at 11:21 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
Kay

Oh My! I think my husband did all of those things! I discovered that he had a PO Box by accident when I went to get the check book off the desk and he had left the bill for the PO Box on top of the desk. It did take me awhile to find where the box was located and discovered that he was getting letters from his girlfriends and porno movies and books and all else in the PO Box. When he died his Mother informed me at the service, that my husband had been giving her money and she actually asked if I was going to continue! AH....NO, not after I found out that she was taking phone calls from the girlfriend and then calling my husband with the messages!!!! That had happened a couple years before he died and I had not talked to her since then. I told her that I did know about the money he was giving her, actually I didn't, but I always suspected that he was. Of course he never had any money when I needed some. The day he died, we had gone out to eat and I had to pay for the meal. I asked if he had some cash for the tip to which he replied, yes I have about $3 cash. This after he held his wallet so that I could not look into it to see what he had. That evening he passed and the hospital gave me his wallet. When I got to my son's home after, I opened up the wallet and found over $500 cash and THREE checks from work that he had not even cashed, each check worth over $1000. One year we made over $175,000 between the too of us and we literally had nothing! Whenever I would question anything about money, he would get furious and say that it was his money and he could do what ever he wanted with it! Now 15 years later, I would never marry again, I don't think that I could ever trust a man again and believe me I have had many offers to date and to be in a relationship! But he ruined it for me when I realized all the lies he had told me. In the end I stayed with him because I had a good job also and we only lived in the same house, as room mates, not as a married couple. Plus I could not live anywhere cheaper and also I ended up with the house after he passed, his life insurance, IRA and a very small retirement check each month! People ask me why I stayed....as I said, after him I would never want to marry again, and in this relationship, if I wanted to go out I could.....after all, he did!

February 09 2013 at 10:47 AM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Kay's comment
uncommonsensesc

It's hard to be sad when you hear about someone like that dying - I'm glad you're able to finally get rewarded for putting up with him! You go girl!

February 10 2013 at 4:35 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
MONTOOTH

Before you get seriously involved with ANYONE, talk about finance, debt, investing, etc. and do so in a very open and free manner. You don't have to disclose salaries or anything like that...YET. But the answers your potential friend, partner, husband, wife reveals, will let you know if they are on the same wavelength as you regarding financial matters. Of course, this presupposes that YOU have your own house in order, or are at least very aware of the top importance of having solid finances whether single or married. The most important thing is talk, talk, talk and let your partner know that you DO NOT consider money a taboo subject.

February 09 2013 at 12:33 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to MONTOOTH's comment
Kay

We did talk and now I realize that all he did was lie!

February 09 2013 at 10:48 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
KELLI2L

When you are talking marriage with someone you most certainly DO need to confess and prove your salaries to each other! No secrets from the beginning.... If you want secrets - marriage is not for you...

February 10 2013 at 8:26 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
scottee

what a coincidence.
our country is based on lies and debt.
I guess Washington sets the tone.

February 08 2013 at 6:26 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to scottee's comment
rolando4rocks

Washington doesn't hold a GUN to the "liars" heads....

February 08 2013 at 8:32 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
KELLI2L

Yes Scottee.... our politicians Federal and Local DO set the tone for the people....

Every time the people find out about another crook in government - they come to realize that this behavior isn't just a once in a while occurrance - but a normal occurrance.... the criminal behavior seems to be the only thing Trickling Down... like a snowball gathering more snow and becoming bigger and bigger and bigger -
?Why don't the good things about Trickle Down $$$ get to the people with such zeal?

February 10 2013 at 8:35 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply