Financial infidelity: Baby boomers are the sneakiest

Financial infidelity may be a generational trait. 

About 12 million Americans have hidden a bank or credit card account from their live-in spouse, partner or significant other, according to a new study from CreditCards.com. While people of all ages are guilty of hiding their spending from their partners, the trait is more likely to be found in older baby boomers, who are almost four times as likely as millennials to hold a secret account.  

Financial secrets can add stress to a relationship, and money arguments may be a predictor of divorce, according to a 2013 study from Kansas State University. Interestingly, divorce among baby boomers has been surging, with the rate more than doubling from 1990 to 2010. While it’s hard to say what role money plays in that trend, financial experts say hidden accounts could spell trouble for a relationship. 

“Keeping secrets in your relationships is never a good idea,” said Matt Schulz, senior industry analyst at CreditCards.com, in a statement. “Like any indiscretion, what starts out small tends to build. Spending $25 without consulting your partner may seem incidental, but when those purchases become more frequent or if the amount grows, it can wreak havoc on your accounts and your budget.”

Eleven percent of older baby boomers, or those from 63 to 71 years old, have had a secret bank or credit card account from their spouse. Only 3 percent of millennials and the silent generation say they’ve hidden an account, while 5 percent of Generation X adults admit to the behavior. 

Older Americans may simply be more likely to say they’ve hidden accounts from their partners because of their age, which gives them greater access to credit and more chances over the years to engage in some financial secrets, Schulz said in an email. 

On top of that, baby boomers are also more likely than millennials to spend $500 or more without asking their partner, the study found. About 39 percent of boomers said they had made a large purchase without consulting their partner, compared with 20 percent for millennials. 

That behavior may be partly tied to higher income for boomers, of course. Because many millennials are struggling with student debt and are at the start of their careers, they typically earn less and have less spending money than older workers. That makes it more difficult for millennials to splurge on a $500 purchase, regardless of whether they plan to tell their partners. 

Here’s another reason to be cautious about out-of-control spending and hidden financial habits. Financial wherewithal can be a signal of good relationship material. According to the Federal Reserve, Americans with higher credit scores are 14 percent more likely to find a partner within the next year than those with scores about 100 points lower.