Couples keep millions of pounds of money secrets from each other

Sarah Coles
A bride stands with her back toward the camera, with her fingers crossed.
A bride stands with her back toward the camera, with her fingers crossed.

Couples are leaving one another in the dark about their finances. A study found that we're being secretive about what we earn, spend, borrow and save, in an effort to protect ourselves if something goes wrong with the relationship. However, the experts warn that if we lie to our loved ones over the long term, it could backfire.

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The study, by Prudential, found that one in six people have not told their partner how much they earn - with 46% of them saying they earn more than their other half thinks they do, and 23% taking an extra job or overtime hours their partner knows nothing about. More than one in four people taking this approach say they are doing so in order to give themselves financial security if they ever split up.

Secret savings and debt

A surprising number have also set up secret savings accounts, with one in ten opening accounts and starting investments without letting their partner know. Some of these savings amount to shocking sums - and 38% of people say they have £50,000 or more hidden away.

The most popular reason for saving was to put money aside for later in life (27%), and the most common reason for keeping it quiet was that they didn't want their other half getting hold of the money (22%). Some 21% said they wanted to have a financial safety net if the relationship was to fail.

Even more worryingly, couples are keeping debts a secret. Just under one in six have debts averaging more than £9,000 from credit cards, bank loans and even mortgages that their partner doesn't know about. Some 6% are paying off debts from a previous relationship, and 6% have taken on the debts of family members.

However, what's more worrying is that over half said their debts had been built up because of the general cost of living, and the need to maintain their lifestyle despite rising costs.

Why does this matter?

Keeping debts a secret is fraught with potential issues. If only one of you knows about a debt that has been caused by maintaining your lifestyle, then only one of you appreciates that this lifestyle needs to change. Making a real effort to cut costs and stick to a budget isn't something that one of the couple can do alone - it needs to be a joint effort if it is going to be effective.

If you are burying your head in the sand, and just borrowing to keep things as they are, then there will eventually come a time when you cannot afford to borrow any more. Those who are keeping their debts quiet need to ask themselves whether it's better to say something now, or to wait for things to get even worse before broaching the subject.


Meanwhile, Prudential has warned that by saving separately, couples are missing out on an opportunity to plan their finances together, to make the most of allowances. Kirsty Anderson, a retirement income expert at Prudential, points out: "Many of the tax benefits of pension saving are more valuable when applied to a couple's finances as a whole, so secret money decisions could actually be having the opposite to their desired effect and jeopardising future income in retirement."

She adds: "Having an open and honest conversation about savings, income and debt can help couples avoid nasty shocks when the time comes for one or both of them to retire."

Of course, this assumes that couples will still be together when it comes to retirement, and that any joint decisions will have an opportunity to pay off - instead of becoming one more thing that has to be sorted out when you split up. Given divorce statistics, there will be those who argue that it still pays to keep something back just in case.

But what do you think? Would you share financial details with your partner? Let us know in the comments.