Dave Nagel—Getty Images
By Jacob Davidson
January 22, 2015

Ever question whether your significant other isn’t being entirely forthright with his or her finances? Maybe you should: A new survey from CreditCards.com shows that 6% of Americans keep a bank account or credit card secret from their spouse or partner.

The study, which polled 843 American adults who said they were currently living with a spouse or partner, also found that one in five respondents spent $500 or more on a purchase without their partner knowing.

That number is heavily skewed toward men, with 26% of males reporting a hidden major purchase compared with only 14% of females. But it’s not necessarily because men are more dishonest. A previous study showed they’re simply more likely to make large impulse purchases than women, meaning guys may just be a little freer with funds. At least no one can accuse them of being hypocrites: A surprisingly high number of men—31%—are okay with their partners dropping more than half a grand without notice. Only 18% of women said the same.

When MONEY surveyed more than 1,000 married adults about financial infidelity, we came up with similar results. According to our exclusive Love & Money poll, 22% of husbands and wives have made purchases they didn’t want their partner to know about; 35% of those who hid purchases kept quiet to avoid a lecture.

And what are these secret purchases that have created so much strife? Probably what you expected: For men, it’s mostly hobbies and electronics. For women, it’s clothing, shoes, and gifts for family and friends.

Getting on the same page

So what’s a couple to do? Start by being more transparent about money. In most cases, financial infidelity is caused by nothing more insidious than a failure to communicate. “Any time you’re talking about money in a relationship, it’s all about communication,” says Matt Schulz, a senior analyst at CreditCards.com. He recommends sharing passwords so each partner can view the other’s accounts and have a clear sense of what’s going on financially. Services like Mint.com also allow couples to track each other’s finances without the need to share actual banking credentials.

Manisha Thakor, co-author of Get Financially Naked: How to Talk Money With Your Honey, has another tip for how to increase transparency: Set up your online bank accounts so each person gets alerted when there’s a withdrawal or deposit over a certain amount. Or you can follow the advice of MONEY contributing editor Farnoosh Torabi and set up three separate accounts: his, hers, and ours. “This means you don’t have to tiptoe around each other just to buy something you really want for yourself,” Torabi says. “With your own personal account it’s expected you can splurge on yourself without fear of getting caught.”

No matter what you do, just make sure both parties stay informed about the household’s finances. “If you’re trying to do a budget and living paycheck to paycheck, you need to know what’s going out as well as what’s going in,” Schulz says. “If you can’t do that, all sort of problems come.”

For more on how couples can be richer together, check out all of our Love & Money coverage:
He Says, She Says: When Couples Are out of Sync About Money
When She Makes More: Advice on Playing Fair About Money
Money Match: See How Well Couples Really Know Each Other
QUIZ: Which TV Couple Are You Most Like?

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