Personal finance for a married couple with different attitudes
August 27, 2018 5:43 AM   Subscribe

My husband and I love each other very much and are compatible in many ways; unfortunately, our attitudes towards money are incredibly different. After a lot of angst and fighting, we’ve come up with a plan that we hope will work for a relationship. Can you look at it and give us any suggestions?

Us: he is 41 and works irregular contract jobs, bringing home 50,000-75,000 a year. He has poor credit but refuses to check his credit score, and does not have a bank account currently. When we met he had a savings account. He is incredibly frugal and saves just about every penny he makes.

Me: I’m 34, make about $40,000 a year. My credit score is in the 750 range. I have a checking account which all of our bills come out of and which I direct deposit my paycheck into. Thus, all of our bills are paid with my paycheck. We have another savings account with about $50,000 in it, which we basically do not touch and he signs all of his checks over to me and I deposit them into that savings account. He does not want his name on that account because he’s afraid he owes back taxes and the IRS will go after him (?? he does not trust banks in general).

We bought a house last year completely under my name, using about $75,000 of his saved money as a down payment. It was in my name because he thinks his credit score is probably terrible.

I had a injury and am on short term disability at present. I didn’t properly research the pay out, and my direct deposit has been affected. I borrowed $4000 from our savings account to transfer into the checking account to cover bills and my husband flipped out and said that I was robbing us blind.

His complaints about me are that: I just pay the bills using auto debit without scrutinizing them to make sure they are legitimate, I spend too much on frivolous things without keeping track of where I’m at with any kind of budget. This is all true, but I manage to pay the bills without overdrawing my account (usually!) so I figure anything left over is OK to spend. His argument is that I don’t contribute to savings and he probably puts in at least twice as much to savings what I spend on the bills.

My complaints are: I am getting sick of managing our money while he hides behind putting off his taxes and being afraid to check his credit score. Also any purchase I make is subject to his judgement. One time I bought a $40 Bluetooth speaker for my car and he had to go for a drive to de-stress.

In the past he has gone through the checking account statement line by line and it is torture for both of us.

Yesterday we had our most healthy financial conversation yet and he proposed this solution:
- he opens a checking account and we transfer all the bills over to his name and auto debit them from that account. That way he can scrutinize him to his hearts content.
- I direct deposit half the total amount of bills into that account. He deposits the other half.
- I direct deposit some portion of what’s leftover into our savings account that is still in my name and he continues to deposit most of his money into that account.
- I keep my checking account as spending money for whatever is left over.

Does this make sense ? I know he sounds like a giant baby who won’t face the music and he totally is, but aside from this we have a solid relationship. We have two little kids and he is a wonderful father and I love him.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (37 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I would not. Your bills are not going to get paid if he's in charge of them.
posted by fluttering hellfire at 5:54 AM on August 27, 2018 [39 favorites]

I think you need to rethink the first step of that plan.

I would not transfer any bills that you count on into the name of someone who is in enough denial/ has enough issues with finances that he won't deal with even finding out about his tax situation or his credit score, or having a bank account. If he wants to do that with his own personal bills, fine, but anything you and the kids rely on should not be in the hands of someone whose relationship with money is that fraught.

That said, I don't see any reason you can't make the first step for you two have a *joint* checking account (or if you'd rather not do that, which I absolutely get, an account in your name that you give him the login/password for), the bills stay in your name and you pay them, but he can log in and see the amounts. You can forward the bills on to him to scrutinize as he sees fit. You can set that up as an automatic thing that happens without you having to do a thing if he's worried you'll forget to do it.

The rest of it seems fine to me, but honestly, what matters most is that it works for the two of you. There are a million different ways to do finances and finding something that works for you is more important than finding something Metafilter-approved. Whatever you do, I would strongly recommend you agree, in advance, that you'll touch base in one month and in six months, or whatever frequency seems right to you, to review how it's going and adjust if needed. Someone with this much difficulty looking at money issues head-on may desperately want to avoid having that conversation, but you need to have it, and agreeing ahead of time that you will have it will make it easier later to open that communication up.
posted by Stacey at 5:57 AM on August 27, 2018 [9 favorites]

It sounds like he has the energy and motivation to get really into something like YNAB. You two really need a budget of some kind, assuming you can agree, in principle, about joint versus personal expenses. YNAB has the advantage of not caring where your money is as long as all inflows and outflows are there and categorized.
posted by supercres at 6:02 AM on August 27, 2018 [3 favorites]

Whoa slow down. How many back taxes does he owe why hasn't he told you what they are why aren't you guys working with the IRS on a payment plan to pay them off? He's concealing his own financial information (credit score, back taxes) from you but wants the authority to go through your everday spending line by line and criticize it? That's not normal. Whatever you do do not give this man control over your finances. Always maintain a separate account from him.
posted by edbles at 6:06 AM on August 27, 2018 [150 favorites]

- he opens a checking account and we transfer all the bills over to his name and auto debit them from that account. That way he can scrutinize him to his hearts content.

I think this is a very risky move. He's not financially responsible (he has savings down, but not the other skills). It also is in no way going to solve the base communication problem which is that he doesn't want you to spend money the way you do. And presumably he can see the bills whenever he likes, he's just chosen not to.

I suggest a joint account at the least so that you can see what's going on.

Also, the first step should be that he deals with the IRS. If he owes back taxes, the interest will only get worse, which is why I say he clearly does not have financial skills...if he did, he would understand that not dealing with the tax issue is putting your family at WAY more financial risk than a $40 Bluetooth thing.

- I direct deposit half the total amount of bills into that account. He deposits the other half.

This is a good improvement because he's contributing to the bills. The thing I find weird in his/your thinking is that if you are a financial team (because the bills all come out of your cheque) then his savings are also your savings as a team and it sounds like you are saving about half your income which is great. So I do think making this clearer is a strong move.

The rest sounds fine to me.
posted by warriorqueen at 6:09 AM on August 27, 2018 [4 favorites]

Hard to address the financial pieces alone without the other relationship bits but here goes:

He is demanding transparency from you but not being transparent himself and that's bullshit. Or at the very least, unhealthy & unhelpful when the point is that you're trying to get in the same page. Strongly recommend that as part of this finance reorganization, he get a credit check and you get to understand the mysterious back taxes / poor decision / frustrating event in his past that's got him so spooked he won't look at it. Whatever cost or debt is back there, it's not going to get better by itself (likely it'll get worse), and it's now baked into your financial life together, and you have a right to know what you're both on the hook for. Maybe it will be easier to deal with than he thinks it will.

Second suggestion: also as part of this reorganization, each of you gets a small regular amount your own splurgey money that each you can spend on whatever the hell you want, without clucking disapproval. (Yes, autocorrect, it's fucking "clucking" this time.) There's a good description of this practice, and the importance of it, in "All Your Worth," by Elizabeth Warren & Amelia Warren Tyagi. This is the source of the helpful 50/30/20 needs/wants/savings budgeting rule of thumb, which circles back to the first point: if y'all need to be saving to pay off some back taxes or mysterious accrued debt, you need to know how much.

The logistical plan you propose, about savings vs checking accounts, seems fine. But you need to address the bigger issues first. Good luck with this.
posted by miles per flower at 6:20 AM on August 27, 2018 [15 favorites]

I can relate to your husband and his anxious avoidance as far as his relationship with money.

That being said, as someone who relates to your husband, I would still *implore* you not to agree to this.

Number one. I have a sneaking suspicion he views this as a bandaid for the financial wound he’s been avoiding- unfortunately, that wound needs more than a bandaid. Therefore, his suggestion to do this (while still avoiding the other matters he has refused to address for years) is another form of avoidance for him, with the caveat that his avoidance “feels/appears” to be the action of a productive person. I’m sure his intentions are good ones, but that doesn’t mean this is the right step for him to take.

Number two. There is no reason for you to get your finances tangled with his any more than the bare minimum required for a married couple. I would never ask my significant other / spouse to do any of the things he suggested if my credit was bad/I had outstanding debts/tax issues and my SO/spouse did not have those things. Heck, even if my spouse did have those issues, I still wouldn’t see the point in lumping mine with his own.

Number three. I do wonder if he sees this as a way to rebuild his credit. That’s all well and good, but again, see number one and number two. Plus, rebuilding your credit doesn’t mean much if you still have countless financial skeletons in the closet.

Number four. I know this isn’t your question. But again, as someone who can relate to your husband (I’ve got credit issues due to student loans, and at one point I owed a couple years worth of back taxes because I just wanted to stick my head in the sand and pretend like it wasn’t happening), I will say that sometimes what an anxious-avoidant personality needs to hear is, “I know finances are scary, especially when you haven’t looked at them in years. I don’t want you to feel scared. If it would feel less scary for you, I’d like to take a look at your finances with you together. No judgment. We can work on it as a team. I’ll even pull your credit report and make the phone call to the IRS while you sit with me.” (Side note: it’s popularly known on Metafilter that the IRS is super chill and calm when you call them abou back taxes/tax questions. This is true. They want you to pay, and therefore try to be as helpful as possible in helping you find a solution.) Then, I’d recommend calling a trusted non-profit for debt management like Greenpath Solutions. They are also Metafilter-recommended and I use them and *love* them. They are so nice and understanding and don’t judge you. I was terrified to call and it really helped. Note that Greenpath is going to be good for providing advice on financial matters that are non-government (with the exception of federal student loans), so they can’t help you with tax/IRS stuff, really. But student loans, credit cards, etc- yes. It may be hard for him to talk about this stuff but you are married. Again, the best way to frame it when you’re talking to an avoidant person is to acknowledge that you know it’s scary, that it sucks, that you *aren’t* judging them and will not, and that you want to work with them as a team to get it resolved.

Number five. You should really consult with a tax attorney what type of financial exposure that you, and you alone, would have from opening a joint banking account with him. It sounds like he just wants to open the account in his name, but I’m still bringing this up just incase. If he has tax liens out there laying in wait, and you’re putting your own money into an account in his name or with both of your names on it, you are putting your own earnings at risk of being seized. Now, it’s one thing if you want to help your spouse pay off his back taxes. But it’s a separate conversation from the matter of getting a bank account with him where you’re putting in your own funds.

I’m glad he wants to take some initiative but beware the above points I made. He needs to work out his own financial issues - and be fully transparent with you about what those are, which he can’t do if he won’t even look at his credit - before taking on the next steps.
posted by nightrecordings at 6:40 AM on August 27, 2018 [46 favorites]

Your husband has major, crippling anxiety about money. He needs to get his anxiety under control, and the first step in that process is having information he currently spends a lot of energy avoiding: Find out if he owes the IRS anything. For him not to know that, it sounds like he may be (and by extension, you may be) liable for back taxes and penalties. I don't think you can put much of your plan into place without his finding out what if anything he owes (and/or you jointly owe) the IRS. Then, no matter what the answer is, I would not be delegating sole financial management duties to him. As others have said, your bills won't get paid.

He's currently not capable of taking care of his own administrative life. Until he is, he's not allowed to exert so much control over the family finances. Including freaking out about a $40 purchase that you can afford.

I'll go one step further: Since you have kids, his name should likely be listed as an owner on the house, and you should definitely have a will. In order to do those things though, he's going to have to overcome a lot of denial.
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 6:46 AM on August 27, 2018 [11 favorites]

(Side note: it’s popularly known on Metafilter that the IRS is super chill and calm when you call them abou back taxes/tax questions. This is true. They want you to pay, and therefore try to be as helpful as possible in helping you find a solution.)

Wanted to repeat this. I'm an attorney who used to work representing the NYS Department of Taxation and Finance, and they too are super kind and chilled out, and I've only ever heard the same thing about the IRS. They have spoken to many, many people who haven't, e.g., filed their taxes for a dozen years because they freaked out about it, and they just want to get you straightened out and in a payment plan.
posted by LizardBreath at 6:58 AM on August 27, 2018 [4 favorites]

Please do not open a joint checking account! If he gives you grief now over a trivial item like your bluetooth speaker (paid for from your own earnings), imagine the arguments to come when you pop into a store for a lipstick or flowers for the house.

NO no. Continue to keep your finances separate. And since your husband makes more than you, it doesn't strike me as fair that all the bill-paying comes out of your account. Not good.
posted by BostonTerrier at 7:01 AM on August 27, 2018 [14 favorites]

I agree with the advice you're getting here.

It's often a good rule of thumb, in relationships, that whoever is pickier about X should be the one to do X. If someone is very particular about how dishwashers should be loaded, that person gets to load the dishwasher. If someone has high standards for lawn care, that person gets to mow the lawn.

But I'd urge you not to look at this situation that way. It might be tempting to think, "Well, Husband has high standards about money, Husband should pay bills." But it sounds like your husband doesn't have high standards about money. (If he did, he'd know his credit score!) What he has is, at best, a crippling inability to think clearly about it — and at worst, an outright unwillingness to be honest about it, and some worrying signs of controllingness.

Imagine your husband was so germ-phobic that he refused to wash any dishes at all when he lived alone, and just ate off paper plates. That germ-phobia might make him inclined to anxiously kibbitz at you about how you load the dishwasher. But it would not make it a good idea to put him in charge of washing dishes.
posted by nebulawindphone at 7:03 AM on August 27, 2018 [30 favorites]

Sorry, but someone who is too avoidant to look at their credit score or find out if they owe back taxes cannot be trusted to pay your bills in full on time.

It seems odd that you are expected to pay half the bills even though he makes more money. I guess the justification is that he contributes more to savings, but apparently you aren't allowed to use the savings, so they are only for him.

If someone got mad, upset or judgemental with me over spending $40 of my own money on something, I would be absolutely livid. Some couples have an agreement to discuss large purchases with each other before buying. At your incomes, anything under, say $300 doesn't qualify for that in my opinion.

Your partner's approach to money sounds worrisome to me. I would encourage him to see a counsellor about his rigid controlling attitude, especially combined with such avoidance. I definitely think it would be a good idea to keep your finances seperate from his for the time being. I would not allow this person to fully control my financial future.

I'd also encourage to to think about what is going to happen to you if something happens to him. If he dies (heaven forbid), are you going to be responsible for his back taxes? What about other unpaid debts he might not have told you about? If he hasn't paid his back taxes, does that mean he is going to continue to avoid his taxes in the future so they don't "find" him? Will you be responsible for those, too?

A financial professional of some kind for the pair of you might be able to give you a clearer picture and help you develop a plan you can both live with. (I think fiduciary fee only financial planners are the gold standard on want someone objective who isn't trying to sell you things). Private counselling for him to address his anxiety/control. And couples counselling to help you learn how to talk to one another about money in a way that works.
posted by windykites at 7:52 AM on August 27, 2018 [4 favorites]

Given the combination of secrecy and hypervigilance on the part of your husband, I have some concerns about the proposed plan.

When a married couple has only one-way transparency in the area of finances, it's a red flag. How big a flag remains to be seen. I suggest you consider the pros and cons (short- and long-term) of working kindly and firmly with your husband to share this aspect of your marriage with equality.
posted by dancing leaves at 8:04 AM on August 27, 2018 [9 favorites]

Adding to the echoes: You are already managing the money quite well! You have saved a large proportion of the family's income.

In some months, I can go weeks without spending money. This is not because I am a saintly minimalist, it is because my partner is taking care of all of the household needs and bills. It would not be fair / logical to eat the food in the house and enjoy the loveliness of heat in winter and crow about my low spending.

I do go through our account statements line-by-line. I do log every purchase the family makes and I categorize it into home / food / entertainment / personal care / family / charity /other / savings. I track the ebbs and flows of our spending so that we can talk about our spending and ensure that it reflects our priorities.

I am the money-worrier in our family, and I don't think he can manage the money better than you right now.
posted by Sauter Vaguely at 8:08 AM on August 27, 2018 [5 favorites]

You are an adult who earns their own money and pays their bills responsibly. You are allowed to spend $40 without anyone questioning you. That part needs to come first - that you both respect the other's agency in dealing with their own money. Any joint project needs to start with trust, so he needs to be honest with you about the taxes and his credit history. If there are any questions that he has about your finances, answer them honestly. Therapy may be required just to get to this point.
Next you need a game plan and my personal favorite is 3 money buckets: Joint, His, Yours. You both decide together how much of each paycheck goes into each bucket. You can pick percentages or specific amounts. Since his income is more irregular, he may want to keep his whole check in his own account and transfer money to the joint on a set schedule.
He can make nearly twice what you do in year, so find a happy medium between splitting everything in half and him paying 2/3 of everything. Now you need someone to pay those bills. Recognize that this is part of the household labor and if he does not trust you to do it, then you can both be involved but you are not willing to give him total control. At this point, he is saying he needs total control or zero and that is not okay. Again, therapy might be required to get here.

Most couples have different financial habits and while compromise is necessary, there are some areas where you need to stand firm. Hiding tax issues is not okay. Hiding bad credit is not okay.
posted by soelo at 8:09 AM on August 27, 2018 [3 favorites]

I can't speak to marital finance arrangements, but I do know that if he owes back taxes, the IRS will pursue this.

It's true that the IRS is super-chill, and they really are very nice people. I can still hear one agent on the phone telling me to "keep your chin up."

It's also true, however, that the IRS is in the midst of a crippling enforcement backlog.

Nevertheless, the shit will hit the fan someday if he does owe.

IRS penalties and interest are awful, and garnishee orders are not fun. Ask me how I know. I've heard the penalties and interest described as practically usurious.

My big takeaway from Flylady was the acronym FACE -- financial acceptance continually empowers. When I "face" my accounts, that knowledge empowers me even when the news is bad because then I at least know where I stand and can move on from there.
posted by jgirl at 8:22 AM on August 27, 2018 [9 favorites]

Hard no.

He is inarguably not able to manage his own finances (scared of banks, in debt to the IRS, poor/unknown credit). Why on Earth would you give him an inch of rope. He will hang the both of you with it.

You need to have a come to Jesus, and you need to both realize that you are the only person with any financial maturity and responsibility. He needs to immediately settle his own financial situation fully, and should be paying you half of bills in the meantime.
posted by so fucking future at 8:35 AM on August 27, 2018 [7 favorites]

I nth screw that noise - anybody that is hiding from the IRS and their back taxes and credit score doesn't get control of the bank account nor gets to 'scrutinize' the bills to see if they are accurate. If he really wants to do that, then he needs to get back to the starting line - which is pay the back taxes and open a credit card to improve his credit.
posted by The_Vegetables at 8:35 AM on August 27, 2018 [3 favorites]

Lot of good advice here, but I think people are slightly overlooking one aspect of this situation. The husband doesn't merely owe back taxes and not want to think about it. Comments have correctly recognized that this is a situation one can fall into through bad luck or one error in judgment and then be prevented by crippling anxiety from addressing properly. Very fair. No judgment.

This guy, though, is deliberately hiding assets from the IRS.

This, to me, is a significant red flag about character. Hiding assets from the IRS is what shitty fathers who don't want to pay child support do. It is what hedge-fund tycoons who resent having to support the society that brought them into being and continues to look after them do. It is not what people of any integrity or self-respect do. It's not passively failing to deal with a tax problem, it's deliberately scheming to avoid paying what you owe.

I mean, you're married to the guy and have kids with him, I'm not recommending divorce or anything, but I wouldn't have any significant money in a joint account with someone who was acting like this. Not just because of the nontrivial possibility that the IRS or an ex he conveniently forgot to tell you about might show up with a garnishment order, but because he's demonstrated a real untrustworthy element to his character.

Sorry, but your story reads like it might be the lead-in to an episode on what used to be called Court TV. You don't want to be on Court TV.
posted by praemunire at 8:39 AM on August 27, 2018 [32 favorites]

I'm only dropping in a small suggestion here because it sounds like your partner has overwhelming, crippling anxiety with this and on their own, it will not be addressed. I also look at this as two distinct questions: 1) How can you solve the $ arguments in a way that is least painful to both of you and 2) How to address those lingering money problems of your partner that are associated with anxiety?

I think people have already dressed #1 - I do think your suggestion would work, but if I were you, I would make sure that both of you have access to the account for bills and that it is acceptable for you to check whenever you want to (just to make sure the system works and if it is automated, it should be fine).

But #2 is a very different question, and it sounds like his anxiety is overwhelming that he can't and won't face it.

If I were in your shoes, I'm going to nth the suggestion above to go to counseling together to find a way to discuss money and these problems. My guess is that this suggestion (and the eventual appointment) will also be too overwhelming (as in, he won't go or will say no to the idea). That's okay, because you can still go; go to this with the goal of finding how to speak his language when it comes to anxiety and money. I would find a therapist who deals with anxiety and shame. But think about things that persuade him in general if you discuss things in a healthy way + whatever tools the therapist gives you might give you additional tools to talk with with him, at least at the start.

I'd also focus on small wins at the start of this plan, as a way for him to learn that the world will not open up and swallow him if he faces small aspects of this at the start. For example, since you are both already discussing new bank accounts, there are bank accounts that do offer credit checks as a tie in free service (capital one360 offers this, I'm sure others do, too). As part of the starting a new account, he signs up for the free monthly credit check as step one. Step two is that you sit next to him when he goes to check it (or he can look at it alone first, whatever). But this whole credit score through the bank is automated, not with a person sitting in judgment and it is baked into what you will already do.

Then continue along this course, building up of course to dealing with the IRS to having an open conversation about money in case there are other unknowns that need to be dealt with. I'd also want him to go to speak with the therapist on his own to make plans as to how to deal with the anxiety around money, but I don't think this will happen until smaller incremental steps are made.

Good luck.
posted by Wolfster at 8:49 AM on August 27, 2018 [2 favorites]

I think that sounds fine! My partner and I (one child) have an identical arrangement -- a joint checking account solely for shared household/kid expenses, a joint savings account for extras/emergencies (usually funded by our tax return every year), and then the rest we keep for ourselves. The only possible hitch are items that you think should be paid for jointly (gifts, vacations, household furnishings, etc) that he doesn't agree on; but that's an issue you'd have regardless of how you do your accounts.

As for the tax thing - one of my dear friends has a similar partner. She loves him to bits and they're a great team. It stresses her out, but she has done what she can to limit her exposure. Notably, they are NOT married, almost solely due to the tax issue. So in your case, I think I might want to visit an attorney to check out your possible liability as a spouse.
posted by yarly at 8:52 AM on August 27, 2018

Lots of good advice here. I have a couple of questions and think you should answer them with a professional.

Does he "think" he owes back taxes, or us that as much as you can get out of him? Has he had some weird issues with employers? Has he been paid under the table? As for not trusting banks, has he or someone he knows been royally screwed by say, Wells Fargo or BOA? The two of you need to meet with an accountant about his tax issues.

Second question - Your little joke about almost always paying bills on time is making me wonder if you mean that one time, or if you are regularly paying late fees. If you are frequently late - let's say more that 5 time in 12 months- then own it and work on that. And with a counselor or financial professional. You two need more than the two of you at the kitchen table hashing it out with self-help workbooks.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 8:53 AM on August 27, 2018 [2 favorites]

Banks might reject his application to open an account if he has any outstanding judgements. I know someone who was rejected for a savings account until they paid off an old landlord.
posted by soelo at 9:00 AM on August 27, 2018

You've gotten a lot of good advice, but beyond knowing his credit score, have either of you gotten a look at his credit report? He can do that for free right now (assuming he hasn't checked them all in the past year), and it will have more information and suggest some logical next steps (correcting inaccuracies, building credit for him) vs. just the number. It will also give you a better idea of any skeletons in his closet, debtwise. The asset-hiding aspect worries me.
posted by momus_window at 9:43 AM on August 27, 2018

From the OP:
Thanks everyone for answering. Your answers are very helpful. To clarify: he filed for an extension in 2014 I think. Then he filed his taxes in 2015 and 2016 and has filed for extensions since then. I have no idea if he owes money, or is owed money.

He owns an additional property which he pays all the bills for (I’m sorry I forgot to include that in the original question). I’m pretty sure he gets them all paid on time BUT he goes to the utility company in person to pay them in cash so he can get receipts to keep. He keeps allll of that stuff and will regularly monitor what we are paying for kilowatt hour, for example, compared to this time last year and call for an explanation I NEVER do that with our bills (nor do I want to.)

Thanks everyone. I think it’s time that we have a come to Jesus, even if it means he gets mad and stays for a few days the other property We can weather it.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 9:54 AM on August 27, 2018 [8 favorites]

> Sorry, but someone who is too avoidant to look at their credit score or find out if they owe back taxes cannot be trusted to pay your bills in full on time.

Nthing this. And if he holds up bill payment every time he wants to nitpick an extra percentage of a kilowatts or the fairness of a new type of service charge or whatever, he's quickly going to tank the goodwill you get from utility companies when you consistently pay on time.

Also any purchase I make is subject to his judgement. One time I bought a $40 Bluetooth speaker for my car and he had to go for a drive to de-stress.

This is some bad news controlling bullshit. Unintentional rather than malevolent, I'm sure. But he is being self-centered about his anxieties and he needs to understand why this is not an acceptable way to treat his partner.
posted by desuetude at 10:09 AM on August 27, 2018 [14 favorites]

What everyone is saying about the IRS being super chill is true. The guy I was dating had apparently not filed his taxes in several years, moved to my state to live with me, and got a regular job (instead of an under-the-table job running his own business). Suddenly, one morning, the doorbell rang. And it was an IRS person! They had his new address because of the new job. She was really nice, and they worked out a payment plan sitting in my living room. I would have a few questions for your situation. If he's working contract positions, is he paying taxes on that income every year now? Like, do you file jointly or at least see his filing? Because that's bad news if he's not. Secondly, the FEDERAL government is very easygoing with setting up a payment plan, but the STATE isn't necessarily. A different friend is in huge amounts of debt from state taxes, and they do mean things like suspend your license if you aren't current. I think you owe it to yourself to find out the real scoop with this before you change anything.

In your situation, I would require that he pulls a credit report and that he signs up with Credit Karma and gets an instant score. You need to know what you're working with. Retirement might seem like it's really far away, but it goes pretty fast and the feds can garnish social security. You don't want decades of late fees added to the (probably more reasonable) amount that he owes now.

I just saw your follow-up, but I'm leaving all this because I think it's important to get out there.
posted by clone boulevard at 11:32 AM on August 27, 2018 [1 favorite]

This guy is saving tens of thousands a year, but has no bank account? I'm with praemunire on this one. He's hiding his assets from SOMEONE, be that the IRS or someone else. I mean, come on. Good luck digging out the skeletons from his closet.
posted by ClarissaWAM at 11:54 AM on August 27, 2018 [14 favorites]

Whose name is the other property under? And are you sure there is no ex-wife he is hiding money from? Because that's sure what it looks like. Even if he did owe the IRS they seize your assets as a last resort after sending you dozens of letters, not as the first line because you didn't file taxes.

Anyway, if he does owe the IRS (which he probably does if he was doing contract work and didn't file a tax return or pay estimated taxes), then unless he was being paid under the table, they are going to come after him eventually. So step 0 of any plan is that he needs to file and pay his back taxes, you can't really resolve any issue until that's taken care of. You can be the person who interfaces with the tax guy to do this, but your husband needs to agree to make it happen and he needs to be the one who pays for it, not you. Also not sure if you realize this but filing for an extension for those prior years is pretty meaningless if he owes money, his taxes are late regardless of whether he filed for an extension or not. (That said, having late taxes is usually not a huge deal.)
posted by phoenixy at 12:34 PM on August 27, 2018 [1 favorite]

I think you need to sit down with a third party to help you navigate this issue. This could be a therapist or financial planner who deals with couples and conflict around money. If you anticipate him being so upset that he goes to his other property to cool off for a few days, there are some issues to unpack here. The good news is that you are cash flow positive, and you both seem to have the same broader goals when it comes to money. The children and family expenses are first, and you're also saving for your future.

Outcomes you are looking for:
- he checks his credit score and settles any bad debts
- he gets up to date on his taxes AND sets up a system to stay up to date. (i.e. filing system for important info, and a relationship with an accountant or tax preparer who he's willing to go each year) There's no point in going through the process if he's going to continue to be late every year.

There's no issue with him scrutinizing the bills to ensure that there are no errors, but that issue is separate and apart from who is paying them, or how they're paid. Paying by preauthorized payment doesn't mean you don't have recourse.

He's placing a lot of trust in you. The bulk of the family assets are in your name alone. Perhaps some of this scrutiny and concern comes from the realization that he has such little control over the family assets. On a longer timeline you want him to be ok with working with a bank or credit union. You might work toward something like:

account 1: joint - paychecks in. bills, mortgage, kids stuff out.
account 2: your name alone, for your own spending
account 3: his name alone, for his own spending.
account 4: joint savings, for large purchases, emergency income, etc.
posted by thenormshow at 12:47 PM on August 27, 2018

This is a pretty normal thing where I'm from in rural Vermont by which I mean a lot of people do this. Usually there's a contractor and he gets paid in cash for jobs, he has a girlfriend (usually) who owns the house and sometimes the vehicles. He's a little loose with taxes. And has very little liability for getting sued since on paper he has basically no assets and you can't go after the girlfriend. Often this will change when they either marry or have kids. So I totally hear where you are coming from and he may just be stuck in some bad habits that he's trying to work his way out of.

I am with everyone else, do not put your money into the account of someone with an uncertain relationship with the IRS. And it's 100% ok for you to say "Hey we are married now, so we have to file together which means you need to be a little more on board with this because it's Team Us for money now" My most charitable interpretation is he's got a lot of money anxieties which may border on to phobias but they're slopping over into bad husband behavior being a micromanager of your, the responsible one's, behavior. So that should stop or it needs to be his issue to manage.

So I have a few questions/issues I'd be concerned about

- House: House was bought with his money "under your name" Does that mean you have the mortgage? Or was it just a cheap house? You should both own the house.
- Taxes: This needs to be sorted out in some way and I agree, the IRS are chill and the state CAN be but isn't always but it's always better to start dealing with all of this today than tomorrow. I got audited by the State of VT for reasons (death of parents, weird-looking stuff that was normal) for YEARS. It's mostly just paperwork and if there's money they'll do payment plans. Get those wheels in motion.
- Unbanked stuff: there needs to be more discussion here. He needs HIS OWN BANK ACCOUNT (or credit union!) as well as whatever you guys do for a joint account. There are a ton of ways people can do money but I don't think putting your money into something that a money-phobic person is in charge of is a good idea, no matter how great a person they are.
- Spending money: you guys make some sort of deal and you stick to it and if he has complicated feelings about that over and above, that becomes his issue to deal with.
- Budget/Bills: Again I think we see his anxiety here. He is welcome to review all the bills (of course!) and it's a good idea for you guys to have a budget as a couple but actually not if you don't share money. So that should be part of the give and take. He gets more oversight but he has to give more access.

Since you guys are married, that is a shift in how much he can just be squirrely without that actually being anti-relationship behavior. Depending where you live, that other property may be legally partly yours or partly your liability so it's pretty important you understand how this all interrelates. This lack of financial insight can also correlate with lack of other planning like wills, power of attorney and health care proxy. Less of an issue with married folks but maybe another good way to frame The Talk especially if you have a family.
posted by jessamyn at 1:13 PM on August 27, 2018 [4 favorites]

Even if he's not hiding another dependent or two, even if you reject the implication that his behavior reflects badly on his character--there's still the fact that he has shown you with extreme clarity what he will do if he messes up some part of the family's money management. He will not only not tell you about it, he will lie to cover up that it happened, and he will not even try to address the problem with the time this "gains" him. Since it is very easy for anyone to make a mistake or three in personal finance, this is not a good quality in a partner who has any responsibility for bills, and you have to address this before he takes over any.
posted by praemunire at 1:13 PM on August 27, 2018 [12 favorites]

My ex had horrible, crippling anxiety about money right down to the IRS avoidance. He didn't file taxes for ten years until I completely lost my shit about it. We got an accountant and worked with the IRS on a payment plan. In our case, there was no garnishments. They will take your refund every year, so please figure this out before you screw yourself by filing jointly.

he would understand that not dealing with the tax issue is putting your family at WAY more financial risk than a $40 Bluetooth thing.

Exactly. I guarantee you that his taxes are accumulating more interest and penalties per year than you spend on frivolous stuff. Unlike your husband, mine was the spendthrift and I had to keep a close eye on things or he would drain our savings to buy stuff for his hobbies.

We had 3 checking accounts and one savings account. A percentage of my paycheck went into the savings, the rest into my checking. Same thing with his. We had scheduled transfers from his account (he made more) into the third account, which was solely for paying bills. He could spend whatever was left over in his account but there would be hell to pay if he touched the billing account or the savings. He did not have the password for my account.

Don't put his name on the bills. If he wants to scrutinize them, you can forward the emails or put the mail on his desk. If he's so obsessed with scrutiny why isn't he looking at his credit report for errors? That makes no sense. He's an adult, he's a dad, he's a husband, he needs to get past this avoidance because it will have lasting repercussions for you and the kids if he doesn't deal with the taxes.
posted by AFABulous at 8:44 PM on August 27, 2018 [2 favorites]

His approach to money seems super sketchy to me, as in if he's not actively trying to avoid paying taxes/hiding assets/perpetuating fraud then he is doing a really fine impression of someone trying to do this. I'm frankly gobsmacked that an adult would not even want to know their credit score let alone know if they filed their taxes. If he has a professional licensure of some kind, this can become a HUGE issue for the licensing board.

Even if he does not, the idea of co-mingling funds with him is a big NO. I agree that he has some weird phobia/anxiety over money that has morphed into a GIANT THING that he gets extremely defensive about but like the fatberg in London, it will continue to grow and ultimately disrupt everything.

I also do not think he has an iota of a leg to stand on criticizing your management of the household finances. NONE.

Do not pass go, do not give him $200, and make it an imperative action item to get his financial house in order. As others have said, the IRS will work with you because they understand that some money is better than none and there are people who have genuine head-in-sand phobias who are not trying to actively defraud the government and are reasonable people to work with.

This reminds me of the first three questions I asked of my husband before we met in person: do you brush your teeth regularly, do you pay your taxes, and are you a serial killer? My biggest concern was #2.
posted by tafetta, darling! at 8:46 PM on August 27, 2018 [4 favorites]

As others have said you can’t have a financial life without knowing if there is a huge tax lien sitting over your heads. The rest of your plan is meaningless if the IRS decides to drop the hammer — and if there is going to be a problem it is much better have it on your schedule rather than as a surprise.

On a less dire note, when budgeting I’ve always found it useful if the last step is saving. The reason is that as incomes grow you can keep the budget untouched. Basically,

— I keep my checking account as spending money for whatever is left over.

should become

— I keep my checking account as the money budgeted for discretionary spending and any overage goes to savings.

From your description it sounds like you are in a very tricky situation. Good luck with it.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 10:09 PM on August 27, 2018 [1 favorite]

IANAL I once married someone who was financially irresponsible, but I did 1 smart thing - we went to a lawyer and talked about the financial structure of marriage. We had a financial agreement because we both had small businesses and he had debts that were in default. Find a lawyer who does divorces and pre-nuptual agreements, who can talk to you about how marriage, money, and divorce work in your state. Having the house in your name may not matter - the IRS can, and likely will, assume this was done to shelter funds. In a divorce, money earned during the marriage is marital property, money that is co-mingled is marital property, debts incurred are marital property. His prior debt might not be marital property.

You don't seem to have defined financial goals. I think they are critical. Discussing goals is a really useful exercise. My goal has always been long-term financial security, and now I have a house with no mortgage, which will make impending retirement a lot better. Your spouse has IRS problems; resolving this is a really good goal. Much as he may not want to pay any debts, it would be a great load off things to have it resolved. The cost of avoiding it may be substantial. I'd put together a budget that includes emergency funds, retirement savings, college funds, and a budget line for discretionary purchases. You should be able to pursue your goals, too, and a goal of enjoying life and having a bluetooth speaker is reasonable. You have had a goal of having a good credit score, and that has worked well.

His attitude towards money sounds like hoarding, and this can be an OCD (Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder) thing. Something to pay attention to. It is sometimes an accompaniment to anxiety. I'm very frugal, have some mild OCD, and had to teach myself that its okay to spend some money on pleasurable things. I don't go nuts, but I'm able to go out to a nice dinner and buy a pretty scarf.
posted by theora55 at 7:43 AM on August 30, 2018

In a divorce, money earned during the marriage is marital property, money that is co-mingled is marital property, debts incurred are marital property. His prior debt might not be marital property.

This depends on whether you live in a community property state. I do, and the above applied in my divorce, but you should consult a lawyer before assuming this will be true for you.
posted by AFABulous at 9:25 AM on September 1, 2018

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