Husband has credit card debt, won't talk about it. Help.
September 15, 2020 2:40 PM   Subscribe

I (F, 40s) have been married to my husband for five years. We have a young child and a joint mortgage, but even now I still can’t get him to be open with me about his personal finances; in particular he has a lot of feelings of shame about having credit card debt. I see this as a problem that we need to work through together, but he won’t even tell me how much credit card debt he has, which is worrying me a lot. I need advice on how to have this conversation with him.

We’re both in fairly good jobs (we earn roughly the same) and have a household income which should be more than enough to meet our needs and allow for saving. We each have a personal bank account as well as a joint account which we set up when we got married. We both pay money into the joint account which covers household bills such as utilities and childcare costs. Husband pays the mortgage but I buy all the food. All of this works fine and we’re happy with the split.

Husband has acknowledged that he has credit card debt but he won’t tell me how much. He’s never outright refused, but every time I ask he says he can’t remember offhand, promises to get the information, then never follows through. His whole demeanor changes when I try to talk to him about this: he gives one word answers and won’t make eye contact.

I don’t know for sure where his shame over spending comes from but it predates our relationship. My husband’s father was sick when he was growing up and died before we met, and if I had to guess I’d say that dealing with that difficult time left my husband with some bad habits around using consumption to comfort himself.

Husband and I have different approaches to money. I’m a saver, he’s a spender. We have similar incomes, but I have a monthly budget and am able to save regularly. I pay off my credit card in full every month and have always been quite good at saying ‘no’ or ‘wait’ to myself. I manage the joint bank account and do the household financial admin because I genuinely don’t mind doing it. If he let me, I’d be happy to help Husband work out a budget, set savings goals etc.

This week I came across a letter which he had left sitting on the kitchen counter which was a statement for an unsecured personal loan he took out two years ago which he hadn’t told me about. The amount shocked me. He said he took out the loan to pay off credit card debt but when I asked what his credit card debt is now, he didn’t answer. He’s promised to tell me this weekend but I know from past experience that he won’t unless I initiate the conversation.

So, I need to have this conversation with him in the next few days and I have to find a way to get him to talk to me, because it’s clear there’s a problem here, and we can’t start to address it until we acknowledge it. I’m very bad at conflict and I know I avoid it – husband is the same, so the risk is not so much that we’ll end up yelling at each other, but rather that husband will go quiet and I’ll allow myself to be fobbed off with another promise to deal with things later, and that simply cannot happen at this point.

The previous times I’ve attempted to get him to talk about this, I have tried pointing out that we are as financially entwined as it’s possible to be, given that we have a child and house together, and that our marriage is Team Us and we need to deal with things together. I’ve also tried saying that there’s no point in me saving money and getting next to no interest on it when it would be better spent paying down debt at a higher interest rate, which he agrees with, but I think truthfully he sees the idea of me using ‘my’ money to pay down ‘his’ debt as a failure on his part. I have not yet told him that this is damaging our marriage, but I think I’m going to have to, because it is.

My question therefore is: What specific techniques can I use in this conversation I’m going to have with my husband to get past his reluctance to talk about this?
posted by damsel with a dulcimer to Human Relations (32 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Ask him if he needs you to help pay the mortgage. Or if you both can just split all the expenses in half. Tell him you would feel better if the split was equal.
posted by gt2 at 2:56 PM on September 15, 2020 [1 favorite]

You might look into financial therapy. It could be helpful to have a 3rd party walk you through discussions together.
posted by mezzanayne at 2:59 PM on September 15, 2020 [18 favorites]

What specific techniques have been successful in getting him to open up to you in the past? I would start there.

I also think, based on how you describe your respective personalities and your feeling that this is damaging your marriage, that you need to schedule an appointment with a marriage counselor and/or reputable financial planner and address this issue with the guidance of a professional.

I'm not trying to be flip. I faced something very similar with my spouse early in our marriage. However what worked for us - me being very blunt - will not work if both of you are the type that are very bad at or afraid of conflict.
posted by theBigRedKittyPurrs at 2:59 PM on September 15, 2020 [3 favorites]

Ooof. Major red flags all over here. The fact that he does not want to disclose his credit debt is bad enough but then finding that he had an unsecured personal loan that he never told you about? I would be very very worried.

I don't know that you are going to be able to get him to talk about this. He has already shown you that he is unwilling to discuss the subject and further prodding could get him to clam up even more.

Have you tried pointing out that your credit score is tied to his and his sinking boat may very well bring down both of you? You will have a hard time getting credit on your own and joint credit may be hard to come by as well.

I would do a few things:
1) check your credit report and confirm that he has not opened anything under your SSN. Do the same for your children's SSNs. If he is opening unsecured lines of credit in his own name without telling you, it is not out of the realm of possibility that he is doing this with theirs or yours.
2) tell him that you need to know exactly the financial mess that he is in. No shaming, no yelling, just telling him that YOU NEED TO KNOW.
3) if he still refuses to come clean, this would be a deal breaker for me. If this were my spouse, I would in no uncertain terms tell them that his lack of being truthful - not the debt - is a bridge too far and very good sign that divorce is in the future.
posted by tafetta, darling! at 3:03 PM on September 15, 2020 [53 favorites]

Best answer: I've had some vaguely similar issues with my spouse, culminating in me going through every single piece of paper while laid off and completely freaking out, followed by getting almost debt-free (our mortgage will be done in about 2 yrs.)

All that really helped was standing in my truth, over. and. over. and. over. It wasn't just one conversation. It was a monthly bills conversation, and charts of short and long-term goals, and a lot, a lot of discussion. In our case we don't have separate accounts, or shouldn't, but my spouse had a credit card 'on the side' that I knew about, but couldn't access information about.

My truth was:

We're a team, and we're tied together financially.
I love you.
This completely stresses me out.
I need to know what is actually going on.
I need transparency to feel secure, happy, and loved.
We're in this together.
You need to sort out your spending, what would help?
The stress of not sharing this is also on you.
What kind of marriage do you want to have? Two solitudes, or partnership?
What would you want our child's spouse to do in a similar situation?

Honestly, once I knew what was going on (in his case about $2k of debt had taken on a life of its own), things got so much better. I will hope for that for you too.
posted by warriorqueen at 3:06 PM on September 15, 2020 [34 favorites]

Adding to tafetta, darling!'s very good points:

Freeze your credit at all credit bureaux right after you check your reports from them. If there are any joint credit accounts, such as credit cards or HELOCs, close them. Keep a very close eye on that joint checking account from here on.

This isn't sufficient by any means, but it is necessary to protect yourself.
posted by humbug at 3:11 PM on September 15, 2020 [19 favorites]

I grew up with a dad who was (and still is) like this, and I have several very close friends who are married to men who do exactly the same thing.

In my dad's case, he is simply happy-go-lucky, forgetful, and severely challenged in executive functioning - no bad intentions, just extremely ADHD-brained, combined with an inability to respect my mother due to his ingrained sexism. My parents have been going at this issue for 40+ years.

In the cases of three of my friends, their husbands have a compulsive magnanimity issue -- they give extravagant gifts and/or never say no to family who ask for money. No matter how many times they "get caught", no matter how many "come to Jesus" moments they have (one of these couples actually went through bankruptcy five years ago), they can't kick the habit of being The Generous One in their circle of friends and family. Of these three couples, two are divorced, and the couple that went through bankruptcy is still married... though only barely.

As for my fourth friend, her case is an outlier, in that the money was disappearing because her husband had a whole other family in a neighboring state and, yeah, they're divorced.

What all these folks have in common is that the women all tried for DECADES to get the guy to open up finances. Out of the five couples I have mentioned here, three went to couples' counseling to work on this issue of the husband being secretive about his money issues, and the other two still made incredible efforts to correcting this issue. All five couples have been spectacularly unsuccessful: none of these men even admit they have an issue.

What this says to me is that there is no hope unless your husband sees this as his own problem and his issue to solve. Your bottomline is whether he is capable of it.... and whether you are okay with the worst case scenario that he isn't, and therefore this issue will never ever ever be fixed. Can you live your life with the threat of his runaway debt hanging over your life?

Legally, his debt is your debt. If you get divorced today, your savings would be half his, and his debt would be half yours. You are in a spectacularly unsafe situation if you have no idea what he's doing with his money. You could be bankrupt today. Tomorrow. This is quite literally an abusive marriage, based purely on this alone. Financial ruin is no joke.

Please take care, and take this seriously. For your part, YOU need to just take over for a day, ask him for every login and every password to every account, and get an idea for yourself as to what the financial picture is. From there, once you know whether you're dealing with a $5,000 debt or a $50,000 debt or a $500,000 debt, you can move on.

The second thing to find out is probably what is he spending on? Because a gambling problem or a second family in another state is a whole different class of issue compared to wiring thousands of dollars to his sister for her family vacation... and that's a whole different class of issues compared to ADHD-style scatterbrained-ness where his debt has built up because he forgot to make any payments for months.

If you find it's ADHD or then perhaps you put all his (and your!) accounts into Mint and keep an eye on your finances that way. It's a simple fix. Everything else is ... something he would need to get therapy for, at minimum, or better yet a financial coach. You should not be the one to make him get his finances in order, because it really does damage your relationship and you will have a much lower chance of succeeding at making him take responsibility. An unconnected third party will result in much less emotional baggage and thus a higher chance of success.

If he refuses and doesn't want to take responsibility at all, then please please please leave. You are not safe.
posted by MiraK at 3:11 PM on September 15, 2020 [55 favorites]

I would reach out to a counsellor for yourself and then also a couples counsellor. I am concerned there could be red flags for abuse, including financial abuse. Legally, you may be on the hook for the loan he took out or for debt he's incurring during the marriage. I think going to a counsellor for youself first, someone with experience in domestic violence, is a meaningful way to hold space for yourself and feelings and make sure you have safety plans before you engage in marriage therapy.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 3:13 PM on September 15, 2020 [5 favorites]

I've been in your situation and I completely sympathise. I was never able to get a straight answer from my (now ex-) husband about where the money was going. In our case, it wasn't credit card debt, but cash withdrawals from our savings, without my knowledge.

If there's no evidence to show what your husband's spending this money on (e.g. cars, electronics, jewellery, etc.), I think tougher questions need to be asked than how much has been spent. (In my case, my ex-husband had a drug habit he was able to hide for years due to our working hours keeping us both out of the house at different times of the day.)

As tafetta, darling! says above, the issue isn't the money, it's the lack of honesty.
posted by essexjan at 3:14 PM on September 15, 2020 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Maybe you can say something like, "I want to talk about the credit card debt tonight after dinner. I know we keep putting it off, but I don't want to do that anymore. Can you bring a recent statement that I can look at and we can talk around 7? Great, thanks." In other words, tell him the conversation will happen, set a deadline and tell him what precisely you need from him.

I'd also write down a list of questions or goals for that conversation, and then when you sit down, say something like "I made some notes about things I wanted to ask about, so I might refer to my list" if that will help give you a way to pivot/redirect/circle back when it starts to get hard.

I'd also pull those credit reports and, if they contain anything concerning, print them out and have them when you talk to him.

And, yes, be very clear that this is affecting the health of your marriage, and evasion or silence on his part is no longer acceptable and will elicit a response from you going forward.

I hope you two can find a way to get on the same page. If after talking, you think he's open to fixing things, it's probably time to talk about him starting some kind of individual therapy -- like, this should be a minimum requirement in a best-case scenario for whatever happens next. Even if you come up with a plan for erasing the debt and he complies, he's got his reasons for having done all this, and those deserve some exploration with a professional.
posted by katieinshoes at 3:20 PM on September 15, 2020 [19 favorites]

Therapy therapy therapy. If he won't go with you, go yourself and see if he'll go by himself. You could be responsible for so much debt he is making right now. He might have old issues around this, but I suspect he's not telling you because he is still spending quite inappropriately and doesn't want you to know. This is very bad, and I don't think you should hesitate at all to tell him this is a serious issue. He needs to come clean, immediately, and share all accounts and passwords. No hiding anything. You need to see his and your own credit report asap.

If he won't go to therapy, then another way some couples I know have approached this: one person becomes the manager of all the money, and the other person has an "allowance" in cash or a debit card where you can't spend past a certain small balance. No credit cards unless it's a small credit limit that can't be overspent. This might feel terrible for him or it might be a complete relief once he gets past the shame of having to tell you all this.

I'm guessing he thought he could take care of this without telling you how bad it was. I worry, for you, that he's going to get in deeper and deeper if you don't force the issue. (Like, my guess is that he got that "personal loan" to pay off the credit card debt but then did not pay off the credit card debt and used it for something else. I would encourage you to start thinking about where the money is going.)

While I think folks above have great suggestions on how to approach this conversation, I doubt that there are any magic techniques that will make him open up. This is a really big deal. Get your credit report and get into therapy yourself if not both of you as a start.
posted by bluedaisy at 3:28 PM on September 15, 2020 [4 favorites]

Depending on the state you live in (assuming US), his debt may legally be your debt, regardless of how you guys split up day-to-day expenses.Would he be open to discussing it in those terms?
posted by basalganglia at 3:46 PM on September 15, 2020 [4 favorites]

Agreed with what everyone else says. Set a time and place for the conversation and make it happen. Depending on the state you're in (community property states) you could be responsible for any debt he incurs while you're married. A lot of people have shame around finances (myself included, sometimes), but bringing debt into a relationship is completely different than incurring new debt while in the relationship.

You both need to have an open discussion about it, but I think you also need to be prepared for the worst. A negative reaction to a *shocking* amount of debt is going to cause him to hide future spending.

If he's continuing to incur debt, you really need to know what he's spending his money on if it's not obvious. Financial shame could be a proxy for other shame.
posted by mikesch at 3:47 PM on September 15, 2020 [3 favorites]

I like how katieinshoes laid out the ask you'll make of him. Set a time, date and expectation. I think your first conversation should be strictly fact-gathering. That seems like enough of a challenge. With the amount of shame and avoidance you describe, talking solutions will probably completely overwhelm him. It also could be that he geniunely doesn't know how much debt he has, because he avoids it, just like he avoids talking to you about it. A good first step might to run his free credit report together--that will tell you his credit score as well as all the places he has accounts. Then you can work together to log in to them online and see what's what.

I also second the idea of financial therapy--a huge component of dealing with money is emotional for a lot of people. Advice that leaves that element out is unrealistic imo. So helping him set up a budget isn't necessarily going to help if there are overwhelming feelings he isn't dealing with.
posted by purple_bird at 3:56 PM on September 15, 2020 [8 favorites]

He’s never outright refused, but every time I ask he says he can’t remember offhand, promises to get the information, then never follows through.

For now I want to assume all the best of him: that this is indeed old debt he's ashamed of and the personal loan sounded like a good idea to him in that context. If that's truly the case, and he just can't bring himself to even log into the accounts and print off some statements, would he be willing to give you permission to pull his credit reports? They may be very confusing to look at at first if you've never handled them before, but if you get all three big ones (and be sure you're going through the real sites linked from a .gov one if you're in the US -- you should never have to a credit card number unless he's somehow already used up his free reports this year, which seems unlikely), then you would at least know what everything is. If it were me in his place, letting the bureaus dump all that information out to you would genuinely help me move past the awful step of disclosing the extent of the problem, and get on to planning a solution together.
posted by teremala at 4:49 PM on September 15, 2020 [10 favorites]

Seconding katieinshoe's suggestion upthread. Set a time to discuss it and stick to it, make it clear that discussing this is important to you.

I've had to deal with communication issues with finances myself, and as a conflict-avoidant person this is the only method I've found that works. In my case it's more due to a better half that's a bit scatterbrained on money issues, but it took me a few years to figure that one out. We got around it by maintaining seperate finances (for reasons I won't go into here) but I keep tabs on bills/balances and handle all the financial planning.

I think others have already said it, but the big red flag here to me is definitely the hiding/avoidant behavior. Maybe there's some element of shame at play? Money is a loaded topic for a lot of people. If confrontation doesn't work, then I think a neutral third party (maybe a fee-only financial advisor?) would be my next step.
posted by photo guy at 5:15 PM on September 15, 2020 [1 favorite]

Also wanting to assume the best of him:
-Did he always make a similar income to what he makes now?
-Did he go through long periods of under-earning and lacked the liquidity needed to deal with big-ticket non-fun life stuff (e.g. car purchases, moving expenses)?
-Did he have more student debt to begin with than you had?
-If these are older debts and he's had some history of income instability, is it possible that he's struggling to make a dent on his balances because he's been paying balance protection premiums this whole time?
-Again re: balance protection, does it appear that he's continuing to incur debt only because he's being charged balance protection premiums?

I'm just slightly concerned that you're assuming that people end up with consumer debt mostly due to wanting nice things. If that's at all the case, his shame and hesitation to discuss this with you might have to do with him picking up on those assumptions.

Even if all of that is the case, he owes it to you to be open about his financial situation, especially if you live in a community property state.
posted by blerghamot at 5:27 PM on September 15, 2020 [4 favorites]

Some shame about debt, especially credit card debt, is normal, but the way you describe it makes me wonder, as others have suggested, if there is something more that he is truly ashamed of. I think the first step has to be pulling credit reports for you and any dependents. Just in case. Then he will have to help you get his report. This is all free if you go to the annual credit report government site. Probably it's nothing catastrophic and it's ordinary (if very expensive) debt. But honestly, you have no idea what you're dealing with. Could be nothing, could be something, could be something very bad, there is no way to tell.

Walk through exactly what you'll say, out loud, and try to anticipate his reactions and be ready so you're not dissauded or unduly agitated by a curveball. Deep breaths, it only takes 10 minutes to get a credit report and then you have some actual information to decide your next steps.
posted by wnissen at 5:42 PM on September 15, 2020

Also, who is filing the taxes? Are you filing jointly? I hope it's you.
posted by wnissen at 5:44 PM on September 15, 2020 [2 favorites]

Do you not know his social security number? Try to access a free credit report for him. Also get one for yourself and your kid, and put a freeze on your credit and the kids.

I would also do a lien search on your house and see what loans may be out there.
You got a mortgage, for which I presume he submitted documents? Go through those papers for clues into what accounts he has.
Start a notebook where you write down every account number you see.

I would not ask him anything until you get this information. Do not feel bad about it either. Women ignore a lot of things because they are afraid men will accuse them of being nags or whatever. Well, don't nag. Get your ducks in a row before you ask questions.

Seriously, this is not a collaborative process. He took a personal loan without telling you, remember? And was it 3k or 50k? One is a dining room table, one is a lost college fund. Would you feel motivated to act if he stole from your kids college fund? Right now all you have are worst case scenarios.

You are parents and part of that is not fucking up too royally. You have to be the parent here. Get the info. Don't ask permission.
posted by perdhapley at 6:07 PM on September 15, 2020 [18 favorites]

Huge red flags here. It’s not your responsibility to figure out to learn “technique” for your adult male husband to be honest about debt that you are very likely responsible for. He’s not a child. As someone mentioned, set a date and time and tell him you expect him to have the paperwork/passwords available. End of story. You don’t need to scream this or cry, but you also don’t need to coddle an adult male’s fragile ego. He is putting you and your family at major risk here.

You should also figure out before the conversation what you will do if he will NOT divulge that info, and stick to that. Do you demand couples therapy? Do you consult with an attorney? Pick whatever is best for you right now, but there has to be some consequence for him refusing to work with you. Right now there is zero consequence since you two have done this constant dance of deny and avoid. But that’s not working, and you’ve got to be the one to change the pattern because he certainly won’t.

I also want to point out how alarming it is that he took out what sounds like a large personal loan and STILL has credit card debt. Where did the money from the personal loan go??
posted by namemeansgazelle at 6:27 PM on September 15, 2020 [7 favorites]

When I finished college with around $10,000 of debt, I ran up around $20,000 of additional credit card debt in my first few years out of school. I was in a serious relationship at the time, and we were headed towards getting married. I grew up in a poor family that rarely talked about money, and her father was a doctor and they paid for her entire college experience. We were coming at money from two different universes. I carried a lot of shame about this debt.

When we started living together, we set up a monthly budget for our shared expenses and contributed to those in proportion to our incomes, and the rest of our paychecks were our money to do with as we pleased. I let her know that I had debt I was paying down, but I had a hard time talking about how much. What I could do, was tell her that I had this debt and I was putting myself on a payment plan to work my way out of it with my money that was my leftovers. I also was able to commit to setting myself a small cash budget for fun things, and not using credit cards unless it was those things like travel that required using a card. I did some other things like zero percent balance transfers and the like to get things paid off without drowning in interest. When we got married, I still had some debt, but I was chipping away at it. Eventually, I paid it all off and we are still married to this day, 18 years later.

So I guess what I'm telling you is that it can work. And that there may be things short of having to reveal it all. I know that it's hard for you not to know, but if he can't get there right now, think about if there are other things you can have him commit to.
posted by advicepig at 7:02 PM on September 15, 2020 [6 favorites]

If there are any joint credit accounts, such as credit cards or HELOCs, close them

Please do not make any moves like closing accounts before you speak to a financial advisor. Closing accounts changes your credit utilization rate, which can drop your credit score significantly overnight . Not an additional challenge that you need. change the passwords and pins and ensure they’re one accessible, but do not close anything before you have the full picture and good advice.
posted by Miko at 8:02 PM on September 15, 2020 [8 favorites]

I have a very different perspective on this than most of the responses above. My spouse and I have an agreed-upon standardized split of common expenses that feels equitable per our incomes (he sends me cash for half of the mortgage, I pay most of the utilities, he buys the food, etc.) But outside of these obligations, we consider our ordinary individual spending, bank account balances, savings amounts, and credit card debt to be pretty much totally none of each other's business.

This works for us. I realize that we are a little unusual to both happen to have similar quirky views about money within a marriage, but we both have a really strong anti-authoritarian streak that translates into wanting privacy about what we choose do with our money. I know that I have run up some credit card debt at times and subsequently paid it off. I have an inkling that he has run up some credit card debt at times. We both trust that if either of us were REALLY in serious trouble enough that it was important for the other to know, we'd say something. Otherwise, we don't owe anyone an explanation for nothin'.

I don't think that your concerns about your husband's debt are unfounded or controlling or anything, I'm not suggesting that. I just wanted to put forth the idea that you might consider other perspectives about how to negotiate your husbands' reluctance to share THE NUMBER of his debt amount. From what you've said, he clearly feels defensive about it -- maybe it's shame as you suggest, maybe it's a need to feel unfettered autonomy, maybe it's something else...maybe also there's a middle ground compromise where you can talk about money in a way that is comfortable for both of you? Maybe some friendly marriage counseling rather than financial counseling is the answer.
posted by desuetude at 11:55 PM on September 15, 2020 [2 favorites]

However anyone may FEEL about money within a marriage, the law does not care. I just want to reiterate that depending on the jurisdiction, your spouse's money may VERY MUCH be your business, whether you want it to be or not. More to the point, your spouse's DEBT may be YOUR DEBT, regardless of how you or your spouse feel it ought to be.

OP, I think you know this already, but just wanted to echo that your concerns are more than valid, and that you have already given your husband more than enough time and space to work his money issues out on his own. Given the recency of the secret loan, and the fact that he is still being evasive about his debt, it seems fair to assume that he still doesn't have this problem under control. He has given you absolutely nothing to warrant any confidence in his ability to handle this, and the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior.

Basically, he had his chance (and it sounds like chances upon chances) to insist "none of your business" and demonstrate the feasibility of keeping finances separate. He blew it. His secret loan of a shocking amount also showed that you can't trust him to say anything, ever. I'm sorry, but once a person puts his partner's credit, savings, and retirement at risk, and his entire family's financial future at risk, they forfeit any and all rights to privacy over their personal financial matters. If that is really his issue, he needs to understand and accept that upon marrying you, it is not and has never been a problem that is solely his business.

If your husband refuses to acknowledge the real danger he has brought upon you and your child, I think you need to have plans B, C, D lined up.

* Will he go to counseling, both relationship and financial? Because this is not just one bad decision in isolation. He has been actively undermining your efforts to build a secure life for your family, and he has been deliberately dishonest with you. And it was not once or twice, it is a failure that he has been compounding for perhaps his entire adult life, and a dynamic of evasion and omission that has been ingrained in your relationship possibly from day one. That's not going to resolve itself anytime soon.

* Given his habit of fobbing you off, beware that he may promise to attend counseling as another tactic of delay. Suddenly he can't find the time. Or he doesn't like this counselor or that one. Also, counseling is not just showing up at a scheduled appointment however many times a week - it entails hard work outside of the sessions, and you will have to rely on him to actually do it.

* Decide how YOU want the finances handled going forward. Your husband doesn't get a say anymore, and that's not being unkind to him. If he still believes he is owed any sort of autonomy in this matter, then he has not truly admitted to his problem. If you want control over all the money and accounts, he has to be willing to give it over. And you will probably need to implement regular audits to ensure he isn't taking out any other secret loans or opening other accounts without your knowledge. At least for several years, if not the rest of your married life.

* If you want him to manage his own accounts and learn to be responsible, then you will need to make several more decisions - how will you maintain full oversight? What are the KPIs in order to measure his progress, as this is vanishingly unlikely to be fixed overnight? How long does he have to get his act together? What and where is the line that, if crossed again, means you either take over full control, or you're done with the marriage?

* IF your husband refuses counseling, or resists the advice he is given, or fails to make any progress, how will you start protecting yourself and your child RIGHT NOW? Because none of the above is guaranteed, those balls are entirely in your husband's court. What will YOU do right now, in case he does nothing? Or in case his shame is so deep, or he is hiding something so terrible that he will go to extreme measures to keep it from seeing the light of day, what will you do to preserve yourself? I would strongly recommend booking consultations with a handful of family lawyers asap, and choose one to have on retainer. I also second the recommendation to see a counselor on your own, someone experienced in women's issues and domestic abuse/violence.

* Start making an escape plan right now. Everything from where you will go and who will you stay with, to how you can start putting savings in trust for your child where your husband and any potential creditors can't touch it. Pack a small suitcase or duffel bag with some clothes for you and your child and copies of essential documents, such as passports, SIN cards, your driver's license, etc.

I know all of this may sound very alarmist, but I am completely over the notion of "innocent bumbling man who knows not what he does." If 2020 has taught us anything, it's that a great many men do know exactly what they are doing and the bumbling is just an alibi to deny culpability.
posted by keep it under cover at 2:52 AM on September 16, 2020 [25 favorites]

"This week I came across a letter which he had left sitting on the kitchen counter which was a statement for an unsecured personal loan he took out two years ago which he hadn’t told me about. The amount shocked me. He said he took out the loan to pay off credit card debt but when I asked what his credit card debt is now, he didn’t answer. He’s promised to tell me this weekend but I know from past experience that he won’t unless I initiate the conversation."

He is lying to you about money and will continue doing so. You cannot trust what he says even if you can get him to talk about it with you. I honestly wouldn't bother with counseling in this situation, it's a way for him to delay and make excuses and it's another expense.

I once was in this situation with a partner and actually pulled a copy of his credit report to see what was really going on. That relationship is now over - he never was able to be transparent with me about money, but he had no problem letting me cover all our living expenses when he was out of work. This is divorce material for sure, so contingency plan as if that could be the outcome, talk to a lawyer or a few, etc. If you own a joint mortgage, are married, file taxes together, have joint credit or accounts, he could very easily destroy you financially without your knowledge and put you and your child at risk of problems in the future.

And yes, change online account passwords/pins, and check your own credit report to make sure he didn't open any cards or accounts in your name you don't know about. He could be intercepting the mail to prevent you from finding out about it or having everything go to his email and phone.
posted by zdravo at 7:03 AM on September 16, 2020 [2 favorites]

He’s never outright refused, but every time I ask he says he can’t remember offhand, promises to get the information, then never follows through.

This strikes me as bullshit. This isn't olden times where he'd need to figure out where he put his last statement. Sit him down and log onto all his accounts. If he doesn't remember his passwords, reset them. This information is trivially easy to get, if he wants to get it.
posted by Mavri at 7:28 AM on September 16, 2020 [9 favorites]

As an addendum to MiraK's post, there are instances where his debt would not be half yours, and your savings would not be half his. But that will probably be the default/starting point, and it takes money - a lot of money - and time to get a court to rule otherwise.
posted by sillysally at 8:12 AM on September 16, 2020

First of all, let me share with you that I have terrible financial habits and have been in a marriage where there wasn't a lot of sharing about anything. My then-spouse was a saver, and I was a spender, and I felt ashamed all the damn time, not because of what either of us were doing or not doing, but because I had a really hard time controlling my habits and just felt like I should be able to do it. I tried many different methods of dealing with it, including personal loans, because I didn't know what to do, he wasn't interested in working with me to solve it, and we didn't share finances so there was truly no extra money with which to make a plan.

Now, I got in a hole deeper than I needed to be because of my anxiety around money, but I loved my spouse and kid, and I was trying in my own way, and I definitely wasn't hiding secret second families, gambling habits, opening up credit in my kid's name, etc. So, you know, it might be something Really Bad or it might be just a lot of anxiety, shame, guilt, or fear surrounding money. Full disclosure: I am no longer married to that person for a wide variety of reasons including financial abuse. The good news is that I was very much a big part of the problem, and when I left the marriage 2 years ago I had 5 figures of consumer debt, but am currently halfway through a debt management plan that will have me to true, actual debt zero in the next 2 years. I'm still a spender, but my relationship to spending is very different now than it was.

My best advice is to just not let the conversation be deferred. Have him open all of the accounts on the computer right then. Be supportive, if that's how you feel; be loving, if that's how you feel; but do not be deterred. My mantra when I was going through the divorce and doing the very difficult reckoning of my financial life on paper was that I couldn't deal with it until I knew what it was.

Also--10/10 recommend financial counseling and a debt management plan. I am working with Greenpath and I'm really happy but I do know there are others. I am paying exactly what I was paying when I was doing the minimum payment on each card each month, but they negotiated my interest rates WAY down, told me if it made sense for me to keep individual things outside of their plan, and manage my payments to really maximize the money I'm able to allocate way better than I could. The other important note is that my credit score is excellent, and has never really gone below a 'good' rating, even right after the DMP forced me to close all of my cards. So dealing with it isn't the kiss of death for your joint finances.

And, and, if it gets to this point: yes, your financial lives are tied together but it's important to know that his debt isn't necessarily your debt, unless your name is also attached to the debt. When I was divorced, I was left with all of the consumer debt because all of the cards (including ones where he had a card issued to him and actively used it) were opened in my name, with my SSN. So you could be impacted if you want to do a 50/50 split of assets and liabilities, because then you'd have to give up something to offset the debt. (I was awarded extra assets because I took on the debt). BUT my understanding (based on my specific case/IANAL/IANYL) is that if the debt either predates the marriage or is contested, then that's something that can be worked out either between lawyers or in court with a judge. Plus, we didn't even discuss cards and loans that were in each of our individual names that predated the marriage--those were just assigned to the person of origin off the top.

Making a decision to tackle my debt was easily more overwhelming than deciding to end my marriage (and they are tied together because for me they happened at the same time) but it has been such a relief to not have to worry anymore, to not have to struggle anymore, and to know that I'm building the life I want. You guys can totally do this, together or separate, as long as you can agree to start.
posted by cheese at 10:52 AM on September 16, 2020 [7 favorites]

My ex having a "secret" credit card "for work" was the red flag that he was cheating.

I don't know what's going on here, but that personal loan? Could be hiding anything at all.

My advice is to protect yours and any children's credit. Pull credit reports on your SSN and your kids' right now. Hell, I'm an asshole, I would pull your spouse's credit also, but you do what you think is right.

Then it's confrontation time. Loving confrontation, but confrontation none the less. If you think you can't do it, then therapist time.

Good luck.
posted by Medieval Maven at 1:56 PM on September 16, 2020 [4 favorites]

Prep for the conversation:
Pull your credit reports and your child's credit report and put a freeze on them so he can't open accounts in your names. It may be less than legal to pull his credit reports without his permission. Try to keep clean hands, no matter how desperate you are for the information. (You might have trouble doing it anyway because you need to answer questions about his accounts to pass the screening to get it online. To get the reports by mail you need his signature, and have to certify that you are requesting your own report.)

During the conversation:
You could start your conversation by asking him to list his credit card and other debt, the approximate amounts, and how much he pays on each per month. Ask him when he opened the newest credit card or loan. Ask him if any of the debt is past due or in collections. Ask to see all the statements that he has in the house. (Nothing stops you from going looking for them before this conversation.) Stress that you need this information immediately for the financial safety and future of your child and family. The answers above give a good script for why his hiding debt and taking out more and more debt is dangerous for you, your child, and the three of you as a family. Don't sound angry or judgmental, or even ask him why he screwed you over in this way, or demand that he go to therapy. Don't bother asking what he spent the money on. In this conversation, stick to your goal of getting the debt information. Save the rest for future conversations.

He will likely hem and haw and delay, as before. So ask that he go online right then in front of you and request his credit reports ( He can scam out of this by making the online request, then answering all the account questions wrong so the request is denied. So have a printed copy of the request forms for Transunion, Equifax and Experian for him to sign to request his reports by mail. Get him to write down and sign that he agrees to allow you to open that mail and look at the reports.

Get him to agree to put a freeze on his credit reports so that he cannot open any more accounts. Have him do it right there in front of you. Get him to agree to allow you to change the password to the freeze so that he can't lift it and apply for more cards. Again, get him to write down and sign that he is agreeing to this. Change the password immediately, and make sure he can't get it.

After the conversation:
Don't take his word for how much debt he has. When you get the accounts from the credit report, get the actual statements for each account from the date it was opened. You need to find out how he spent the money. The statements will tell you that unless it is all cash advances. To get the statements he will have to call the creditor (again, in front of you) and request them. Make him write down that he agrees to allow you to open the mail from the credit card companies and examine and copy the contents.

Carefully examine the credit reports for all three of you for addresses that are unknown to you. Do the same with the credit card statements. Does he have a separate mailbox? A separate family? Credit report addresses are clues.

If he refuses to cooperate:
Go see an attorney or two or three to see what your options are. Don't tell him you are doing this. Perhaps if you request a legal separation he will be moved to disclose his debt. I suggest seeing an attorney anyway to find out if in your state, you are responsible for his debt if you divorce.

I feel for you. This is a bad situation. Best of luck in ripping off that bandaid now so you can see the scope of the financial wound.
posted by KayQuestions at 12:36 AM on September 17, 2020 [7 favorites]

The answers above might comprise the single most helpful page I've ever seen on MF, so I won't add any substantive advice that would duplicate those. I'll just speak from a couple of personal aspects.

1. This is bad for the long term. My parents are in their 80s, and my dad is still doing this to my mom.

2. Intervening doggedly & accurately now is going to be difficult, but letting the avoidance go on is going to be very costly, in money, legal & health consequences, and effects on the kid(s). I grew up as both the child of an alcoholic and a credit-card-binger/hider, and I struggle in lots of ways related to those even into my 50s.

3. Financial therapy is a great idea (if he's willing, of course). My now-ex and I did that before we got married, since we recognized that we'd each come from different kinds of money-dysfunctional backgrounds, and we wanted to get (kinda) ahead of it. The marriage fell apart for other reasons, but our pre-nup and divorce financial agreements were hellaciously good anchors in the midst of the other chaos. A financial therapist will be able to point out and maybe cut through the behavioral BS and keep things constructive, without the "talk numbers later" dodge that might be tempting with a non-financial therapist. Not that straight couples therapy won't be useful (it was to us, too).

4. You deserve answers, and you and your child deserve to live better than this. Coming here is a great step. Sincerely, good luck.
posted by NumberSix at 5:22 PM on September 17, 2020 [4 favorites]

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