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Money secrets: Should you keep a secret bank account?

A person inserting a Visa Premier credit card in an ATM.

When someone leans in to tell me their money secret, it usually goes like this: "I don’t want him telling me what I can and can’t buy.” Or, “She doesn’t know a thing about our finances—and I like it that way.” Rarely, someone will throw in, “It’s not his responsibility—I don’t want to bother him with it.”

There's a common thread here. Money secrets aren’t about money at all. Keeping a loved one in willful ignorance about your finances is about control and the need to feel autonomous.

That stinks! And it certainly doesn’t bode well for any relationship to use money as a device for control. Yes, you want to be able to buy those albums on iTunes and not have to check in with your tightwad spouse or partner. You want to be able to hold onto your fat investment portfolio and not be seen as Queen Money Bags by your future less-wealthy spouse.  (Psst, pre-nup.)

How can you feel in control yet get rid of the relationship rot of money secrets?  Forget going NSA on each other.  Instead, talk often about your joint financial goals—beyond the household bills.  What are you saving for?  Do you agree and know how much you need to save and why?  To keep your autonomy (Lord only knows we all want to be treated like grown-ups), set a rule that after household bills are paid and savings goals are met, you each get to put money into your own account to spend as you’d like.  To make the worrywart in your family relax, set a limit on monthly discretionary spending—say, $100—and anything below that limit is fair game to fly solo.  Anything above, you’ll check in with each other.

As for keeping a spouse or partner in the dark about investments or debts, what would happen if something happens to you?  How would that surprise go over?  Would you want your partner to keep you in the dark? No one likes that kind of surprise. 

Money secrets have a big, bad way of getting found out.  Ask yourself truthfully why you’re keeping one.  Your answer says a lot more about you and your relationship than about your money.

About the author

Carmen Wong Ulrich is the former host of Marketplace Money, APM’s weekend personal finance program.
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In the "your money" section of the show. you mentioned a good blueprint for correcting errors on your credit report can be found at consumer.ftc.gov. I tried and got an error message, "This is the Consumer.FTC Failover Test Page". do you have another suggestion?

New topic. I thought over time I would get used to the new web page design. I understand that it is supposed to be more "tablet friendly" to use "tiles". It is not. Making the icon in the shape of a tile is not an improvement. I'm not sure opening 4 windows to do what I used to do on one is an improvement. And it is really hard to find the full rundown for any show to post a comment next to the correct story.

I know there are always some in the office saying, "If we can change it, we are making it better." Not all change is for the better. Sometimes change is just change.

I miss Tess, but Carmen turned in a good show. I think I could get used to her.

I think that both parties in a marriage should be able have their own "account". No a secret account. There should be a joint account for bills, large purchases and so on but a separate account for each person also. It would be "the best scenario" if both parties can agree on how much to put into the joint account. Not easy. Wouldn't it be nice to buy your spouse a gift without the other knowing the amount amount?

Since I am now divorced, I think about money differently. I would have liked to have done this with my ex spouse and had my "own" money to use. I was not working for 7 years of our marriage as a stay at home Mom. The account would have made me feel less constricted about spending in the joint account.

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