Brits hiding cash -- and debt -- from partners


Hiding a pile of debt or a stash of cash from your partner? You're not alone. According to a recent survey from The Co-Operative Bank, billions of pounds in debts and assets alike are being kept secret throughout the UK.

£41 billion in secret debt
Three-fifths (62%) of people in relationships have debts in the form of credit cards, bank overdrafts, personal loans and mortgages, The Co-Operative Bank found. While this in itself is not surprising, the fact that 13% of those surveyed said they conceal their debts from their partner is. The bank estimates that these hidden debts total about £41 billion. couple-argument

In addition to hiding debt, Brits are also keeping their partners in the dark about the money they have stowed away. An estimated £23 billion is currently squirrelled away, according to the survey, with the average person who has a secret account hiding about £9,500 from their partner.

Women, younger couples more likely to have large debts
While both sexes are guilty of having sizeable debts (£17,000 on average), the survey found that women tend to be worse off. The average male respondent said he owed £14,228, while females typically had £22,418 worth of debt. The problem is also more apparent among young people, with under-35s carrying three times more debt, on average, than their older counterparts.

Younger people might also find it easier to hide debts from their significant others, as they're far less likely to hold joint accounts. While nearly half of 55- to 64-year-olds have joint accounts with their partners, just 27% of couples aged 25 to 34 do. While keeping separate finances can have its advantages, it makes it more difficult for couples to keep tabs on each other -- and easier for secret debts to pile up unnoticed.

Hidden debts a concern
James Hillon, head of home and family at The Co-operative Bank urged people to be open with their partners about their finances.

"As the old adage goes, a problem shared is a problem halved and being honest with your loved ones about debt is always preferable to being caught out in the long run," he said in a statement.

Christina Blacklaws, director of family law at The Co-operative Legal Services, pointed out that hidden debt can be particularly problematic if a relationship breaks down, or when one of the spouses dies. Although  a surviving spouse can't inherit debt (secret or otherwise) from a deceased spouse, that debt may be deducted from the estate, leaving the survivor with less to live on than expected.

See related: 3 signs your relationship is headed for financial trouble, 4 steps for fighting debt denial

Published: 7 September 2012