Dealing with Secret Credit Card Debt

by Gary Foreman

Dealing with Secret Credit Card Debt photo

You’ve accumulated hundreds in credit card debt that your spouse doesn’t know about. Now what? How can you get out from under it without hurting your marriage?

Gary,
I’m in real trouble. A few years ago, I got a credit card my husband didn’t know about. I managed to run up a balance of over $8,000 without telling him. At first, it was only a few dollars and I planned to pay it off. So, I didn’t say anything. But it kept growing. Now I’m afraid that telling him could ruin our marriage. What should I do about dealing with my secret credit card debt?
Lynette

Wow! That’s a tough one. Not only are you dealing with how to get out of credit card debt, but also if you should inform your husband of your financial unfaithfulness.

Telling your spouse about your secret credit card debt

Let’s start with the husband aspect. As you already know, it’s your decision whether to tell your husband or not. I’m not a marriage counselor. I’d suggest that you seek one out. You’re right that this could potentially be damaging to your marriage. You need expert advice.

Confessing a long held secret is never easy. Often there are severe consequences. Personally I advise that partners share major financial decisions, but given your unique situation, a marriage counselor might have different advice.

Digging out of debt will be easier if your husband can help you. Paying off an $8,000 debt will almost certainly cause some hardship to your entire family. Typically those hardships are more easily handled if they’re endured in pursuit of a common goal.

It sounds as if the credit card is not a joint account. If it were, your husband is just as liable for the debt as you are. It could also damage his credit score. When you speak with the marriage counselor, make sure he understands whether it’s a single or joint account. It could change the advice you get.

Don’t discount the possibility that your husband already is aware of the debt but hasn’t known how to bring up the subject. You’ve been spending beyond your income. That’s not easy to hide.

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Repaying your secret credit card debt

Once you settle on whether to tell your husband or not, it’s time to create a plan to repay the debt. The first thing to do is to make sure that you’re not paying more interest than you need to pay.

You don’t say what interest rate you’re being charged. Unless you’re at a penalty rate, most cards are in the 20 to 21 percent range.

Consider a balance transfer card. Here is an excellent tool to help you compare balance transfer cards to see if any could lower your rate. 

Along with getting the lowest rate on the balance, you also need to stop the bleeding. You didn’t mention how you accumulated the balance, but it needs to stop. Whether it’s mall, online, or other shopping, you need to break the habit now.

Once that’s done, it’s time to find the money to repay the balance. Begin by looking for big chunks of cash that can be applied to the loan. (See Easy Ways to Earn Extra Cash.)

If your husband is onboard, you could consider shopping for lower cost homeowners or auto insurance with any savings going to your debt. And look for other underutilized assets that could be sold like a camper, boat, or a collection.

Next, look for other places you can cut your budget to find dollars for your debt. For most families, food and groceries are the next biggest expense (after housing and transportation), so that’s a good place to start.

Even an extra $10 or $20 a month will make a difference. Look at all your expenses with an eye to cut unnecessary ones.

There’s no doubt that you’re in a tough place. I’d encourage you to take steps immediately to change your direction. This problem will not take care of itself. Ignoring it only adds to your stress and the likelihood that it will blow up your finances and your marriage.

Reviewed July 2020

About the Author

Gary Foreman is a former financial planner and purchasing manager who founded The Dollar Stretcher.com website and newsletters in 1996. He's the author of How to Conquer Debt No Matter How Much You Have and he's been featured in MSN Money, Yahoo Finance, Fox Business, The Nightly Business Report, US News Money, Credit.com and CreditCards.com. Gary shares his philosophy of money here. Gary is available for audio, video or print interviews. For more info see his media page.

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