Wife discovers husband had hidden $40,000 in debt for 3 years

By Jules Millward

Reviewed by Kimberly Rotter

Feb 20, 2024

Read time: 3 min

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I recently found out my husband was drowning in debt. This was a huge shock because it started to accumulate not long after we had made a savvy property decision allowing us to pay off our credit card debt

As a stay-at-home mother, I took charge of the household, while he took on the financial responsibilities. Clearing our debt had allowed us to save money, and I trusted him to keep this going. 

It never entered my mind that we would be in debt once again.

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I was clueless about our financial situation

We still ate out on a weekly basis. The kids had everything they could ever need. I always had what I asked for, and any time I mentioned the idea of a budget or of me returning to work, I was told there was no need. He didn’t discuss our finances with me. I had no reason to suspect anything was wrong.

My husband brought in our only source of income. Along with managing all of our household finances, being self-employed took its toll. His company suffered, and in turn, so did our finances. He had decided he should shoulder the financial stress alone.

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Financial infidelity had entered our marriage

I stumbled upon a statement one day and decided to dig deeper. I found piles of credit card statements. They were unpaid and maxed out, along with new credit cards way over their limit, past-due notices, and letters from debt collection companies. I realized my husband had been committing financial infidelity by hiding all this debt from me. In less than three years, he had accumulated almost $40,000 in new credit card debt.

I felt sick to my stomach. My mind was racing with thoughts of losing our house. How would we afford to feed the kids when he had so much debt to pay off? Together, the monthly payments came to over half of his monthly income. Not only was I scared we'd lose the house, but I was also embarrassed that I had no clue what was going on.

When I confronted him, he tried to cover his tracks, but I had proof, and he couldn’t run from it any longer. He had broken our trust. I needed to know why. He said he didn’t want to burden me with his financial shame. His head was buried in the sand, and there was no regard for the debt he was carrying. It was easier for him to ignore it than try to deal with it. I was lost on where to start, but someone had to take charge.

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The steps we took to address our debt

1. We reached out to our creditors.

We started by contacting every creditor. They froze the accounts and gave him a three-month payment break, which allowed us time to figure out our next steps. They also froze our interest rates.

2. We immediately revved up good financial habits.

I went through all his transactions to find out where the debt came from. I learned how to make a budget and stick to it, a concept I hadn’t needed to worry about before. We sold anything we could on resale sites, which allowed us to pay off one of the smaller credit cards. 

But there was still no way we would be able to afford the payments once the break ended.

3. We brought in the experts.

We talked to a debt expert where we live. The best option for us to start with was a debt repayment plan that allows us to pay what we can afford. Our enrollment in the program will stay on our credit files for the entire time we’re in the plan, plus six years after we’ve paid off all the debt. A very low payment, if that’s what you can afford, means you’ll be in the plan for many years (or even decades). At the current amount my husband is paying, it will take 78 years to pay off this debt.

We hope by the end of the year to increase our payments and clear the debt faster. At the same time, counseling will help us learn to let go of anger and resentment for the position we are in.

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What I’ll do differently now

We were living beyond our means and not saving for the future. If I had known this would happen to me, I wouldn’t have let someone take on the finances without me being involved. 

Now, I insist on having a joint account, a budget, and more of a say on how we spend our money.

Being the victim of financial infidelity has stopped me from being complacent. I’ve learned to budget efficiently and be mindful of the future. I am setting my children up to be financially savvy when they are older, and I’m taking steps to be financially independent myself. If you have no idea about your family finances, I encourage you to learn.

There's no financial hole too big to climb out of. The first steps are the hardest and the road might be long, but once you have a plan in place, the weight lifts and it becomes easier to manage. 

In a recent survey conducted by our Achieve Consumer Insights team, 20% of consumers have experienced their partner hiding debt from them and another 62% of respondents sharing that they would continue their relationship if their partner hid debt from them. If you or your partner are struggling to have an honest conversation about your debt, you are not alone. 

Read more helpful tips to start the money conversation between you and your partner.

Jules Millward

Jules is freelance writer alongside raising her 4 young children. She is currently studying towards her postgraduate degree in journalism, with an interest in lifestyle writing. No longer wanting to be in debt, she has learnt how to budget and make financially savvy decisions.

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Kimberly is Achieve’s senior editor. She is a financial counselor accredited by the Association for Financial Counseling & Planning Education®, and a mortgage expert for The Motley Fool. She owns and manages a 350-writer content agency.

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