Editorial Policy

Expert Q&A: Secret Credit Card: Hide It? Or Fess Up?

Erica Sandberg

June 20, 2011

QHi Credit Guide,
You need to tell me what to do. I owe a lot of money that I can’t tell my husband about. If I pay the entire balance off, will he see it on my credit report? What if I close the account after I pay it all off? Will the card show up? At this point, I owe roughly $1,000 that I can’t let him be aware of or even that the card exists. Please advise quickly as I need to know what to do right away. June

ADear June,
I must admit that my initial response to you was that of admonishment. Stop the secrecy and tell your husband about the debt and the credit card right away!

But my next reaction is based on not knowing the foundation of your reluctance. You don’t say what you bought or why you don’t want him to be aware of the card or the balance. Perhaps your motivation for racking up the debt as well as keeping it hidden is justified. Therefore, I’ll answer your question in two very different ways — one of which should apply.

1. Shame. You are embarrassed about going behind your partner’s back and racking up the debt. If this is the case, that’s understandable. Owning up to serious mistakes is never pleasant. However, it’s not enough of an excuse to lie about what you’ve been up to, so I’ll return to my first reaction and recommend that you to talk to him and explain precisely what has been going on. When? As soon as possible. As a married couple, you owe it to each other to be forthright and responsible, and the longer you shove it under the rug, the worse it will be for both of you. Ask Erica

2. Fear. You need to keep the existence of the balance and account underground because you’re in danger. If he discovers the truth, he might hurt you. If this is your situation, your number one priority is not honesty, but physical safety. Assuming this is your situation, Alexis A. Moore, founder of Survivors In Action, a national crime victim advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C., offers the following advice if (or even before) he finds out and freaks out: “Pack all important documents, clothing and your computer and get out of dodge.” Contacting the police and a local domestic violence organization is also a wise idea. While these suggestions may sound overly dramatic, the last thing I would want is to have you confess, only to have dire consequences erupt.

After you choose which way to go, here’s what you should know about the credit report issue:

I presume the credit card in question was issued to you as an individual (otherwise he’d already be aware of it). This means the creditor did not use any of his financial and personal information to grant it so it’s yours only. All this card’s activity, from the date you opened it to the monthly payments and the highest balance you’ve owed, will appear on just your credit report. While you can pay off the debt so it shows a zero balance and close the account, its history will remain. Still, unless you show him the report, he won’t know about the account in question.

Now, take steps to cure your real troubles, whatever they may be. If you have a charging addiction, consider attending a Debtors Anonymous meeting, and if you have problems communicating about money and other matters, couples or individual counseling may be your best bet. Just don’t isolate yourself. Reach out to those who can help you not only become and remain financially secure, but also free from harm.