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Can my husband find out about my secret card?

Erica Sandberg

October 9, 2013

QDear Erica,

How bad is it that I keep an emergency Visa as a secret from my husband? Can he find out about it on his credit reports? — Sonya

ADear Sonya,

Perspective, my dear, perspective. Think about how you would react if you discovered that your husband had a credit card stashed away. I'm nearly certain that you'd wonder about his motives, as well as his actions. Was he keeping the card to pay for a romantic escapade (that doesn't include you)? Did he not trust you with his financial information? Or is he hiding debt and, if so, what the heck did he buy?Ask Erica

These would all be valid questions, so if you think that you'd be angry even having to ask them, I'd say that's a good barometer for what is right and wrong in this case.

As far as him discovering the account, it's possible. If the card is in your name only, though, it won't be on his consumer credit report. These reports aren't merged the moment you walk down the aisle.

However, there are a few ways your husband could find out about the account. He could learn about it by inadvertently seeing any statements on your computer screen or in your mailbox.

He could also find out when the two of you apply for a mutual loan. For example, as a couple, you may want to buy a home or car. Because both your names would be on the loan, each of your credit reports would be pulled. When yours is, the clandestine account will be listed — and you'll be busted.

Now you may be thinking at this point that I am opposed to such “secret” accounts. And you'd be basically correct. Yet I do understand the desire to be independent. In fact, I think that it is wise for everyone, married or not, to maintain at least some level of financial autonomy. Therefore, a card that is not attached to anyone but you can be a fine idea. As long as you use it well, it shouldn't be a problem.

Still, because the credit line has the potential to affect the other person if you do enter into a joint loan, I think you should at least reveal its existence. In addition, some states have community property laws on the books. These laws make it so that any debt (even secret debt) a spouse racks up during a marriage becomes the other spouse's responsibility if the marriage ends (in death or divorce). Community property laws, which vary even among the nine states that have them (Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Washington and Wisconsin), are complicated — so I won't go into much detail here. The bottom line, though, is that your debt could become your husband's problem. So I think it's only fair to let him know about your card.

So, why do you want to keep the card under wraps? If it's because you don't trust your husband with money and credit (or for some other valid reason), you'll need to address that issue with a professional. That's serious. If you don't have trust, what do you have?

If the real reason you own the card is that you simply feel better knowing it's there, and it has nothing to do with your husband, I don't think that's so bad. But I'd prefer it if you hoarded something else instead. Cash, for instance. A savings account that you keep for emergencies is a positive thing, as long as you're not diverting essential funds to build it up.

Full disclosure is always best, however. If you do want a stash of cash that's just for you, talk with your husband. Many couples divert an agreed-upon amount of money into separate accounts that they can draw upon for individual purchases — and surprise gifts.

Finally, it is important to establish and maintain a positive credit history. As I mentioned, there is no such thing as a couple's credit report, so if you do decide to close your secret card, make sure your name is on a well-managed credit account.

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