"It's always a very awkward counseling session," said Claire Gray, credit counselor at Apprisen Financial Advocates in Columbus, Ohio.
Gray remembers one married couple, in their mid-50s, who came to her after being sued by a creditor. The husband had racked up some $50,000 on credit cards he opened behind his wife's back, which the wife discovered only when she tried to refinance their home and was denied a loan.
Gray said these crises could be avoided if everyone took ownership of the family finances. Even if just one person is doing the check writing and check balancing, both partners should look at the monthly bank statements and free annual credit reports (annualcreditreport.com).
A couple should have a budget they both agree on, and they should go over what they're making and spending every payday or at least once a month, Gray said. Even if you have personal debt that you plan to pay off yourself, it's wise to disclose it to your spouse, Goff said. With the job market precarious, you never know if you might suddenly find yourself without income. Also, if you have to file for bankruptcy and you co-own a home with your spouse, you're both going down.
"People need to be truthful," Goff said. "Eventually it will catch up with you."
Thirty-one percent of Americans with combined finances have lied to their spouse about money, according to a Harris Interactive survey of 2,019 adults, commissioned by ForbesWoman and the National Endowment for Financial Education. Among the offenders:
58% hid cash
54% hid a minor purchase
30% hid a bill
16% hid a major purchase
15% hid a bank account
11% lied about debt
11% lied about earnings