Friend Discovers Hubby’s High Credit Card Debt and Screams “I Want A Divorce”

by Neal Frankle, CFP ®

Over the weekend, my wife and I had a chance to sit down with a good friend of ours who recently discovered her husband’s credit card debt problem. I was shocked to hear about the financial situation she and her husband were in.

Jeanie and Victor have been together for over seven years now. She’s an architect and he’s a professional (struggling) photographer. While it was clear they weren’t swimming in cash, it never occurred to us that they were so financially troubled.

On a whim, she checked her credit score and was shocked by what she found.

Ever since they got married, she left all the financial decisions up to her husband Vic. He paid all the bills (or so she thought), and he was the final arbiter of what they could and couldn’t afford. Life was great because Vic gave a thumbs up to any and all spending.

To make a long story short, Jeanie woke up one cold morning to discover that Vic had only made the minimum credit card payments for over two years. Sometimes, he even made the house payment by taking a credit card advance. And all the while, the couple kept spending.

Every dog has its day and when it does, it often has a vicious bite. Jeanie found out that they had accumulated over $75,000 in credit card debt. Together they were earning over $140,000 a year, but they were spending almost $160,000.

Why didn’t Vic ever bring this problem to his wife’s attention?  Maybe he didn’t want to say “no, we can’t afford that” because he was a bit ashamed of himself. Jessica was the major wage earner – bringing home more than 85% of the family income. Perhaps he wanted to avoid the “can’t afford it” conversation because he feared it would lead to the “we can’t afford it because you don’t make enough money” conversation.

Maybe he didn’t want to say “no, we can’t afford it” because he just enjoyed living high on the hog. Who knows? Does it matter?

Jessica told us that when she found out how bad the situation was, she planned on leaving her husband. Her first call was to a divorce attorney.  She was completely despondent. She was ticked off at Vic for being so irresponsible, and at the same time, she had no idea how they could have spent so much money. She felt stuck and lost.  And she didn’t see any way out of the credit card debt problem her husband created.

Ultimately, they did stay together. Jeanie took over the financial management of the family. She made all spending decisions and Vic followed dutifully. Slowly, things improved.Over time,  they worked their debt down to less than $8,000 in three short years. They had a lot to be proud of.

While this was an amazing accomplishment, I could see that Jessica was still upset about her family’s financial situation. She was tired of always having to call the shots. She was happy that Vic turned over the reins to the finances, but she expects more.

She wants Vic to be a financial partner, not just a willing follower.

Here is the question I need your help on.

Is it realistic for Jessica to expect Vic to become a responsible financial co-steward? Or, given where Vic came from, should Jessica be happy that he’s admitted he’s no good at managing finances and is willing to follow Jessica’s lead?

 

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