Finances Causing Rifts for American Couples – Survey

May 07, 2012 /

Couples average three arguments a month about financial issues; 3 in 10 adults who are married or living with a partner admit to potentially deceitful behavior about money

Financial matters are the most common source of discord among American couples, prompting an average of three arguments per month, according to a national telephone survey conducted for the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA) by Harris Interactive.

More than a quarter, or 27 percent, of those who are married or living with a partner said disagreements over money are most likely to prompt a spat. That made it the most volatile topic, ahead of arguments about children, chores, work or friends. Financial arguments most often are over differing opinions of “needs” versus “wants,” with 58 percent of those who argue about money identifying this issue as the most common cause. About half, 49 percent, most often argue about unexpected expenses and a third, 32 percent, argue about insufficient savings.

Much of the relationship conflict can be traced to a failure to communicate about finances, according to the survey. More than half of adults, 55 percent, who are married or living with a partner said they do not set aside time on a regular basis to talk about financial issues.

“Money is a lightning rod for conflict in relationships because it’s a sensitive topic and each person brings a different perspective based on their past experiences,” said Jordan Amin, chair of the National CPA Financial Literacy Commission. “It’s critical for couples to communicate openly and regularly about financial matters in order to establish a common language around money and move toward shared goals.”

Here are four tips for couples from the National CPA Financial Literacy Commission:

Get full disclosure. Before saying ‘I do’ to moving in together or combining assets, both people in a relationship should offer full disclosure of their finances as part of a joint financial planning process. And the disclosure shouldn’t end there. Each person should agree to routinely review credit card accounts, bank statements and credit reports to ensure all data stays in the open.

Set a money date. At least once a month—and preferably weekly—set aside time without other distractions to meet about family finances. This ensures an ongoing, open dialogue about money at a time when both people can free themselves from outside distractions.

Divide and conquer. It’s typical in a relationship for one person to take the role of chief financial officer, managing accounts and paying bills. This arrangement can lead to unnecessary stress, tension and, at times, confusion. Split the duties. One person can act as bill payer, the other as money tracker, for instance. This removes the burden from one person and provides a check-and-balance on the family finances.

Hire an advisor. A neutral third-party is sometimes the best option to diffuse or avoid tensions over money. A financial advisor can work with couples to establish financial goals, pay bills, monitor accounts and help notice any unusual spending patterns, should they arise.

The CPA profession has a comprehensive financial literacy program—360 Degrees of Financial Literacy—to help Americans achieve long-term financial success. A robust Web site ( is the centerpiece of the program with tools, calculators and advice to help Americans understand and manage their financial needs during 10 life stages, from childhood to retirement. And it includes a special section with information for couples.

Since 2007, the AICPA has conducted an annual survey of Americans to determine their top financial concerns and assess their financial well-being. Additional findings include:

Three in 10 adults who are married or living with a partner have engaged in at least one potentially deceitful behavior related to their finances. The most common such behaviors include hiding purchases and making major purchases without consulting their significant other.

Among married adults, 36 percent of those aged 55 to 64 say financial matters cause arguments, which is notably higher than the percentage of 18- to 34-year-olds, 15 percent, or seniors, 20 percent, who say the same.

The average number of arguments prompted by financial matters rises with age. While among all married adults the average number of disagreement is three per month, among those aged 45 to 54, the average number of arguments rises to four per month.

More than half of those whose financial status has declined in the past year, 53 percent, report that financial matters are most likely to prompt arguments with their spouse.


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