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Published: Mar 15, 2024 4 min read
Photo-illustration of wedding cake toppers, with one being a credit card silhouette, with a knife coming down between them.
Olive Burd / Money; Getty Images

You already know how hard credit card debt can hit your finances. But have you considered how unpaid balances could affect your personal life? According to a survey of America's divorcees, credit card debt can spell trouble for a relationship — and even play a major role in why couples split up.

Survey data shows that a surprising one in three divorced Americans blame credit card debt as a factor in their decision to separate from their spouse. What's more, these same divorcees often find themselves in even more debt after splitting up.

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Credit card debt linked with divorce

Over 1 in 3 divorced Americans say that credit card debt played a factor in their decision to split from their spouse, according to a recent survey of 526 divorcees by credit counseling company Debt.com. Of those who blame credit card debt as a primary factor for their divorce, 7 in 10 say that their ex-spouse hid debt from credit cards from them.

Broader disagreements over spending have also caused significant rifts in marriages. About 13% of all respondents say disagreements over shopping habits contributed to their frayed marriages, while 23% blame spending on restaurants and bars, and a whopping 57% blame arguments over large expenses like cars and furniture.

Hiding expenses or debt from spouses isn't a new thing; it's a habit called "financial infidelity," and it's generally defined as choosing not to disclose financial information to your partner although it directly affects them.

The stakes of financial infidelity are becoming increasingly higher each year, too, as the average debt burden grows. In 2023 alone, the typical American's credit card balance increased by 8.2%. "Credit card debt and out of control spending can pose big relationship challenges for married couples," said Debt.com chairman Howard Dvorkin in the company's press release. "Those challenges are made more difficult when one or both parties in the marriage are hiding spending and debt."

The financial strain can carry on well after divorce as well, with many respondents saying they are now tasked with relieving that debt alone. Some 37% of divorced Americans say that after their marriage ended, they assumed sole responsibility over a debt that was previously shared by both partners.

And the financial trouble doesn't stop there for many; 38% say they've taken on at least $10,000 in additional debt as a result of their divorce. Over 4 in 10 say they lost at least 50 points from their credit score since divorcing, and only 14% report seeing their scores go up afterward. However, only about one quarter of folks said they ever considered separation, rather than divorce, as a cost-cutting measure.

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