Half of all Australians hiding guilty ‘debt secrets’ from loved ones: latest Galaxy survey

14 November 2016

Startling new research reveals the extent of Australia’s hidden debt shame. Half the country admits that when it comes to spending money, they have lied to loved ones or concealed “debt secrets” from them. Specifically, women have felt the most shame over their purchases.

A recent Galaxy survey of 1,014 people nationwide conducted on behalf of Fox Symes, the leading provider of debt solutions in Australia, found that more than half of Australians (52 per cent) have taken deceptive actions - lying about their debts and spending or hiding them - from either a partner, family or friends, with women (56 per cent) and Gen Y (71 per cent) more likely to do this.

A significantly larger proportion of women (39 per cent) say they’ve felt ashamed or guilty about making a large purchase compared to 26 per cent of men. Some 23 per cent of women and 18 per cent of men also say they’ve avoided checking their bank balance because they’re worried about how much they’ve spent. For both sexes, one in six (16 per cent of men and 14 per cent of women) admit to making a big purchase without consulting their partner.

Fox Symes director Deborah Southon says they often see people who are hiding money secrets. “I’m surprised by the number of people who come to us and say, ‘my partner doesn’t know I’m in debt and they can never know about it,’” she says.

“We recently assisted a woman who gambled the entire profit made from the sale of her family home. Her husband had no idea because she looked after the family finances. She then secretly obtained various loans and credit facilities and used these to try to win back the money she’d lost. Of course this failed - understandably she got into serious debt and came to us very distraught. She then had to tell her husband the truth because she was facing bankruptcy.”

Ms Southon says the business often finds that women don’t take enough interest in their finances in general. “They can harbour quite a lot of shame about that, particularly if they are spending large amounts on things like clothing and socialising,” she says.

A person’s family situation also had significant bearing in the findings. Two in three people with children living at home (66 per cent) say they have hidden spending and debts from loved ones, compared to 45 per cent of people without children or whose kids don’t live in the house.

“The rising costs of living are making life so difficult for families,” says Ms Southon. “People may be forced to make desperate choices to provide for their children. Parents may feel the need to get their child the latest gadget when they can’t afford it.

“Often people are too proud to admit to loved ones that they are not doing well financially. Or else they may be scared of creating tension with their partner, so it’s easier to keep debt a secret.”

In particular, mums are carrying the biggest burdens. Women with children in the household (70 per cent) are more likely than women without children in the household (48 per cent) to have taken action to hide their debt or spending. In particular, this has included feeling guilty or ashamed about making a purchase (50 per cent compared to 33 per cent), avoiding checking their bank balance because they were worried about how much they have spent (32 per cent compared to 17 per cent), having made a large purchase without consulting their partner (21 per cent compared to 11 per cent) and hidden debt from a partner (14 per cent compared to 7 per cent).

“It is only natural for mothers to want to provide all they can for their families,” says Ms Southon. “However you are doing your family a big disservice if you regularly lie about spending because things can spiral out of control very quickly. It is easy to get into debt and not so easy to get rid out of it.”

Meanwhile Generation Y are more likely than Generation X and Baby Boomers to have felt guilty about purchases (49 per cent compared to 36 per cent and 19 per cent) and to have avoided looking at their bank balance (36 per cent compared to 21 per cent and 9 per cent).

State by state figures were fairly even although people in New South Wales (18 per cent) say they’ve made a big purchase without telling their partner compared to just 8 per cent of South Australians. More Queenslanders (24 per cent) had avoided checking their bank account compared to 17 per cent of Victorians and Tasmanians.

“Not enough people are having frank, open discussions about money with their partners and families,” says Ms Southon. “Living a lie by hiding debts and purchases is not good for yourself or those around you. Being honest about your needs and not over extending yourself financially is vital.”

About the research The study was conducted by Galaxy Research between 18-22 August, 2016. The survey was administered online amongst a nationally representative sample of 1,014 Australians aged 18 years and older covering: NSW, ACT, VIC, TAS, QLD, SA and WA.

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