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Do You Snoop on Your Spouse’s Spending?

Ever sneak a peek at your partner's spending activity on a shared credit card? You would hardly be alone.

According to a new survey by CreditCards.com, roughly 20 percent, or 17 million, of those who share a credit card have used online or printed account statements to snoop on the spending of a fellow authorized user or joint account holder.

"Most people will look [at their fellow account holder's spending] online, but many, 12 percent, will break out a paper statement," said CreditCards.com senior industry analyst Matt Schulz, noting that the survey polled 2,000 consumers over the phone.

Suspicious Minds

The study looked at all types of shared credit card account holders: 48 percent of those polled shared with a spouse or partner; 10 percent shared with adult children; while 5 percent shared with children under 18, and 4 percent with anyone else.

So, while some of the respondents who admitted to snooping were parents checking out their kids' spending — many were spouses.

Sneaking glances at your partner's spending activity is certainly not the most straightforward behavior, but Schulz says it isn't always a bad thing, either.

"When you share an account with someone, you really do need to know what the other person is doing," Schulz said. "Ideally, you would have an open honest conversation about it, but if that communication isn't going on, taking a look at that information can help you see potential problems before they become a forest fire."

A stack of credit cards are shown in this undated photo
About 17 million U.S. credit cardholders have snooped on the spending habits of someone with whom they share a credit card account, according to a new report. REUTERS/Jill Kitchener

Republicans Spy Twice As Much

The study, which also considered age, income level, and political affiliation, revealed some interesting patterns. For instance, Republicans are almost twice as likely to spy on spending as Democrats (25 percent versus 14 percent).

"I think this has to do with income and age as much as with party because typically, at least when going by conventional wisdom, the average Republican voter is a bit older and a bit wealthier," said Schulz. "They're more likely to have the opportunity to share an account with someone."

Additionally, the survey found that consumers in the highest income bracket were as likely to spy as those making the lowest income (24 percent).

"That may have something to do with the fact that the highest and lowest both have the most to lose when it comes to money," said Schulz.

Emotionally Invested

The most surprising figure to come from the study, in Schulz's opinion, was the number of people who said that sharing a credit card with someone else helped them to feel closer to that person.

"One in five people who shared an account said they feel closer to the other person because they share an account with them," said Schulz. "I found that interesting because you don't necessarily think of sharing a credit card as being an emotionally driven decision, but you can see where it could symbolize a major relationship step."

Lisa Shield, a dating and relationship coach, isn't shocked by the 1 in 5 figure, saying that when partners share a credit card, it can bring them closer together emotionally because it’s proof that they trust each other.

But what is spying if not a lack of trust? Shield notes that often spying on financial activity can be reflective of a deeper problem in the relationship.

Top 5 fights couples have about money - and how to end them 3:32

Bigger Problems

"Usually, when one partner is suspicious of the other, rather than accuse their partner of something unfounded, they might look through their partner’s phone or credit card bills to find proof that they’re not crazy for feeling the way they do."

Jo Hemmings, a psychologist and dating coach, adds that it's effective communication that makes or breaks most relationships, and so, "if you're going to share a credit card — and some couples would prefer not to and keep some financial independence — then honesty and admitting to the odd treat or extravagance is the only way to go."

In 2008, CreditCards.com conducted a similar survey, and found 19 percent of people who said they shared a credit card account had an argument abut it. That number has decreased to 12 percent.

Bad Economy Leads To More Spying

But only time — and the economy will tell — if that number will keep lowering. Schulz's instincts tell him the percentages of spying and arguments will increase.

"We're seeing credit card balances rise steadily to where they were before the great recession started," said Schulz. "At some point in the next few years, we'll hit a tipping point where it's just too much and we start to see late payments. When those financial troubles hit home, you'll see more and more people wanting to check up on their partner."