Never told spouse how much is in your 401(k)? You’re not alone

By Suzanne Woolley, Bloomberg

Trust of politicians in America seems to have reached a new low in this election season.

But who would have guessed how little trust exists across the kitchen table?

Many American couples don’t share even basic financial details of their retirement savings account, beyond the fact that they have one. Twenty-one percent of couples either married or living together didn’t have a ballpark sense of the value of their partner’s retirement account, according to a new study.

For some, it could be that it just never came up, but for others it could mean that “I do” doesn’t necessarily mean “I’ll disclose.”

Results like that from a Harris Poll survey for website NerdWallet of more than 1,800 couples show just how hard it can be, or how reluctant some people are, to talk about money.

“Most couples don’t share fully financial details about private accounts, the nature of investments or the amount of savings-even expectations for retirement are widely apart,” said Lili Vasileff, president of financial planning firm Divorce and Money Matters, in Woodbridge, Conn.

Beyond simple lassitude and outright omission, there is a cultural component to be considered, too. It may simply be that money wasn’t discussed when a partner or spouse was growing up, said Chris Chen, a financial planner in Waltham, Massachusetts.

“I often find that people will have inherited destructive money notions that they carry on in their lives,” he said.

Then there is simple fear-out of sight, out of mind, especially in a country where more and more people worry they will run out of savings before they run out of time. Couples are more likely to talk about the lifestyle side of retirement, and less likely to run calculations about what it might cost, said NerdWallet investment specialist Dayana Yochim.

“They’re fearful of what the numbers will show them,” she said. When couples do focus on retirement accounts, they’re often surprised to see how much a partner’s savings have grown, said Michael Resnick, a certified financial planner at GCG Financial in Deerfield, Ill.

There’s a particular situation where such an epiphany regularly occurs: Resnick finds that, in divorce proceedings, it becomes clear when one partner was in the dark because the other held “greater reign” over the finances.The new poll echoes a much larger survey of couples and retirement done last year by Fidelity Investments.

In that study, although 72 percent said they were good communicators about financial matters, 43 percent couldn’t correctly say how much money their partner makes. Of that 43 percent, 10 percent were off by $25,000 or more. Couples were also largely clueless about how much they’d need to keep up their lifestyle when they retired, with 48 percent having “no idea” and 47 percent disagreeing about the amount.

Fidelity found that the dissonance over how much money was needed to coast through the golden years was greatest among baby boomers-the ones staring retirement in the face.

But proving that communication about money can be bad at all stages of a relationship, credit-tracking firm Experian Plc ran a study earlier this year that found among newlyweds, “some 20 percent [of men] had secret financial accounts their partners didn’t know about, compared to 12 percent of women.”

Talk to us

More in Herald Business Journal

FILE - A Boeing 737 Max jet prepares to land at Boeing Field following a test flight in Seattle, Sept. 30, 2020. Boeing said Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2023, that it took more than 200 net orders for passenger airplanes in December and finished 2022 with its best year since 2018, which was before two deadly crashes involving its 737 Max jet and a pandemic that choked off demand for new planes. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File)
Boeing inks deal for up to 300 737 Max planes with Ryanair

At Boeing’s list prices, the deal would be worth more than $40 billion if Ryanair exercises all the options.

Logo for news use featuring Snohomish County, Washington. 220118
Four recognized for building a better community

Economic Alliance of Snohomish County hosts annual awards

Logo for news use featuring Snohomish County, Washington. 220118
Business Briefs: Pandemic recovery aid and workforce support program

Snohomish County launches small business COVID recovery program, and is now accepting NOFA grant applications.

Elson S. Floyd Award winner NAACP President Janice Greene. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Janice Greene: An advocate for supplier diversity and BIPOC opportunities

The president of the Snohomish County NAACP since 2008 is the recipient of this year’s Elson S. Floyd Award.

Emerging Leader Rilee Louangphakdy (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Rilee Louangphakdy: A community volunteer since his teens

Volunteering lifted his spirits and connected him with others after the death of a family member.

Emerging Leader Alex McGinty (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Alex Zitnik-McGinty: Find a group you like and volunteer!

Her volunteer activities cover the spectrum. Fitting in “service work is important as we grow.”

Opportunity Lives Here award winner Workforce Snohomish and director, Joy Emory. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Workforce Snohomish receives Opportunity Lives Here Award

Workforce offers a suite of free services to job seekers and businesses in Snohomish County.

Henry M. Jackson award winner Tom Lane. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Tom Lane: An advocate for small and local businesses

The CEO of Dwayne Lane’s Auto Family is a recipient of this year’s Henry M. Jackson Award.

John M. Fluke Sr. award winner Dom Amor. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Dom Amor: Working behind the scenes to improve the region

Dom Amor is the recipient of this year’s John M. Fluke Sr. Award

Dr. David Kirtley at the new Helion headquarters in Everett, Washington on Wednesday, Jan. 19, 2022  (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Everett nuclear fusion energy company nets first customer: Microsoft

The Everett company, on a quest to produce carbon-free electricity, agreed to provide power to the software giant by 2028.

Hunter Mattson, center, is guided by Blake Horton, right, on a virtual welding simulation during a trade fair at the Evergreen State Fairgrounds in Monroe, Washington, on Wednesday, May 3, 2023. High school kids learned about various trades at the event. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
Trade fair gives Snohomish County kids glimpse of college alternatives

Showcasing the trades, the Trade Up event in Monroe drew hundreds of high school students from east Snohomish County.

A Tesla Model Y Long Range is displayed on Feb. 24, 2021, at the Tesla Gallery in Troy, Mich.  Opinion polls show that most Americans would consider an EV if it cost less, if more charging stations existed and if a wider variety of models were available. The models are coming, but they may roll out ahead of consumer tastes. And that could spell problems for the U.S. auto industry, which is sinking billions into the new technology with dozens of new vehicles on the way.  (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)
Tesla leases space at Marysville business park

Elon Musk’s electric car company reportedly leased a massive new building at the Cascade Business Park.