I Thought We Were Frugal. Then I Found His Half-Million in Credit Card Debt

An antique suitcase stuffed full of cash sits in the dark on a wood floor.
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Dear Penny,

I recently found stacks of $100 bills at the back of my husband’s sock drawer. There are thousands of dollars.

Upon further investigation, I found a large notebook with 48 Visa cards and Mastercards in it concealed high on a closet shelf. All the cards are in his name. I didn't know about these. From notes he made, it looks like they've all been maxed out, to the tune of more than half a million dollars.

I'm in shock and don't know what to do. My husband pays the bills and handles the money. I work also. I never want for anything, although we are frugal.

I don't know why he hasn't told me about these things and feel uncertain about what to do, if anything. My husband and a partner own a business, which I'm not involved in.

Thanks for any advice you can give.


It’s one thing to confront him.

It’s another to be ready to hear what he tells you.

If it’s just about the cash, we could assume you moved things around too vigorously while putting away laundry and found the stash.

It’s a confusing discovery, but not the most worrisome. Some people like to have cash squirreled away for true financial emergencies. Some people like to have a reserve ready in case of a “Mr. Robot”-style attack on the banking system. His unoriginal hiding spot gives you an easy entrance to discuss it.

A joke about how cash in a drawer doesn’t earn any interest could lighten the mood, but your mileage may vary.

The further investigation to find his credit card notebook is trickier because it’s not a case of you getting handsy in his crew socks anymore. You were clearly looking for evidence.

Are you ready to admit you were rifling around in his things? Are you ready for any skeletons he could pull out of your own closet — financial or otherwise — in retaliation?

If the answer to the two questions above is “yes,” then it’s really a question of whether you’re ready for your life to change.

If it’s true your husband has been hiding parts of his financial history from you, then all your existing trust and assumptions about life as you know it are probably going to shift. Everything might be fine between you after a while, but there’s a chance the road ahead will not be clearly marked and or smooth.

Practical suggestion No. 1: Are you sure your own credit is clear? You need to pull a free credit report to make sure none of his credit cards are also in your name — check No. 4 in this post to get started.

Practical suggestion No. 2: Have you thought about where to go if you need to leave? The gravity of the situation may lead you to want some time apart, and you don’t have to feel physically threatened to want some space to digest what your husband tells you. Consider packing an overnight bag and having some cash ready in case you want to step out for a bit.

If you approach your husband about what you found, you have to be ready for answers that could rip your marriage apart.

If you say nothing, you have to be ready to sit with the information you do have, indefinitely.

Which sounds worse?

Have an awkward money dilemma? Send it to [email protected].

Disclaimer: Chosen questions and featured answers will appear in The Penny Hoarder’s “Dear Penny” column. I won’t be able to answer every single letter (I can only type so fast!). We reserve the right to edit and publish your questions. Don’t worry — your identity will remain anonymous. I don’t have a psychology, accounting, finance or legal degree, so my advice is for general informational purposes only. I do, however, promise to give you honest advice based on my own insights and real-life experiences.