How Do I Uncover My Wife’s Hidden Debts? – Denny


“Hi Steve,

I owe $70,000 in back taxes and my IRS account is currently in collections. I’m working with an accountant to setup a payment plan and am pleased with how it’s progressing. However, although I have always filed as married filing separately to keep my wife out of the picture, the IRS is sucking her in anyways.

So we’re trying to compile a list of all of her expenses. As it turns out, she’s been hiding her bills for years and doesn’t really know what they are. Also, a few creditors recently started threatening to take her to court. They seem serious.

Her dad suggested paying one bill at a time until all of them are paid off. Intuitively, I feel this is a bad idea. I thought it would make more sense to call every collector and get a sense of the big picture then figure out how much we can pay each of them. Either that or work with a debt consolidation service.

The IRS has given me a deadline of 8/8/09 to get our income and expense statements to them. What’s worse, my accountant has to leave town before then. I basically need to figure out what my wife is looking at within the next two weeks. Considering this timeline, what would you do?

Thanks so much for your time!


My wife has a lot of creditors. We want to pay them off. Should we try to work the numbers out ourselves or should we use a debt consolidation service?”

Dear Denny,

I think before we jump to the “what to do next” stage we need facts. Luckily getting the information will only take a few minutes. I would suggest that you get an online consolidated credit report immediately on your wife, with her permission. You will need to see what all three credit bureaus are reporting since not all creditors report to all bureaus. The credit report link is the same one I get for myself and love it because it is so easy to read.

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Even a consolidated credit report may not include all debts. Small debts to local places like a health club or doctor office will not be reported. Basically, any business that elects to not report debts will not be on the credit report but you really are not worried about those. All the major creditors do participate with one or more credit bureaus.

Armed with the facts we can come up with a game plan. But deciding to pay this or that without knowing the facts would be a mistake. Get the scoop and then come back and update me in the comments section and let’s take it from there.

Of course, what we are doing here is reacting to the IRS situation and not focusing on the underlying issue that drove your wife to hide debt from you to begin with. You will still need to examine that issue together to autopsy why and how that happened to avoid repeating the same situation.


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Steve Rhode is the Get Out of Debt Guy and has been helping good people with bad debt problems since 1994. You can learn more about Steve, here.
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2 thoughts on “How Do I Uncover My Wife’s Hidden Debts? – Denny”

  1. Hi Steve,

    Thanks for the speedy reply.

    I just purchased the 3-in-1 report, but the only agency on the report appears to be TransUnion. There was a $10 upgrade option for a “3 score” report, but I assumed the 3-in-1 would still give me all the pertinent details from the 3 agencies. Am I missing something?

    In any case, the report is about 16 pages long. I’m open to sending it your way if it’ll help with the triage.

    My wife didn’t just hide the debt from me, but from herself. Basically, what it all boils down to is that she didn’t want to feel hopeless. Been there, done that, and completely understand.

    We’re dealing with this now though, facing everything head on. I’m sure she’ll gain a lot of confidence as we make measurable progress.

    Thanks again!


    • Denny,

      You need to upgrade it apparently to get all three on one report. Without all three it is an incomplete picture. I always get the 3-1 for myself.

      Unconscious shopping to reduce stress or relieve tension is a social exercise that many partake in and it is very common. Men tend to buy fewer items but bigger tickets while women tend to but smaller items but shop more often.

      What we need to learn from the combined report is if the total unsecured debt you owe is affordable to repay at all. The IRS calculations for repayment will not factor in your unsecured obligations and might leave you in a position where you can’t deal with the credit card debt without bankruptcy.

      The IRS position is that the fact that you others just isn’t their problem. They write the rules and they call the shots.



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