By Richard Ibarra, CFP®, APMA, CRPC®
For many years I have helped women retire. One of the most successful underlying themes I have seen in women who are married and have built up the majority of the nest egg, is transparency regarding finances. What does that look like? A lot of times when the day to retire comes, my clients will know how much they have, how it is invested, and how to find their account information if needed at any giving time.
Over the last several years, I have helped women navigate their finances after dealing with the effects of a spouse depleting family resources due to a gambling addiction. Gambling can come in many forms, the most prevalent I have seen are casinos and day trading in stocks and options. I have actually helped a few clients, where their husbands have had an addiction on eBay through bidding for items.
My goal is to give information to help protect yourself financially from a gambling spouse and the steps needed to take to help prevent it from happening to you and your family.
How to Protect Yourself From a Gambling Spouse
I always encourage couples to talk to each other about expectations and transparency with their finances. The sooner that conversation happens, the better both can be on the same page. As life goes on, we often forget to communicate about our financial position until it is too late. Ensure you have access to all your financial accounts online. That would entail usernames, passwords and being a joint owner on the accounts if possible. Have a conversation as to why it is important and help hold each other accountable. If possible, take on a financial advisor that can partner with you and your spouse. A financial advisor can be a great way to have someone else monitor the accounts and to ensure the investments are matching both of your goals. The best way to find a financial advisor is through referral or looking up on CFP.net. A Certified Financial Planner with will have the credentials to ensure a proper plan is in place.
What If Gambling Abuse is Already Taking Place?
If you find yourself in a position and noticing that there is a problem happening, take action immediately to protect you and your family. I would look at widening your circle of support and have an intervention or meeting with your spouse. Talk to your bank, brokerage firm and any other places that you have financial accounts to see what your options are on stopping the withdraws or trading.
How to Identify a Gambling Spouse
People that are in addiction tend to isolate themselves. Be aware of your spouse’s behavior, note any changes in spending and investing that are concerning or extreme. Have conversations about your finances. If there is reluctance to share information or it turns into an argument, be intentional and assertive on being a financially involved partner in the relationship and having access to all the accounts. If you do find out there is a gambling problem, let them know you want to help and support them in the struggle, but do not take on the burden. Bring the addiction to the light, find out what the root of the problem is.
Repairing the Damage
If you’ve found that your account balances have been impacted, what do you do next? I’ve recently helped several women who had over 85% of their investment accounts gambled away. I share this example to provide hope that there are steps you can take to reach your financial goals, and there are professionals ready to help you. Key steps are to cease all activity in the accounts and get the full picture of your financial situation. It can be tricky if you have not looked at statements or been involved with the accounts. Bring a financial advisor on that you know and trust to help with the process. Game plan to start protecting what you have left and determine a new savings strategy if that is possible.
The best prevention of not getting caught blindsided is communication and back to transparency with one another. Have a financial plan and stick to it. Review every six months to a year. Also, I cannot reiterate strongly enough to have a financial planner as your third party, that helps holds spouses accountable to their goals and budget.
This information is being provided only as a general source of information and is not intended to be the primary basis for investment decisions. It should not be construed as advice designed to meet the particular needs of an individual investor. Please seek the advice of a financial advisor regarding your particular financial concerns. Consult with your tax advisor or attorney regarding specific tax issues.
Richard Ibarra, CFP®, APMA, CRPC® is a Financial Advisor and Associate Vice President at Ibarra, Scott & Lai Group, a financial advisory practice of Ameriprise Financial Services, LLC.