Smart Money Podcast: Neurodiverse Money, and Financial Infidelity

Tess Vigeland
Sara Rathner
Sean Pyles
By Sean Pyles,  Sara Rathner and  Tess Vigeland 
Edited by Sheri Gordon

Many or all of the products featured here are from our partners who compensate us. This influences which products we write about and where and how the product appears on a page. However, this does not influence our evaluations. Our opinions are our own. Here is a list of our partners and here's how we make money.

Welcome to NerdWallet’s Smart Money podcast, where we answer your real-world money questions.

This week’s episode starts with a discussion on managing money when you’re neurodiverse.

Then we pivot to this week’s money question from a listener, who sent us a text message: “Hi, Nerds. My fiance and I recently had a come-to-Jesus of sorts about finances and I learned he has about $30,000 in debt across a few different credit cards. I am working through the emotional shock of that confession, but how would you suggest HE best tackle this amount — balance transfer credit card? Loan? Consolidation? Some of his interest rates are in excess of 26%. He is aggressively paying down about $1,500 a month. We earn about $150,000 each and $300,000 as a family annually. We have no kids, one reasonable mortgage in my name, we split it 60/40 with me paying more, and we are tamping down on spending and improving our budgeting. But I feel stuck on how much in interest he is expected to spend. It’ll be about $12,000. Thank you, Nerds!"

Check out this episode on either of these platforms:

Our take on managing money when you’re neurodiverse

People who are neurodiverse have brains that work differently from what’s “typical.” Conditions such as ADHD, autism spectrum disorder, social anxiety and dyslexia can result in diverse ways of thinking and processing information, which can affect managing money. Neurodiverse folks can face such financial challenges as job insecurity and increased health care costs. To make work a better fit, management can make accommodations. To make budgeting and saving for goals easier, a fiduciary financial advisor can explore strategies and options. And neurodiverse people can also try to find ways to use their neurodiversity as a strength when handling their finances.

Our take on financial infidelity

Revelations of financial infidelity, or keeping money secrets from a partner, could open up a host of emotions from both parties. Resolving the conflicts that arise from financial cheating could require the help of a professional such as a financial therapist. A therapist can help the partner who held the secret explore why they felt they needed to hide the financial information. A financial therapist can also help both parties learn to have regular, productive conversations about money that can discourage future instances of financial infidelity.

Our tips

  1. Consider involving a professional. Financial dishonesty in a relationship can be shocking. A marriage counselor or financial therapist could help you work through these challenges.

  2. Choose the debt payoff method that works for you. Online debt calculators can help you figure out how long it will take to pay off the debt at the current pace, and you can experiment with adjustments to speed up the process. You might also want to consider a personal loan or balance transfer credit card. 

  3. Schedule regular money talks. Talking openly with your partner about money and your financial goals can help ensure you’re on the same page and avoid surprises and tension when it comes to money. 

More about couple finances on NerdWallet:

Have a money question? Text or call us at 901-730-6373. Or you can email us at [email protected]. To hear previous episodes, go to the podcast homepage.

Episode transcript

Sean Pyles: What would you do if you found out your partner was hiding a secret from you? What if that secret was around $30,000 in credit card debt?

Sara Rathner: Woo. Are you addressing those questions to me, Sean, or to our listeners? Because if it were me, I'd probably call up a therapist and maybe also a lawyer.

Sean Pyles: That's fair. Yeah. I was kind of taking on the role of ominous narrator with those questions, but at least now your husband knows how you'd respond to a big financial secret.

Sara Rathner: Nah, he already knew and he'd probably do the exact same thing.

Welcome to the NerdWallet Smart Money podcast, where you send us your money questions and we answer them with the help of our genius Nerds. I'm Sara Rathner.

Sean Pyles: And I'm Sean Pyles. We know you have money questions, so send them our way. Call or text us on the Nerd hotline at 901-730-6373. That's 901-730-NERD, or you can email us your questions or voice memos at [email protected].

Sara Rathner: In this episode, Sean and I answer a listener's question about how to work through a partner's financial secret now that you know how we’d do it. But first, in This Week in Your Money segment, we're talking about managing your money when neurodiverse.

Sean Pyles: This is something that's really personal for me since I have ADHD [attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder] and a number of my loved ones are neurodiverse. This segment was inspired by a recent article from NerdWallet personal finance writer Tiffany Curtis. And Tiffany is here to talk with us today. Welcome to Smart Money, Tiffany.

Tiffany Curtis: Hi, everyone. Thanks for having me. So this topic is also super personal for me as someone who's been exploring what my own neurodiversity looks like in the past year, so I'm super excited to talk about neurodiversity today.

Sean Pyles: Great. Well, can you start by talking to us about what it means to be neurodiverse for those who may not be familiar?

Tiffany Curtis: Yeah. The simple definition is essentially that being diverse means having a brain that works differently from average or neurotypical folks. So it means that you have different cognitive function, which is also accompanied with having behaviors that kind of fall outside of social norms. So for me, that looks like, for example, during the workday, I'm someone who is pretty fidgety and who can sometimes have trouble with attention span things. So I need things like dim lighting or fidget toys, or I need to take frequent breaks during the workday.

Sean Pyles: I can relate to that for sure.

Sara Rathner: Yeah, that makes sense. And I think we're lucky enough to work from home. You can really customize your space to make it work for you. What are some examples of neurodiverse conditions?

Tiffany Curtis: Some examples include ADHD, autism spectrum disorder, dyslexia, social anxiety, which I just found out counts as a neurodiverse condition, things like bipolar disorder. There's a whole slew of things that fall under neurodiversity, and I think sometimes people think that neurodiversity itself is a disability. And it's not. It's kind of a catchall term, but some of the specific conditions are classified as disabilities.

Sara Rathner: So it sounds like neurodiversity is more common than people might think, right?

Tiffany Curtis: Definitely. I feel like almost everyone I know has some form of neurodiversity, but the commonly cited statistic is that 15% to 20% of the world's population is neurodiverse. I think that ADHD and autism are the two that are most talked about. They might be the two that a lot of people are most familiar with, but the term neurodiversity was coined in the 1990s specifically in reference to folks who have autism spectrum disorder.

Sean Pyles: OK. How does neurodiversity affect money management specifically? Are there distinct challenges that people who are neurodiverse face?

Tiffany Curtis: Definitely, but I think before talking about the unique challenges, it's important to remember that a lot of the challenges that neurodiverse people face are very similar to neurotypical folks. I really like what Elizabeth Yoder, one of the experts that I interviewed in my article, said. She's a certified financial planner and director of Planning Across the Spectrum, which is a financial planning org that centers neurodiverse folks. Some of the specific challenges are having trouble with saving money, impulsive spending, procrastinating, having trouble understanding complex financial planning. So things like retirement and estate planning can be a little more difficult for neurodiverse folks. But neurodiverse folks are also up against things like job insecurity and health care costs. For example, people who take ADHD meds, meds are super expensive and that can impact your finances.

Sara Rathner: And there are some shortages on meds right now too that people might be dealing with?

Tiffany Curtis: Yes. Yes.

Sara Rathner: That also makes things really hard.

Tiffany Curtis: Yeah. Yeah.

Sean Pyles: This might sound a little counterintuitive, but I sometimes feel like my ADHD can be a strength of mine. For example, I can get really hyper-focused on things and be super, super productive. This was really helpful when I was shopping around for mortgages because I got deep into researching different lenders and finding the best rate, and I made a very, very elaborate spreadsheet. So Tiffany, can you talk a bit about how people can leverage their neurodiversity for their financial benefit?

Tiffany Curtis: Yeah. I think that in order to do that, you have to lean into the positives that come along with your specific neurodiversity. Research has shown that some folks with ADHD, for example, can be more creative, more innovative. Some other benefits of ADHD according to the Cleveland Clinic include hyperfocus like you mentioned, Sean, having good conversational skills, nonlinear thinking and problem solving. An example that comes to mind is something that I saw on TikTok and it talks about the concept of micro saving. So for people who struggle with impulsive spending, maybe you are someone who moves money into a savings account and then you immediately take it out. Something I saw on TikTok was the idea of buying things like gas cards or grocery store gift cards as a way to kind of save money. If you have trouble with saving hard cash, finding a way to save and make it tangible, that could be one example.

Sara Rathner: What are some ways people who are neurodiverse can make managing their money easier?

Tiffany Curtis: I think the biggest thing is seeking help overall, but then also seeking specialized help via a financial planner or a financial therapist who can help you work through the emotions that may come up when you think about managing your money as a neurodiverse person. Doing things like asking for accommodations at work. If you aren't someone who works from home, talking to management at your company, if you are someone who has to go into an office and figuring out how you can make the environment more productive for yourself. Working with your abilities, so not forcing yourself to use tools or advice that don't work for you or don't resonate. And then using technology to make things easier. So be it setting payment reminders or bill alerts for yourself if you are someone who often forgets about those things.

Sean Pyles: Great. Well, Tiffany, thank you so much for talking with us.

Tiffany Curtis: Thank you so much.

Sean Pyles: Now let's get on to this episode's money question segment.

Sara Rathner: Let's do it.

Sean Pyles: This episode's money question comes from a listener's text message. Here it is as read by Smart Money producer Rosalie Murphy.

Rosalie Murphy: "Hi, Nerds. My fiance and I recently had a come-to-Jesus of sorts about finances and I learned he has about $30,000 in debt across a few different credit cards. I am working through the emotional shock of that confession, but how would you suggest he best tackle this amount? Balance transfer credit card? Personal loan? Debt consolidation? Some of the interest rates are in excess of 26%. He is aggressively paying down about $1,500 a month. We earn about $150,000 each and $300,000 as a family annually. We have no kids. One reasonable mortgage in my name, we split it 60/40 with me paying more, and we are tamping down on spending and improving our budgeting. But I feel stuck on how much he is expected to spend on interest. It'll be about $12,000. Thank you, Nerds."

Sara Rathner: So if you notice listeners that I sound a little bit underwater, it's because I have a bad cold. It's not COVID. Turns out you can catch other stuff that's not COVID, which many of you figured out during this flu season. But yeah, but it's OK. I'm upright and I'm ready to answer this listener's question and we have some help today. On this episode, we're joined by Kim Palmer.

Kim Palmer: Hi. Thank you for having me here.

Sean Pyles: Thanks for being here, Kim. So our listener is in a pretty shocking situation. They found out that their fiance has been hiding tens of thousands of dollars in credit card debt. Where do you even begin with that kind of revelation?

Kim Palmer: It is so hard. I think that the biggest thing to start with is just acknowledging how shocking it can be to get this kind of news. It really speaks to how important it is to talk about money early in a relationship before you have intertwined your finances. So I think the first question that I'm wondering is just how this listener has been communicating about money so far. Because if this is news that pops up as a surprise outside of what's normal to you in terms of talking, being honest with each other about money, then that is a slightly different issue than if it is just continuing a trend of being secretive about money or having other kinds of red flags. So if that's the case where maybe this is suggestive of some bigger issues going on, maybe there'll be other surprises in the future. It's worth considering if you want to pull in some professional outside help, perhaps like a financial therapist to help you talk through this sort of thing. Or maybe you have been talking openly about money and this is just a one-off that you can work through together.

Sean Pyles: Yeah. Sometimes when people have big money or relationship crises, they may not be aware of them until it hits that point where things break down and suddenly you realize "We haven't been communicating properly, we haven't been managing our money as a couple," and then you really need to reevaluate from the ground up how you can make things work better going forward.

But a big question that I have for this couple is the why behind the situation because they're making a really good amount of money between the two of them, but the fiance managed to rack up sizable debt anyway. I don't say this to shame the fiance, but more to understand how there are often many small steps that lead people down a path to rack up a lot of debt. I think it would be wise for them to explore how they can avoid this in the future. And as you said, they may want to talk with a financial therapist about any feelings of shame or embarrassment that led the fiance to conceal this debt.

Sara Rathner: Yeah. The field of financial therapy is still a relatively new one, but it's one that is definitely beginning to grow because so much about money has to do with all the things that got you to where you are today in this moment. And that can be lessons you learned when you were growing up from your family of origin or even just different lessons that you've learned along the way once you were living on your own and different traumatic things that happened to you as well. Things like losing your job or losing your home that can affect your financial decision making now and sometimes of course makes you make decisions that aren't necessarily in your best interest. So you can find a financial therapist through the Financial Therapy Association. It's

Kim Palmer: I'm glad you brought up that issue of shame too, because I do think it is a common emotion that we often have and sometimes we are so embarrassed of mistakes that we've made in the past. So of course I don't know what is going on with the listener's partner, but it makes me wonder would it help for them to talk through what is going on. We want to avoid making anyone feel badly because the goal, of course, is to move forward together and find some solutions and especially just figure out how we can communicate better so we don't have these kinds of surprises pop up.

Sean Pyles: Right. Because when you are engaged, your lives are at that point really deeply enmeshed emotionally on a day-to-day level, you're living together in all likelihood. But there are a lot of ways that your finances can be dependent on each other too. If one person maybe has a lower credit score than the other person, that could impact future loans that they might qualify for.

Kim Palmer: That's such a good point because we are talking about the debt that this individual has, but it can definitely have an impact on you, on the listener, on whoever you're partnered up with because it really affects your own finances once you are intertwined. I think it's worth talking about how that debt came to be. Are you at risk of accruing debt again? All of those questions are worth talking through together.

Sara Rathner: Yeah. And really just emphasizing, again, we've said this before, just making these conversations safe to have with each other because could it be — and this is something to explore with a professional potentially — but why did he feel unsafe bringing it up in the first place? Was it simply the shame of having the debt and any of the causes behind the debt or was it perhaps the fear of talking to your partner, perhaps the fear of the partner wanting to leave the relationship because of the debt? So those are all things to think about as you have these conversations, like, "How do we create this cone of safety when we talk about money issues together?" That way you can have the difficult discussions, you can own up to the difficult things. You can find ways and solutions to figure things out together, or even, I mean if appropriate, have productive conversations about whether or not your relationship should continue. And that's also sometimes an outcome of financial infidelity in a way, is that one or both partners realize that it's not a healthy situation.

Sean Pyles: Yeah, hopefully they're a long way from that point, sometimes that is just the best course of action. But there's a really fine line between encouraging and supporting your partner and finding the best tactical approach to get through this issue and digging into how you got here in the first place, but at the same time not bringing it up every time something bad happens. You don't want to hold this over your partner. You want it to be a challenge that can help you grow closer together as opposed to driving a wedge between you two if that's what you decide to commit to going forward.

Sara Rathner: Yeah, maybe one way to avoid just randomly bringing it up and surprising your partner and making them feel the full weight of your resentment is having regularly scheduled money check-ins. When you know that you have time set aside every week or every month to talk about the progress your partner's making in paying off their debt, you won't feel the need to bring it up randomly because you'll know the most update information on how things are going.

Kim Palmer: And hopefully it's a really good sign that he did share these details and that maybe going forward you can have that ongoing open talk together.

Sean Pyles: Well, let's get into how the fiance can actually tackle this debt. How can he pay it off, as was emphasized in the question?

Kim Palmer: I think a really good place to start is by getting organized, making sure you know exactly what you owe, what the interest rates are, who you owe to. Where you can start is with an online payoff debt calculator like the one we have at NerdWallet. Basically, you can enter your information, enter all the details, everything you know, and it helps you figure out how long it will take you to pay it off. You can make adjustments. If you pay off more each month, how quickly will that speed up the process? That can be really motivating.

There's two main approaches you can use to paying off your debt. You have the snowball method where you're starting with paying off the smallest amount of debt first and you're building up that steam until it's all paid off. And then you have the avalanche method where you focus on paying off your highest interest rate debt first, and that way you're really minimizing the total interest you end up paying. Sounds like that's something that's important to the listener. You also really want to choose whatever works best for you because it's all about staying motivated. You also have some other options. You could use a balance transfer card or a personal loan. And Sara, you are such an expert on those two things, so maybe you could explain that to us.

Sara Rathner: Sure. So a balance transfer credit card is a type of credit card that lets you move your debt from an old card that charges a higher interest rate to a card that has a no-interest promotion. And usually you could find promotions that are anywhere from 1 to nearly 2 years long, and that is a nice long amount of time to pay off a balance without also having to pay back interest. But there are a couple of caveats. First of all, you typically need good or excellent credit to qualify. No. 2, you also need to pay a fee typically of 3% to 5% of the transfer balance. So you're going to want to budget for that. And also just keep in mind that when the promotion ends, the interest rate's going to shoot right back up to its normal levels. And so if you still have any debt remaining on the card, you're going to start owing interest on it.

But it could be that even if you have a month or two of payments with interest, you cut out like 20 months worth of payments with interest, so you still end up on top. So that's one option. Personal loans might be more of an option if you don't qualify for a balance transfer card, and it's not going to be 0% interest, but a lot of them, depending on what you qualify for, are lower interest than credit cards at this moment. And it's a set monthly installment payment that you make for a set period of time. So it's a little bit easier to budget for than those variable credit card payments each month.

Sean Pyles: Right. But in the broader context of the economy, interest rates have been rising, so these options are probably going to be more expensive than they were a year ago, right?

Sara Rathner: Yeah. In the case of a personal loan, yes, because they're based on the prevailing interest rate and that is higher than it's been even just a couple months ago. So what you would qualify for today is not going to be as great of a deal as you would've gotten in 2021. But given the fact that credit card interest rates on average are over 20%, this still could be a way to save a pretty significant amount of money.

Sean Pyles: Because credit card interest rates have also gone up.

Sara Rathner: Right. So personal loan is not no interest, but it's less interest. And with such a high balance, any amount of savings can be helpful. So to share a little bit of the math of what the letter writer shared, so their fiance is paying $1,500 a month on a $30,000 balance. Let's say their interest rate across all of their credit cards is around the average, which is 20.4% APR. That means it's going to take two years to become debt free, but the listener's fiance will be spending nearly $7,000 on interest. But any more amount of money you could throw toward the monthly payment or anything you can shave off of that interest rate is going to whittle away at that $7,000 interest figure. And that's really huge. $7,000 is a lot of money to spend in two years.

Sean Pyles: Well, one thing I want to go back to is how much this couple makes. They make $150,000 per person, around $300,000 and aggregate as a family. And to me, I mean, we don't know how much they're spending on housing, but I feel like this fiance could probably put a lot more money than $1,500 a month toward the debt given how much he has coming in.

Kim Palmer: Yes. And I think that also speaks to the fact that it's a great idea to use this opportunity to step back and take a big picture look at your overall budget, see where you can possibly redirect money to put more of it towards paying off the debt. For example, our food spending tends to be very variable each month. It's one of our most variable expenses. And so perhaps you could look at that, see if perhaps you can cut back on restaurant spending or takeout and put money towards that debt instead. Sometimes just making a few small shifts can really add up.

Sean Pyles: Yeah. And the listener also asked how their fiance can pay off his debt, but I am assuming that the listener will also have a role in resolving this debt. So let's talk about some ways that they could support their fiance's debt payoff, even if they don't contribute any money to the cause.

Sara Rathner: Yeah, you can absolutely be a supportive partner without putting any of your money toward your fiance's debt for sure. You're not obligated to do that legally. So if you don't feel comfortable helping them financially, don't do it. That's OK. You can be their accountability partner doing those weekly or monthly check-ins, helping them set goals. You can even work with them on rethinking your shared household expenses and shared budget and finding ways together to save money every month. So more of your fiance's money can go towards the debts instead of to household costs. And let's say for example, your fiance thinks that they could switch jobs and/or even earn even more money. Maybe you could be a second set of eyes on their resume or do a couple mock interviews with them and just be supportive of their job search so they can increase their income and apply that extra money toward debt as well. So there are lots of ways you can be supportive without actually putting any of your hard-earned money into the debt that was incurred by another person.

Sean Pyles: Yeah, and bigger picture too, you probably just really want to continue those conversations like we've been talking about. Make sure that you are communicating honestly about that, and that might also be a form of holding your partner accountable in some ways without guilting them.

Kim Palmer: I think that's such an important factor going forward. I personally love the idea of having regular money dates with your partner. It doesn't have to be all about the negative or the stressful things. In fact, I think it works better if you can focus and have the first part of your conversation be about something positive, like a shared goal. Maybe you really want to go on a certain vacation together so you're putting money aside so that would allow you to do that. I think getting on the same page with those positive things, those positive financial goals that you share together can help you get through the harder conversations like the stressful part of paying off debt.

Sara Rathner: Really for my husband and I, it is about having those regular conversations about money decisions that we're making together, but also decisions we're making individually because our money isn't fully joint. And ironically, this has resulted in us discussing money more since saving for a shared goal involves transferring money from our individual checking accounts. So we talk about how much we each feel comfortable contributing based on what other financial obligations we have going on.

Sean Pyles: Yeah, I think that we're really lucky in the sense that we're so used to talking about money all the time. We can sometimes maybe forget that other people don't do this, but I'm in a similar situation as you, Sara, where my partner and I are responsible for our own individual finances. And as a result, we are constantly talking about our individual money and what we have going on, how much we're saving for retirement, that sort of thing. It isn't always easy, especially when we have different ideas about what we should be doing with our money, what we want to do with our money. But the important thing is that we go into these money talks with the understanding that we're working on building the life we want together and that we know we're likely going to have to make some compromises to get there.

Kim Palmer: I love that. My husband and I also use a Google sheet to kind of track everything, and then we try to review it together at least once a quarter. That's our goal. And it's actually completely helped us, guided us into making some really, I think, better decisions about where our money is going, like switching where we get our auto insurance, cutting back on some cable bills. So I think that for us has been a useful tool. And just keeping it positive. We love planning vacations, so just having that be the focus, or at least the first thing we talk about, can be a helpful way just to make it a little bit more fun.

Sean Pyles: Well, Kim, do you have any final thoughts for our listener or anyone else that's working through a tough money situation with their partner?

Kim Palmer: I think the biggest thing is to really drill into your communication and just think more broadly, "How are we communicating about money? Do we need to change our patterns? Is finding out about this debt something that is so surprising because we haven't been having those conversations?" So just maybe setting up that recurring chance to talk openly about money, I think, will help them get on a good track.

Sean Pyles: Great. Well, thank you so much for talking with us.

Kim Palmer: Thanks for having me.

Sean Pyles: And with that, let's get on to our takeaway tips. Sara, will you please start us off?

Sara Rathner: Of course. First, consider involving a professional. Financial dishonesty in a relationship can be shocking. A marriage counselor or financial therapist can help you work through these challenges.

Sean Pyles: Next, choose the payoff method that works for you. Online debt calculators like the one that we have at NerdWallet can help you figure out how long it will take you to pay off the debt at the current pace and you can experiment with adjustments to speed up the process. You might want to also consider a personal loan or a balanced transfer card.

Sara Rathner: Finally, schedule regular money talks. Talking openly with your partner about money and your financial goals can ensure you're on the same page and avoid surprises and tension when it comes to money.

Sean Pyles: And that is all we have for this episode. Do you have a money question of your own? Turn to the Nerds and call or text us your questions at 901-730-6373. That's 901-730-NERD. You can also email us at [email protected]. Visit for more info on this episode. And remember to follow, rate, and review us wherever you're getting this podcast.

Sara Rathner: And here's our brief disclaimer. We're not financial or investment advisors. This nerdy info is provided for general educational and entertainment purposes and may not apply to your specific circumstances. This episode was produced by Sean Pyles and Tess Vigeland. Kaely Monahan mixed our audio. Jae Bratton wrote our show notes. And a big thank you to the folks on the NerdWallet copy desk for all their help.

Sean Pyles: And with that said, until next time, turn to the Nerds.