If there’s ever a concern about whether a partner is financially cheating or fudging the numbers on finances, you better hope Tracy Coenen is busy doing something else!
Author of three books and with more than 500 forensic accounting engagements completed, Tracy Coenen has spent more than 25 years investigating financial conflicts. In this Retire Sooner episode, she joins Wes Moss to discuss forensic accounting and dig into signs that your spouse may be financially cheating on you. Tracy regales many examples she’s seen of marital and divorce-related financial conflicts and how she uses investment records, tax returns, bank statements, and even behavioral changes and social media to find the truth. She also shares her insights on how to have potentially difficult money conversations with your partner so that you both remain informed about marital finances. Tracy also shares how couples can use utilize resources such as her Red Flag Assessment and online Marriage, Divorce, and Post-Divorce Money Guides to navigate financial conversations.
Time-Stamped Show Notes from the Video
- [00:01:42] Wes and Tracy discuss their experiences with clients who have had addiction problems or lost money due to gambling.
- [00:07:55] Tracy explains how she looks at transactions off statements in a digital or paper format to find missing money in cases of divorce.
- [00:12:03] Tracy tells the story of a client who’s ex-husband was hiding a relationship and spending on his girlfriend but gets caught through social media and credit card statements.
- [00:19:30] Tracy lists signs of financial infidelity, including secret credit cards, withdrawals, and bank accounts with potential addiction problems and hidden cash.
- [00:26:30] The Divorce Money Guide is an online video-based handbook that helps people in the process of divorce understand their finances.
- [00:34:59] The Post-Divorce money guide offers 10 steps to protect oneself legally and financially after divorce, including changing life insurance beneficiaries and locking down credit. Additionally, there is a separate guide for Marriage.
- [00:42:39] Take Tacy’s Red Flag Assessment here.
Read The Full Transcript From This Episode
(click below to expand and read the full interview)
- Wes Moss [00:00:00]:
- A forensic accountant is like if Sherlock Holmes carried a calculator instead of a magnifying glass or Dirty Harry had a spreadsheet instead of a 44 Magnum. They use accounting and auditing and investigative skills to analyze the finances of people and businesses. Tracy Coenen has spent more than 25 years investigating fraud, financial statement fraud, investment fraud, and insurance fraud. She’s even handled divorce fraud. Sounds so romantic, doesn’t it? She’s personally completed more than 500 forensic accounting engagements. She’s been an expert witness in numerous cases and testified more than 80 times. As the author of three books about fraud and embezzlement and the holder of multiple undergraduate and graduate degrees, Tracy is the perfect person to talk to about this fascinating topic. If you’ve ever fudged your numbers, you better hope Tracy Coenen is busy doing something else, because she’ll see your numeric inconsistencies clearer than a chalk outline at a murder scene. I’m Wes Moss. The prevailing thought in America is that you’ll never have enough money and it’s almost impossible to retire early. Actually, I think the opposite is true. For more than 20 years, I’ve been researching, studying, and advising American families, including those who started late on how to retire sooner and happier. So my mission with the Retire Sooner podcast is to help a million people retire earlier while enjoying the adventure along the way. I’d love for you to be one of them. Let’s get started. Tracy Coenen, you might wonder, why are we the Happy Retiree show and the Retire Sooner podcast, interviewing someone that digs into forensic accounting and whether your spouse is cheating on you from a money perspective. And it’s because we talk about marriage and how it impacts our retirement happiness. And it’s a big topic here. And if somebody is hiding money, shuffling it around, I want our audience to be able to figure that out.
- Tracy Coenen [00:02:11]:
- Well, and I think it’s important to talk about the topic of divorce as it relates to retirement, because when people are getting close to retiree or are in retirement and there is a divorce, it can really upend them financially. Everyone’s standard of living goes down after divorce, but if retirement is imminent or you are already in retirement, it can really have some damaging effects on you.
- Wes Moss [00:02:36]:Well, unless you’re a billionaire, right? So if you split a billion in two, you’re still pretty good. Each side has 500 million, but that’s not 99.9% of America. So you’re right. When you get into a divorce, pretty much always standard of living goes down.Tracy Coenen [00:02:52]:Well. And how about situations like this where we’ve been married for 20 years? Retirement is a little ways off yet, but over that 20 years, my spouse has been working and putting a bunch of money into our 401K account. And now that we’re getting divorced, we’re going to have to split that in half. But that’ll probably be okay. I’ll work on my budget a little bit, but I’ll still be okay. And then we go to split the doesn’t exist because the spouse cashed it out to gamble it all away.
Wes Moss [00:03:19]:
All right, that’s really wow. I mean, we should go to a commercial break and say, we’ll be back with Tracy Coenen and where did the money go and where did it go? What form of gambling was it lost to? When the Retire Sooner podcast returns. But I don’t think we actually have a commercial right now, so we’re going to go right into it. First of all, I can tell you that I have seen a little bit of this even in my, let’s call it, happy retiree practice. We have almost 4000 clients. I’ve seen a lot of different things over the years, and most of the time, the millionaire next door type person doesn’t get into that crap, if you will. And the reason they end up with a million or two or $3 million is they’re pretty darn good about saving and not fettering money away. But I do see families that have had somebody had an addiction problem or their kids had an addiction problem or there was a gambling problem, and I’ve seen money go away pretty quickly. But I haven’t seen from our side of being an advisor and this is why I want to hear your examples or stories about this, is that if it’s just you and your spouse, it seems like it’d be a lot easier to play funny money here and have money go missing. So what happened here in this gambling story?
Tracy Coenen [00:04:37]:
Well, it’s a generic story, but I have seen it. I have been involved in divorces with gambling. Some of the cases, a more recent case, the wife knew that there was a gambling problem and was still a little bit surprised at what was going on with the 401K. But I have been involved in other cases multiple times where it’s just very simply a hidden gambling problem. And the 401K had either not nearly as much as they thought in it or had been completely drained altogether. Which is why one of the things that I’m a big advocate of is the spouse who’s not in control of the money, staying informed about what’s going on, showing them here’s what you would look for to find out if the 401K was cashed out in part or in whole. I’m going to show you on a tax return where to look to see if that was happening.
Wes Moss [00:05:25]:
Right. So first of all, let me back up for just a minute here and explain forensic accounting. First of all.
Tracy Coenen [00:05:32]:
Oh, I thought you were going to explain forensic accounting. Didn’t sound like a question.
Wes Moss [00:05:35]:
No, I would be terrible at explaining this. I would like you to explain what is forensic accounting and you’re a CPA, but as a forensic CPA or somebody that specializes in this, what are you doing?
Tracy Coenen [00:05:49]:
Finding money. So I am a fraud investigator and I find money. It is very often when corporate executives are stealing money, doing funny money with the company’s books and records. Or it may be in divorce cases where someone is trying to find out where has our money gone? Or they’re maybe trying to find out how much are we making as a family? I don’t know where all of our sources of income are now. Great problem to have right there’s. Extra money that you didn’t know was coming in, or cases just where companies are fighting over money. Maybe a contract gone bad, and I’ll come in and figure out how much money was lost because of that contract gone bad, and I’ll testify in court. So that kind of all falls under that umbrella of forensic accounting. But the easiest way to describe it to people is I just say I figure out where the money went.
Wes Moss [00:06:37]:
Okay, so let’s just think about, from a family perspective, a husband and wife. And I could see this maybe it seems even more complicated in a company, but it seems like you would by the time you get brought in, you kind of have the keys to be able to go figure it out. You’re allowed to go in, they probably give you the keys to the accounts, and you get to go look forensically. But it seems a little more complicated maybe for a husband and wife, particularly if you’ve just started a divorce or are the rule I don’t even know the rules on this. Let’s say you’ve got a spouse that’s kind of hiding something. How quickly can the spouse that you’re representing get it so that you can go look?
Tracy Coenen [00:07:18]:
It’s pretty quick because the divorce process itself allows for documents to be subpoenaed. So bank records can be gotten in that fashion, investment records can be gotten in that fashion, tax returns, et cetera. What I tell my clients is that they should get whatever documents they have legal access to on their own immediately. So if your name is on the bank account and you’ve got online banking access, go download everything immediately just in case your spouse is sneaky and takes you off that bank account once the divorce is filed. So gather what you can and for what you don’t have legal access to. Very simple process of your attorney preparing a subpoena, sending that off to the bank, and the bank is legally required to give us the record.
Wes Moss [00:08:02]:
Well, what if you don’t even know what banks to ask?
Tracy Coenen [00:08:06]:
That’s an interesting concept. Of course, you probably have an idea of where your bank account is even if you don’t know a lot of information about it. So we start there, but then when I get into my investigation, typically there are clues to other banks that may exist. Now, I do ask my clients, think about banks that your spouse ever talked about. Or can you remember? We applied for a mortgage from this bank, and we didn’t take that mortgage but maybe there’s a relationship there so we can sense strategically if we have some information in hand that suggests there could be an account at that bank.
Wes Moss [00:08:42]:
Do you remember your husband flying back and forth to Switzerland?
Tracy Coenen [00:08:47]:
People think about that kind of stuff. I get asked all the time about hiding money overseas. And quite frankly, unless you’re wealthy, that’s probably not a concern. There’s a lot that goes into that Swiss bank account, and if you’re kind of the average Joe, it’s just not going to happen. So it’s usually not a concern. And also, if you do have an account that is secretly overseas, we usually will find some sort of clues to that. And so when you’re talking about finding these hidden bank accounts, when I am going through all these bank records, sometimes I find clues. I’ll find a transfer to a bank that you never knew you did business with before, and there’s usually some sort of paper trail so we can find it.
Wes Moss [00:09:30]:
So once you start to get into the documents, by the way, do you do this, Tracy, through statements, or are you going online and actually looking through? How do you typically do it?
Tracy Coenen [00:09:42]:
It’s really with the statements, and we can get them either paper or digital format, it doesn’t matter. But I’m taking those statements, getting all the transactions off the statements into a database and looking line by line.
Wes Moss [00:09:56]:
How often are you brought into a case where somebody, maybe the spouse, thinks that there’s some sort of money movement and there isn’t? Or is it super prevalent that it happens, like, all the time?
Tracy Coenen [00:10:08]:
By the time someone gets to me, they’re pretty certain that something has gone wrong. So my client base really isn’t a good litmus test for society as a whole. I will tell you, though, there are cases that I have worked on where I have gone through everything and in the end said, it’s all accounted for and I find nothing that gives me pause. Now, I can’t give them a 100% guarantee that nothing is wrong, but I can say, I’ve been doing this for 25 years, and in my experience, what I’ve seen here is very normal, and I haven’t found any missing money.
Wes Moss [00:10:42]:
All right, so then we think about what are the maybe the red flags? If you’re going through a divorce and you start to see maybe what is a red flag that you would start suspecting, what kind of behavior would we be saying, wait a minute, maybe there’s more money to be split up.
Tracy Coenen [00:11:02]:
I would look for things like a change in behavior. So a big change. Maybe the person becomes more controlling over the money or controlling over how you spend, controlling access to information about the finances. Those are usually pretty good tip offs when they’re becoming more secretive about the money or secretive of their whereabouts or the phone. I like to say if you have the spouse who always came in the house at the end of the work day and set their phone on the kitchen counter and you went about your business and had dinner and did your watch to TV program at night and all those kinds of things and the phone sat there on the counter and then all of a sudden one day your spouse started coming home from work and that phone never left his or her side even when they went to the bathroom and all those things. Right. That kind of change in behavior would make me suspicious that potentially there’s an affair. Affairs are expensive. The spending has to be hidden. All of those things make it really ripe for there to be something funny going on with the money.
Wes Moss [00:12:09]:
So the behavior can not only identify an affair, but you could also do it in reverse where you’re seeing, well, where’s all this spending going that can then identify that there was also an affair. Has it worked that way as well? Have you ever figured out that there was an affair?
Tracy Coenen [00:12:24]:
For sure. Yeah, we’ve seen it go both ways. Absolutely. And it’s heartbreaking for my clients, right. It’s heartbreaking for me to have to tell them, here’s what I’m seeing. But in I think most cases, they’ve already had suspicions, and this is really just confirming it.
Wes Moss [00:12:42]:
Yeah. So what about with social media? Do you use social media as well to figure this stuff out?
Tracy Coenen [00:12:48]:
We do use social media. Not as often as maybe we’d like, because I think social media is really something that exposes things about relationships. It doesn’t always expose things about the money, except for one really good case that I do call the Instagram investigation.
Wes Moss [00:13:08]:
Oh, come on. You got to tell me.
Tracy Coenen [00:13:11]:
It’s true. I had a client. She and her husband separated, and he got a young girlfriend. There was not a suspicion that he was dating this woman during their marriage. But the wife was upset about this girlfriend, and she said he’s spending all this money on her, and that money is half mine. And she wasn’t wrong. It was half mine.
Wes Moss [00:13:30]:
Wait a minute. I thought that they had already been divorced.
Tracy Coenen [00:13:33]:
No, they were just separated. They weren’t yet divorced.
Wes Moss [00:13:36]:
Separated, but not divorced. And then online, the husband, you’re saying, was posting pictures with his new girlfriend while separated?
Tracy Coenen [00:13:46]:
Well, he wasn’t posting anything. The girlfriend was posting things, but she wasn’t posting pictures with him. So they were kind of smart about it. No pictures of them online together. But the girlfriend wasn’t a secret. The wife knew about the girlfriend. What she was upset about was all the money that was going out the door for this girlfriend. Leasing a car, paying for an apartment, expensive handbags and jewelry and dinners out and all these things. But he denied that any of this was for her. We tried to find out. Does she have a credit card? On your account, because we’re looking at some of these spending patterns, and it looks like a woman is doing some shopping. He denied that she had a credit card on his account. The credit card company denied that she had a credit card on his account. And then one day, I was looking at the girlfriend’s Instagram account and realizing that what she liked to do was take pictures on her shopping trips. Here I am standing outside the Fendi store with a handbag tag the store. So I’ve got the date, the store, and I went and looked at the credit card statement, and there you go. There’s Fendi. And then right after that, she went to fancy lunch at a restaurant, tagged the restaurant, picture of herself. I look at the credit card statement. There’s the restaurant. It was great. When all was said and done, I had $400,000 of spending.
Wes Moss [00:15:11]:
Holy so was this a really wealthy client as well?
Tracy Coenen [00:15:15]:
Okay, there was a good deal of wealth there.
Wes Moss [00:15:19]:
Yeah. $400,000 on a girlfriend. And it’s funny. Here I am, we’re looking at these stories as almost this mystery, or we’re watching this as a Netflix special, and it’s exciting, but in your world, it’s kind of sad, right? You’re telling your client that, yeah, actually, you’ve got these these are their affairs. This is money going to somebody else. But in this particular case, Tracy, that was then reaccounted for, I suspect, when they ultimately were divorced.
Tracy Coenen [00:15:49]:
That’s right. So half of that was the wife’s money. Really, $200,000 of that had to be credited back to her. And certainly that’s a negotiation point when they’re trying to settle everything. And I suppose nobody’s going to cry too much about my client, who is going to get millions of dollars coming out of this divorce. But as far as I’m concerned, half of that was hers. And until they were divorced and divvying up the money, it’s marital property.
Wes Moss [00:16:21]:
Full disclosure, I am affiliated with Capital Investment Advisors, which is a full service and a fee only financial planning and investment management firm in Atlanta and Denver and Tampa and Phoenix or wherever you are. And if you’d like to take your retirement planning or retire sooner, journey to the next level, Capital Investment Advisors would love to help you can find our team and schedule a time to chat. Write at yourwealth.com. So you’ve husband and wife. We’ve already talked about a separation phase, which is obviously different than, I guess, a divorce phase when it’s you’re getting a divorce. Well, when you’re getting a divorce, that in itself could take a good what, year? Or two years, easily.
Tracy Coenen [00:17:08]:
Sometimes three years, four years, depending on how contentious it is. Sure.
Wes Moss [00:17:13]:
So the question then would be, when do you start confronting your spouse on these issues? I guess would it be during the separation? Once you’ve already got attorneys involved and you’re already head to head and it’s a divorce when do you bring it up?
Tracy Coenen [00:17:30]:
It’s really situationally specific. What I do suggest to people is that they gather information, again, going back to getting those bank statements and credit card statements, income tax returns, if you have legal access to those, get copies for yourself, secure them so they can’t disappear, and then start asking questions. Of course, I suggest asking the questions in as non confrontational of a way as possible. That’s not always possible. By the time there are all of these suspicions, I think there probably is pretty good chance that things are argumentative and contentious. Right.
Wes Moss [00:18:11]:
What would be a typical example? And again, you said you’re not typically brought in until there’s already kind of a high suspicion here, but what would be a typical example of what one of the spouses would do? Is it, hey, I’ve got $3 million, but I want to put up a million over somewhere? Is it less than that? Or what is your typical trying to either hide or maybe what about maybe spending on other things that maybe only benefit one party, if you will. You see what I’m saying?
Tracy Coenen [00:18:43]:
What I typically see is people siphoning off money little by little. Okay. Depending on your level of wealth, it might be the $500 withdrawal from the ATM repeatedly that sort of disappears, or it might be a $5,000 cash withdrawal from the bank account that disappears into thin air, things like that. Over time, someone building up a stash of money off to the side is what I see most commonly.
Wes Moss [00:19:15]:
And what are some of the typical time frames? Is that saying that the spouse that’s doing that is just preparing for this? And how long do they do that for?
Tracy Coenen [00:19:24]:
What I see is often that that goes on for a year or two. I typically, in my investigations, go back three to five years, depending on the circumstances. I would say three is probably most common. It’s long enough for us to get a history of what’s been going on, but not so long that it bankrupts my client in trying to pay the fees for the work. So three years is pretty typical. And I think usually when I’m looking at these cases, what we see is going back the first year back or second. That’s kind of where it starts. When you get back to three years, not as usual, to see it going back that far. Certainly there are cases where this has been a long standing thing in a marriage where someone’s been salting away money for ten or 20 years. But many of the cases, it is a much more recent issue.
Wes Moss [00:20:11]:
Well, so wait, you have seen some of these that have gone on that long over ten years?
Tracy Coenen [00:20:16]:
Absolutely, we can see. One of the difficulties is that banks only keep records for seven years. So it’s hard to go back beyond that unless a client has been keeping their own records. There are people who keep copies of bank statements for 10, 15 years. Yes. So that’s really helpful in these cases where we think the problem may go further back. And the way that we approach it is I will start with that three to five year period. And if we see that this kind of behavior with the money goes all the way back, then we might go back five more years and see what we find and just kind of keep working our way back until we decide that it’s no longer worth it to keep going.
Wes Moss [00:20:55]:
And is it just the same intent for everybody? It’s just, hey, once we get divorced, if this money is in some other place, then I don’t have to split it. Is that pretty much the only intent?
Tracy Coenen [00:21:09]:
Right? Absolutely. I think that’s the only intent. I suppose there are the cases well, of course, cases where someone has the affair or the addiction, the secret spending that they don’t want to disclose, of course, would be the other big reason why. So it’s either, let’s get a pile of money that I get to keep all for myself, or we’ve had a pattern of secret spending.
Wes Moss [00:21:30]:
Yeah. Okay. So how often has that shown up? And is that pretty easy to figure out if you’ve got some sort of gambling problem or maybe let’s walk through some of those gambling or maybe addiction problems as well, those kinds of things.
Tracy Coenen [00:21:45]:
The other type of thing that I see is the secret credit card. I like to say maybe in many families, there’s one main bank account and there’s one main credit card. So let’s say you’ve got your credit card, Citibank, and you, as the spouse who’s not in control of money, maybe see a credit card statement every so often. Or see a bank statement every so often. You see that Citibank is being paid. Yes. You know, that’s our credit card and that looks normal to you, doesn’t raise any red flags. What you might not have realized is Citibank might be paid twice every month, but you wouldn’t pay attention to that. Why might they be paid twice every month? Because there might be a second credit card at Citibank that’s being paid that your spouse said, well, if I have another card at Citibank, my spouse won’t get suspicious when they see Citibank is being paid. There’s so many ways to do it.
Wes Moss [00:22:34]:
Wes okay, give us another way. Give us another way to do this.
Tracy Coenen [00:22:40]:
Oh, what can I think of that’s? A good one. It’s so simple.
Wes Moss [00:22:47]:
We’re informing spouses that are trying to do this in a very sneaky way. Are we allowed to do this here on the show?
Tracy Coenen [00:22:53]:
Well, that’s just it. Sometimes people want to hear about things like this, and it’s like, please don’t go use don’t reverse engineer me to use it against your spouse and try to hide money. Let’s see. We’ve talked about the withdrawals, right? And we’ve talked about the secret bank account. We’ve talked about the second credit card, the ATM withdrawals. So when I ask people why you never used the ATM before, but now you’ve started going there regularly a couple of times a week, what’s going on? Response is typically, oh, I was using that to put gas in the car or buy groceries. And I’m saying, but I still see you using the debit card for gas and groceries. So where did the cash really go?
Wes Moss [00:23:37]:
And again, that would be cash that people that just end up opening some other bank account and putting it in there.
Tracy Coenen [00:23:43]:
Either that or the secret spending or even I mean, I have been involved in cases where there’s been a duffel bag with piles of cash in it hidden somewhere.
Wes Moss [00:23:54]:
Wow. Yeah. So somebody just keeping the physical cash.
Tracy Coenen [00:23:58]:
Right. Because there’s no paper trail. There there’s no risk. There’s almost no risk of us finding that duffel bag. Right, but you did.
Wes Moss [00:24:08]:
You guys found the duffel bag. How’d you find it?
Tracy Coenen [00:24:10]:
Fair enough. I don’t know how wife found it. I don’t recall. And it’s not only husbands that do this. Let us be clear.
Wes Moss [00:24:20]:
Let’s turn the tables here. What have you seen that I don’t know why we always say that’s men that do this, but from a wife perspective or is it pretty much the same? Is it pretty similar patterns?
Tracy Coenen [00:24:31]:
It’s a lot of similar patterns, but let’s flip this a little bit to a positive so we’re going to talk about flipping the gender roles, and we’re also going to flip it a little bit to a more positive thing, because right now I feel like Oprah. You have fraud. You have fraud. Right. So I last year worked on a case. My client was the husband, and he had been a stay at home dad for about 15 years. His wife was a physician, and she made anywhere from a million to $2 million a year, depending on what her caseload was and what her bonus structure was. They were getting divorced, and she said, thank you very much. I am going to pay you $2,000 a month for the next two years for support, spousal support, and then you’re going to be done, and you’re going to go away. And he said, Well, I don’t think that sounds quite fair. We’ve been married for 15 years. I gave up my career to raise our children. And you’re making a million to $2 million a year. I think I probably deserve more support than that than $2,000 a month and for a longer period. And she said, oh, no, you don’t. You know why? Because you have been hiding a bunch of money. So go live off of that. And he said, hiding money. What are you talking about? She said, well, we don’t really have a whole lot in any investment accounts or bank accounts right now. You certainly must be hiding money. He said, well, no, I wasn’t hiding money. What I was doing remember when you wanted that house two states over and we went and bought that house, and then a couple of years later, you changed your mind and didn’t want it, and we sold it for a loss. And then we did that again, and he said, our lifestyle has eaten up all our money. I was hired to come in to do two things to prove the negative that he wasn’t hiding money and to help make his case for what her income was so that he could go in front of a judge and ask for proper spousal support.
Wes Moss [00:26:14]:
Okay, so you were there to prove that because they didn’t. So you’re telling okay, so this story here wife is making a million to $2 million, and there weren’t really a lot of assets to split, right? It was the husband saying, I should be getting a fair amount of money every month based on your income. And she said, no, I’m only going to do two grand a month. Is she making a couple of million bucks a year?
Tracy Coenen [00:26:38]:
Wes Moss [00:26:39]:
Was that based on child support or is that based on spouse?
Tracy Coenen [00:26:42]:
That was going to be all in.
Wes Moss [00:26:43]:
Wow, that’s aggressive.
Tracy Coenen [00:26:46]:
It’s very aggressive. But you know what? When gender roles are reversed, we see this all the time. The husband who is making the big money, who holds the purse strings, is saying, I’m not going to give you hardly anything in support. Too bad.
Wes Moss [00:26:58]:
Go get a job, maybe. Fair point.
Tracy Coenen [00:27:02]:
So it was really interesting to have the roles reversed here.
Wes Moss [00:27:06]:
So what happened there? You had to prove that essentially, how could we not have any money? And you said, well, the husband essentially said, we’ve either spent it or we’ve lost it in investments. And she said, Prove it.
Tracy Coenen [00:27:20]:
Yes. Which sounds ridiculous, right? Because they had been, in the course of the divorce, had been saying, well, you’re saying he was stealing money. Can you be more specific? And the answer was, no, we can’t be more specific. So I went in, and basically what I did was for the last three years, I looked at all the money that she made that came into the house, and then I was able to document every bit of spending, all the money that was going out of the house, so we could see there was the purchase of the house. None of this money was unaccounted for.
Wes Moss [00:27:53]:
Tracy Coenen [00:27:54]:
The bottom line.
Wes Moss [00:27:55]:
Okay, so what about is there any sort of ironclad way to ensure that your partner is not hiding anything? Or is it really just about communication and trust? Except when you’re starting to get divorced, the communication and trust goes away.
Tracy Coenen [00:28:13]:
The best way that you can protect yourself is by keeping an eye on things on an ongoing basis. So be informed every single month, take a look at those statements. Keep an eye on it. I have tips. And techniques for what you want to look for every month and things like that. And if you are staying informed and your spouse knows you’re staying informed, it’s less likely that they’re going to do something. It’s those scenarios where someone is not participating at all in the financial process.
Wes Moss [00:28:44]:
Totally head in the sand.
Tracy Coenen [00:28:45]:
Right. And the person holding the purse strings knows this and knows, gosh, I can do whatever I want. My spouse was never going to know about what I’ve done.
Wes Moss [00:28:54]:
Divorce Money Guide this is something that you’ve written, are there? Give us a little bit of a preview on the Divorce Money Guide and some of the things that you’re walking through for folks.
Tracy Coenen [00:29:06]:
The Divorce Money Guide is an online handbook for people who are in the process of divorce. It is very heavily video based in.
Wes Moss [00:29:14]:
The process in the process of so once you’re thinking about it, actually, if.
Tracy Coenen [00:29:18]:
You’re thinking about it, let’s say you have concerns about the money, you’re in the decision process. I don’t know if I want to stay with my spouse or not, but if that money issue is a big deal for you and it might help sway that decision one way or another and you want to become informed about your finances, certainly the Divorce Money Guide is going to help you with that. So videos, written materials, worksheets, checklists that basically walk you through the process of what’s going to go on in the financial part of your divorce. What financial documents do you need for this divorce process? How do you get them and what do you look for in them once you have them? And what you’re looking for is a to get an understanding of how your money was spent, but then B, as you’re learning how your money was spent, how to identify transactions or hints that there has been money that’s disappearing.
Wes Moss [00:30:08]:
Yeah. Again, you would think a lot of American families, you would think they talk about, hey, here’s what I have in retirement and here’s what you have in retirement. But the reality here, and I think the reality here is that just not everybody talks about money. In fact, it’s probably maybe the exception. The happy retiree talks about money, but there’s not as many happy retirees as we’d like. Right. And you have families that just don’t want to talk about money. It’s a tough subject and it seems like it gets to be really uncomfortable if one of the spouses is trying to siphon money somewhere else off to some sort of duffel bag.
Tracy Coenen [00:30:44]:
Well, it can get really uncomfortable, especially if you have always in your marriage had a division of duties where one spouse took care of the money and not a lot of questions were asked. This is very typical. So I work a lot with women. I see a lot of them come to me feeling ashamed because they weren’t actively involved with the money. And now they’re in a position of being concerned that some money has been siphoned off or hidden. And I tell them there’s nothing to be ashamed about. This is how most marriage work, where one spouse takes care of the money. And you don’t have to be ashamed. The point is that we want to get information now. And if you are in a marriage where your spouse has been holding all the information and controlling all the money and you want to change that because you want information, I suggest doing things like saying, hey, I’m concerned. What if something happened to you? What if you got into a car accident and you’re in a coma? What if you unexpectedly died? I don’t know where our money is. I don’t know what’s on automatic payments. I don’t know how much we’ve got in the accounts. I want to get an understanding of what’s going on with our money and where it is so that I wouldn’t have to worry about that issue as I am in the hospital with you or grieving your death.
Wes Moss [00:31:59]:
It is a tip, and that’s one of your steps in the Divorce Money Guide. But it’s normal best practice that we should all be asking anyway, right? If my wife asked me that today, I’d be like, oh, my God, you’re thinking about getting divorced, and you just listen to Tracy Coenen. But if we hadn’t done this interview today, I would say, look, about a month ago, I got hit in the head with a speaker doing a speaking event, right? I was at a podium, and it was outside, and it blew over, and it obviously didn’t kill me. I’m fine. But I had a concussion. It could have if I’d been maybe, like 3ft further away, the momentum would have been really bad.
Tracy Coenen [00:32:40]:
Wes, I want you to know that you’re going to have a whole bunch of attorneys calling you. Now.
Wes Moss [00:32:43]:
Don’t you know that I got a free dinner out of it and they paid for a big chunk of the event. They were freaked out about it. The venue was pretty freaked out, and they called me like 18 times. One time I was in the ER. I was like, Actually, I’m getting a CAT scan on my head. That freaked him out even more. I got a free dinner out of it.
Tracy Coenen [00:33:05]:
Wes Moss [00:33:06]:
Order anything you want. I was like, I want the seafood tower. Right? I want the seafood tower. Anyway, my point here is that that’s the right question that any spouse should be asking. It’s like, hey, I want to make sure where are the main bank accounts? And then that’s a great question, is, hey, where are all the auto payments? Because everything is so crazy automated that I almost don’t even think about it anymore because it’s been on auto for so long, let alone a spouse. And in an automated world, it’s easy to kind of lose track of a lot of different things payment wise, and then that’s a disaster if something happens to one of the spouses.
Tracy Coenen [00:33:46]:
Well, I’ve had people say, I did the song and dance with my spouse and said, I want to know where our money is. I want to make sure that the mortgage can be paid. And the response has been, don’t worry about it. It’s all on auto pay. Well, guess what? At some point, the money runs out, even if it is on auto pay. So I still need to know. And of course, I don’t want to discount that. There are family situations, maybe abusive situations, where one spouse would not even be able to ask a question like this, would not even be able to suggest I need information because it could put them at risk or at danger. I understand that. I don’t want to minimize that. This is simply one technique that I know in many relationships is possible to ask and use.
Wes Moss [00:34:28]:
Yeah, I think it’s a really good point. You’re right. There are marriages where that’s almost an unsafe issue. They’re probably better off getting a divorce and then bringing somebody like you in so that they don’t have to deal with that conflict. And I guess that’s another way to look at this, right? If you don’t want to deal with a conflict, you end up getting divorced. We could always know. You could bring someone like you, Tracy, in that’s forensic that can make sure that everything’s accounted for. You have a story about someone paying for school for someone. I wanted to hear about that. If someone was paying for some sort of graduate type school.
Tracy Coenen [00:35:05]:
I don’t have a lot of details. So it is someone who used the Divorce Money Guide to go through their finances. And the short of it, Wes? The husband had a secret bank account that the wife didn’t know about and was taking part of the paychecks every month and putting them in the secret bank account. So enough was going into their main checking account that she never would have noticed, never got suspicious. She ended up finding out that part of his paycheck was going into this secret account. When she finally got access to that secret account through the divorce process, what we saw were, like, cash app type of payments on a repeating basis. And when we got down to the bottom of it, it was $501,000 going to his girlfriend at a time. And then the wife found out she was in nursing school, and she said, oh, gosh, so my husband was paying for her to go to nursing school.
Wes Moss [00:36:03]:
All right, so what about second marriages, Tracy? What about second marriage? Please tell me you don’t have clients that have come back a second time and needing to figure out forensics.
Tracy Coenen [00:36:14]:
I have never had repeat clients on the divorce side. But now that you said that, maybe that’s a goal I should have before the end of my career. Second marriages do get really interesting though, especially if you both have children of your own and you want to protect them financially. There are interesting issues. You might want to give your child a car when they become of the age of driving and your new spouse may say, hey, I don’t want my kids to have a car, I want them to earn their own car. Really interesting issues. Which is why I’ve put together the Marriage Money Guide to help people address some of these financial issues as they are going into marriage, especially second marriages.
Wes Moss [00:36:55]:
You have the Marriage Money Guide, and then you have the Divorce Money Guide.
Tracy Coenen [00:37:01]:
And I also have the Post Divorce Money Guide. I mean, as long as we’re throwing it all out there, we recently released the Post Divorce Money Guide as well. So all those things that you need to do after your divorce is final to protect yourself legally and financially. So we’ve got ten steps again, videos, worksheets, those kinds of things. But I’ve got a checklist of 30 things that you have to think about doing after your divorce is final. All those things that nobody ever give.
Wes Moss [00:37:28]:
Give me a couple of examples. I’m very interested.
Tracy Coenen [00:37:31]:
Change the beneficiary in your life insurance policies. You don’t want your ex husband or ex wife getting the life insurance if you pass away tomorrow, right? Changing your will, double checking whose names are on your auto insurance policies. But let me talk about the most important thing, and it is all about locking down your credit. So if you had credit cards or loans together, making sure that your name is no longer on accounts, making sure that your ex’s name is no longer on accounts that you control. And really my best advice there is closing those credit cards altogether and opening brand new ones in your name only if that’s possible. And there are certainly some considerations there and it’s not always as easy as I make it sound to get new credit cards, but if that’s an option, that’s the best way.
Wes Moss [00:38:22]:
I want to know about Marriage Money Guide if you’re a newlywed, what should you be talking about? Give me the same three main things you should be talking about with your fiance or new wife.
Tracy Coenen [00:38:36]:
Right. So the first thing you’re going to talk about is how are we going to manage our money? And I give three options, three basic options. Of course, there’s all sorts of different things you could do, but if you looked at it on a very basic level, you could combine all your money, manage it all together, you could keep your money completely separate. I’ve got mine, my income, and I spend it on my things. You’ve got your income, you spend it on your things. Or we could do something kind of in the middle where we combine some of our funds but keep some separate. So it’s deciding how you want to do that and how you’re going to manage it. The second big thing to talk about is budgeting. How much we’re going to spend on things. So that includes not only the house and the cars and the groceries, but also our hobbies. How much does that hobby of yours cost? So that I know what to be prepared for and so that I can plan my own hobbies accordingly.
Wes Moss [00:39:29]:
My hobby is gardening, which includes buying seeds and some fertilizer. Your hobby is speedboat racing? Like maybe a little lopsided.
Tracy Coenen [00:39:39]:
Well, my hobby is the thing that I spend an obnoxious amount of money on is my hair and my nails.
Wes Moss [00:39:45]:
Well, I haven’t seen your nails, but if you’re listening to this, hopefully if you’re on YouTube, you’d see you do have awesome hair.
Tracy Coenen [00:39:52]:
Thank you on it. That was something that my spouse had to be prepared for as we were heading into marriage. So the budgeting is really important. And the third big thing, because you asked for three tips my third big thing is that we go into this marriage with an agreement that no matter what we’ve decided about how we’re handling our money or how much we’re spending on various things, that it can always be discussed again, that no decision is permanent. Because once we get into the marriage and we start managing the money the way we’ve agreed, we might find out it doesn’t work as well for us as we thought it would. Let’s come back together and talk about it. I do actually even recommend having monthly chats about the money so that on a routine basis we’re reassessing. Does this still work?
Wes Moss [00:40:41]:
I’ve always wondered about prenuptial agreements, and I wonder how helpful are they? Or do they help when you’re going through some sort of divorce?
Tracy Coenen [00:40:50]:
From a financial perspective, it actually is very helpful, because what the prenup does is it tells the judge how we intend to separate our finances. So some people say prenups are bad because it is like you’re preparing to have a divorce. And I say, no. A prenup is a contract that says if, God forbid we ever get divorced, here’s how we’re going to divide the money and here’s what we’re going to do with our finances. It is a fantastic way to take control of how things get divided, rather than being at the mercy of the court or the mercy of something that the lawmakers did.
Wes Moss [00:41:30]:
Particularly, though I would think maybe Tracy, where you’ve seen these, they’re almost I don’t know of any newlyweds, let’s say, that are both in their 20s that get prenups. Right. That doesn’t usually happen, but it’s typically for second marriages, right?
Tracy Coenen [00:41:44]:
It is a lot of times, because, again, there might be children involved. We want to protect their interests. We want to make sure that things go right with the money there. I do think it’s more typical to see a prenup when the people getting married are older. I think that’s really the more typical thing because you’re right, it is different if we’re getting married in our early 20s versus if we’re getting married in our forties and maybe one of the spouses has accumulated a little bit of wealth and the other hasn’t.
Wes Moss [00:42:13]:
Yeah, well, and I love your point, though, about, God forbid, if this happens, we’re making these decisions today as opposed to letting some court or judge wrangle around these financial decisions in the middle of a divorce, which is already so messy.
Tracy Coenen [00:42:29]:
Well, and it’s much better to agree on what happens with the money when we’re all getting along versus by the time we’re all bitter and arguing about everything anyway, then how are we going to agree on anything?
Wes Moss [00:42:43]:
What about a red flag? If we were headed into a new marriage, what could be is it going through year three steps about they don’t want to talk about a budget. They don’t want to talk about combining or not. What’s a red flag? As you’re getting married?
Tracy Coenen [00:42:58]:
I would look for things like secrecy about the money, because when we’re getting married, this should be the time where we’re kind of putting all our cards out on the table, and I would be worried about someone who has problematic spending patterns.
Wes Moss [00:43:11]:
The Fendi bag story tagging the Fendi bag. And then the fancy restaurant that you go to for lunch. That is a pretty cool story that you figured that out on Instagram.
Tracy Coenen [00:43:22]:
It was fun.
Wes Moss [00:43:24]:
By the way, that was a couple. They never posted together.
Tracy Coenen [00:43:27]:
Wes Moss [00:43:27]:
You just knew, okay.
Tracy Coenen [00:43:31]:
Wes Moss [00:43:35]:
Trying to be smart, but it didn’t work. Not so smart after all. Tell me about I’m curious about your main amount of time. Is it case by case? When I see CPA, I think taxes. But you’re not doing taxes. You’re doing these are projects that you will do, correct?
Tracy Coenen [00:43:54]:
You’re right. I don’t do any taxes. I don’t do any traditional accounting services. Everything that I do is project based. My clients are attorneys who come to me on behalf of their clients who are getting divorced or who are running companies that have been defrauded and things of this nature. Earlier this year, I came up with the idea for the money guides because I was looking for an option. I would have people call me regarding their divorces who were in a position where they couldn’t afford a forensic accountant or it didn’t make sense to spend the money on a forensic accountant. And I was frustrated because there was no option for them, there was no product, no guide out there to help them sort out the money. So I said, why don’t I build this? And then as I was developing the Divorce Money Guide, I thought, gosh, we could actually head off a lot of problems if people were more informed as they went into marriage about how to talk about money, about those red flags to look for in their marriage to figure out if their spouse might be hiding money. And so the whole concept kind of developed from there. So the money guides are really a new thing for me that’s now the product side of my business. But it is a much smaller piece of my business, of course, than the consulting side is.
Wes Moss [00:45:10]:
You are the Oprah of forensic accounting. You are. But in a good way. I would say in a good way.
Tracy Coenen [00:45:17]:
Wes one of the things that I want people to understand is I’m not trying to scare everyone. I’m not trying to get everyone super paranoid about their marriages, about their divorces. And one of the things that I see in these situations is that the spouse who hasn’t been in control of the money might have some questions, but then might wonder, well, am I just being paranoid? They don’t know how to objectively evaluate what they’re seeing. Is this a red flag or is it not? Is it super important? Super bad? Is it not? So I created an assessment that people could take 15 questions. Have you seen this? How does your family manage money? What is the reaction when you say this? They can answer these questions, and the result that they get is my objective assessment of how likely it is that there is financial fraud in their marriage.
Wes Moss [00:46:10]:
Oh, so you actually have a questionnaire that’ll kind of give a score.
Tracy Coenen [00:46:14]:
Yes, the Red Flag Assessment.
Wes Moss [00:46:18]:
I like that. What website is this on?
Tracy Coenen [00:46:21]:
This is on my website. Fraudcoach.com. We can put a link in the show. Notes to the Red Flag Assessment is linked at the very top of the page, but you can find it at fraudcoach.com /redflag.
Wes Moss [00:46:35]:
See? That’s cool. So, fraud coach. You’re the ultimate fraud coach. I think I like that better. The oprah forensic accounting. And last thing, and this is really what I should have asked you first, but I always ask people their favorite places to go in the world, travel wise because travel is a top three hobby for the happy retiree. And so my question first is where’s your favorite place to travel in Michigan?
Tracy Coenen [00:46:56]:
I’ve only been to Michigan a couple of times.
Wes Moss [00:47:01]:
Tracy Coenen [00:47:01]:
Wes Moss [00:47:01]:
Marquette. Isn’t Marquette, Michigan?
Tracy Coenen [00:47:06]:
Yes, Marquette University is in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. There is a city called Marquette, Michigan. It is in the Upper Peninsula. So you’re not incorrect in that. You’re not completely off base.
Wes Moss [00:47:16]:
Oh, wait a minute. But hold on, though. Wait, but all these wait, so Marquette, the school, is in Marquette, Wisconsin?
Tracy Coenen [00:47:24]:
No, Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Marquette University is in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Wes Moss [00:47:29]:
And Marquette is in the up of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan as well. So there’s one’s a school and one is a city.
Tracy Coenen [00:47:37]:
Yes. Do we have to edit that whole thing out now?
Wes Moss [00:47:39]:
Yeah, but hold on. But no, actually, because I ask everybody what their favorite place to travel in Michigan is because I think it’s the most underrated state in the United States. And people are like, what? Why would I go to Michigan? Or they say, I love Michigan, and I’m the dumb one here because I thought Marquette was actually in Michigan. It is, but the school is not right. So that’s just educational for our listener. How about travel in the world? Where’s your favorite place to travel in the world?
Tracy Coenen [00:48:11]:
My favorite city in the entire world drumroll. Barcelona.
Wes Moss [00:48:17]:
Nobody’s going to argue with that one.
Tracy Coenen [00:48:18]:
That’s a pretty barcelona is amazing.
Wes Moss [00:48:22]:
Have you spent a lot of time there or have you just like I’ve.
Tracy Coenen [00:48:25]:
Been there a couple of times. I have a goal of living there for a month sometime in the next few years. Yeah, I have this plan. I want to go to different cities and live in each of them for a month.
Wes Moss [00:48:42]:
That’s kind of a cool idea. A month at a time, and then maybe pick long term retirement wise. No. Where are you now, by the way? Where do you live now?
Tracy Coenen [00:48:53]:
So I live in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Wes Moss [00:48:55]:
You stayed? You stayed?
Tracy Coenen [00:48:57]:
Wes Moss [00:48:58]:
And the slight accent you had would just be you would call that a Midwestern.
Tracy Coenen [00:49:05]:
I think that we have a special accent that goes way back to the Norwegians. If you ever visit Minnesota or Wisconsin, you definitely hear a sort of accent that we get made fun of for a lot.
Wes Moss [00:49:19]:
Well, my wife is from Michigan, so she has a little bit of a Michigan accent, and her sister has a really heavy, heavy Michigan accent. I don’t know how they grew up in the same house, so I’m a big fan of the Midwestern accents. By the way, I did a semester abroad. I lived in Seville or Sevilla in southern Spain for five or four months.
Tracy Coenen [00:49:45]:
Are you fluent in Spanish?
Wes Moss [00:49:47]:
No, literally, one of my kids, my 7th grader the other day asked me, they’re like, what did you study? I was like, well, it’s pretty just Spanish. And he goes, well, why isn’t your Spanish better? And I was like, I didn’t really study all that much when I was there. That is the prototypical. I even went to the Universad de Sevilla, and I still my Spanish. Listen, my Spanish got to be pretty okay, actually. By the end of the fourth month, I always think if I would have stayed about eight and it would have been much closer to fluent. And I live with guys from Italy and America, so I left my host family after the first week, and I ended up getting these roommates from Italy and the United States, and it just killed my Spanish.
Tracy Coenen [00:50:36]:
Wow, you didn’t follow protocol.
Wes Moss [00:50:39]:
No, I left my Spanish family after one week, and I answered an ad that was in the university from a couple of guys looking for a roommate. And I was like, These guys are so fun. And they thought I was great from America. And it was a real hit on my Spanish, but it was still fun. Tracy Coenen thank you so much for this.
Tracy Coenen [00:50:59]:
Mallory Boggs [00:51:00]:
This is Mallory with the retire Sooner team. Please be sure to rate and subscribe to this podcast and share it with a friend. If you have any questions, you can find firstname.lastname@example.org. That’s wesmoss.com. You can also follow us on Instagram and YouTube. You’ll find us under the handle Retire Soonerpodcast. And now for our show’s. Disclosure this podcast is provided to you as a resource for informational purposes only and is not to be viewed as investment advice or recommendations. This information is being presented without consideration of the investment objectives, risk tolerance or financial circumstances of any specific investor and might not be suitable for all investors. It is not intended to and should not form a primary basis for any investment decision that you may make. Always consult your own legal, tax or investment advisor before making any investment or financial planning considerations. Please refer to the full disclosure in the podcast description for any additional information.
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