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Unromantic Money and Tax Talk before Marriage

Written by Eva Rosenberg on May 12, 2010 in Tax  |   2 comments

Eileen was a single mom and successful businesswoman. Last July, she married an adorable and charming man. He didn’t work but was helpful around the house and with her daughter. So the Mr. Mom thing was fine with her. Life was good. Eileen started to…

Tax discussion for engaged couples
Eileen was a single mom and successful businesswoman. Last July, she married an adorable and charming man. He didn’t work but was helpful around the house and with her daughter. So the Mr. Mom thing was fine with her. Life was good. Eileen started to think about buying a home.

Oops. Suddenly, Eileen learned Mr. Mom owed his ex-spouse a ton of unpaid child support—and he hadn’t filed a tax return or paid taxes in years. If Eileen filed a joint tax return to get the $8,000 first-time home buyer tax credit, the IRS would grab the credit to cover his child support obligation—and his unpaid taxes.

Eileen’s situation isn’t unique. Many men (it’s mostly men, in my experience) have asked me to help them catch up with back tax returns because their fiancées would not set a wedding date until they were caught up. Those fiancées were brilliant. And lucky.

It’s only because they had the decidedly unromantic, somewhat awkward money and tax talk that the problem was revealed. Most people don’t have the money and tax talk until it’s too late. Don’t let that happen to you.

You should walk into a marriage with your eyes open, knowing about your partner’s financial problems—and being willing to work on them. It’s a betrayal when you learn, a year or two later, about the unpaid back taxes, the unpaid child support, the student loan defaults, or other loan defaults.

If you and your new spouse have already opened up joint credit accounts, his or her bad credit behavior could affect your credit history.

How can you avoid this situation?

Have the money and tax talk. You’ll need to ask point-blank about your intended’s income—and any parental obligations:

  • How much do you earn?
  • How much do you have in savings?
  • Do you have any qualified retirement plans that you own or are vested in?
  • Do you have health insurance? Can your health insurance policy cover me, or can mine cover you?
  • Do you have life insurance? Who is the beneficiary? Why?
  • How much do you have in debt?
  • Have you ever filed bankruptcy?
  • Do you have any unpaid student loans?
  • Have you filed all of your tax returns?
  • Do you owe any unpaid taxes to the IRS or state revenue agency?
  • Do you owe back property taxes?
  • Do you have children?
  • Do you have unpaid child support?
  • If you are paying child support or alimony, how much of your income is devoted to that?
  • Do you have a healthy relationship with your ex-spouse and your children? (If not, will this nastiness infringe on our lives together?)

Sure, there needs to be trust between future spouses. But why rely solely on trust? Two simple tools will reveal all.

Tax Obligations? Find Out Here

You can find out about any tax obligations by signing, with your fiancé, an IRS Form 4506-T to request a transcript of your tax history. Check every box. Use two pages. Fill in each year for the last ten years. In box 5, enter your fiancé(e)’s address. The good news is that it’s free.

Credit History Questions? Find Out Here

Sit down at the computer with your fiancé. Both of you should pull up your Equifax 3-in-1 credit report so the other person can see it in full. Or use your free annual credit report from AnnualCreditReport.com for this purpose. While you’re at it, both of you should pull a copy of your credit score. The Equifax credit score will cost you around $8 at AnnualCreditReport.com.

If the idea of discussing money and past financial arrangements seems overwhelming, it should be a red flag. If your relationship can’t survive this process, how is it going to survive past your wedding day?

What’s the strangest thing your fiancé (or fiancée) told you about his or her past financial life? When you had the money and tax talk, did anything you found out surprise you?

Eva Rosenberg, EA, is the publisher of TaxMama.com®, where your tax questions are answered. She teaches tax professionals how to represent you when you have tax problems. She is the author of several books and e-books, including Small Business Taxes Made Easy. Follow her on Twitter: @TaxMama

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The information contained in this blog post is designed to generally educate and inform visitors to the Equifax Finance Blog. The blog posts do not give, and should not be assumed to provide, personalized tax, investment, real estate, legal, retirement, credit, personal financial, or other professional advice. Before making any financial decision, you should always consult with the appropriate professionals who can explain your options, rights, and legal responsibilities, and advise you on any tax, legal, credit, or business implications that may result from those decisions. The views and opinions expressed by the authors of blog posts are their own views and may not be the views or opinions of Equifax, Inc. and/or its affiliates.


  1. Bob says:

    Hi Eva I have a question
    I filed my and my wife's joint tax form on time. I claimed 5,000 each for traditional IRA contributions. Then I found out that her contribution didn't make it on time for 2009. It was put in for 2010. Worried that I would lose money I researched her contributions for the past 4 years and realized that she over contributed 5000 in her sep IRA in 2007. When I factor the overpaying in 2007 in turbotax and take out the 2009 contribution it works out to a 20 dollar difference.
    should I amend my 2009 tax to accurately reflect what year I contributed what?
    Will that increase my chances of an audit?
    Should I figure it evens itself out anyway and not bother amending since I could explain this if I do get audited

  2. Eva Rosenberg, EA says:

    Hi Bob,

    Ouch. Did you know that there are penalties for over-contributing to retirement plans? If she is the "employer", the excise tax can be as much as 10% for over-contributing. http://www.irs.gov/retirement/article/0,,id=111419,00.html#24

    I urge you to sit down with a tax professional to sort out each year's contributions and make corrections. Even though the difference may seem like $20 to you – to IRS the timing differences and over contributions can cause the entire plan to invalid – and all the contributions to be not only non-deductible, but subject to the penalties.

    Two things I never mess around with when it comes to IRS are payroll tax contributions and retirement plan contributions.

    Please, in the future, do not file your tax return until you have definite confirmation that a contribution has been made on time and applied to the correct year.

    There's no reason to make contributions at the very last minute.

    Best wishes,

    Your TaxMama

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