Valentine’s Day’s is the biggest day of the year for marriage proposals. But now that Valentine’s Day has come and gone, it’s time for all engaged couples to make certain that their marriage gets off to a strong start with money management, an established budget and shared financial goals. While all engaged couples dream of marital happiness, they need to keep in mind that money is often the number one topic of conflict in marriage—and a leading cause for divorce.
If a couple has open and honest communication before they walk down the aisle, they can identify areas of concern and build a foundation for financial success and money management. Here are some tips that I recommend for engaged couples to be as happy financially as they are in other aspects of their relationship.
- Calculate your net worth individually and as a couple. Share information about full-time, part-time, or supplemental income; monthly expenses; and existing loan and credit card debt. For better or worse, when you get married, you inherit all of your spouse’s finance issues.
- Map out short-term and long-term financial goals, including preferred living standards. Does your future spouse have a desire to retire in his or her 50s? Does your beloved want a second house on the beach? What about retirement savings plans, insurance policies, life insurance plans, or investment accounts? Are either of you on a strict budget to pay off the debt you’ve accumulated? It’s important to talk now about long-term goals and any necessary short-term sacrifices.
- Develop a plan to reduce debt redundancies and to pay off debt. Identify areas where bills unnecessarily overlap, and look for opportunities to use your married status to decrease expenses. Most cellular phone companies offer family plans that can cut monthly phone costs. If you are paying individual membership dues to a gym or other club, see if a family membership makes better financial sense. Use your savings to reduce credit card debt. Bear in mind that carrying significant debt into your marriage can affect the rates for which you might qualify when you are applying for a mortgage.
- Create a comprehensive budget. Take into account your current income and expenses. While income generally increases with a marriage, oftentimes expenses increase, too. Take a realistic look at what your new monthly expenses will be as a married couple. Keep in mind that certain bills will increase, such as groceries, commuting costs, and even dry-cleaning expenses. Be sure to plan the amount of money you will place into savings each month to create a joint emergency fund, to save for a down payment on a house, or even to build a joint retirement nest egg. Consider also setting aside a small amount of money per week that each spouse can spend at his or her discretion.
- Share your credit reports and credit scores. For many couples, marriage signifies the impending desire to purchase a new home or make other major purchases—but it is crucial to know about your partner’s credit report. Americans are entitled to a free credit report from each of the three credit reporting agencies every 12 months. Log onto www.annualcreditreport.com to obtain copies of your reports, and consider also purchasing your credit score (for a nominal fee). In the process, carefully review the reports and correct any erroneous listings. Be sure to examine both of your credit scores and debt-to-income ratios as lenders use this information when assessing loan applications.
- Decide when to merge accounts. Discuss the pros and cons of maintaining separate or joint accounts. If your intended has bad credit, maintain separate accounts for the time being, but work with him or her to pay off the debt and begin the process of improving his or her credit score. If you both have good credit, consider opening joint accounts for household expenses and savings but possibly maintaining separate accounts for personal spending money.
- Plan the wedding of your dreams—and of your financial means. Now that you are headed on the right path to financial bliss, be sure that the happiest day of your life does not become the one that ruined your finances and credit rating for years to come. Set a budget prior to planning the wedding and stick to it! There are lots of convenient ways to cut costs and still have a beautiful wedding.
- Talk about the future. Discuss your plans for the future and how they can impact your finances. If you are planning to have children, talk about the expectations of what will happen when the baby comes. Will one of you stay home to care for the child? Will you both continue to work and need to consider daycare options? How about college? The cost of raising children is significant and can have an impact on the most prepared family.
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Mechel Glass is the Director of Education for CredAbility. In this position, she is responsible for developing the curriculum and educational materials for online classes including webinars, podcasts, videos and listen-on-demand classes. She is responsible for managing the agency’s community outreach programs and staff, including financial education specialists in a 14-county area throughout metro Atlanta and north Georgia. She also manages the development and reporting of education partnerships online for the agency.
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.