When Two (Financially Independents) Become One [SLIDESHOW]
When you get married, you begin sharing a lot more than just closet space, vacations and chores. You also embark on a shared financial life. Depending on how you structure your finances and how you communicate about money, your “merger” can be a great way to help meet your shared financial goals more quickly. On the other hand, ignoring money issues may lead to tension. Here are some smart ways to start your financial life together and to help keep it healthy.
Together or separate?Even before you walk down the aisle, talk about how you’ll handle your checking and savings accounts and household bills after you tie the knot. Will you combine all your accounts and pay mortgage or rent and other bills from a single account? Or will you keep separate accounts and each contribute a set amount or percentage toward expenses? Having a joint account can help make it simpler to maintain a budget, keep records and possibly reduce your banking fees, says the American Institute of CPAs. On the flip side, it takes good communication and monitoring to make sure both partners know how much money is in the account and not overdraw it.
Consider your credit.Some couples may agree to pull and share a copy of their credit reports before they get hitched — just to be sure no surprise debts come between them. (If you’ve forgotten about an outstanding debt, it may show on your credit report.) Being familiar with both of your credit reports and scores may also help you determine whether you’re eligible for the best rates on a mortgage, car loan and insurance, etc. Just keep in mind that your credit scores don’t marry when you do. You’ll each retain your own credit history, which is linked to your Social Security number. However, lenders often look at both partners’ credit when reviewing loan agreements, so they both matter. You can get a free copy of each of your three credit-bureau reports once a year at AnnualCreditReport.com.
Keep one thing separate: a credit card.Many experts advise each person in a couple to keep at least one credit card in just their name (rather than making it a joint account). This can help you maintain your own, individual credit history. It can also be a bit easier to access funds — and separate debts — if you ever divorce or one of you passes away unexpectedly.
Discuss financial dreams and goals.How do you want your money to work for you? In the short term, is eating out regularly important to one of you, while weekly cross-fit classes are a priority to your partner? It’s important to talk and perhaps compromise in order to afford what’s important to you both. Also consider your top long-term money goals: A house, starting your own business or cutting back on work to raise children? Talk openly about those issues now, so you can set your savings and investment priorities together.
Regularly review your spending.Financial expert Dave Ramsey suggests that married couples plan and review their budget at least monthly. This helps you make sure you’re on track to meet your financial goals. It also gives you a chance to help correct mistakes before you overdraw your account and avoid money squabbles. Even if one partner does most of the bill-paying and account-balancing, Ramsey suggests that you both be part of the overall financial decision-making and review process.
Look for “marriage” financial advantages.As the old saying goes, “Two can live more cheaply than one.” When you marry, sharing housing costs, utilities, food and more usually helps save money. But, there may be other financial bonuses like getting tax deductions, potentially saving money by using the same insurance company and lowering interest rates on existing loans. Using your tax, fee and/or interest savings toward other shared financial goals can also be a great way to start off your marriage on solid financial footing.