Money Talks, So Should You

Q&A: What should I know about my fiance's finances?

Mechel Glass
by Mechel Glass, Dimespring Contributor  (@CredAbility)

Proposals were made, rings were purchased and thousands of couples got engaged to be married on Valentine’s Day. Now it’s time to get to know your spouse’s financial side.

Money is usually cited as one of the leading causes of conflict in a marriage and a leading cause of divorce. So open and honest communication before you walk down the aisle can identify areas of concern and build a foundation for financial success.

READ: Frugal ways to show your affection 

As couples mull over where to honeymoon, they also need to talk about their financial situation, attitudes toward spending and financial goals.

Here are some tips that can help a marriage start on financially strong footing:

Map out short- and long-term financial goals: Including preferred living standards. Are you or your fiancé on a strict budget to pay back the debt you’ve accumulated? Does your future spouse have a desire to retire in his/her 50s?  Or does he/she want a second house on the beach? What about retirement savings plans, insurance policies, life insurance plans or investment accounts? It is important to talk now about long-term goals and any necessary short-term sacrifices.

Talk about the future and how it will affect your finances: If you are planning to have children, talk about the expectations of what happens 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. 

Share your credit reports and credit scores: Many couples will want to purchase a new home or make other major purchases soon after marriage. So it’s important to know about your fiancé’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 purchasing your credit score (for a nominal fee) at www.myfico.com. In the process, carefully review the reports and correct any errors. Be sure to examine both of your credit scores and debt-to-income ratios since lenders use this information when assessing loan applications.

Create a comprehensive budget: While income generally increases with a marriage, expenses usually do, too. Take a realistic look at what your new monthly expenses will be as a married couple. Understand that certain bills will increase such as groceries, commuting costs and even dry-cleaning expenses. Be sure to plan the amount of money you plan to place into savings each month to create a joint emergency fund, save for a down payment on a house, or even to build a joint retirement nest egg. Consider setting aside a small amount of money per week that each spouse can spend at his or her discretion.

Develop a plan to reduce debt redundancies and to pay down debts: Identify areas where bills overlap and look for opportunities to use your married status to decrease expenses. Most mobile phone companies and gyms offer family plans that can cut monthly costs. By combining households, your housing and utility costs can be drastically reduced. Use your savings to reduce credit card debt. Carrying significant debt into your marriage can affect the rates you might qualify for when applying for a mortgage.

READ: I Am 1 Percent: Love is not all you need

Decide when to merge accounts: Discuss the pros and cons of maintaining separate or joint accounts. If your future spouse has bad credit, maintain separate accounts for now, but work with him or her to pay down the debt and begin the process of improving the credit score. If you both have good credit, consider opening joint accounts for household expenses and savings, but possibly maintain a separate account for personal spending money.

Plan the wedding of your dreams: And of your financial means. Now that you are headed down on the right path, 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.

Mechel Glass is vice president of community outreach for CredAbility. She is responsible for coordinating community outreach and financial education activities across the agency’s regions and developing new education programs for both classroom settings and online. Glass, a U.S. Army veteran, is also co-author of “The Veteran’s Money Book,” scheduled for publication in April 2014 by Career Press. The book can now be ordered on Amazon.com.