No married couple should suffer from financial infidelity. If you hide debt, income or assets from your spouse, it can lead to a fight and possibly even an impasse in your relationship.
Communication & transparency are essential when it comes to money. That truth should be recognized by every couple tying the knot, or even just cohabitating. Yes, financial matters can prove hard to discuss – but if you can’t talk about them together, that’s already a serious problem.
That problem may affect more couples than we realize. In 2013, 7% of engaged individuals who answered a National Credit Counseling Foundation poll said that if they discussed money issues with their fiancé, it would prompt a fight; 11% felt such a talk would uncover financial secrets, and 5% said it would “cause us to call off the wedding.”
On the bright side, 32% felt a conversation about financial matters would be “a productive and easy conversation to have.” The most frequent response (45%) was that a money discussion would be “awkward,” but also necessary for the health of the marriage.
You have to tell your future spouse about your debts. Do it before you get married, not after. That debt will become your spouse’s financial concern as well as yours. The two of you should plan together to pay down your individual debts in the coming months or years. Again, this represents a shared commitment. Don’t put your name on your deeply indebted spouse’s credit card. Attaching your name to that account will have minimal impact on your FICO score, but you don’t want to pay a (literal) price for your spouse’s runaway financial impulses.
If you have six credit cards between the two of you, see if you can slim it down to three or four – the ones with the lowest fees and best rewards programs. Or see if you can just use those three or four and let the other accounts lie dormant. That might be a better move than just canceling the excess credit cards – that could hurt you, especially in the case of older accounts. About 15% of your FICO score is based on the duration of your credit history, so if that was good history, you don’t quite want to say goodbye to it.
Think about a new joint credit card account for the two of you. If you feel your spouse needs debt counseling before you can make that move, don’t be shy about requesting it. Even if your spouse has been living on plastic, think twice about leaving him or her without a credit card. You want (and need) to show some credit history.
You will have to compromise. The most valuable verb in marriage is also really valuable when it comes to your shared financial life. Maybe you’re a good saver, a future “millionaire next door” – and yet your spouse is a comparative spendthrift. If you can’t compromise on a “money policy,” then maybe you can find a middle ground by saving for a special experience. Or, maybe each of you can set aside a bit of money per month to spend or save purely at your discretion.
You may want to pay the bills proportionately. If one of you earns 70% of the household income, then maybe that spouse should pay for 70% of the household bills and expenses. To many newlyweds, that seems entirely fair.
Build retirement savings & an emergency fund together. Financially, there are few better ways to signify your long-term commitment to one another.
Wait on a big purchase. Consider waiting 24 hours (if you can) before going through with it. Or, alternately, set a dollar limit on such purchases – give each other limited financial autonomy I making major purchases that ends at X hundred or X thousand dollars. If the money exceeds that limit, then you both have to discuss it before it can occur.
Make a budget. In fact, strive to make a zero-based version, a budget in which income minus expenses comes precisely to zero each month. This is a way of accounting for each and every dollar spent (actual or projected) and a way to pinpoint potential monthly savings or redirection of income toward expenses.
Watch those taxes. Should you file your taxes jointly? Not necessarily. That is wise for many couples, but if your incomes vary greatly it may be better to file separately. Consult a tax preparer for an answer. Also, look at your W-4 at work. It may be time to adjust your withholding status. If your spouse isn’t employed, you get to add another withholding allowance. Assuming he or she is employed, you can turn to irs.gov to learn how many allowances you are due in total. Then, you can divide that total by two. You and your employer need to follow the instructions on the W-4 so you don’t withhold more or less than you should.
Talking about money isn’t always pleasant, but candor, communication and full disclosure can lead to clarity in your financial lives.
About the Independent Financial Advisor
Robert Pagliarini, PhD, CFP®, EA has helped clients across the United States manage, grow, and preserve their wealth for the past 25 years. His goal is to provide comprehensive financial, investment, and tax advice in a way that was honest and ethical. In addition, he is a CFP® Board Ambassador, one of only 50 in the country, and a real fiduciary. In his spare time, he writes personal finance books, finance articles for Forbes and develops email and video financial courses to help educate others. With decades of experience as a financial advisor, the media often calls on him for his expertise. Contact Robert today to learn more about his financial planning services.