It’s the most popular time of year to pop the big question as 18% of all engagements occur in December, according to Weddingwire.com. But before changing your relationship status, it’s important to understand one another’s financial status. Here are four tough but essential money questions all couples should discuss before tying the knot.
Are you a spender or a saver?
You might think you already know your future spouse pretty well, but you can uncover a lot when you openly discuss your salaries, debts, savings and spending habits. Don’t spring this conversation up out of nowhere—set up a time to start discussing things like credit scores, checking account balance and how much credit card debt you have.
Remember, it’s not a competition but a conversation that will help manage expectations. “You’re a team now and you flourish when your spouse flourishes. Equal is not the same as equitable, as both of you will be pulling your weight in different ways,” says Julie Ford, a certified financial planner and founder of Ford Financial Solutions.
What are your financial obligations?
Talk about your financial responsibilities such as child support, alimony, an aging parent or student loans. With student debt at an all-time high, it’s likely you have loans you’re bringing into the marriage, so think about how you would like to handle the debt together or separately. Ford says that paying off the debt together can help create unity and a clean slate more quickly than if one person is struggling with it alone. “It’s no longer yours and mine, but ours. This doesn’t mean there’s no independence. It’s more about a mental shift and recognizing that your good is attached to his/her wellbeing.”
In most cases, a spouse is not legally responsible for his or her partner’s student debt acquired before the marriage. But if one of you defaults on your loans, both of you could have your tax returns garnished. “When debt is foreign to one party, create a plan to pay it down and live within your means with no shame and no blame on both sides. The upside to having debt is that it forces your spending down. Once that debt is paid off, you can immediately start saving the amount that would’ve gone toward the debt payment,” says Ford.
Will we merge our money in marriage? If so, how?
There’s no wrong or right way to do this. It might make the most sense to set up a joint account, keep things separate or do a combination of both. In one study by TD Bank, 42% of those in relationships who have joint accounts also kept their own accounts.
On a personal note, before I got married to my husband, we were at odds with exactly how to go about merging our financial lives. It got so difficult that we decided to seek out some pre-marital counseling from a professional to work through it. Sorting through our financial fears helped us become more transparent before marriage. As our counselor said: If we can’t talk about it before marriage, it’ll only get tougher during marriage.
Should we sign prenups?
These days more and more millennials are entering marriage with prenuptial agreements to protect their assets, retirement accounts and investments. Prenups can be especially wise for couples who are blending families and/or getting married for a second or third time. A prenuptial agreement guards pre-marital assets in the event of divorce or death and protects any future income and assets that you might acquire during the marriage.
But not everyone needs a prenuptial agreement, and there are drawbacks to consider, including the romantic toll it can take, so seek the help of certified financial advisor before moving forward.
Don’t forget: Money issues are one of the top reasons for divorce. Not talking about your finances is like shooting yourself in the foot before you walk down that aisle. So tidy up your finances before you tie the knot.