What you should know about your partner’s finances before you get married
When it comes to getting married, most people have the basics covered. Where they’ll live. Whether or not they’ll have kids. What color dinner plates they’ll register for.
The one thing that many don’t discuss before walking down the aisle is their finances. In fact, studies have shown that nearly one in five couples don’t talk about their financial situation until after marriage, and a full 15% don’t even discuss it after they get married. “Before walking down the aisle and saying ‘I do,’ there is a long list of wedding to-dos for brides and grooms,” says ING retirement coach Barbara Taylor. “Often left off the wedding checklist are financial to-dos like getting on the same page about debt, retirement savings or money values, and mapping out the finances of your life and retirement dreams.”
Having these important discussions ahead of time will help you build a strong foundation with your partner, says Taylor. So what exactly should you be discussing? Taylor shares her top six discussions to have here.
1. Disclose Any and All Debt
The last thing you’ll want to have to deal with as a newlywed is an unexpected surprise in the form of major debt. “Before marriage, find out about any school loans, credit card debts or prior obligations such as child support or private loans,” says Taylor. “All of these debts impact your bottom line going into marriage, and your ability to jointly make large financial purchases, including the purchase of your first home together.”
2. Talk About Your Values
A person’s attitude toward finances can be just as important as how much money they have in the bank, or how much debt they owe. “Watch and learn whether your future spouse spends money frivolously, frugally or somewhere in between,” suggests Taylor. “Behaviors such as eating out most nights, going on expensive vacations, regularly buying new cars or getting the latest and greatest gadgets can indicate a frivolous approach to money.” On the other hand, behaviors like always ordering the cheapest item on the menu or never spending any money on “fun” things can be a sign of overly frugal spending. “These behaviors and attitudes are helpful clues to what lies in your future as a married couple, and what could cause financial friction,” Taylor said. Talk about your different spending styles, and work on ways you’ll both deal with how the other spends money if your attitudes differ.
3. Know Their Credit Score
A credit score will tell you a lot, says Taylor. “You should know if you’re walking into any financial war zones before marriage,” she said. “Your individual credit scores will affect many financial aspects of your life, from home purchases to insurance and car loan rates.”
4. Discuss Career Trajectories
Another important aspect of your financial future with your new spouse will be your combined abilities to earn a living and contribute to your combined life together as a couple. “If there are any warning signs in his or her past—being fired or an overly lackadaisical attitude toward work, for example—pay attention and have a frank discussion about career choices and path,” says Taylor. It’s also a good idea to set expectations around employment in case children come into the picture at some point. “It’s best for you both to know now what each other’s goals and desires are in terms of work after children,” said Taylor.
5. Talk About Your Overall Finance Picture
You can only get a true vision of a person’s financial situation if you talk about past, present and future, says Taylor. “The past includes items such as financial history, debt, bankruptcy, liens or school loans,” she said. In the present you should talk about things like money values, current obligations, FICO score or employment status. And lastly, talk about the future. “This includes values. Are your aspirations on the same page? Are you both saving for retirement?”
6. Build Your Retirement Dreams Together
Saving and planning for retirement is a process that takes may years. “If you and your fiancé are already saving for retirement through an employer-sponsored retirement plan or individual retirement account, you are off to a great start,” says Taylor. “If not, get started saving for retirement and set up automatic deductions from your checking account or paycheck directly into a retirement account.” If one of you is saving and the other is not, use that as an opportunity to talk about your collective budget as a couple, says Taylor, and think about how you can trim expenses to make sure retirement savings happen for both of you.
Talking about your financial future before getting married might seem dreary, but it’s really the best way to get your marriage started off on the right—and equal—foot. After that’s done, you can go about enjoying your new life, knowing you’re both doing everything necessary to set up a secure financial future together.
Cheryl Lock is a personal finance writer at and former editor at LearnVest and Parents magazine. When she’s not writing, she enjoys travel, which she blogs about at wearywanderer.wordpress.com.