Getting married means merging your finances [UPDATED]Published 9:08am Monday, June 17, 2013 Updated 11:12am Monday, June 17, 2013
Getting married is exciting, but it brings many challenges. One such challenge that you and your spouse will have to face is how to merge your finances. Planning carefully and communicating clearly are important, because the financial decisions that you make now can have a lasting impact on your future.
The first step in mapping out your financial future together is to discuss your financial goals. Start by making a list of your short-term goals (e.g., paying off wedding debt, new car, vacation) and long-term goals (e.g., having children, your children’s college education, retirement). Then, determine which goals are most important to you.
Next, you should prepare a budget that lists all of your income and expenses over a certain time period (e.g., monthly, annually). You can designate one spouse to be in charge of managing the budget, or you can take turns keeping records and paying the bills.
At some point, you and your spouse will have to decide whether to combine your bank accounts or keep them separate. Maintaining a joint account does have advantages, such as easier record keeping and lower maintenance fees. However, it’s sometimes more difficult to keep track of how much money is in a joint account when two individuals have access to it. Of course, you could avoid this problem by making sure that you tell each other every time you write a check or withdraw funds from the account. Or, you could always decide to maintain separate accounts.
If you’re thinking about adding your name to your spouse’s credit card accounts, think again. When you and your spouse have joint credit, both of you will become responsible for 100 percent of the credit card debt. In addition, if one of you has poor credit, it will negatively impact the credit rating of the other.
If you or your spouse does not qualify for a card because of poor credit, and you are willing to give your spouse account privileges anyway, you can make your spouse an authorized user of your credit card. But remember, you remain responsible for the account.
If you and your spouse have separate health insurance coverage, you’ll want to do a cost/benefit analysis of each plan to see if you should continue to keep your health coverage separate. For example, if your spouse’s health plan has a higher deductible and/or co-payments or fewer benefits than those offered by your plan, he or she may want to join your health plan instead.
If both you and your spouse participate in an employer-sponsored retirement plan, you should be aware of each plan’s characteristics. Review each plan together carefully and determine which plan provides the best benefits. If you can afford it, you should each participate to the maximum in your own plan. If your current cash flow is limited, you can make one plan the focus of your retirement strategy.
Marrying your finances is one of the challenges you will face with your new partner, but if you communicate and start out right, it will be a strong part of your new life together.
Bonnie Denzel is a financial advisor with Dorn and Co., in Fergus Falls.