The wedding bells are sounding and it is time to discuss money with the future spouse.
NerdWallet’s latest survey of financial infidelity revealed that nearly half (43%) of Americans with a partner have either lied or withheld financial information. Before you say “I do .”, have these five conversations about money to start your marriage on the right track.
1. You learned about money as a child
It’s not fair to judge your significant other for the money habits they have. But if this is the case, you should sit down with them and discuss the lessons that you both learned about finances as children. You may be able to draw on your own financial experiences, even if the family never talked about money.
You can ask your partner about their family’s financial habits, how they handled debt, or if money is scarce in the home. This is particularly important if your partner has a different cultural or socioeconomic background to you. You likely grew up in a world with very different financial norms.
You may not like the way someone saves and spends, but after this discussion, you will understand their financial psychology, or why they behave in that manner.
2. Outstanding debt
About 1 in 12 Americans (or 8%) who have a partner say that they have lied or hidden information about their debt from them.
The spouse is not legally responsible for the debt that their partner has accumulated before marriage. However, this debt can have an impact on the finances of a couple. Your debt payment will affect how much you save or spend if you are combining money, even if you just want to work toward a shared goal.
Write down the debt amounts, rates of interest and terms for payment by each partner. You can then decide together how you want to repay the debt. The debt avalanche and debt snowball are two popular strategies for paying off debt. The snowball method involves paying down debts in order of their size. It is believed that tackling small debts will motivate you. The avalanche allows you to pay off debts in order of the highest rate first, then the lowest. This is more efficient.
Discuss your options and work together with your partner to pay off the debt.
3. Taxes and income
In the survey, 14% of Americans who are in a relationship with a partner have lied or withheld their partner’s income information. Nearly a quarter (23%) of Americans who are in a relationship have either lied or concealed information about their partner’s spending on an item. How much you earn and how much you spend will determine the amount of money available to your partner and yourself for building a life together. Ask your spouse to list their current expenses and income so that you and your partner can determine if there is enough money for everyone.
Some couples do not agree about discretionary spending. This can be resolved by giving each partner a monthly amount equal to their personal expenditure. Even if you don’t like a certain purchase, both partners will agree on the total amount to be spent.
4. Credit Scores
The survey found that 12% of Americans who are married have lied or withheld credit score information to their partner. The credit scoring system does not take into consideration marital status, nor are spouses’ scores combined or linked in the scoring formulas. Your scores still have an impact on each other. If you want to purchase a house, your scores may be considered for the mortgage. Your spouse could be angry if your credit score is low. It may mean you’ll pay a higher rate of interest, if not even rejection.
You should each check your scores and see where you are starting from. Make a plan to build credit if one of your scores needs help. You could pay off debts, set up automatic payments so that every bill gets paid on time or request your credit report and dispute any errors.
5. Financial goals
It can be difficult to plan for the future when you don’t have enough money, but making plans can be fun. You might want to open your own business, buy a house (median cost in 2023 is $342,000 according to Zillow), or go on a vacation. Discuss all the things you would like to achieve in the future, but will require money. You may not be able to achieve everything you have listed, but don’t dismiss any of the ideas. Choose one or two goals and create a concrete first step for you to achieve your shared financial dreams.
According to the latest estimates by the U.S. Census Bureau, nearly 60 percent of American adults are married or have a partner. Even if the conversation is uncomfortable, honesty and transparency about finances can be a great way to build strong foundations for these households.