Getting Married — and Marrying Your Finances
Ahh, weddings. No matter the time of year, marriage is a beautiful thing. It brings families and friends together to celebrate love as individuals say their vows and become one.
Something else that they might join? Finances.
And I’m not just talking about the costs involved with weddings. Aside from the rings, attire, ceremony, reception, and all the other expenses that go along with getting married, some couples decide to unite the financial side of their lives, too.
But if you’re hearing wedding bells in the not-so-distant future or you’ve recently tied the knot, how do you know whether you should unite your financials?
Should you combine finances?
The decision to become one financially is a couple’s choice, and there’s no right or wrong answer. It’s unique for every pair. Some couples combine finances before marriage or even before they’re engaged, some do at or after marriage, and some don’t at all. Then, for those who choose to, there are also varying degrees of combining, whether it’s equal ownership down to splitting the last penny, sharing a checking account for common spending and keeping other accounts under separate ownership, or another arrangement entirely. While the situation can be different for everyone, here’s a list of pros and cons that might help you — and your other half — decide whether or not to marry your finances:
The case for combining
It can be easier to manage finances — and catch any potential mistakes — when they’re all together in one place.
Combining finances means you can avoid keeping tabs on who has paid more or who will pay the other back later.
Sharing account access can help maintain transparency because both members of the couple can see where their money is going.
Planning for joint financial goals can be more straightforward with shared funds.
With both names on your accounts, you can access funds if something were to happen to your significant other.
The case for individualizing
Unequal earners could find issue with combining, especially if one member of the couple is more frivolous — or more frugal — with spending.
Couples may also choose to keep finances separate if one partner has a much higher amount of debt or savings than the other.
Combining can put all the financial burden on one member of the couple while keeping at least some accounts separate can help even out this responsibility.
Keeping individual funds can facilitate “secret” purchases — like surprising your partner with the watch they’ve been eyeing for your anniversary.
Having your own accounts can offer a sense of independence when treating yourself to something special or spending on something that doesn’t involve your spouse.
Whatever path you decide on, you can rest assured knowing you’ve made the right decision for yourself and your spouse. But once you’ve chosen, what are your next steps?
If you decide not to combine
If you’ve chosen to keep at least some of your finances separate, it’s still important to stay on the same page money-wise. After all, you’ll likely share some expenses with your spouse, like paying your rent or mortgage, saving up for your second-honeymoon getaway, or seeing the symphony on your anniversary. One thing I always recommend to my clients, whether combining finances or not, is to budget. Sitting down and creating a joint budget can give you the peace of mind of knowing where you’re at financially as individuals and as a couple. From there, you can plan and adjust your finances to fit your needs, whether it’s finally paying off your student loans or setting a joint savings goal for your second home.
If you choose to say “I Do” (financially)
Should you decide to combine, keep a few things in mind. For one, you’re not just bringing your finances together. You’re also entering into a new facet of your relationship that includes all the preconceived notions you and your spouse have about money. Each of you might also have some financial “baggage” — and it might not surface until you change yours from solo to joint accounts. Speaking of, here’s a quick how-to on how to merge your money:
Head to your local bank. For checking and savings, just choose where you’ll do your banking. Then cash out the accounts you’ll no longer use at this or other financial institutions. Take the funds to your new bank and open a joint account or fill out some paperwork to add your spouse to yours and transfer the cash. Just don’t forget to bring your IDs!
Contact your financial planner, advisor, broker, and/or insurance agent. Adding your spouse to your account title or opening a new joint account generally requires some simple paperwork, a copy of your marriage certificate, and a couple of signatures. If you or your spouse already have accounts open and have changed your last name, you can also update your account titles to your new legal name with a bit of paperwork and your marriage certificate.
Call your credit card company. Have a credit card with a great rate or a points system you love? You may be able to add your spouse as an authorized user without them having to undergo a credit check. And if you’d like to change your account type so you can add your spouse as a joint user, an application from and credit check on your spouse is usually all it takes.
Did You Know?
Before you close old bank and investment accounts, it can be helpful to make a list of any automatic or recurring payments attached to your debit cards and the accounts themselves. And while I wouldn’t suggest closing credit card accounts, which could hurt your credit score, you may want to review what you’re charging, especially on an ongoing basis. This can be a great opportunity to put products or services in both of your names and set up payment under your new joint account — or to evaluate them and decide if it’s worth it for you to continue paying for them. And don’t forget to add your spouse’s name to the title of any assets you’d like to own jointly, like your home and vehicle.
Ready to take the how-to into practice? It’s important to review your finances — including debts, assets, income, and savings — as well as goals and financial plans together beforehand. This can allow you to get an idea of what the combination would look like and to make sure it’s right for you and your spouse.
Marriage can mean some significant financial advantages. From reduced tax rates to the ability to open a spousal IRA and benefitting from your spouse’s Social Security or workplace retirement plan, the upsides are many. Working with your financial professional before and during your marriage — whether you combine finances or not — can help you make the most of these benefits.
One more perk of combining finances? You won’t have to choose who will pick up the tab from the open bar at your reception.
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