The best time to start talking about money as a couple is as soon as it feels right between both partners to envision future hypotheticals. Before getting married, or even getting engaged, you and your partner should be on the same page when it comes to several important financial topics.
Here are four questions to ask and answer before you say “I do.”
What Is Your Partner’s Current Financial Situation?
You may have some idea about your partner’s finances, such as how much they earn at their job and whether they have any outstanding debt, but you should have a thorough understanding about their financial picture and vice versa.
Tanya Peterson, vice president of brand at Freedom Financial Network, said this conversation is generally a process rather than a short discussion. Couples should feel comfortable thoroughly discussing these matters together to avoid any unwanted surprises. Peterson recommends asking the following questions.
- How much does each person earn?
- How much is each person’s take-home pay?
- Do both people regularly contribute to retirement savings?
- How much debt do each of you carry? What type of debt is it and what are its interest rates?
- What are your total assets?
- Does either person have any child or spousal support payments from previous relationships?
- Are there any possibilities of returning to school or obtaining other employment?
- What do your credit reports look like? What are your credit scores?
“Many people don’t realize that each person will continue to have their own credit scores once married, based on the accounts in their name, even if they share the same last name,” said Peterson. “When married, each spouse still needs to check their own credit reports, and review and correct errors on their own reports.”
Lisa Jones, managing director for the Springfield, Missouri office of Prime Capital Investment Advisors, said complete financial disclosure is essential. Disclose all assets, liabilities and credit information and commit to financial transparency with one another.
“Your wedding is a celebration of your love,” said Jones. “But marriage is a legal contract and it’s important to know what you’re getting into before committing your lives to one another.”
What’s Your Credit Philosophy?
If you are used to using one credit card and paying off the balance in full each month, it may come as a shock to find out your partner does not follow the same philosophy when it comes to credit. A severe clash in credit ideals could spell trouble in the relationship.
When discussing credit philosophy, Peterson recommends exploring each aspect of their (and your) credit by asking these questions:
- What kind, and how many, credit cards does each person carry?
- Does each person charge only what they can pay off in full each month?
- Do they make minimum payments and rack up interest and late fees?
What Are Your Priorities?
While most couples getting married usually have a good idea of each person’s general priorities, like the importance of family or work, don’t let differing priorities surprise you when they show up in your budget.
“When sitting down to budget, the idea is to start with life goals and let them guide finances,” said Peterson. “If one person is devoted to marathon running and training, with a work schedule that allows for that, and the other is planning to prioritize work and earning, with the goal of starting a family, issues may arise.”
What Are Your Retirement Plans?
Whether you are getting married in your twenties or later in life, it’s never too early to mutually discuss your retirement plans.
“Consider whether you are both on the same page about your ideal retirement age,” said Jones. “Discuss your expectations for retirement and the lifestyle you envision for yourselves.”
The earlier you can have a conversation about retirement goals with your partner, the earlier you can both work towards reaching them.
It may also be helpful to meet with a financial advisor when discussing retirement plans as well as other financial plans. Financial advisors act as a neutral party that can help work through any differences you and your future spouse may have, create a reasonable plan based on your unique financial goals and stay accountable to this plan — in good times and in bad.
More From GOBankingRates