When most people think about marriage, they tend to visualize a life of wedded bliss with their partner. This image, as lovely as it sounds, can easily turn ugly if the couple isn’t on the same page with their financial situation or financially prepared for what happens next in their relationship.
Before you get hitched, review the following together with your partner so you aren’t caught off guard by some ugly financial truths about marriage.
You Need To Have a Serious Financial Discussion Before Getting Married
What does the financial history of your partner look like? You might know a few things about your partner, but an open, transparent conversation is necessary to better understand the big picture. Similarly, this conversation gives your partner a better understanding of your finances too.
Beth Logan, EA and author of “Divorce and Taxes After Tax Reform,” recommends asking the following questions and answering honestly:
- Have you filed all your tax returns to date?
- What kind of debt do you have? This should include credit card debt, car loans, mortgages, student loans and any other outstanding debts.
- Do you tend to spend more than you earn?
- What are your long-term financial goals? Are you on track to reach them?
- Are you paying alimony and/or child support? Do you owe back child support?
Your Taxes Might Go Up
The most common financial change for anyone who gets married is their tax status. You will likley go from filing single to married filing jointly. As long as you are married, you will not be able to file under the status of single again (although you can file as married filing separately).
Change in filing status aside, your taxes could go up after getting married. Logan said if a single person owns a home, they may get to itemize it on their taxes. This is up to $10,000 for state and local taxes (SALT), plus mortgage interest and donations. When the single homeowner gets married, the SALT limit is still $10,000 and doesn’t increase. As a result, married couples may pay more taxes than if they were single.
What if one, or both, partners have a child? Previously, they could claim head of household (HOH) and the standard deduction and tax rates for HOH are better than for a single person.
“Married people essentially double the single, so rates and standard deduction are the same for two single people compared to a married couple. But if one was HOH, then the combined married couple will have a lower standard deduction and higher rates than if they remained single,” said Logan.
If you still have questions about your taxes once you are married, consider working with a financial advisor for additional guidance and support.
There’s a Limited Timeline for Changing Healthcare Plans
Chloe Elise, certified financial coach and CEO of Deeper Than Money, said married couples need to make decisions about health insurance together.
Those getting married where both partners work for employers that offer healthcare plans and allow spousal coverage should start comparing plans and costs. If a partner is self-employed or their employer doesn’t provide healthcare coverage, Elise said you can choose between obtaining private coverage and comparing that to your spouse’s plan.
Do not wait for too long to look into your healthcare options. “Couples have a limited number of days to change plans after the marriage or they can wait until the next sign-up period with their employer,” said Logan.
Fairly Splitting Bills and Expenses Can Become an Issue
Making the decision as to how you will split bills and expenses with your partner is one of the biggest financial decisions married couples can make together. Elise said some of the options for this decision include keeping your income separate, putting everything into one pot or setting up a joint bank account together.
Couples may also choose to split bills and expenses 50/50, but Elise said if there are discrepancies in income, such as one partner that makes $100k versus the other partner that earns $50k, it’s a big question if one person should handle a larger percentage of the bills.
“Statistically women are significantly more likely to carry a higher percentage of the emotional labor of managing life and expenses,” said Elise. “If you’re in charge of 80% of the emotional labor in your life — grocery shopping, cooking, cleaning and planning travel — you should not be responsible for 50% of the financial commitment. A 50/50 split has to go beyond just paying for rent, otherwise one party may become overwhelmed, resentful and it could add an additional stress on your relationship.”
Can Your Partner Balance a Checkbook?
This isn’t an outdated question to ask at all when you’re getting married. Logan recommends asking if your partner can and does balance their checkbook, reviews their credit card statements and monitors their investments.
If they do not, exercise caution in co-signing any loans, credit cards or holding joint accounts together.
You Need To Discuss Death
The two certainties of life are death and taxes. While it may not seem pleasant to talk about what happens if one partner, or both partners, pass on after getting married, this conversation acts as the foundation for drawing up wills and estate plans.
“Couples should discuss finances and wills. They should plan the will even if they do not sign it until after the wedding,” said Logan. “Once married, state laws will determine who gets the marital assets after a death unless a will or other provisions are executed.”
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