When you're newly engaged, you're focused on planning a wedding and deciding which dreamy destination is right for a honeymoon. But, it's also important to consider the practical aspects of combining your life with someone else's.
Finances are the leading cause of stress in a relationship, but on the flip side, married couples also build wealth more easily because of the economic benefits of teaming up. To make sure your marriage helps you become more financially secure, take these steps after getting engaged.
1. Have the "talk"
Mic has a guide to combining finances with a partner here — but before you can do that, you'll need to talk about it first.
"If you’ve committed to marriage, one of the first things you should work out about your future lives together is how the money should work," the Simple Dollar advises. Your spouse's finances affect you, even if you keep your money separate. For example, you may have to pay a higher interest rate on your mortgage loan if your soon-to-be spouse has bad credit.
That means you need to talk about things like debt, credit score and savings, then move on to money goals and spending philosophies. "Discuss your views on money, including what your parents taught you about finances—and what you do and don’t agree with," Dave Ramsey advised. Then decide on specifics like how to split the bills.
2. Decide if you're ready to go "all in"
Around 42% of people in relationships have joint accounts but also maintain individual accounts. "This provides the benefits of a joint account and the independence of divided finances," the Balance explains.
You could have a joint account for shared goals, like buying a house, or expenses associated with having kids or could also completely combine finances. "Married couples with joint accounts may find it easier to keep track of their finances because all expenses come out of one account," according to the Balance.
3. Get insured, together
Marriage changes insurance. Talk to HR about how much it costs to add a spouse to your health plan and compare which policy is the best value. "It is often less expensive to add a spouse to a group health plan than to maintain separate plans," Investopedia explains.
Next, call your car insurer to add your spouse to your policy and shop for term life insurance online or with help from an insurance agent. Buying life insurance while you are young and healthy is a wise move too, as it provides funds to cover funeral costs, replace income of a deceased spouse, or pay for services like child care a spouse was providing.
4. Find out if getting married affects your student loans
As weird as it sounds, even your student debt is no longer your own when you get married. Not only does your debt affect how much you can contribute to household expenses, but your monthly payments could actually go up if you are on an income-based repayment plan, Student Loan Hero notes.
To find out how getting married will change your payments, contact your loan servicer. Find contact information for federal loans online or call the Federal Student Aid Information Center at 1-800-4-FED-AID.
5. Make peace with Uncle Sam
If you're married for any part of the year, you're married for the whole year in the eyes of the IRS. Married couples usually can choose whether to file taxes jointly or to file as married filing separately, although couples must choose married filing separately if one spouse is a non-resident alien.
"Most couples find that their income tax liability is lower if they file jointly, as opposed to filing separately," the US Tax Center explains. However, you could lose some deductions if your combined income is high. To find out how marriage will affect your taxes, use TurboTax's calculator or talk with an accountant.
6. Consider a prenup
Do you want to pay alimony or become responsible for your spouse's student loans? If not, you need a prenup. Some marriages end in divorce — which can cost $15,000 to $20,000 — and divorce is cheaper and easier with a prenup. "I wish we had decided those terms in advance, because it was so emotionally traumatic to fight about them while we were also going through a breakup,” Kate Bahn, an economist at the Center for American Progress, told the Cut.
Bringing up a prenup is touchy so be straightforward about the fact you're protecting both your futures. State laws differ on what it takes to make a prenup enforceable, but full disclosure of your financial situation and time to talk with a lawyer are typically required. The prenup must be in writing and you should each have a lawyer help draft the agreement.
7. Think about the really long term
Making an estate plan isn't a fun task but it's an important one, especially if you have kids already or plan to have children with your partner.
Your plan could just involve writing a simple will determining who you want to leave assets to, but may also need to address guardianship for kids. You could also use tools like advanced directives to specify your preferences on healthcare so you don't end up with your spouse and family fighting in a medical emergency.
By doing the practical thing and addressing these issues before your wedding day, you can walk down the aisle knowing you're on the way towards building a financially stable life with your partner.
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