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Love and Money

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Whether you’re married or just getting serious with your main squeeze, being on the same page financially is key to a successful relationship. And yes, sometimes asking the tough questions can really make or break you as a couple. But they are still necessary when you partner up.

So, if you’re trying to figure out your financial footing, you’ve come to the right place. We’ve created a quick guide to help you navigate the trials and tribulations of love and money – because money shouldn’t come between you and your happiness. After all, it’s till death do us part and not till debt do us part.

Couples are more likely to openly discuss finances in the first eight months of their relationship than they are to say “I love you.”

Romance and finance

Whether you’re getting ready to say, “I do,” or if you’ve already jumped the gun, tackling finances as a couple shouldn’t feel daunting. Discussing budgets, savings and retirement goals should be part of every couple’s conversations prior to a union. There’s a reason “For richer, or poorer” is used in marriage vows. So, don’t shy away from opening up the discussion.

“There are many reasons why we fall in love,” Debt.com founder and CPA, Howard Dvorkin, says. “But there’s one big reason we fall out of it: money.”

Financial infidelity, being secretive about money, can severely damage trust within a relationship – if not end it entirely.

Financial infidelity can mean:

  • Keeping your income a secret
  • Opening a credit card that your partner doesn’t know about
  • Secretly saving money in another account
  • Using your partner’s credit card or credit identity without telling them

Find out: 8 Warning Signs of Financial Infidelity in a Relationship

Talking about money early on in the relationship and as it develops can prevent future misunderstandings and mistrust. Without clear and regular communication, couples might not be on the same page about saving, career, or retirement goals.

While couples are becoming more comfortable talking about joint bank accounts and end-of-life planning, topics like prenups and shared debt are still seen as taboo.

“You need to know that your partner’s goals are aligned with your own or it will eventually create friction in your relationship,” Dvorkin says. “If one person is a saver and the other is a spender, it doesn’t mean the relationship is doomed. However, you need to be open and honest so you can figure out how to move forward together as a couple.”

10 money rules every first-time couple should follow

Following these tips will set you and your partner up for a successful financial future.

1. Manage money together only when your relationship is long-term

In general, I recommend managing money as a couple. However, I don’t recommend it unless you’re 100% committed and plan on staying together forever. That’s because if you break up, unraveling your financial lives can be complicated.

For example, having a joint bank account means that both parties own it and can access the funds. You and your partner can spend or withdraw any amount of your balance at any time. Being co-signers on loans and credit cards means that if one person decides not to pay their fair share, the other owner is on the hook for the entire debt – not just half of what’s owed.

The bottom line is that if you’re uncertain how long your relationship will last or have concerns about merging money with someone else, please don’t do it!

2. Know your financial history

A huge part of a successful relationship is building and maintaining a foundation of trust, which includes knowing the details of each other’s financial histories, such as how much debt you owe and your credit ratings.

The good news is that even if your partner has bad credit, it doesn’t hurt yours. However, it could make it more challenging to qualify for a joint credit account, such as a credit card, auto loan, or mortgage.

Reviewing your credit reports for free at Annualcreditreport.com is a great place to start if you’re not sure what your history is.

3. Create financial goals together

Before you merge money as a couple, it’s essential to talk about your financial goals. It’s the best way to know if you’re on the same page.

Talk about what you want to achieve over the next few years and the long term, such as your ideas about retirement. It’s better to know sooner rather than later if you have vast differences of opinion. For instance, if your priority is to live frugally to build a sizable retirement nest egg, but your partner is a free-wheeling spender, your financial philosophies may be too far apart.

4. Set a joint spending plan

Once you know your financial histories and discuss goals, consider how you’ll handle expenses as a couple. While splitting everything 50/50 may seem like a good strategy, it may not work if one person earns much less than the other.

In that case, you might divide costs by percentages to make things fairer. For example, if your partner earns 35% of the total household income and you make 65%, you could pay 65% of the household expenses.

However, if you go all in and merge your finances as a couple, you won’t have to worry about dividing expenses. Instead, you’ll pay bills from a joint account. However, as I keep mentioning, that’s a big step unless you’re in a 100% committed relationship.

5. Communicate about money regularly

Even if your financial goals as a couple are aligned, a key to long-term success is communicating regularly. Fortunately, my husband and I share the same views when it comes to our money and lives. However, that doesn’t mean we didn’t have our share of disagreements in the early days that we had to resolve. My advice is to be open-minded about changing strategies and setting new guidelines if the way you manage money as a couple isn’t working.

Unfortunately, many couples talk about money only after problems arise, which is the wrong approach. Instead, set a time each week or month to chat about your budget, debt, income, and plans for the future. That will help you iron out any wrinkles in your relationship and improve your financial wellbeing.

6. Understand the risks of cosigning debt

When you cosign a credit account, such as a credit card, auto loan, or mortgage, you assume equal responsibility for it, and the payment history will appear on both of your credit reports. That means you can both build credit if the payments get made on time.

But if one person in a couple fails to pay a cosigned credit account on time, it hurts both of your credit scores. Plus, you’re both legally responsible for the entire debt, no matter who spent the money. So, if you are in a committed relationship and decide to cosign a credit account, be sure payments never fall through the cracks.

If your partner has poor credit, cosigning a credit card or loan is one way to help them build or improve it. Another option is to add them to a credit card as an authorized user. That allows the partner to make purchases, but they won’t be legally responsible for the debt. In general, the card’s payment history gets reported to both the authorized user’s and the card owner’s credit reports.

However, as I mentioned, I only recommend combining your credit accounts if you’re in a solid, committed relationship built on trust. Otherwise, you could end up with a large amount of credit card debt if an authorized user abuses your card.

7. Be clear about the pros and cons of buying a home

An increasing number of unmarried couples and partners are buying real estate. It may be more affordable to team up and buy a home or an investment property in some cases. You can use an online mortgage calculator to help crunch the numbers. However, buying real estate with someone else can damage your finances and relationship if you’re not careful.

When you buy property, you receive a document called a deed, which shows the owners’ names and how you legally own the property. If you’re not married, you have the following options:

  • Tenants in Common gives each person a share of the property, such as 50/50 or 75/25. When one tenant in common dies, their share goes to their heirs – not to the other owner(s). And each owner can sell or give away their interest in the property.
  • Joint Tenants with Right of Survivorship gives each person the right to own the property when the other owner(s) dies. So, their interest automatically passes to the survivor, not to their heirs.

Although married couples can own property as tenants in common or joint tenants, they have another option:

  • Tenancy by the Entirety allows spouses to own property together as a single legal entity. It protects each person because a creditor of one spouse can’t attach and sell the interest of the property that the other spouse owns. And when one spouse dies, their interest passes to the surviving spouse, just like joint tenant ownership.

You’ll also need to decide how to finance a home as a couple. Do you have equal amounts of money for the down payment? And do you each want to be on the hook for a mortgage? Each mortgage applicant must show ample income, job history, and credit scores to get approved.

If one partner has low income or poor credit, the other could be the sole mortgage applicant. Just remember that you’re not legally responsible for repayment unless your name is on a mortgage. Being named on the deed indicates ownership, but that isn’t the same as having financial responsibility for a mortgage on the property.

In the excitement of buying a home, don’t forget that you’re making a considerable investment, and a financial or legal mistake could jeopardize your entire financial future. So, it’s wise to get advice and even create a formal ownership agreement outlining every potential issue you can think of.

For instance, what happens if you disagree on managing the property or if one person has a financial hardship and wants to sell out? What if your romantic relationship turns sour and you break up? These are the kinds of issues that need to get worked out before you commit to buying real estate as a couple.

8. Use good financial tools

Whether you decide to merge money as a couple or not, it’s essential to use good financial tools. They certainly make managing your finances as easy as possible, and some tools are even free.

For example, Instant Debt Advisor℠ can tell you the best way to get out of debt in only three minutes. Not only is it free, it has not impact on your credit.

Another free tool is the personal finance app Mint. It imports your bank and credit card transactions, allowing you to keep track of your spending and financial goals on the go. If you prefer a desktop product with more functionality and reporting, try Quicken.

Quicken’s starter version costs $35.99 per year and allows you to see your financial accounts and transactions in one place, create a budget, and manage bills. More expensive versions of Quicken are also available with increased functionality, such as creating savings goals and simplifying taxes and investments.

Suppose you and your partner have your own financial accounts. In that case, you can assign expenses you want to split – such as a mortgage, rent, insurance, groceries, and utilities – to a separate account named “joint expenses.” That way, you can see how much you owe and settle up each month.

9. Know the spousal IRA rules

Saving for retirement is vital to a secure financial future, but what if one person in a couple isn’t working? Typically, if you’re unmarried and don’t have income, you’re not eligible to contribute to a tax-advantaged retirement account.

However, if you tie the knot, married couples filing taxes jointly qualify for a spousal IRA. It allows a working spouse to make a maximum contribution to an IRA for a non-working spouse.

For 2021, if both spouses are under age 50 and have a household income of at least $12,000, you can each contribute up to $6,000 to your own IRAs. If you’re over 50, the maximum contribution increases to $7,000.

10. Get help from a financial professional when needed

Even if managing money is a breeze for you and your partner, it’s often wise to get help from a financial pro, such as a financial advisor, retirement planner, tax accountant, or estate attorney.

Yes, professionals cost money; however, getting good advice for retirement planning or navigating financial challenges can really pay off. You might consult with a financial pro once or work together over the long term to meet your financial goals as a couple.

Romance your personal finance

You can set time aside and meet together, or even have a date night, to discuss budgeting as well as your short-term, medium-term and long-term goals. To make sure you both stick to your goals, you can set time-bound goals to ensure you meet your deadlines. For example, try setting short-term goals at less than a year and give long-term goals over five years to flourish. This will help you stay on track and avoid losing sight of the goal at hand.

If you do take a date night approach to budgeting or setting goals to make it more fun, make sure you keep the libations to a minimum. That way you’ll both be focused. You may even want to try treating yourself to a second glass once you’ve set your financial goals together. If there’s an incentive, then there’s motivation to accomplish said mission.

And if you or your partner have a poor credit history, there are ways you can help each other boost credit scores.

Tips for building each other up when it comes to credit

Add your spouse to your credit card as an authorized user

This is one surefire way to ensure your partner gets the credit boost they need by either beefing up a thin credit file or helping them recover from past credit mishaps. When you add your spouse as an authorized user to a card you own, they inherit the history of that credit card account.

Help your partner apply for a small personal loan

Qualifying for a small personal loan with low interest rates can help establish credit or improve credit scores – so long as you make payments in a timely manner. Two of the most popular types of personal loans are debt consolidation and credit-building loans.

  • Debt consolidation loan: This is one of the more popular methods of using a personal loan. Instead of paying multiple payments for various credit cards, you would take out a loan to pay off all your cards and then pay the personal loan back with one monthly payment. If one or both of you have credit card debt you need to pay off, this could be a great solution for tackling it together.
  • Credit-builder loan: A credit-builder loan requires you make monthly fixed payments toward the amount of the loan without receiving the money first. So, once you have paid everything off, plus interest, you’ll have access to the funds. The main benefit is that you establish a history of timely payments, which lenders report to credit bureaus. You also get the money from the loan back at the end of the term, so it can be a great way to save if one or both of you aren’t savers.

Have your spouse apply for a secured credit card

A secured credit card is a useful method of credit building because it is not required that you have good credit to qualify. The way a secured card works is you put money down for a deposit that established your credit limit. Sometimes, secured card issuers may go so far as to allow you “to graduate” to an unsecured card after you’ve made multiple on-time payments.

Review credit reports together

If you and your spouse are responsible with your credit but still have a low score, you may want to double-check your credit reports together for any credit reporting errors. Thankfully, every consumer is entitled to a free credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus. You can also obtain your credit report from AnnualCreditReport.com.

So, once you’ve checked for any credit reporting errors, file a dispute if you encounter any mistakes. Once the error has been removed, any deduction of credit score points due to the mistake should soon be restored.

Be frank about managing money

Often, couples have different styles of managing money – one spouse may be the penny pincher, while their partner may be a free spender with a couple of credit mishaps. Avoid any confrontation or patronizing accusations. Instead, focus on having an open discussion about how best you can manage your money together.

Dating your debt

A fundamental aspect of being in a relationship is being able to communicate openly with your partner. Strong communication is key to a successful long-term relationship, and it helps couples find their financial footing.

Here are a few suggestions for starting and maintaining a healthy dialogue with your significant other:

  1. Air out your aspirations: Be completely open and honest about your life aspirations to help establish common ground. Set clear goals and envision the type of lifestyle you want for yourselves currently as well as years down the line.
  2. Take things seriously: Make sure each person has an opportunity to express their goals and priorities in a non-judgmental and non-threatening manner.
  3. Take a gradual approach: It’s not a requirement that you figure out your entire lives in one sitting. Just make sure to schedule time for another conversation once you’re both done airing out your goals and priorities.
  4. Practice makes perfect: Everyone knows that the more time and effort you put into an activity, the better you get at it over time. Having constructive money talks with your partner is no different. It takes practice to get it right. So, just take your time and find your footing on your own terms.
  5. If the conversation gets heated, mutually table it: Never be afraid to table an issue you both may have for another time. Giving yourself a cooling-off period will help move the conversation forward when you revisit the topic.
  6. Share resources: One of the best ways to get on the same financial page with your partner is to use common lingo. You can also make use of finance apps, like Mint, to help you develop common ground.
  7. If you have kids, get them involved in budgeting: Talking about simple money issues like budgeting and saving is a great way to get your kids involved in the financial decision-making process. It can also give your kids a head start for their financial future. Think of it as an exercise in teaching your kids how to manage money.

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Toxic vs. healthy relationships with your debt

When you start a romantic relationship, the very last thing on your mind may be whether or not your relationship will turn sour or if it will blossom. Sometimes people don’t even see the red flags because they’re looking through rose-tinted glasses.

So, if you’re unsure of what constitutes a healthy versus toxic relationship, here are few things you should get clear:

  • The truth will set you free: Honesty is key to any successful relationship. So, hiding spending or any debt from your partner could lead to disaster. Be honest about your slip-ups, credit mistakes, and even your financial goals. But more importantly be honest with yourself about what incentives may motivate you to accomplish your financial goals.
  • How to address financial infidelity: Often when people think of infidelity, they first think of secret bedroom liaisons. But often the less salacious yet equally catastrophic form of disloyalty rears its head in the shape of financial infidelity, which can lead to a divorce.
  • Take responsibility for your finances:> One easy way couples let financial infidelity creep in is by leaving all financial responsibility to one spouse. Instead, make sure you are doing things together because two pairs of eyes are better than one.
  • Set meetings with each other regularly: Take the time to schedule meetings where the two of you can sit down and discuss finances. Whether you need frequent monthly meetings or quarterly sessions, is up to you. Figure out what works best through trial and error.
  • Reassess goals together: People’s goals change from time to time. So, it’s always a good idea to check in with your partner to make sure your goals still align. It’s always best that you are on the same page financially to help maintain a working family budget.

Love your own finances before you love someone else’s

Being single can seem like the worst, especially during Valentine’s season. The lovebug may have skipped you this time around, but that doesn’t mean it is the end-all-be-all of your love life. Instead of mulling over why you’re enjoy a glass of wine on your own, focus on getting on the right financial foot so you can get a head start in your next relationship.

Since inflation can take a big bite out of your budget, start by adjusting your budget to help the ease of inflation. Ironically, the best way to beat inflation is to follow a budget. Take the time to set a budget on items that inflation will most likely affect: Food, gas, clothing, and housing. Set your spending limits and allocate your money at the beginning of each month. Start by cutting any unnecessary expenses and try finding free alternatives. You can also try shopping at different stores, looking for cheaper alternatives or buying in bulk to help that dime stretch just a little farther. Don’t shy away from using coupons either!

Sometimes, life comes at you fast. Picture this, it’s a dark and stormy night and the wind just blew a tree over that took a chunk right out of your emergency fund…err, roof. If you’re prepared, you have that emergency fund to dig into. But if you’re not, then you’re looking at a poorly designed ceiling light and a hefty bill to pay. So, instead of taking out a high-interest loan or credit card, an emergency fund allows you to pay for whatever life throws at you interest-free.

Ghosting your student loans

You may want to ghost your student loans because they’re a “stage 5 clinger,” someone who gets overly attached in a very short amount of time, but you’re better off establishing healthy boundaries. So, start by paying off what you can so those pesky student loans don’t keep creeping up. Your goal here is to build a better you by developing healthy financial habits all while boosting your credit score.

Infographic going over the various trials and tribulations of love and money

Financial love languages

Managing money isn’t always easy, but by getting to know yourself better you can help you identify your strengths and weaknesses in your financial relationships. One effective method of doing so is by figuring out your financial love language. Not only will this help you strengthen your romantic relationships, but it will also help you improve other areas of your life.

Receiving gifts

You may love receiving gifts, but what you’re known for is being the ultimate gift giver – a gift guru, if you will. But keep in mind that you don’t have to blow your budget to make sure you or your partner are aware that they are loved. We recommend treating yourself after reaching a savings goal. And stop buying gifts just because. Get creative and personal with your gifts by getting crafty or using handy at-home do-it-yourself options.

Quality time

For those of you whose love language involves quality time, you’re the type of person that is great at planning outings – especially since you have a penchant for finding fun, free activities to partake in. Continue finding ways to spend quality time with your loved one without feeling the need to overspend on outings.

Physical touch

You’re the type of person that is generally more careful with money you can physically touch. So, you also go out of your way to pay in cash whenever possible so you can avoid using your credit card for big purchases.

Here’s a thought: If you want to gift your spouse money, you could “make it rain” and shower them with dollar bills when you’re alone together or you could get creative with origami!

Acts of service

If your love language involves acts of service, then you love helping others stay on track financially. But what you want to avoid is neglecting your own goals or losing your sense of financial responsibility in the process. An app to manage your finances would help you keep track of your spending so you can better help your loved ones. You might even want to consider investment apps so you can gift stocks that will flourish to the ones you love or giving a significant other money for an extra student loan payment.

Words of affirmation

This means you’re the type of person who achieves financial goals faster when they are written down. You’re also the type who likes to communicate openly and often with your partner about money. So, make sure you don’t bottle up those concerns about your financial health.

The important conversation if you’re considered marriage: Prenups

Prenuptial agreements, or prenups, are contracts couples enter prior to or in anticipation of a marriage union. The purpose of a prenup is to set the rules on how a couple’s assets – and debts – will be divided, including property, future earnings and how the earnings should be distributed in case of separation or divorce.

A prenup isn’t just for the rich and famous. If you’ve got a small business, significant assets that need protecting, or if this is a second marriage and the well-being of your children is your top priority, then you might opt for a prenup. If one partner has a significant amount of debt, say from pursuing going through law school or becoming a doctor, there are prenups for those, too.

Many people are often turned off by the idea of a prenup because they believe it kills the romance and ruins the fun of wedding planning. And no, prenups aren’t sexy. But discussing a premarital agreement should be an openly discussed as part of the wedding planning process.

After all, people enter into contract agreements with people they trust, right? So, use this opportunity to be candid with your partner knowing that this difficult discussion may end up with you understanding each other that much better.

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