You know what brand of toothpaste your spouse prefers and their favorite flavor of ice cream, but do you know how they plan to spend their retirement?
Do you know how they feel about making credit card purchases? Do you know how much money they need in the bank to feel secure?
If you’re like roughly a third of all American couples, the answer is no, according to a study by Fidelity Investments.
Getting on the same financial page with your love bug may not seem like the most romantic thing you can do this Valentine’s Day, but it just might be the most important.
Money is the No. 1 cause of fights among couples, after all.
So what can you do? Here are some suggestions from the experts.
• Test yourselves. Take a financial compatibility quiz to learn more about your individual money personalities and how they work (or clash) together. Fidelity has one at https://communications.fidelity.com/couplesquiz. It includes a conversation starter guide. United Capital has another good one at HonestConversations.com.
• Talk. Listen. Repeat. What are your goals for the future and how do you plan to attain them? Do you see yourself buying a home or renting? Do you want children? How many? Do you want to fund all, some or none of your children’s college education? What kind of lifestyle do you envision for retirement and how do you plan to fund it? Why?
• Dig in together. It’s OK if one partner takes the lead, but it’s important for couples to make financial decisions together.
Both spouses should also know exactly how much money is coming in, how much is going out, and where it’s going. Both should also know their total debts and assets, where to find important financial papers, and have access to all accounts and passwords.
Work on your budget and go through your financial statements together. Both of you should feel confident that if something happened to the other, you could step in and take over the finances.
• Take equal responsibility. Put all of the utilities in both of your names. Do the same with your home and mortgage, and all other joint assets and liabilities. This way you’ll both have a vested interest in staying on top of things.
• Keep an individual credit card. If something happens to your spouse, it will be important to have an individual credit history established when it’s time to start over again on your own.
Of course, both spouses should have access to the credit account statements and know what kind of spending is going on with the other’s individual account.
• Recognize what’s yours, mine and ours. Assets (such as your house) and debts (such as personal loans) that were yours before your marriage will belong to you if you happen to become divorced – unless you merge them by, say, putting your spouse’s name on a deed or refinancing an old debt in both of your names.
But when it comes to debts and assets acquired during your marriage, those get separated during divorce proceedings.