Through December 31, 2023, Experian, TransUnion and Equifax will offer all U.S. consumers free weekly credit reports through AnnualCreditReport.com to help you protect your financial health during the sudden and unprecedented hardship caused by COVID-19.
Marriage is the union of two people, but it's also the union of financial interests. Whether you decide to manage money separately, jointly or somewhere in between, having a conversation about money can help you start a marriage off on strong financial footing. Here's a checklist of five financial steps to take after getting married.
1. Identify Your Values
Before filling out budget spreadsheets and running through numbers, discuss what your values are and look at the big picture. This exercise can help you both get clear on the purpose or "why" behind financial plans as you create them.
For example, say you and your partner value family, and one partner wants to be a stay-at-home parent. With this purpose in mind, you can start thinking about what spending and saving steps you'll need to take to make it happen. And if your spending habits ever go off course, you can revisit your "why" to realign your habits with your priorities.
2. Start a Budget
Creating a budget is a way to plan how you'll spend (and save) your income throughout the month to meet your goals. To create a budget, write out the income you both earn (after taxes and other payroll deductions like insurance) and then list all of your expenses and the amount you want to save monthly.
A budget can live on a simple spreadsheet, or you could try one of many budgeting tools. Some financial institutions have budgeting tools built right into the banking app that you can use to track spending and assign limits to expense categories. Many other popular budgeting apps and websites let you connect financial accounts to the platform so you can analyze expenses and create a spending plan. Compare tools until you find one you both enjoy using.
3. Decide How to Split the Bills
The best way to split bills varies for each couple, and a split right down the middle might not make sense in all situations—especially if one partner earns significantly more. Discuss how you'll split expenses and how you'll manage money on a daily basis. Here are a few options:
- Open one joint account: Each of you deposits all of your money into one joint account, and you pay all expenses from that account.
- Open a joint account and keep separate accounts: You both have one shared joint account where you deposit money for household bills and maintain separate accounts for personal spending.
- Keep separate accounts: You both have separate accounts, and each partner pays bills they're assigned to from their own accounts.
Remember that how you manage money today doesn't have to be how you'll handle money forever. For example, a partner getting a raise or getting laid off could be a reason to adjust how expenses are divided later down the road.
4. Come Up With a Debt Plan
Collectively, Americans carry $1.6 trillion in student loan debt, $986 billion in credit card debt, and $1.56 trillion in auto loan debt—so it's possible you and your partner will bring debt into a marriage. Working on paying off debt as a team could help you eliminate it faster and keep you motivated through the process. The debt avalanche and debt snowball are two popular debt strategies you could use to tackle your balances. Here's how both work:
- Debt snowball: Make minimum payments on all of your debt and focus extra money on your lowest balance first to eliminate balances from smallest to largest.
- Debt avalanche: Make minimum payments on all of your debt and focus any extra money you have on debt with the highest interest rate so you're paying off your most expensive debt first.
In addition to coming up with a payoff plan for existing debt, consider how you'll manage debt going forward. Depending on your state, debt accumulated while married could be regarded as shared debt when you divorce, even if it's not under your name, so it's a good idea to agree on how you'll use credit cards and loans in the future. Consider coming up with a maximum dollar amount you can spend without consulting each other, such as $250 or $500. This way, both of you feel involved in major purchase decisions and you minimize the chance of a big debt surprise.
4. Discuss Short-Term and Long-Term Financial Goals
Have a chat about what you want to achieve in the near future. Maybe you want to save $5,000 in an emergency savings fund before year's end or save up for a car down payment. Figure out how much you both need to save per paycheck and month to reach your goals.
Also, think about other "down the road" financial priorities like budgeting for a home purchase, paying into 401(k) plans and health savings accounts (HSAs) and creating college funds for children. For long-term savings goals, early planning is key because regular savings contributions combined with compounding interest can steadily grow your nest egg over time.
6. Do a Credit Check-up
Your individual credit histories affect your collective buying power when you want to borrow money for a major purchase, like a home or car. Reviewing your credit histories can help you pinpoint areas that need improvement before you apply for loans or credit lines together.
You can get each of your credit reports for free at AnnualCreditReport.com. If there are errors on your credit reports, you have the right to file disputes with each credit bureau reporting the information. Consider also signing up for credit score monitoring so you can get notified of score changes.
7. Schedule Regular Money Meetings
After completing your newlywed checklist, make plans to check back and review your finances on a regular basis. This could look like monthly budget review dates or biweekly discussions on how to spend your paychecks. Having open conversations about money regularly can make the topic less taboo, and expanding the conversation to include your children could help you pass on valuable financial planning and money management skills to the next generation.
The Bottom Line
Explaining every aspect of your finances to your partner can be uncomfortable, but it is necessary. After you walk down the aisle and the honeymoon is over, developing a money plan can get you on the same financial page, which can help you reach life goals as a unit.