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Marriage

Financial Ties That Bind: A Money Checklist for Newlyweds

Scott Boyles, a wealth manager at Brightscape Investment Centers in Dallas, Tex., admits that new marriages and money conversations between newlyweds aren't exactly a big priority—but they should be.

"As a financial planner, I work with many couples on how to manage money," Boyles says. "Yet in my own life, my wife and I had to have difficult talks regarding money through the years because we started a business together."

Boyles and his spouse began discussing the budding business, with all of its financial implications on their lives, before they tied the knot.

"The business lasted about eight years and we made the difficult decision to close," he says. "The amount of financial stress between seeing a growing business begin to decline and then finally make the decision to close definitely has an impact on our relationship."

"We survived, but trust me—this wasn't easy." The fact is, many engaged couples don't really like talking about money.

Exhibit "A" is a recent Merrill Lynch and Age Wave study, which found that 61% of women would rather talk about their own death than money. Indifference to the issue is also a problem. A separate study by Experian showed that 25% of spouses didn't know their partner's annual income, and 40% didn't know their partner's credit score.

But talking about money should be a top priority for about-to-be-married couples—if only to be on the same page, financially, after tying the knot.

"Newlyweds should begin their marriage and their money conversation with the development of a joint vision for the marriage," says Joshua Escalante Troesh, president of Purposeful Strategic Partners, a California-based investment advisory firm. "The idea is to craft a compelling vision from which other long-term goals can flow. When the couple has a compelling vision, disagreements related to money are more easily solved because both can fall back on their commitment to their joint vision."

Ideally, money conversation should take place between couples before they get to the "I do's."

"Conversations should be had before you tie the knot, and you want to lay all your cards on the table, including assets and liabilities," says Janine Rogan, a financial literacy expert and founder of the financial solutions website, JanineRogan.com. "Your priority should be where you stand as a couple. When it's one spouse versus the other financially, there can be tension on how the money isn't being spent or allocated fairly."

You need to find the right balance for you as a couple, Rogan adds. "Then you can move to more longer-term goals once you understand the spending priorities, goals, and financial liabilities," the newly married Rogan says.

Other money experts advise newlyweds to set aside "money dates" where a couple can have a glass of wine and discuss household finances.

"This is where you and your partner sync up about finances for 15-30 minutes each month," says Sam Schultz co-founder at San Francisco-based Honeyfi, a mobile app that helps couples manage money. "For lots of couples, setting aside time to discuss finances creates the safe space they need to have better conversations about money."

Start by addressing shared financial goals, Schulz advises. "If you're having trouble starting the conversation about money, try talking about three-to-five financial goals for the next few years," he says. "Discussing goals can help you and your partner align on your future, which gives you peace of mind."

"Also, accomplishing goals together helps you feel like a team," he says. "According to a recent survey, couples who have defined financial goals are 32% less likely to argue about money." The data also shows a clear distinction between married couples and divorced couples on personal financial issues. According to Experian, "Married couples also outpaced divorcees in terms of knowledge about long-term financial goals (60% versus 28%t), retirement savings (55% versus 25%) and credit scores (43% versus 31%)."

To help newly-married couples better prepare for their financial lives together, the Merrill Lynch study advises couples to put the following "I do" items at the top of their financial checklist:

1. Starting Difficult Money Conversations

Conversations about finances and shared expenses (like mortgage payments, joint bank accounts or credit cards, for example) early on will help prevent relationship issues down the road, even if it might feel uncomfortable and awkward to bring up.

2. Setting Long-Term Financial Goals

"Down the road" financial priorities like developing 401(k) plans and health savings accounts (HSAs), budgeting for a dream house and creating college funds for children, all need to be addressed before or early in a marriage.

3. Debts Need to Be Prioritized, Too

Navigating financial obligations as a couple is important, as well. Key debt issues to cover include student loans, credit card debt as well as loans and cash gifts to family members, the Merrill report states.

4. Identifying Career and Financial Expectations

Men and women who plan to spend time at home raising children might face a workplace interruption, which can subsequently impact their career and ability to save for retirement, among other things. People who plan to devote years to raising children should discuss financial expectations and priorities with their partners to ensure that there is a clear plan in place to provide for the long-term financial well-being of the family.

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