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Getting married brings plenty of joy and excitement, but it also introduces a whole host of financial decisions. It's further complicated for the LGBTQ community, with additional barriers such as discrimination to contend with. But if you head into marriage ready to communicate openly about finances and plan with your new spouse, it will pay dividends now and later.
"As two people working on the same or similar goals, you'll get there so much faster than each of you working in silos," says John Auten-Schneider, who runs the personal finance blog Debt Free Guys with his husband, David.
Figuring out future plans and goals is one of the most rewarding things you can do as you begin your married life together—and talking money doesn't have to dampen the enthusiasm. Here are seven ways LGBTQ newlyweds can start their marriage on the right foot financially.
1. Get to Saving
Whether you plan to keep checking accounts separate or combined, it's a good idea to work toward building savings and planning for big expenses as a couple.
An Experian survey from 2018 found that LGBTQ respondents were more likely to say they had difficulty setting aside savings compared with the general population. Contributing factors likely include a persistent pay gap and other forms of systemic discrimination. It also doesn't help that same-sex couples weren't eligible receive many of the financial benefits of marriage up until 2015, including the ability to file taxes jointly, receive spousal health and retirement benefits, and more.
Increasing your savings may be as simple as committing to setting a certain amount aside regularly. Start with whatever you can afford and work up from there over time. Having money automatically deposited into your savings account(s) every pay period or month can help build your emergency fund as well and funds for other financial goals.
If you plan to have kids, starting your savings plan now is important, since family-building options such as adoption, surrogacy or in-vitro fertilization are costly.
2. Build a Budget
Getting on a budget can help curb overspending and keep debt manageable, especially if one partner is a bigger spender. There are other benefits, too, Auten-Schneider says, such as aligning and understanding your goals. "You don't always need to have all the same goals, but you need to be able to support each other's individual goals and know what you're both working toward," he says.
He and his husband David recommend starting by daydreaming of what you want your life to look like in five, 10 and 25 years, from traveling and having kids to retirement. "When you've become clearer on these daydreams, ask yourself how you'll make sure you'll get there," Auten-Schneider says. "How much must you save each year? Each month? Each paycheck? Then, create a plan with your budget to do just that."
If you don't already have one, making a budget starts with figuring out exactly how much income you're bringing in each month and then taking expenses into account. There are several different budgeting methods, including the 50/30/20 rule and zero-based budgeting, so do some research and figure out which one works best with your lifestyle. The most important part of any budget plan is sticking to it—which may be easy to do once you see the benefits of knowing where your money goes each month.
3. Decide Whether to Combine Finances
Historically, heteronormative couples merged finances and the husband managed all the money, Auten-Schneider says. "That's evolving along with the roles that different genders play in relationships and the acceptance of different kinds of relationships," he explains. "With that, it's important for you as a couple to do what works for you both or for all of you, but it's also important for there to be complete transparency."
He urges couples to avoid hiding financial topics from their partners, which could indicate underlying trust issues that need to be addressed. "But that doesn't mean that all the finances need to be combined or that one person is responsible for all the finances," he continues. Individual relationships with money are personal and can be fraught with emotional baggage, so he says the key is to talk openly and regularly together.
Don't forget that there's no one-size-fits-all solution: You can always combine some things, like a savings account you both contribute to, but not others, such as separate checking accounts.
4. Share Your Credit Score
If you plan to apply for debt together, such as a car loan, mortgage or credit card, you'll need to get familiar with your spouse's credit. That's because it plays a huge role in what you can qualify for. In some states, you're responsible for your spouse's debt, making it even more important to keep borrowing under control.
It can be nerve-wracking to share your credit score, Auten-Schneider adds, but it helps build trust in your relationship. "If you can't trust each other enough to share your credit scores, then there may be bigger problems and that could have dire consequences to your relationship down the road, including financial infidelity," he says.
You can get your credit score several ways, including for free from Experian. You may also want to look at your credit reports from all three credit bureaus (Experian, TransUnion and Equifax), which you can do for no charge at AnnualCreditReport.com.
5. Start Estate Planning
Even with the legal protections of marriage available, it's still wise for LGBTQ couples to have a lawyer create estate planning documents. These explicitly state who will receive your assets and make decisions about your health and finances if you become incapacitated or pass away.
This can be especially important if your family isn't supportive and/or if you have or adopt children, whether from a previous relationship or together. While you're at it, make sure to update the beneficiaries on your financial accounts.
6. Consider Long-Term Care Insurance
As newlyweds, the last thing you may want to think about is becoming elderly or infirm. But it's vital for LGBTQ couples to consider how they want to spend their older years. Despite laws that are supposed to help, nearly half of older same-sex couples have experienced housing discrimination, according to nonprofit advocacy organization SAGE.
To avoid this, you could plan to live in an LGBTQ-friendly long-term care facility, though cost is a significant concern for couples, according to a UBS survey. Updating your home to allow aging in place and receiving in-home care is another way to mitigate discrimination, but it's not cheap either. Long-term care insurance can help cover the cost of living in the affirming facility of your choice, and in some cases, paying for at-home care, according to UBS. Premiums are less expensive the younger you are and can help save you money later—and remain more comfortable and safe.
7. Find an Affirming Financial Planner
If you're struggling to get on the same page financially, consider hiring a financial planner or advisor who's either in the LGBTQ community or very knowledgeable about your unique needs.
This professional can help you and your spouse create a budget, assess priorities and make a plan for how to achieve goals. Do a search to find advisors or firms in your area that specialize in LGBTQ clients. You can also search through databases, such as GuideVine, where financial planners can label that they specialize in the LGBTQ community.
If you can't afford to hire a planner, there are plenty of free resources. For example, SAGE has a free digital wellness platform called SAGECents for older LGBTQ people.
Get on the Same Page Today
Talking about money can be uncomfortable if you're not used to it, but it will get easier with practice. And as you build trust, making financial plans and goals will help you both individually and as an LGBTQ couple.