Money Talk before Marriage

Why wait until after you’re married to learn your prospective spouse’s credit history? Why wait until after marriage to learn not only how much your prospective spouse makes but also how much he or she owes? Why wait until after marriage to make a budget? Ask yourself if you’re a spender or a saver? Ask your  prospective spouse whether she or he is a spender or a saver? What do the individual credit reports show?

The answers to these questions are obvious: you and your prospective partner need to know your own and the other’s money habits and credit history; you need to learn how your individual money habits will mesh in a marriage; you need to answer these questions together before you marry.

In an article in the New York Times entitled “Money Talks to Have Before Marriage,” Ron Lieber lists a minimum of four financial topics that engaged couples should disclose and discuss before marriage, namely:

  • Financial Ancestry —“How did your parents deal with money, how does that impact how you deal with it, and how might that impact * * * [the] relationship?”
  • Credit History — “Full disclosure on the credit front is useful for two reasons. First, a credit report is, in part, a catalog of past mistakes and overall habits — loan payments you missed or department store credit cards you didn’t really need. That in itself is a good starting point for a discussion about what you’ve learned (or still need to learn) about handling money. There’s an immediate practical side to this, too. If there are errors or low credit scores that a couple can improve, there may still be time to make the fixes so that the couple can get the best rates on a loan for their first home a year or two later.”
  • Control — “Figuring out who will pay the bills each month may not seem to be an important conversation or assignment. But it gets tricky when both people want to take it on. “People understand that in a relationship, money is control,” says Jeff Kostis, a financial planner in Vernon Hills, Ill., who walks engaged couples and newlyweds through a checklist of questions. “If you’re not paying the bills, you don’t know where the money is going, and you feel like ‘He doesn’t want me to go out with my friends’ or ‘She doesn’t want me to play in the fantasy football pool.’ ”
  • Affluence — “Here’s another question that tends not to come up during courtship: Just how rich do we want to be one day? Mr. Kuhlman refers to this more politely as the “desired level of affluence.” Are our career paths going to be something that pulls us together? Or, more often, are they things that will tend to pull us apart, where we’ll really have to be proactive to make sure it’s under control?” he says.”

None of us want to create obstacles to our own happiness, and we all want the prelude to marriage to be pleasant, just as we want our marriage to be happy and prosperous. But it’s better to learn of financial realities sooner rather than later, so consider disclosing and discussing your personal finances before you marry, and, by all means, make a budget before you marry.

Inside Money Talk before Marriage