Preparing to spend the rest of your life with someone can be both exciting and terrifying. The possibility of marrying the wrong person can be scary, but what’s even scarier is discovering your significant other is hiding a closet-full of financial skeletons. When left unaddressed, money problems have a way of making a zombie appearance years later, often serving as a catalyst for arguments.
“…Personal finance remains the last bastion of privacy, a deep secret that, like our bank PIN, we dare not divulge. That silence has real consequences. By being secretive about our money, we create chasms in our relationships that can seem impossibly large. We keep the peace by being quiet. It’s just easier that way. All the while, though, the chasms grow and the financial strains build,” said Jeff D. Opdyke in Love and Money: A Life Guide to Financial Success.
In addition to uncovering financial secrets, you’ll also want to agree on how you’ll manage household finances in your marriage. Amidst all the wedding planning, don’t forget to plan for your financial future. Here are six questions you should ask your loved one before you say “I do.”
1. Do you have any large outstanding debts?
Obtaining a clear picture of your partner’s debt load may help you see whether you may be in for some tough financial times. Also inquire about the type of debt (i.e. student loans, medical debt, credit card debt, and so on) and what long-term plans he or she has to pay it down.
2. What’s your credit score?
Credit scores can have a significant impact on your finances as a couple. For example, credit scores will come into play if you decide to apply for a home loan. Don’t wait until you’re house shopping to find out about your future spouse’s credit history. Before you tie the knot, you should both sit down and compare credit reports. Now is the time to learn about any bankruptcies, large debts, or poor money management habits. You can access a copy of your credit reports when you visit annualcreditreport.com. Know that every 12 months you are entitled to one free credit report from each of the three major credit reporting agencies.
3. How much do you make?
This may seem like a simple question, but many couples are in the dark when it comes to income. A recent Fidelity study found roughly 43% of couples did not know how much their partner earned. This is up from 27% of survey respondents in 2013. When asked to identify how much their partner made, about 10% of that group missed the mark by $25,000.
4. Do you have significant difficulties with financial management?
Although large debts can give you a glimpse of what your future spouse’s finances are like, it doesn’t tell the whole story. You want to be specific and ask if he or she is dealing with more serious issues like gambling or overspending. These dysfunctional approaches to money have been known to ruin lives and lead to broken marriages. If you discover this is indeed the case, ask what is being done to address the problem. Is he or she seeking therapy? What is the long-term plan? If there is no plan to deal with the issue, you may want to rethink your plans as a couple.
5. How will we pay the bills?
Do you want to split all household bills down the middle or pay according to each of your incomes? This is marriage talk that you need to have so everyone is on the same page. Also figure out whether one spouse will manage all of the household bills or if both of you want to pitch in.
6. Do you want a joint or separate bank account?
This question tends to be a hot-button issue for many couples. The answer will depend on what you’re comfortable with, but the time to decide is now. Agree in advance if you will have separate accounts, a joint account, or a combination of the two.