How to Manage Both Marriage and Money

One set of financial goals is hard enough to manage. Two sets can seem impossible until you learn how to merge finances with your spouse – and how to keep some assets separate.

Coming together with your spouse for big-picture costs – homes, a college education – is probably easier if you share financial goals and values. Some couples match up from the start; other couples grow into such simpatico. (Amazingly, some couples succeed in planning despite having many different goals and values.)

Couples often keep joint accounts for everything except retirement nest eggs that must be in an individual’s name, such as a 401(k) and individual retirement accounts. Couples who keep many or most things separate tend to have married later in life or are on second marriages.

If your bank accounts, credit cards, investment accounts and loans are all in both names, either spouse can easily take care of ordinary problems such as dispute of a charge or a change in investments. For example, I met my wife when we were young. We maintain most accounts jointly and only encounter difficulties if one of our names is not on the account.

If the spouse not on the account handles the finances or has the time or inclination to field a specific problem, he or she must get the other spouse on the phone with the company in question – a potential hassle during the couple’s workday – to provide permission for the representative to speak to the first spouse.

Having the name of both you and your spouse on your accounts gives you flexibility – a handy tool for a couple during the occasional stress in all marriages.

If you and your spouse don’t handle all finances jointly, at least maintain some common accounts for daily life, such as a checking account to pay your household bills, savings and investment accounts to accumulate toward your common goals and a credit card that you both use for common charges. If you don’t spend, invest and save jointly, make sure you clarify rules for how you handle finances. Revise these as your life together changes.

Financial matters are the most common source of discord among American couples, igniting an average of three arguments per month, according to a survey for the American Institute of CPAs. More than a quarter (27%) of respondents married or living with a partner cited money disagreements as most likely to prompt a spat – more than arguments about children, chores, work or friends.

Such arguments are also most often over differing opinions of “needs” versus “wants” with 58% of those who argue about money. About half (49%) most often argue about unexpected expenses and a third (32%) argue about insufficient savings.

Many partners in a marriage fear combining accounts, afraid of losing control or of losing assets in a divorce. Marriage means sharing your life with someone; that invariably involves voluntarily ceding control of some aspects of your daily life. And divorce lawyers care less whose name happens to be on an account and more about whether that account is a marital asset acquired during the marriage.

In my experience, couples who keep everything more separate tend to endure more conflicts over money.

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Written by Michael Garry, CFP. Michael Garry is managing member of Yardley Wealth Management in Newtown, Pa. His website is http://www.yardleywealth.net/.

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