Financial advice for mere commoners tying the knot
When it comes to the royal wedding, no detail is off-limits -- the bride's weight, who's making her dress and who didn't make the guest list. Even the couple's finances are open to scrutiny. Will Prince William break with tradition and ask bride-...
When it comes to the royal wedding, no detail is off-limits -- the bride's weight, who's making her dress and who didn't make the guest list.
Even the couple's finances are open to scrutiny. Will Prince William break with tradition and ask bride-to-be Kate Middleton to sign a prenup?
While all eyes now are on the "wedding of the century," there are plenty of commoners in their 20s getting hitched every day. Their finances aren't fodder for the tabloids, although money will play a major role in their lives together. That's why, as unromantic as it may sound, young couples need to have a heart-to-heart talk about money long before they walk down the aisle.
"It's a business arrangement," said Mari Adam, a financial planner in Florida. "You really want to put aside your emotions and put on your little green eyeshade."
Ashley Hodak and her fiance, Ian Sullivan, are getting married in June after dating five years. The Millersville, Md., couple started talking about finances a couple of years ago.
"We discussed debt, college loans, car payments and insurance. We really put everything out on the table," said Hodak, 25, a communications coordinator for a nonprofit organization.
"As far as money is concerned, we are really very compatible," added Sullivan, 24, an adjunct professor at Towson University. "We both believe in saving," but not to the point where they don't have any fun, he said. Sullivan acknowledges that it would be stressful if his future wife were a big spender.
Ideally, couples will be on the same page. But to know that, they need to talk about money. If you're getting married and haven't had that discussion, here are financial matters to consider:
FULL DISCLOSURE: Once engaged -- and before you book the venue for the wedding reception -- you need to put finances on the table. Disclose your retirement accounts and other assets. Own up to student debt, car loans, credit cards and other obligations.
And exchange credit reports. They are far more informative than a credit score. Reports reveal credit card balances, late payments or a past bankruptcy that could hamper your ability to buy a house together.
"You don't want to be in front of the mortgage broker and find that out. That would be embarrassing and upsetting," said Brooke West, a SunTrust financial planner in Florida.
If you're reluctant to bring up these issues, take your partner for a premarital consultation with a financial adviser, who can ask the tough questions for you.
TILL DEBT DO US PART: You don't have to call off the wedding if your betrothed is buried in debt. But it should trigger a conversation about how that debt was incurred and what's the plan for paying it off.
Be aware that marrying someone steeped in debt will lower your standard of living, said Adam, the financial planner.
"You have to ask yourself: What is the life impact of that debt and what will it stop you from doing?" she said. For instance, you might have to postpone buying a house or starting a family until you erase the debt.
A PRENUP? Many young couples have few assets and aren't likely to draw up a prenuptial agreement. (News reports say Kate won't have to sign one either, despite millions of dollars at stake.)
But Susan Elgin, a divorce lawyer in Towson, Md., recommends couples at least write down any financial agreements they've made and sign it. For example, if the bride's parents provide a down payment for a house, the couple may agree that she will get that money if the marriage sours and the house is sold, Elgin said.
The agreement is a handy reminder when memories fade and these thorny issues come up.
TO MERGE OR NOT TO MERGE: Some couples open a joint bank account after marriage or add a spouse's name to existing accounts. Others maintain separate accounts -- and a little independence -- while opening a joint one to handle household expenses.
Couples need to decide what works best for them. But financial advisers say a joint account works best when saving for a big goal, such as a house, so both can monitor their progress.
A joint account might also help couples with little money to meet minimum balances and to avoid bank fees, said Brian Pon, a California financial planner.
Be aware that if you received an inheritance, that money will remain yours even in a divorce, provided it remains in an account in your name only, planners say. Deposit the money in a joint account, and it belongs to both.
CREDIT CARDS: Keep credit cards separate. Open a joint credit card, and both of you are liable for whatever debt is on the card -- no matter who ran up the balance.
If your spouse has poor credit and you don't, you can help out by adding your mate as an authorized user on your card, said John Ulzheimer with SmartCredit.com. Your spouse's credit score will benefit from your good history without damaging your score, he said.
But there's a risk: The authorized user can max out the card, and only the primary cardholder is responsible for repaying.
One way to help and not get burned: Add a spouse as an authorized user, but don't give him or her the card to use, Ulzheimer said.
FILING JOINTLY OR SEPARATELY? As newlyweds, your income tax filing status will be married filing jointly or separately. Filing jointly is generally better.
"There are a lot of things you lose if you do file separately," said Mark Luscombe, principal tax analyst at CCH, a provider of tax information.
Couples filing separately aren't eligible for the earned income tax credit and certain education tax breaks, Luscombe noted. Plus, you can't invest in a tax-friendly Roth IRA if you make more than $10,000, while joint filers with income up to $169,000 can fully contribute.
Consider filing separately, though, if you have big medical bills, Luscombe said. Expenses over 7.5 percent of income are deductible. That is a tough threshold to meet when you combine incomes on a joint return.
Both of you will be responsible for the information on a joint return. A good reason to file separately is if "you do not trust your spouse's finances or disclosure of tax information," said planner Pon. "In which case, I don't know if you want to be married anyway."
WILLS & THINGS: Getting basic estate planning documents after you're married can protect loved ones if the worst happens.
A will dictates where you want your assets to go at death. A power of attorney allows you to name someone to make financial decisions for you if you're incapacitated.
An advance directive allows you to designate a person to make medical decisions for you if you're unable to do so. And you can spell out what sort of life-prolonging measures you want undertaken on your behalf. This may seem unnecessary for young, healthy couples. But the most high-profile life-support disputes involved patients who were stricken in their 20s, such as Terri Schiavo.
BENEFICIARY UPDATES: Singles often put a parent or sibling as the beneficiary of their life insurance or financial accounts. But if you want your new spouse to inherit this money, don't forget to change the beneficiary.