Getting married? Here’s one checklist to complete well before tying the knot

Most couples understand that it’s critical to have the “money talk” before the wedding day, but many find it uncomfortable. This checklist gives you an agenda for an easier and more productive conversation. 

5 Minute Read

It’s no surprise that one of the most avoided conversations between married couples is money. What it a surprise though is that nearly 60% don't even disclose their salaries to each other before walking down the aisle, according to a survey by SunTrust.

 The data also showed that only 51% of respondents actually discussed money with their partner before getting married, and just 36% were open with each other about their debt.

How does shying away from the “money talk” before marriage affect the relationship down the road? Not favorably. In fact, a study by Business Insider found that, during the first and third years of marriage, money matters were the most commonly reported source of marital arguments with high amounts of debt being the lead cause.

Paving a smoother path through your new marriage, while protecting your assets, might be best achieved by setting clear financial expectations from the start, especially if one partner comes into the marriage with significant debt – or significant wealth. This way, you’re building trust and teamwork by deciding together how to handle any troublesome differences in financial behavior between you and your spouse, like the way you each manage debt.

This checklist can help you get the “money talk” started:

Catalogue what you and your partner each bring to the table

If you're both employed, two salaries can be a considerable benefit toward building your long-term financial future, so it’s important to understand your combined cash, savings, and investment positions.

  • Make sure that your financial bases are covered by reviewing all assets and debts:
    • What are your real estate assets and mortgage liabilities?
    • How are your automobiles valued and what are the liabilities for their loans, leases, and insurance?
    • Do either of you have credit card debt or outstanding student loans?
  • Do you own valuable personal possessions such as family heirlooms, jewelry, fine art or antiques?
  • Do you have retirement plan account balances and vested benefits?
  • Do you have Qualified Domestic Relations Orders (QDROs), alimony, child support orders, or other legal liabilities and commitments?

Chart your immediate course together

  • Would either of you be more comfortable going into the marriage with a prenuptial agreement, legally permitting a couple to keep their finances separate and determine control of property and assets either partner might have had prior to the marriage?
  • If either of you has children or other dependents, how will you address their financial interests in the new family?
  • Agree on what financial habits you will adopt together. Will checking and credit accounts be joint or separate?  Who will see that the bills are paid each month? How will you set family budget and spending priorities?
  • Determine whose employer-sponsored health insurance offers more attractive benefits.

Discuss your long-term joint financial goals, such as buying a home or investing for retirement

  • How much will each of you contribute to your employer-sponsored retirement savings plans?
  • Will you need additional retirement resources such as an IRA or annuity?
  • Did you create a savings plan to accumulate the down payment needed to finance a home purchase?
  • Have you identified other financial goals that might need a sustained savings program, such as starting a business or acquiring a second home?

Determine if it makes good sense to meet with a financial professional to:

  • Consider each of your investment portfolios as part of a whole. You might learn, for instance, that your combined portfolio is more exposed to risk than it should be and could benefit from rebalancing.
  • Get help determining if it’s more advantageous to file taxes jointly or separately. Usually, “married filing jointly” can result in a lower combined tax liability, but in some cases – depending on deductions and income earned – “married filing separately” is preferable.

Once married, it will be important to review and update all of your accounts

  • Send changes of address to all companies that bill you regularly.
  • Update bank account and safe deposit box agreements.
  • Update retirement plan beneficiary declarations.
  • Update insurance policy beneficiary declarations.
  • Add your new spouse (and if applicable, new dependents) to leases.
  • Add your spouse to emergency contact listings.
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