Friday, February 16, 2007

Financial Planning 101: Merging money after marriage

Relationship experts cite money as the No. 1 problem newlywed couples face, and it is often the source of broken relationships. So, a little advice for the newly or soon-to-be engaged: Talk about your finances before the big day. Here's what every couple should discuss:

Are you ''financially honest'' with one another? Financial history may not be the most romantic subject, but couples should discuss and share their past with their mates. Jim Trippon, author of ''How Millionaires Stay Rich Forever,'' recommends that couples look at each other's credit reports and FICO scores. Does your partner pay bills on time? Is he or she stuck in debt? You should know these things before merging your finances and lives.

Who will manage the money once you're married? Psychotherapist Olivia Mellan says that women pay the bills and handle the budgeting 80 percent of the time, but only 12 percent of women are involved in the investment and tax planning. It's important that both partners understand the finances in a relationship and that both partners have a clear sense of how the financial work will be divided.

Is our money ''his and hers'' or ''ours''? Some couples choose to lump all their money together, while others prefer to maintain separate checking accounts for some of their money. Discuss how you will handle your money and who will be responsible for what if you opt for individual accounts.

Some couples choose to have separate accounts and a joint account for living expenses. The contribution to the joint account can be split 50/50 or worked out by percentage of total household income. This way, the individual who may make significantly less isn't overburdened. Automatic bill payments from the joint account can also eliminate fights over who didn't pay the bills.

Do you have the same attitudes about spending, saving and investing? Just because you're a saver doesn't mean your partner is, as well. Don't set yourself up for a rude awakening — discuss your attitudes about spending habits upfront. If you're a spender, remember saving at least one hour's worth of pay a day before taxes is a good idea.

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