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Is your romance a match in love and money?

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By Andrew Housser

June is the traditional month for weddings, but in reality, wedding season is just beginning. Between May and October, 1.7 million U.S. couples will marry. That is when 80 percent of all marriages take place each year. And with December the most popular month to get engaged, many couples now are planning for ceremonies that will take place this fall or next year.

If you are among these happy couples, you likely have met each other’s families and friends, discussed the possibility of having children, and decided your lifestyles are compatible. But have you discussed your attitudes and priorities on finances? Money is one of the most common causes of conflict for couples. Discuss the following questions to ensure that you and your betrothed are not only a love match, but also a money match.

Are you a spender or a saver? Just like the adage, “opposites attract,” many couples consist of one spender and one saver. If one of you never pays full price and believes one sofa should last for generations, while the other believes money is not meant to linger in your bank account, now is the time to look at these differences. How will you make sure you have both financial stability and fun? How will you keep spending in check and avoid resentment on either person’s part? It is critical to discuss your attitudes honestly and find common ground.

Are you flush or floundering? Both of you need to be honest about what you earn, what you spend and how much debt you carry. What types of debt do you have? Are you still repaying student loans? Do you owe on credit cards? If so, why? What is the plan to eliminate that debt?

Are your credit profiles compatible? Each person can access credit reports for free once per year at www.annualcreditreport.com. Engagement is the perfect time to obtain and review your reports. After you marry, your credit reports will still be your own, not shared. Your individual credit histories will have a significant impact on your ability to buy a home, purchase or lease a car at a good rate, or even rent an apartment. If one of you has poor credit, discuss concrete plans to improve the situation.

Can you be honest about money? One in three married people admit that they have lied to their spouse about a bank account, income, bills or debt. Any untruth weakens a marriage, but financial infidelity also can weaken your financial foundations. Set ground rules, starting with the commitment to create and use a simple budget. Agree to review finances together every month. Also decide how much you can spend before discussing with the other. Whether the figure is $50, $100 or $500, what is most important is that you agree to be honest.

Are you a manager or a teammate when it comes to day-to-day finances? Someone has to spearhead jobs like organizing a budget and paying bills. These responsibilities only grow if you have a family and own property. Discuss how you will share these roles.

Do you see the future through the same lens? Discuss the lifestyle you both envision. What sort of home do you hope to own? How often do you want to go on vacation, and where? How much do you need to earn in order to live a comfortable lifestyle? If you plan to have children, and have visions of one parent staying home to raise the children, can you afford to live on one income? What changes will you need to make in order to make this happen? Set goals together, and then build your budget around those goals. 

Do you expect the unexpected? Might you inherit money or property in the future? Do you own a business that you expect to sell, or are you part of a family enterprise? Do you plan to return to college or graduate school? If you have children from a previous relationship, what parenting agreements are in place for those children? Any of these situations can affect the financial future of your marriage. If you disagree on how you will manage these financial challenges, consider engaging a financial counselor, a premarital counselor or a qualified attorney who can create a prenuptial agreement, if needed.

Money can be a gift to your lives together, or it can tear you apart. Lay the groundwork before you marry so that your finances will be part of what you share to build beautiful memories of love, trust and security.

Andrew Housser is a co-founder and CEO of Bills.com, a free one-stop online portal where consumers can educate themselves about personal finance issues and compare financial products and services. He also is co-CEO of Freedom Financial Network, LLC providing comprehensive consumer credit advocacy and debt relief services. Housser holds a Master of Business Administration degree from Stanford University and Bachelor of Arts degree from Dartmouth College.
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