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10 Financial questions to ask before marriage
The bottom line
Oct 19, 2022
8 min read
Although initially challenging, having frank discussions about present and future finances before agreeing to tie the knot can help build a financially fair marriage.
You’ve decided to get married and the wedding date is quickly approaching. But have you talked about money yet? Before marriage, as opposed to after, is an ideal time to have a detailed conversation about money. It’s an opportunity to ask a soon-to-be spouse about financial matters like spending habits, credit score, investment risk tolerance, or their views on merging finances.
While it might be tempting to wait to discuss money matters—because the topic of money involves issues of ego, financial security and self-worth—doing so can lead to incorrect assumptions, confusion, and even tension around the subject. By talking about them before tying the knot, partners can get acquainted with each other’s values around money and financial goals.
Setting aside time to sit down together and take a financial inventory of each other’s assets—and liabilities—is a key step to take before getting married and possibly combining money or other assets. As uncomfortable as it may be, taking that initial deep dive into finances often helps ease tension and anxiety from money concerns and sets the tone for continued talks into the marriage. Talking about money on a regular basis—setting aside an hour once a month for example—is a healthy financial habit for couples to start early.
Before asking any questions of a partner, assess what your own financial needs, desires, and goals are (or might be), if you’ve never thought about them before. Feeling heard and respected is key. If either party feels pressured or ignored, it’s fine to take a break and say, “I need a moment to think about this.” Table it for a later conversation. These questions can equally help start the money conversation between engaged couples, regardless of age.
Start with more general questions before getting down to facts and figures: What value does each person in a couple place on money? Does either equate money with joy, or greed? How does each person spend versus save? What percentage of a paycheck goes towards savings? Does either person throw caution to the wind when spending? Or, is keeping a particular account balance more important than lifestyle? Ultimately, if each person described their financial personality, what would it be?
Discovering how a partner feels about earning, saving, and spending on a deeper level can help with financial planning since attitudes can influence money goals. These first discussions can be a good indicator of shared values and, conversely, where conflict might arise.
Hopefully, a couple shares short- and long-term financial goals, with only a few adjustments. What does each person want to achieve with their money? Maybe, it’s a down payment on a house, a luxury vacation, a substantial emergency fund, paying off wedding debt, or making a difference in the world through charitable donations or impact investing.
If there are plans for children, will there be an education fund? Are there retirement plans, from the ideal age to stop working to the amount of money needed for a comfortable retirement?
Like in other parts of life, setting clear financial goals can serve as a benchmark to measure progress, important when trying to stay on task.
Maybe there have been some vague hints of credit card or student loan debts. If so, now is the time to reveal those numbers. Couples tend to want to know the dollar amount of each other’s debt and how it’s being paid off. Combining debt is an option for couples, as is keeping it separate. Partners might want to share their credit scores; each person’s credit ratings can impact getting a car loan or future home.
In order to create a full financial picture as a couple, it’s helpful if each person reveals financial obligations, if any. Perhaps one person is paying for a family member’s tuition or healthcare costs, while the other has alimony or child support payments. Being forthright about financial obligations, both the dollar amount and situation, before the marriage is helpful when creating budgets and planning financial goals as a couple.
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When both people feel comfortable, it’s time to divulge the figures. How much does each person have in savings and investments, if any? Does either partner own any real estate or other assets? This discussion might initially feel awkward, as a lower-than-expected savings account balance or zero in retirement funds may be revealed during the discussion, so it’s important to be non-judgemental and supportive towards one another. That way, each person can continue to feel comfortable having an honest financial conversation down the road.
Financial advisors are divided over whether couples get separate accounts or joint accounts. Some advisors suggest creating one joint checking account to pay shared expenses like rent or mortgage, utilities, and groceries, which can be the first foray into combined finances. In fact, studies show that couples who choose to pool their money have stronger bonds and more satisfying relationships, which are more collaborative and amicable.
If considering a joint account, it doesn’t necessarily need to be funded via a 50/50 split. Some couples opt to fund joint expenses or contribute to joint financial goals proportionally based on earnings. A couple may also consider doing both—having joint and separate accounts—if one person’s debt obligations potentially expose a joint bank account to risk.
For those couples planning to pool their finances, this question is unnecessary as there will be 100% transparency built into the household finances. However, for those couples who want to have total or partial separate finances, transparency guidelines and expectations can be made clear from the onset. Will certain expenditures or financial accounts be private? Or, maybe all aspects of each person’s money will be an open book, despite separate bank accounts, credit cards, and investments. There is no right or wrong (each couple is different), as long as there is agreement about the parameters.
It’s normal to feel vulnerable—even uncomfortable—during healthy financial conversations, which do eventually lead to finding common ground. However, if talking about finances consistently leads to friction—or silence—from a future partner, perhaps it’s time to talk with a third party, such as a financial advisor or planner.
The mere mention of a prenuptial agreement (prenup) can cause stress within a relationship, and raise concerns of the potential for divorce before the marriage has even started. However, a prenup is simply a legal agreement signed before marriage that details assets, responsibilities, and other matters of finances. It allows couples to make decisions about potential division of assets while in a good place, rather than a place of conflict. Although a prenup might sound unromantic and is often associated negatively with divorce, documenting financial details before marriage can provide a sense of calm.
Think about it this way: While a couple might verbally or theoretically agree on financial matters such as sharing inheritances equally or choosing to own property separately, it can get murky if there is a future divorce. The prenup states a couples’ financial agreement clearly.
If a couple is on the fence about a prenup, there is also the option of a postnuptial agreement, or postnup.
Most couples file federal taxes jointly as there are more tax breaks, like the Earned Income Tax Credit or a greater charitable contribution deduction. However, that’s not always the case. Factors like income, home ownership, investments, or a particular medical expenditure, determine if filing jointly or separately is most financially beneficial. Couples can consult with CPAs to ask about the pros and cons of filing separately or jointly.
Although initially challenging, having frank discussions about present and future finances before agreeing to tie the knot can help build a financially fair marriage. Since there is no one-size-fits-all approach to saving and spending, talking openly and honestly about money can not only reduce marital disagreements and financial surprises (like unexpected debt), but it can also help couples understand each other's attitude about money and short- and long-term financial goals.
If you and your future spouse are in agreement about the financial aspects of your lives, congratulations. However, most couples—even financially compatible ones—disagree about money at least occasionally. Talking about, and working though, money matters prior to getting married solidifies shared values and goals. These 10 financial questions can help guide the way to a healthier relationship with money—and each other.
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