Ask the Experts

What should I know about my future spouse's finances before I get married?

Washington Post -- Sunday, June 22, 2008; F04

Because good communication is the key to any relationship, there are some issues you should discuss before you get married:

· What does money mean to each of you: happiness, love, control, self-worth, freedom or other issues?

· Are you a spender or a saver? Most individuals are one or the other, and it is helpful to discover this from the beginning.

· How will the two of you handle the day-to-day finances? Some couples maintain separate accounts and contribute to one household account; others combine everything.

· What assets and liabilities are each of you bringing into the marriage? Sharing your financial net worth is important for good financial planning.

· What are your financial goals? This is especially important if you are thinking about having children and one of you leaving the workforce to become a stay-at-home parent.

· How is your credit?

Christopher Brown -- President, Ivy League Financial Advisors in Rockville, Md.

Discussing financial matters can be stressful for couples. The key is to address issues before a crisis emerges. Here are three things you should know about each other:

· Understand your future spouse's philosophy and values about money. For some, it may symbolize freedom, flexibility or independence. For others, it may represent power, control, security or love.

· Know each other's saving and spending habits. Do you contribute to your 401(k) at work or systematically direct your savings to an IRA or an emergency fund? Do either of you live paycheck to paycheck? Do you have a budget? All of these will help you determine whether there is a misalignment of objectives or desires.

· Address each other's debt obligations now. Discuss how you will both handle any future personal debt (student loans, credit card debt, business loans, car notes). The reality is that debt brought into a marriage may cause additional pressure.

Rita Cheng -- Financial adviser, Ameriprise Financial Services in Bethesda, Md.


A comfortable way of bringing up this issue is to talk about your own financial priorities rather than your future spouse's. Then you can ask whether he or she is comfortable discussing financial expectations.

You need to discuss:

· Dependence or independence on future spouse for income. This will help determine whether to have joint or separate accounts.

· The amount of your current debts.

· Your spending habits, especially with credit cards. How much you spend on credit payments every month and how much you put aside as savings.

· Your financial obligations, including alimony, child support, aging parents and other relatives.

It is best to discuss who is going to pay for what. If one of you is unwilling to talk about financial issues, you should discuss the issues preventing that discussion.

Louis J. Schwarz -- Founder and managing member of Schwarz Financial Services in Bethesda, Md.