Financial Planning
February 14, 2023

Finances for Couples

February means love is in the air! A key to a happy, successful relationship is to be in alignment about life’s important decisions.
Stewart Willis

This Valentine’s Day, thousands of people will be getting engaged. Looking forward to an upcoming wedding is an exciting time, and it can lead to some important conversations. There are many things couples can do to give their marriage a better chance at long-term success. One of those is to come to an understanding of their finances.

Money can cause intense disagreements even in otherwise happy relationships. One survey found that money issues are the third leading cause of divorce, only slightly behind infidelity! 

Once a relationship starts to become serious, it’s important to get on the same financial page. To start, there are questions each partner should ask. 

What are our financial priorities, and how will we determine them in the future?

It’s so common it has become a trope in popular entertainment. One partner hides financial information from their spouse. Financial infidelity, whether hiding bank accounts, purchases or lying about debts, is a surefire way to cause conflict.

It’s often said that the key to a successful marriage is honesty, and nowhere is that more true than financial integrity. Before tying the knot, each person needs to understand the financial picture of their partner. Discuss banking, savings and investment accounts.

If one or both partners carries debt, they should disclose that, and the pair should set a plan for paying it down. Come to an agreement on which purchases require input from both partners. For example, it’s unlikely that buying a cup of coffee without consulting your spouse will lead to conflict. On the other hand, buying a car without looping in your partner is very likely to cause difficulties!

What should our retirement look like?

Having an uneven vision of retirement is a recipe for conflict. If one person envisions sitting in a rocking chair on the front porch most of the time, while the other wants to travel the world and buy expensive things, that’s automatically going to cause conflict.

But it won’t just cause disagreements about what the couple will do in retirement. It will also cause fights about how the couple prepares for retirement. If one person enjoys spending lots of money on possessions and experiences but neglects to save for retirement, while the other person remains frugal so they can put 10-15% of their salary into their employer’s 401(k) plan, it wouldn’t be a surprise if the couple ended up fighting.

It’s very important to agree on retirement desires and planning as early as possible in a relationship, not only for marital health but for your financial well-being as well.

How will we resolve financial disagreements?

As with anything in a marriage, financial compromise is important. You’ll never agree on financial matters 100% of the time, but when those conflicts do arise, it’s important that neither side refuses to budge on their position.

If one spouse wants to remodel the kitchen while the other wants to invest that money, consider meeting in the middle. Perhaps a less costly kitchen remodel so there’s money left over to invest. Give and take is very important to a happy and financially sound marriage.

How will we approach taxes?

Once you’re married, you can choose between filing jointly, or married filing separately. Which is best depends on your unique situation and can change from year to year. For example, suppose a couple has uneven assets. The wife has $1 million in inherited money that will generate interest income, while the husband does not. 

If the couple files jointly, it’s possible the husband’s income will bump the couple into a higher tax bracket while choosing married filing separately could keep both in lower brackets. It’s a good idea to consider which filing strategy will result in the lowest tax burden each year. 

What are our wishes for our legacy?

Quite often in relationships — especially second marriages — I see disagreements on the legacy a couple will leave. Sometimes one partner will want their kids to inherit, while the other isn’t interested in passing money down to children, preferring to spend it on having a great retirement.

Estate planning is uncomfortable on a number of levels, not the least being that few wish to spend time contemplating their own death. It’s important enough that it should be taken seriously, but complicated enough that it shouldn’t be done without help.

It’s very wise for a couple to get advice from a financial professional when planning their legacy. Being on the same financial page is a major key to a successful marriage. At Asset Preservation Wealth & Tax, I like to initiate financial compatibility conversations with my soon-to-be or recently married clients. 

I feel it’s important to stimulate conversations at a convenient time for everyone involved rather than let them fight on their own; it’s better to have a financial fight at your financial advisor’s office than in private! Throughout the process, I work to help the couple reach agreements on how to blend their finances so they can concentrate on other aspects of their marriage. 

Stewart Willis is the founder and president of Asset Preservation Wealth & Tax, a financial planning firm in Phoenix, Arizona. Investment advisory services offered through Foundations Investment Advisors, LLC, an SEC registered investment adviser.

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