For many couples, the most important question leading up to I do’s is often “will you marry me?” But money experts say there are even more pressing issues at hand leading up to the big day, and they all concern finances.
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Couples may be marrying later in life, with the average age at first marriage for men being 28.7 and 26.5 for women in 2012, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, but that doesn’t mean they are making smarter decisions before walking down the aisle.
“These questions come up, but young couples always assume, ‘I’ll deal with it later,’” says Susan Ziggy, author of What To Do Before You Say ‘I Do.’ “I always ask, ‘why do you think you can handle these questions without knowing the basics?’”
The big three issues that often come up in divorce are children, cheating and finances, says Ziggy, so it’s important to put all debt and money issues on the table before deciding on your future together.
Here are the four questions she says couples should discuss before marriage:
No. 1: Are you a saver or a spender? The way a person looks at money is an essential part of the marriage equation, says Ziggy.
“If a person is a spender, they will go out and overspend without looking at the budget,” she says. “I hear people say, ‘I will pay it off with my bonus, or before I retire,’ and that can lead to some really bad feelings when couples don’t sit down and say how much they want to save, or what they need per week.”
This is important to solidify ahead of marriage plans, but Ziggy says to be flexible as well with budgeting plans.
No. 2: Did you have to deal with finances growing up, or did your parents take care of everything? An individual’s childhood experiences with finances will impact how he or she behaves as an adult, says Ziggy. For example, if one partner never had a job as a teen, or a savings account, he or she may be less responsible with cash.
“If you give someone $2 they will want to spend $1.99 of it, if they don’t know how to handle money. A person who is given everything will not understand finances,” she says. “You want [one partner] to be responsible.”
And, Ziggy says, if one partner makes more than the other, bills should take this difference into account. “It doesn’t have to be 50-50 equal, it has to be equitable,” she says.
No. 3: How much debt are you coming into the relationship with? College debt, credit card debt, mortgages and car loans all need to be discussed pre-marriage, says Ziggy.
“Let your partner see your mortgage book and financial statements ahead of time,” she says. “Also know that if he or she has bad credit, that may impact you later if you want to buy a house together, for example.”
No. 4: Who is responsible for the debts you incur prior to your marriage? Have an open talk about who will be responsible for what debts in the relationship, if they were acquired before marriage, she says.
“If one person has $30,000 in college loans, talk about who will be paying for that,” she says. “If one partner makes 30% more, maybe he or she will take on some of that debt. Talk about it so there are no surprises, and you know your roles.”