Before ‘I Do,’ Take These Financial Vows

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By Jason Alderman

With wedding season right around the corner, a lot of soon-to-be brides and grooms are frantically nailing down their wedding and honeymoon plans. Before you marry and mingle your finances, be sure to carve out time for some candid conversations about your respective credit histories, your savings and spending philosophies, and your long-term financial goals as a couple.

We’ve all seen statistics about the high percentage of marriages that end in divorce and how money disagreements are the No. 1 cause of marital discord. If you can identify – and diffuse – potential problems, you stand a much better chance of living happily ever after.

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Here are a few issues to put on the table:

Outstanding debts. Tally up all your outstanding debts and financial obligations, including student loans, credit card balances, car payments, apartment leases, etc. Be candid about past credit missteps, such as late or skipped payments, foreclosures or anything else that might negatively impact your ability to qualify for new credit together.

Keep in mind that although debts accumulated before marrying remain your own responsibility and shouldn’t impact your spouse’s own credit rating, you will be jointly accountable for any future accounts and debt you take on together.

Credit reports. Because lenders often base credit decisions and loan rates on whichever spouse’s credit score is lower, share each other’s credit reports so there’ll be no surprises. You can each order one free credit report per year from each of the three major credit bureaus at www.annualcreditreport.com.

You might also want to order your credit score to establish a baseline for where your credit stands. You can order your FICO credit score at www.myfico.com. If one or both of you have low scores (say, below 700), you’ll want to boost them before applying for a mortgage or car loan. The resulting lower interest rates could save you thousands of dollars over the life of a loan.

For tips on how to repair – or protect your credit scores, visit What’s My Score, a financial literacy program run by Visa Inc. (www.whatsmyscore.org.) The site also features a free FICO Score Estimator that can help you approximate your score, as well as a more detailed explanation of the differences between credit reports and credit scores.

Align your goals. Nobody expects spouses to share identical views on everything, but you could be headed for trouble if you don’t reach agreements or aren’t willing to compromise on important issues like home ownership, continuing education, starting a family, and when you hope to retire. Premarital counseling is always a good idea, and financial issues should be part of the mix.

Share financial duties. Many couples opt to have one person manage all the finances, from balancing the checkbook to choosing retirement investments. But it’s probably wiser for both to take an active role in all major financial decisions.

Visa’s free personal financial management site, Practical Money Skills for Life, features a practical guide to marriage-related finances that addresses issues such as prenuptial agreements, banking, insurance, budgeting, taxes, estate planning and setting long-term financial goals (www.practicalmoneyskills.com/marriage.)

Start your marriage off on the right foot by sharing an open and honest dialogue about finances.

Jason Alderman directs Visa’s financial education programs. To Follow Jason Alderman on Twitter: www.twitter.com/PracticalMoney


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