You’ve just moved in with your current love or maybe you’ve just got engaged. This is a happy, exciting time in your life. The two of you may have discussed how many kids you want, where to go on a honeymoon or where your dream house will be. But have you been truthful with each other with regard to your finances and credit rating? Everything listed above costs money and both of you need to be honest with each other regarding your finances in order to have those things.
I am not suggesting that you open joint bank accounts or sign over your pay check to your spouse. I know many couples that do but I also know many who retain separate banking and finances. Either arrangement is fine as long as you both are happy with it. As you begin a new, permanent relationship, it is time to set your financial goals as a couple and to be honest about your money values.
Here are things you need to discuss now.
- What is your net worth? This is a list of your current assets and liabilities. An asset is an item that you could sell and receive money for. For most of us this means real estate, cash in our bank accounts, RRSP’s and vehicles. Liabilities are your debts. Ideally your assets should be higher than your liabilities. If so, you have a positive net worth. As you get older your net worth should increase. How do each of your net worth statements compare? Are you both in agreement concerning your net worth goals? This is important because your net worth can determine when you will be able to buy that dream home, afford to have children or when you can retire.Do you have a negative net worth because of a student loan? Young people often do. Student loan debt is considered acceptable if the amount of the debt is in relation to the type of education received. For example, many new doctors and dentists graduate with student loan debt in the $150,000 range. Given the fact that they have the potential for a very high income, this level of debt is reasonable and can be paid off in less than 10 years.
- Go online and order a copy of your credit bureau if you have not done so recently. Share it with your partner. Are your scores and credit patterns similar? Or does one of you buy most things using credit, carry balances each month and pay hundreds of dollars in interest charges? Does the other hate debt (and interest charges) and pay off all their credit cards each month? If you each have very different credit habits and attitudes toward debt, there could be a real problem in the future. If one spouse has a poor credit history, it could prevent the other from reaching financial goals as a couple, like buying a house. Spouse A, with the minimal debt and excellent credit history could help Spouse B increase their credit score by co-signing a consolidation loan so that high interest credit cards can be paid off and cancelled. If every loan payment is made on time, Spouse B’s credit score will improve. This in turn will benefit both spouses by way of a lower interest rate if they make a joint purchase like a house or car.
- How are you going to manage your day to day expenses? Some couples close their individual accounts and open a joint bank account. All their money gets deposited and withdrawn by either person from this bank account. It sounds like the most convenient way to handle expenses but it can cause big problems. Who is depositing the money and who is withdrawing the money? And for what reason? This strategy works the best for couples who both manage their money well. So before you decide how you are going to handle your banking, it would be wise to write up a monthly budget then decide who will be responsible for paying for what. Some couples maintain separate banking for their entire relationship. Each is responsible for paying some of the joint bills. For example, the wife pays for the groceries and the husband pays the rent. Some couples use a hybrid of both methods in which each maintain a separate bank account and pay their own individual expenses but both deposit a set amount to a joint bank account and joint expenses are paid from it. But how much should each contribute to the joint bank account? Some couples each deposit the same amount of money, for example, $2000 per month. Other couples each contribute a percentage of their income. Once you have come to an agreement, talk about what will happen if you have kids. What will happen if one spouse’s income is reduced because of maternity leave?
- What are your long term goals?This is important to establish early in a relationship because you may discover you have radically different financial goals. If one of you is happy to rent forever and basically spend every dime on travelling or entertainment, but the other spouse wants to save up for a house and early retirement – the relationship is doomed to fail. We all hear that ‘opposites attract’. This may be true for a short period of time. For long term happiness and peace in the household your goals and dreams need to be aligned. You need to be honest with yourself and each other as to what is important to you and where you see yourself financially in 10 or 20 years. If your goals differ, determine if you are both willing to compromise. Staying in a committed relationship is hard work and can be stressful. Having money problems adds even more stress.
Laurie Boudreau is a credit counsellor with Creditaid. Contact her now for help with managing your money and your debt.