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Special section Love and money -- oil and water?

Before picking out your future kids' names, find out if you're headed for wedded financial bliss or a train wreck.

Talk about debts before walking down the aisle

Planning on popping the question this Valentine's Day? In between discussions about how to raise the kids, whose name will be changing -- or not, and whether to serve chicken or fish at the reception, the subject of finances should be broached.

Consumer experts recommend couples have a "you show me yours and I'll show you mine" money session well before they take that fateful trip down the aisle. From student loans to car payments to credit card bills, it's best to come clean on every "I owe" before saying "I do."

"You don't want a money surprise. You have to go in with your eyes wide open," says Meg Green, a Certified Financial Planner in Miami.

"What if someone comes with a lot of debt, a lot of baggage?" she asks. "You have to know that. It's going to be part of your life."

Get everything out in the open: What you make, what you owe, what you own, any savings and investments you may have. It's also a good idea to swap credit reports.

While one spouse's premarriage debt or credit dings won't affect another's credit rating, it can hamper joint financial goals. For example, each partner's credit history will be scrutinized when applying for a mortgage together. All that debt left over from those poor student days or that one wild summer in Europe can't be hidden.

Once married, any joint credit accounts -- including those for auto loans, credit cards and mortgages -- will show up on both spouses' credit reports.

"One affects the other and there's no escape from that," says Nancy Dunnan, author of "Your First Financial Steps: Managing Your Money When You Are First Starting Out."

In community property states such as Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Washington and Wisconsin, all debts incurred during the marriage are considered joint debts even if a spouse applies for credit on his or her own. If a husband defaults on an auto loan, for example, the lending company can compel the wife to pay.

Discuss goals
After assessing current debts, be sure to discuss individual and joint financial priorities and goals. One financial goal may be paying off a student loan or credit card debt. Will the other spouse pitch in?

Money and debt are touchy subjects. Everyone has a different comfort level. Some people need a certain amount of money socked away in savings to fall asleep at night. Others don't think twice about shuffling big balances between credit cards.

 
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