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When it pays to stay single

Married people who argue with a spouse about money sometimes long to be single again and in total financial control. That wish usually subsides -- how quickly depends in part on the dollar amount in dispute. But that fleeting thought raises an interesting question.

Are there times when being single is more financially desirable?

Sure, marriage has many economic advantages, such as pooled income, shared health-insurance coverage, although more companies now also offer this benefit to unmarried couples, and Social Security survivor benefits. Even the marriage tax penalty has been eased in recent years.

But in some instances, it's more practical to remain unhitched.

"One thing to keep in mind is that it's always a mix of financial and emotional decisions," says Scott Farber, a wealth management adviser based in Natick, Mass. "It's difficult to look at a relationship from a strictly financial standpoint.

"However, there are some general instances when it might be better not to be married."

That's how Sheryl Garrett, a certified financial planner in Shawnee Mission, Kan., sees it, too.

"There are definitely way more advantages on [the married] side of the fence," says Garrett. "But there are some clear ones on the unmarried side, too."

While there's no "typical couple" that should consider living together without official legal status, there are some typical issues. Basically, says Garrett, staying legally unattached could be financially beneficial for one or both partners when these five issues come into play:

1. Liability
2. Credit and debt concerns
3. Survivor's benefits
4. Taxes
5. Children

Liability for married and unmarried
One of the great things about marriage is you get to share everything. That's also one of the worst things about marriage, especially when it comes to liability issues. You could be financially responsible for judgments against your spouse, such as personal lawsuits or Internal Revenue Service liens and all types of legal actions in between.

Janice K. Hobbs, owner of Jan Hobbs Financial Group in Orange, Calif., says this is a concern of many of her clients who primarily are high-income individuals.

"We have a lot of doctors as clients, both partners are physicians, which is a high-liability profession," says Hobbs. If one of the doctors is sued, the other person's assets are just as liable -- if they are married. By staying single, Hobbs says, only the one physician's income and assets would be at risk.

The liability issue doesn't just worry still-working people who are making a good living.

Garrett says a book buyer raised similar concerns at a signing for her book "Money without Matrimony" that she co-wrote with Debra Neiman.

The woman, in her late 50s, had a new man in her life and they were considering another go at marriage. She was in a good financial position, but a combination of previous marital and business problems had left him dealing with the aftermath of a divorce, bankruptcy and some lingering financial issues.

"He hadn't had much of a chance to recover financially, although he had moved on emotionally, and he had a terrible credit score. He was a great guy with completely understandable credit problems," says Garrett.

Next: Marriage doesn't automatically hurt you from a credit standpoint
Page | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 |
Unmarried couples, special considerations
Love, honor and pay the marriage tax
Smart financial moves for newlyweds

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