Talk about money before marriage

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Dear Debt Adviser,
My boyfriend — a potential fiance candidate in the future — and I have very different financial situations. I am worried these differences may interfere with our relationship in the future.

I am 25 and finishing the last year of my master’s degree. Currently I work only part time and have acquired a small amount of credit card debt. I also have $25,000 in student loans over the past seven years of my education.

My boyfriend, on the other hand, works full time and has no debt besides his household mortgage. We have been honest with each other about our financial situations, and he has expressed concerns about how my debt load might affect a possible marriage.

Do you have any suggestions for helping get us on the same page about our financial future?
— Lindsey

Dear Lindsey,
He’s concerned? I’d have concerns, too, if I were your boyfriend.

No doubt, you are great person with many splendid attributes, but take a minute to look at things from his point of view.

He has successfully completed school; you have not. He has a full-time job and is self-supporting; you are not. He owns a home and has no other debt; you don’t own your own home and owe a ton.

This is not a foundation on which to build an equal relationship.

You have talked about each of your current financial situations, and that is good. What you need to do next is have a conversation about how each of you sees your financial future and what you are willing to do to make it happen.

I suggest you plan some quiet time together and each outline how you see your future in the next year, five years and 10 years. As single people, your personal goals may not compliment each other exactly, but they should be in the same ballpark.

For instance, I knew a couple to-be who never talked about the details of the future. She wanted a job as a teacher and to take care of her sickly mother. Meanwhile, he wanted a career as a U.S. Foreign Service Officer, traveling extensively and changing countries every two years.

There is no wrong way to arrange your finances as a couple. As long as you both agree to the arrangement and it seems to work for you, then it is right for you.

It might be encouraging to your boyfriend (and a reality check for yourself) to lay out your plans for paying off your student loan and credit card debt.

If you fail to do this, your boyfriend is justified in worrying that if you marry, he will end up with the burden of paying your debt. Or, he may be concerned that waiting for you to pay off the debt will interfere with his vision of your future together.

Another item to discuss is how you see money. Is it something you spend, save or give away?

After you are standing on your own two feet and settled into a job — but before you make any serious commitment — you also may want to discuss how your day-to-day finances will be handled.

Will you have joint checking and savings accounts, separate accounts or a combination of the two? Who will be responsible for paying the monthly bills? Will you each work on them together, or will one of you take on that responsibility?

In today’s society, living together may be acceptable, but merging finances or co-signing for each other before marriage is just plain folly. The newly updated second edition of my book, “Credit Repair Kit For Dummies,”has several sections on budgeting and goal setting for couples. I am going to send you a copy as a guide.

One last thought: Whatever you do, don’t go into tens of thousands of dollars of debt for your wedding. If you want to have a lavish affair, con your parents into paying for it or begin saving now.