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- Knowing your partner’s finances before marriage can help you avoid later money surprises.
- Having a financial plan may help you avoid arguments about finances.
- Talking about money should be a regular part of your relationship before and after marriage.
The magic of your wedding day and honeymoon may wear off quickly if you and your partner aren’t on the same page about money before the big day. A recent Bankrate survey found that 28 percent of couples consider financial cheating as bad as physical infidelity. The same survey found that 2 in 5 Americans keep a financial secret from their partners.
The best way to avoid this is to have open conversations that include creating a financial plan before you get married. A Fidelity study found that couples making money decisions together are more confident about their financial future, and 84 percent don’t consider money their greatest relationship challenge.
Having a healthy relationship with money as a couple before marriage may reduce the odds that money disagreements — one of the main topics couples argue about — will be a major issue after you’re married.
Marriage and money statistics
- 42% of U.S. adults who are married, in a civil relationship or cohabiting with a partner say they have kept or are keeping a financial secret from their partner.
- Control over individual finances and privacy was cited as the main reason for keeping financial secrets from a partner (37%), followed by not feeling the need to share (33%) and feelings of embarrassment over money management skills (28%).
- 44% of partners say they argue about money occasionally. This is more prevalent among Gen X and millennials (51% and 49%) than baby boomers (38%).
- Amount of savings needed to retire is one of the biggest financial disagreements among couples, followed by age of retirement.
- Debt management, will and estate planning and careers are cited as some of the most difficult topics to discuss with a partner.
Financial planning money questions to ask before marriage
When it comes to marriage and money, opposites attract, making financial planning difficult for couples. It can be helpful to write out a list of questions to discuss on a “money date” so you have an idea of where you both stand on marriage milestones that require financial decisions.
Keep in mind the answers to these questions may change after you’re married, so keep the list handy to be on the same page and adapt to changes in your plans over time.
A 2023 Bankrate study estimates the average cost of raising a child from birth to age 17 is $286,000, which makes this a very important question to discuss long before you become parents.
- How many children do we want? A larger family may lead to conversations about minivans versus a small car, a four-bedroom house instead of a starter house and a budget for the kinds of activities you’d like them to be involved in, like sports or arts.
- When do we want to have kids? You may need to speed up your savings plans if you plan to have children soon after marriage.
- Will we send them to public school, private school or homeschool them? You’ll need to scope neighborhoods for public schools, evaluate the tuition payment options for private school or decide on homeschooling options.
- Do we want to pay for a college education for them? The sooner you put money into an education plan together, the faster the money will grow when your child (or children) reaches college age. The average cost of college tuition has nearly tripled in the last four decades, so if you want to avoid student loans, start saving now.
- Will one of us stay home to raise our children? This is especially important if your unmarried lifestyle is based on two incomes. It should also be a consideration if you plan to buy a home or have early retirement goals.
These questions may be tied to when you want to have children and your career paths. You should conduct research on median income, job opportunities and moving costs in the cities you’re considering living.
- Do we want to live close to family? Family can be a source of financial support for childcare (free babysitting) and moral support from people you’re familiar with during hard times. If you live far away from your family, consider how often you want to visit them or whether you’ll want to buy a home with guest quarters for family visits.
- Do we want to live in the city or the suburbs? City living may come with higher income potential and more job opportunities, but usually at a higher cost of living. Suburban living may be cheaper, but lower earnings and longer commute times may reduce the benefit of extra possible income.
You may already have a sense of where your career is headed, but now is the time to talk about it in the context of marriage. A commission job may be fine when it’s just the two of you, but how will a slow month or year affect your finances when you have children?
- Where do we each want to be in our careers five, 10 or 20 years from now? Do you have set goals for where you want to be in your career with specific milestones? Do you prefer variable commission income or a set salary?
- Do either of our careers require relocation or travel? Are you working in a field or position with corporate headquarters that would require you to move if you’re promoted? Is there enough upward mobility in your current position or with your current employer, or do you need to move someplace with more opportunities for advancement?
- Do we budget our lifestyle based on one or two incomes? This question is especially important if one of you has plans to stay home to raise children. You may need to adjust your spending habits or budget significantly if you’ve gotten used to a dual-income lifestyle.
- Do we need further education to reach our career paths? Would a masters degree help either of you earn more? If so, is there a school nearby, or will you need to relocate to complete your education?
- When do we want to retire? You might not be able to pinpoint a date, but a ballpark is worth discussing. Are you both on the same page about retiring and what you might want to do in retirement? How much are you currently saving, and do you have an idea of how much you’d need to stash away to retire comfortably? It’s never too early to have these discussions — catching up on retirement savings later in life is harder than planning for it early in your married life.
If you’re already finding it hard to talk about these issues before you’re married, it might be worth looking into premarital financial counseling. Learning how to discuss money as a couple may bring up issues about your individual relationship with money. Premarital financial counselors may help you navigate those issues to develop a healthy married money relationship.
Creating a financial plan before marriage
Before diving into a financial plan, the first thing to do is commit to talking about money regularly. Like any plan, it will only work if you set goals and track your progress over time.
While talking about money may not be romantic, it can be an opportunity to share excitement about where you want your future to go and identify places where you need to find a middle ground. Be flexible and avoid accusations or judgments.
Even the most savvy financial experts know that the financial climate can change on a dime, and adapting and re-working your plan is necessary to avoid pitfalls or change directions if something isn’t working. Goals may change, and circumstances like a sudden job loss or unexpected expense may shift timelines for hitting debt paydown, savings or purchase milestones.
Decide how to pay for the wedding
Discussing how you and your partner will pay for the wedding may give you a good idea of how you’ll handle money once you’re married. It may be tempting to splurge on floral bouquets or to treat your guests to an open bar with signature drinks, but wedding costs can add up faster than you can say, “I do.” According to personal wedding advisor site Zola, the average wedding expense for couples getting married in 2024 is around $33,000, up slightly from $29,000 in 2023.
If the big day is still a year or two away, set up a wedding savings account so you’re not scrambling later. Some couples delay their wedding by having a longer engagement period, which gives them more time to stash away cash for the big day. Using savings instead of loans or credit cards can help to keep the overall cost of your wedding down since you’ll be paying with cash rather than incurring interest on credit. When you are spending your own hard-earned money rather than borrowed money, you tend to keep a closer eye on all your expenses.
Use a personal loan
If you don’t have enough savings allocated for wedding expenses and want to avoid using credit cards, a personal loan may be a good way to cover the cost of tying the knot. Since you’ll receive all your funds at once, you’ll be more likely to stick to your original budget, and you’ll only have one monthly payment to make on the amount you borrow. Plus, the interest rate is fixed — meaning you don’t have to worry about your payments changing over the life of the loan.
Non-traditional options to save money on wedding costs
Small cost savings can add up when you’re budgeting for a wedding. Consider sending electronic invitations instead of paper invitations. Choose flowers that are in season or a store-bought cake. A Thursday afternoon wedding may be cheaper than a weekend ceremony, and a beach house reception may be more cost-effective than one at a fancy hotel banquet hall.
You could also consider eloping or having a courthouse wedding and invite close friends and family. Cutting out a big wedding can save you a lot of money.
Decide if you want a prenup
Prenuptial agreements aren’t exactly the most comfortable topic to discuss with your significant other. That’s because the word “prenup” is typically associated with things coming to an end. However, Mark E. Haranzo, partner and chair at Holland & Knight’s New York Private Wealth Services Group, says that they may be “critical” in the following scenarios:
- If one or both spouses come from a wealthy family and want to protect their inheritance.
- If one of the spouses owns a business or has a high-paying job.
- If a spouse has children from a previous marriage they wish to provide for in the future.
“I firmly believe that proper prenuptial agreements are beneficial to the couple rather than detrimental to one of the partners,” Haranzo says. “One of the primary requirements of a prenuptial agreement in almost all jurisdictions is that they have to be fair.”
Haranzo also points out that having a prenuptial agreement not only solves future problems that could otherwise arise in case of a divorce but also in case of death. And, lacking one means a judge — not the couple — gets to decide who gets what, which may result in an unfair distribution.
“By having a prenuptial agreement in place, you both agree on what’s fair and equitable,” Haranzo adds.
Choose between joint or separate accounts
You may be willing to share a closet or television remote, but what about a bank account? You and your partner should decide if you want to combine your finances or keep them separate. Most U.S. couples prefer joint accounts, followed by over a third preferring a combination of joint and individual accounts. A quarter of couples surveyed prefer to keep separate accounts.
A joint account makes tracking money going in and coming out of your household easy. However, switching direct deposits and automatic bill payments from your individual accounts may take some legwork. See what works for you and be willing to adapt as your financial needs change after you’re married.
Consider reducing or consolidating your debts
If you, your partner or both of you have a substantial amount of debt, develop a plan for how you want to pay it off or down before your wedding day. If you decide to make major financial purchases in the future, like buying a home, lenders will look at your combined debt-to-income (DTI) ratio to assess how much of your total income is being used to pay monthly debt.
If it’s too high, not only will you have trouble getting loans, but you could have trouble renting a home. Consider a debt consolidation loan if you’ve got a lot of credit card debt, and be honest about all of it so there are no financial surprises in your married future. Just make sure you qualify before applying.
Set up a long term budget
Saving enough for retirement is the number one thing that keeps spouses up at night, which speaks to the need for having a long term budget. This requires a commitment to making short term sacrifices now that will pay major dividends later in your married life.
You don’t need fancy budgeting software or a spreadsheet math wizard to create a budget. One simple budgeting blueprint is the 50/30/20 rule. Here’s how it works.
- 50 percent of your take-home is for needs. This includes household expenses like your rent, utility bills and groceries. If you own a car, you’ll add your car payment, auto insurance and gas and maintenance costs. If your employer doesn’t deduct health insurance from your paycheck, add that expense here. Finally, if you have credit cards, your minimum payment goes into this category.
- 30 percent goes to wants. Your lifestyle comes into play in this part of your budget and includes eating out, entertainment costs like movies, concerts and any monthly subscription services like Netflix or Apple Music. Add a dollar amount for vacations you plan to take, gym memberships and miscellaneous expenses like clothing, jewelry, haircuts or decorations.
- 20 percent is applied to savings. This is where your short and long term savings plans start and include money you need to build an emergency fund, retirement fund or down payment savings for a home. If you plan to have children, the sooner you save up for an education, the better.
Making a budget work requires discipline and flexibility. Neither partner should feel controlled by the other when it comes to money. To build a future together, you must have ongoing civil conversations about your budget.
Discuss your relationship with money
How you feel about money can affect how you spend or save it or whether you think about it all. You may have developed feelings about money from your upbringing that clash or complement your partner’s relationship with finances. If you don’t talk about them before marriage, you could be fighting about them after you say I do.
Roughly a quarter of couples surveyed said they’re often frustrated at their partner’s money habits but let it go to keep the peace. Saving enough for retirement and making enough money to live a dream life tops the list of financial concerns among couples of all generations.
If you don’t make time to discuss money relationship issues before you’re married, you may unconsciously treat money like your parents did. Developing a relationship toward money as a team can help you break the chains of individual generational money habits so you can set your own course toward financial success.
Be honest about your financial situation
Honesty is the best policy in any relationship, yet couples struggle to tell the truth about their finances. A recent study found 42 percent of Americans said they’ve kept or are keeping a financial secret from their partners. Thirty percent admit they’re spending more than their partner would be comfortable with, and 23 percent are hiding debt.
“Some of the consequences of not being honest about your financial situation before marriage can range from feelings of disappointment and broken trust, to divorce. It can prompt a chain reaction of dishonest or controlling behaviors and may cause financial trauma in some instances,” Sabree said.
Building a marriage based on trust should include a heart-to-heart conversation about the truth of your income, savings, credit history and debt.
If you’re both earning money, you should each know how much the other makes and decide how you can use the income to pursue your married lifestyle. According to Pew research, less than one-third of married couples earn the same amount, which means there will probably be one spouse that earns more than the other.
Your spending and savings decisions should be a team effort regardless of income. Building a future together should include a plan for whether one income will go to needs and wants while the other goes to savings. Or you may want to apply the 50/30/20 rule to both your incomes and keep track of your progress from one bank account.
Studies have shown that couples with a better handle on money tend to avoid divorce court more than those who manage finances poorly. However, 44 percent of Americans in Bankrate’s 2024 emergency savings report said they don’t have the cash on hand to cover a $1,000 emergency expense. That may lead to needing to rely on an emergency loan if you run into an unexpected bill.
Your first money goal as a married couple should be to boost or start building your emergency savings up to three to six months’ worth of your combined expenses and add to it from there. Just like it’s easy to overspend if you don’t track your credit and debit card swipes, it’s easy to undersave if you don’t automate your savings goals as a couple. Consider setting up a split deposit and send a part of your direct deposited pay to a dedicated savings account with the rest in your checking account for normal bills.
You can also set up a recurring transfer from checking to savings and time it around the time you receive your paychecks. If one or both of you have a traditional 401(k), consider maxing out your contributions and take advantage of employer matches to build your long term savings early in your marriage.
“More than half of Americans (60 percent) say they’re behind where they should be when it comes to emergency savings. This is composed of 38 percent who say they’re significantly behind and 22 percent who say they’re slightly behind.”
– Source: Bankrate
It may be difficult to approach the subject of what happens if you or your spouse dies, but it should be part of your money talk. Life insurance takes financial care of your spouse if you pass away, and you should choose a policy based on how you want them to be provided for. You may want to add more insurance as your family grows, and should periodically check to see if you need to add more coverage to maintain your lifestyle if tragedy strikes.
Debt and credit
Reviewing your credit report with your future spouse can be a difficult experience, especially if you have a lot of debt or credit blemishes. Whether it’s credit card balances you racked up trying to make ends meet early in your career or student loan balances, seeing the numbers on your credit report lays all your credit decisions out in black and white.
The average American carries a debt balance of $96,371, according to 2021 Experian data. The average FICO credit score in the U.S. is 716. When you marry, you must discuss how you’ll handle current and future debt.
If one of you has a higher score, will you apply for new credit with just their information to get better rates? If your partner has bad credit, how can you improve it? If one of you passed away, how would you handle paying off the debt?
There are currently nine community property states in the U.S.: Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Washington and Wisconsin. In these states, the courts equally divide any money you earn or borrow during your marriage in a divorce. In other states, a judge determines how your marital property is split based on common law.
If you try to get a government mortgage (like an FHA or VA loan) to buy a home in a community property state, your spouse’s monthly debt is counted against you whether they apply for the loan with you or not.
Know the financial benefits of marriage
If you both earn income, you may have a higher standard of living than you would on just one paycheck. There are income tax benefits and tax credits to filing jointly as a married couple. You double your borrowing power and have access to more affordable health insurance. Property can be passed from one spouse to another upon the death of one spouse without involving a lengthy and costly court process.
Creating a financial plan for your marriage can be complex. You’ll need to work through the differences in your relationship with money and lay all your cards on the table to find a common ground to build a wealth foundation together. With a plan in place, you can build your financial future together and enjoy more marital and financial peace long after the echo of the wedding bells fade away.