Creating a financial plan before marriage

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Whether you’re in the middle of planning your wedding, newly engaged or just beginning to discuss marriage with your partner, it’s never too soon to be on the same page about your finances. But according to a Suntrust survey, only 51 percent of Americans actually discussed how they would handle finances before getting married. In fact, nearly 60 percent of couples reported they didn’t disclose their own salaries before marriage, and only 36 percent revealed their debt.

When you begin considering getting married or before you walk down the aisle, set aside time with your future spouse to create a financial plan to position your wedded union for success.

Be honest about personal debt

Because healthy romantic partnerships are built on trust, it’s important to be open and honest with your future spouse about your personal finances, including any debts you may have. After you have discussed these debts, you can come up with a plan for how to approach them.

Consolidate your debts

You both may have some consumer debt from credit cards, medical bills or student loans. Sit down together and make a list of all your personal debts, then decide if you should consolidate your debts individually or jointly with a personal loan.

Personal loans are ideal for persons who have moderate debt and good credit scores who want to simplify or accelerate repaying their debts. Personal loan rates are largely determined by your credit score, though your annual reported income and the amount you want to borrow are other factors that determine the final loan amount.

Evaluate your credit standing

If one of you has a low credit score (300 to 629), take steps to build the credit; don’t consolidate debts into a joint account, as it can lower the credit score of the higher partner.

One way to build credit is with a credit-builder loan, which is a forced savings program that reports your timely payments to credit bureaus. Other ways to increase your credit score include reducing and managing debt, receiving credit for paying rent on time, and research payment options and protections for repaying student loans.

Calculate your debt to income ratio

Calculating your debt to income ratio as a couple is key to making a financial plan moving forward. It is calculated by dividing your monthly debt payments by your monthly gross income.

Lenders use this percentage to decide how well you manage your monthly debts and if you are able to afford a loan repayment. This ratio is often used by lenders when applying for a mortgage, car loan, or home equity loan, so it’s important to keep it below 36 percent.

Choose between joint or separate accounts

You might be sharing a closet and the television remote now, but you don’t necessarily have to share a bank account. You and your partner should decide if you want to combine your finances or keep them separate.

Should you and your partner decide you want to pay bills from a joint account but have individual spending and savings accounts, either set up your direct deposit to automatically go to different accounts in the correct percentages or move the money to the joint account as soon as your direct deposit hits. That way, the joint account has the necessary funds in it when it is time to pay bills.

To reduce monthly recurring expenses and eliminate overlapping bills, like gym memberships and cell phone bills, consider selecting a family plan that provides savings when more than one person is on the account or contract.

If you and your partner decide to combine your finances, talk with a trusted financial advisor who can help you and your partner determine which assets to hold jointly or separately.

Decide if you want a prenup

A prenuptial agreement, or prenup, is a legal document that sets expectations for the division of assets should a couple divorce – and it can be beneficial for some couples. For persons with substantial premarital assets, an expected inheritance family wealth or even massive debt, a prenup can protect an individual from financial ruin in the event of permanent separation. To be valid, each partner will need to have their own attorney to draft a prenup.

Though the agreement has been historically rare, millennials are increasingly drawing up these contracts to protect their wealth. Now that couples are getting married later (according to a United States census, women were getting married at age 27 in 2010 compared to age 21 in 1950), individuals are accumulating more assets and debt than ever before.

A prenup can include protection against a spouse’s debt, protections for family property and estate planning and detailed spousal responsibilities. A prenup cannot include custody arrangements, waivers of rights to alimony or deeply personal (rather than financial) information. Prenups can be created based on how long a couple has been married and can be nullified if the original document states the prenup will expire after a certain amount of years have passed.

Decide how to pay for the wedding

Discussing how you and your partner will pay for the wedding is another conversation and expense to consider ahead of time. 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.” The average cost of a wedding in the United States in 2020 was $19,000.

Use savings

If you have already been saving up for wedding expenses, now is the time to use that money. Using savings instead of loans or credit cards can help to keep the overall cost of your wedding down. When you are spending your own hard-earned money, you tend to keep a better eye on all your expenses.

Use a personal loan

Many couples who don’t have enough savings allocated for wedding expenses opt for a personal loan to cover the cost of tying the knot. The key to sticking to your original budget – whether big or small – is saving every penny you can and setting priorities. Some couples delay their wedding by having a longer engagement period, which gives them more time to stash away cash for the big day.

Non-traditional options to save money

If you and your spouse would rather spend your earnings and savings on a honeymoon to the Maldives or a down payment on a new home, there are several ways to cut wedding costs.

Sending electronic invitations instead of paper invitations, using in-season blooms and selecting a store-bought cake are some of the ways you and your partner can create savings. You can also implement non-traditional approaches, like having your wedding on a Thursday afternoon or hosting it in a brewery or beach house, to keep costs low.

Set up a long-term budget

Now that you and your partner have made big decisions about consolidating debt, combining finances, creating a prenup agreement and allocating dollars to wedding expenses, you may get the impression that your financial preparation is complete. But the wedded bliss – and joint financial decisions – is just getting started.

One of the things that you’ll want to do after getting married istart a budget. Write down your total monthly income and all of your expenses. Next, put money towards an emergency fund for unexpected expenses and then choose what to save for, such as a home, car, or the next vacation.

With a financial plan in place, your money habits and philosophies and the melodic tune of the wedding bells can chime in perfect harmony.