Finances are one of the most important building blocks when it comes to building a happy, long and healthy marriage. On the other hand, finances are also one of the three leading causes of divorce, according to a survey conducted by the CDFA.

Getting your finances in order should be at the top of your to-do list when preparing for your impending nuptials. Before you say ‘I do,’ take the time to fully understand yourself, your financial habits and your current credit situation to set the groundwork for a transparent marriage.

Four financial steps to take before you walk down the aisle

How you clean up your finances before getting married is an individualized process. Nonetheless, there are a few steps that everyone should take when conducting a financial audit before the big day.

1. Calculate your total debt-to-income ratio

Your debt-to-income ratio (DTI) is your total monthly debt payments (that show up on your credit report) divided by your gross annual income. Your DTI is one of the most important aspects of your finances. It’s a primary factor that lenders – whether it be a loans lender, an auto lender or a mortgage lender – look to when determining your eligibility.

While each lender’s preference will vary, a ratio above 43 percent will likely make it harder to get approved for a loan and is the cut-off for most mortgages. A DTI below 35 percent is considered to be a good ratio; it shows lenders that you’re able to effectively manage your debts.

If you and your partner are planning on purchasing a home or taking out an auto loan in the future, knowing your DTI beforehand is key. Not only will it make the approval process easier, but knowing exactly where you stand indicates whether you’re in the position to take on more debt.

How to calculate your debt-to-income ratio

You can calculate your DTI through a calculator or manually. Before using both methods, you’ll need to be aware of your total recurring monthly debt payments, including any loan payments, credit card statements and monthly alimony or child support payments.

Monthly bills that don’t show up on your credit report – groceries, utilities, healthcare, daycare, etc. – aren’t included in a DTI ratio calculation. Keep this in mind when applying for a loan and think about every monthly expense so you don’t end up struggling to pay down your balance in the future.

To manually calculate your ratio, add up all of your monthly payments that show up on your credit report and divide that number by your total gross monthly income. You’ll then convert that number into a percentage to calculate your total DTI.

2. Look into your credit report

Your credit report is essentially a detailed record of your financial status and credit history. The information on your report is used to calculate your credit score which lenders and institutions take into consideration when you apply for credit or a loan.

Your report houses every factor that makes up your score. This includes your repayment history, how many loans or credit lines you have, all of your recent hard credit checks and if you’ve defaulted on a loan or have payments in delinquent status.

Carefully review your entire report and scan the information for errors from your personal information to your payment history. Those with credit should do this once a year to ensure there are no errors negatively impacting their score.

Your credit score is the number that determines your eligibility for nearly every product. If you don’t know your score or what goes into it, you’ll want to know before getting married.

It’s also important to communicate this information with your partner so that there’s no confusion or misunderstanding down the road if you plan on making a larger purchase or need to finance an improvement project.

How to get a credit report

You can either order a copy of your report for a small fee from the three primary reporting bureaus – Experian, Equifax and TransUnion – or you can access all of your reports for free once a year at

All three bureaus may format the information differently or have aesthetic differences, but your information on all three should be the same and accurate.

3. Think ahead to future financial goals and plans

As you embark on a new phase of life, it’s important to know exactly what your financial goals are for the future. Whether it be increasing your Roth IRA yearly contributions, the goal of owning your own business or dream of starting a family, consider how these aspirations will impact your finances.

Communicate your financial goals and how you plan on achieving them to ensure you are aligned with your partner. Talk through whether a joint bank account or two separate accounts will best help you achieve your respective goals.

As you talk through these plans, topics like prenuptial agreements, predicted future income fluctuations, spending habits and investment styles should also be discussed. It may be best to consult a financial advisor if you find that your goals and financial plans aren’t aligned to find a solution that works for both parties in the relationship.

4. Be transparent

Be open and honest with your partner about your finances and credit history. Seeing as money issues are one of the leading causes of divorce in the country, it’s better to be honest at the start than be caught in an unfortunate situation down the road.

A recent Bankrate survey found that 23 percent of American adults reported keeping financial secrets from their partner while another 39 percent claim they’ve been financially unfaithful. More than half of those surveyed have very strong feelings about financial infidelity, saying that they think it’s at least as bad as physical cheating.

Financial infidelity is the withholding of information from your partner or keeping secrets about your financial status. For example, opening a hidden checking or savings account, undisclosed debt or spending more than what your partner would be comfortable with can all be considered forms of infidelity.

Out of the 2,542 U.S. adults who were asked, 19 percent admitted to spending more than their partner would be okay with and 11 percent are currently doing so. Fourteen percent reported having undisclosed debt in the past and 10 percent report having this now.

“Many couples want some form of financial independence, which is totally fine as long as it’s acknowledged ahead of time,” Ted Rossman, senior industry analyst, told Bankrate in the survey analysis. “Having a separate bank account or credit card works for a lot of people.”

“The key is to agree upon the general parameters,” he added. “Secrets can take on a life of their own and undermine the relationship.” When it comes to having a transparent and trusting relationship, not having undisclosed matters is key to establishing financial trust.

How to talk to your partner about money

After going through your finances, have a frank conversation with your partner, and from there, decide whether you need to consult a financial advisor. If you find yourself with a higher DTI than you expected and want to pay it down quickly or if your partner has goals you were unaware of, discuss together how you both can work together to reach these goals.

Remember that there is no perfect balance or formula when it comes to joining finances. Having a joint bank account may work for some, but not for all. Actively saving rather than paying down debt may have worked for your friends, but that doesn’t mean it’s best for you.

At the end of the day, you and your future spouse know what’s best for your situation and it’s important to discuss financial decisions together to establish trust and get your finances ready for your big day.