Confronting Finances at the Start of a Second Marriage
It’s not unheard-of for couples to simply ignore the topic of their finances — even after getting married, and even if it’s not their first marriage. But not talking to your significant other about money, especially if the relationship comes later in life, could lead to financial disaster. Let’s ease into the difficult topic of spouses and finances.
Don’t Delay The Talk
Picture this: It’s your second marriage. You’re rounding the corner on middle age. You were young during your first marriage, and weren’t financially savvy. How do you avoid the same mistakes that plagued your first marriage?
Start financial talk often. It can be hard talking to friends and spouses or potential partners about finances, but remember the scenario: You know better.
Talk about short and long-term financial goals, and any debts owed. Do not go into a relationship, and especially a marriage, blind.
For example, if your spouse owes back taxes, you could be liable. You could file taxes separately, losing out on many of the benefits of jointly filing, or file an injured spouse form — but that could take 11 weeks to receive refunds. If you file jointly, your refund will be held liable, as it is now a joint refund. It’s a mess that you should work out well in advance, and form a plan to address. Refrain from judging each other; instead, hold hands, look into each others’ eyes, and remember there are more reasons than finances that you chose this person for a relationship. Be honest with each other, even if it’s uncomfortable.
Does your spouse have a poor credit score? How can you fix it without seeing your own credit score plummet? This will be a team effort, and it’s essential to remain honest with each other.
It’s hard to admit mistakes from the past, especially prior debts that linger. Not talking about the student loan debt elephant in the room may be easier than admitting you are still $20,000 in the hole, but it’s an essential part of a relationship that should not be overlooked. Ignoring debts can tear the relationship apart.
Create a Budget
Once you know what is owed and how much of your paychecks will be going to debts each month, create a dual budget. What can you afford to spend on groceries, entertainment, utility bills, etc.? Remember to set a goal of how much you will spend, and try not to go over.
The rest of the money should go into the bank, or into investments. At this stage in your life, you probably already have a retirement nest egg, having planned for retirement a few decades ago, but there’s still time for some compound interest.
Remember, you are now a “we.” Both of you should agree to the budget and goals set forth within said budget. Ask questions. Are you both comfortable tucking away the same amount of money per month for a rainy day fund?
Next, look at bank and credit accounts. Should you combine credit cards? If you do, your spouse will be responsible for any credit card debt you already owe. However, it may be possible to get a better interest rate as an introductory offer.
Instead of combining accounts, it’s possible for married couples to keep separate credit cards but be authorized on each others’ accounts. This is more complicated than having a joint account, but also does not require opening a new account.
Another option is having a joint account and separate accounts. The joint account can be used for bills, while each person’s account can be used for personal purchases. It is important in this situation to be open about expenses, and to not hide spending habits.
Discussing finances with your spouse or partner can be daunting, especially if you have been burned before in previous relationships. Personal finance suddenly becomes not as personal, opening up to a second person. It can be uncomfortable, especially after half a life’s worth of financial decisions. Be open and honest, and work together, and the end result will be a relationship founded on fiscal responsibility.
Need more information on what your partner’s credit score means? Visit our credit score resource and learning center.
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A former newspaper journalist, Cole spends his free time reading, writing, playing video games, watching movies, and learning about every subject under the sun. He lives with his wife and daughter in Idaho. Follow Cole on Twitter: @ColeMayer42
This post was updated February 28, 2019. It was originally published June 16, 2017.