6 Questions to Ask Before Combining Your Finances
You can ask all the right questions when you're dating, know your partner's love language, and even be good at intimacy, but talking about money with your partner can still feel like an uncomfortable topic — especially if it's not something the two of you have discussed before or you have significant debt. Whether you're engaged or just wanted to take your relationship to the next level, it's important to be honest and open about money, discussing in detail what it would look like to combine finances. There's no one way to do it — all that matters is that it works for you both. Ahead, find six questions to ask before merging financially with your significant other.
How much money do you make each year?
You may already know the answer to this question, but if you don’t, it’s a must-know — a prerequisite, really, to the broader money conversation. And while it’s typically a straightforward answer, it's not for everyone. If you or your partner is a freelancer or business owner, be sure to discuss income fluctuations — both monthly and annually — to get a better sense of how lower-earning periods are handled.
How much debt do you have? How much in savings?
Debt is one of the more uncomfortable topics, but it's a vital number to know before merging financially. Write out exactly how much debt you each have — whether it’s credit cards, student loans, mortgages, or a car loan. Then jot down how much you have in savings, 401ks, IRAs, and any other investment accounts as well as the estimated value of any assets owned (car, house, etc.). This is also a good time to check credit scores. While many credit cards offer credit tracking, you can download free credit reports on sites like Annual Credit Report, Credit Karma, and Nerd Wallet.
If you'd like to boil everything down to one number, you can determine your net worth by subtracting debt from assets. Similar net worths can make things easier because you both arrive on equal footing; however, this number may not show the whole picture. One of you may have slowly saved over the years while the other may have inherited money or cashed in stock options from work. Discuss how you arrived at your present financial situation and what you see for yourself going forward.
If your net worths and/or credit scores are significantly different, figure out what you need to feel comfortable moving forward. You may decide you want to lump all your debt together and tackle it as a couple. Or you may choose to keep it separate and pay it off individually. Both are perfectly fine choices — what matters is that you agree and that it's a viable plan for you both.
How would you describe your spending habits?
You’ll probably have some sense of how your partner spends money after spending so much time together, but you may not know how they view it. For example, you may see your partner as an emotional spender, but there could be a method to their apparent madness that you’re unaware of. Knowing what that method is will help you understand how their mind works around money and strategize ways to work together better.
If you’re having trouble answering this question, try this financial personality quiz developed by Goldman Sachs and the company behind the Myers-Briggs personality test. It’ll tell you if you’re a confident money manager, values-based planner, short-term strategist, or laid-back balancer as well as how to leverage your tendencies to your advantage.
This is also a good time to talk about budgets: Ask your partner if they have one. If so, how well are they able to follow it? If you both have existing budgets, an easy way to get a handle on spending is to compare the two. As long as the budgets accurately reflect your spending, they'll illuminate plenty about your money habits. If you don't have a budget, try going through your spending and categorizing it — either manually or using an app like Mint — for the last six months to a year.
When you imagine our finances combined, what does it look like?
Combined finances means different things to different people, so you want to make sure you’re on the same page with your partner. It could mean a complete merger — all checking, savings, and investment accounts are joint. Or, it could simply mean sharing a checking account for joint expenses (rent/mortgage, food, utilities, etc.) and/or savings for things you want to plan for (vacation, wedding, down payment for a house) while maintaining separate accounts for personal spending.
The latter is a smart way to dip your toe into joint finances without going all in, and it’s ideal for couples new to sharing money or that have very different spending habits. For many couples, it’s a forever arrangement; for others, it’s just until they get more comfortable with combined finances or decide to take their commitment to the next level.
Another thing to talk about is how expenses will be divided. If one of you earns significantly more than the other, it may be tricky to divide everything down the middle. You might want to consider dividing expenses based on income — so if one of you makes $60,000 and the other makes $40,000, the split could be 60/40.
What are your financial goals?
Financial goals dictate if, and how, one saves. They can be very motivating, so if one, or both, of you have struggled to save in the past, getting excited about something in the future can help. But it's important to be aligned on said goals when you're building a life together: If one of you is determined to put as much as possible in their 401k and the other is focused on a down payment for a house, you'll want to discuss what needs to change to make both feel attainable.
Setting a few joint goals can be a good first step in joining finances. Consider creating (or strengthening) an emergency fund together, working on a down payment for a house, or saving for a wedding, honeymoon, or just a really amazing vacation. Working toward a shared financial goal together will reveal more about how you each handle money and problems that arise, giving you both an opportunity to work through them together.
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