Credit Cards

Merging Your Money When You Marry

If you’re newly engaged or just tied the knot – Congratulations! Getting married is exciting, but it can also come with several challenges. One challenge that you and your spouse will have to face is how to merge your finances. Planning carefully and communicating clearly are important, because the financial decisions that you make now can have a lasting impact on your future.

Discuss your financial goals

The first step in mapping out your financial future together is to discuss your financial goals. Start by making a list of your short-term goals (e.g., paying off wedding debt, new car, vacation) and long-term goals (e.g., having children, your children's college education, retirement). Then, determine which goals are most important to you. Once you've identified the goals that are a priority, you can focus your energy on achieving them.

Prepare a budget

Next, you should prepare a budget that lists all of your income and expenses over a certain time period (e.g., monthly, annually). You can designate one spouse to be in charge of managing the budget, or you can take turns keeping records and paying the bills. If both you and your spouse are going to be involved, make sure that you develop a record-keeping system that both of you understand. And remember to keep your records in a joint filing system so that both of you can easily locate important documents.

Begin by listing your sources of income (e.g., salaries and wages, interest, dividends). Then, list your expenses (it may be helpful to review several months of entries in your checkbook and credit card bills). Add them up and compare the two totals. Hopefully, you get a positive number, meaning that you spend less than you earn. If not, review your expenses and see where you can cut down on your spending.

Bank accounts--separate or joint?

At some point, you and your spouse will have to decide whether to combine your bank accounts or keep them separate. Maintaining a joint account does have advantages, such as easier record keeping and lower maintenance fees. However, it's sometimes more difficult to keep track of how much money is in a joint account when two individuals have access to it. Of course, you could avoid this problem by making sure that you tell each other every time you write a check or withdraw funds from the account. Or, you could always decide to maintain separate accounts.

Credit cards

If you're thinking about adding your name to your spouse's credit card accounts, think again. When you and your spouse have joint credit, both of you will become responsible for 100 percent of the credit card debt. In addition, if one of you has poor credit, it will negatively impact the credit rating of the other.

If you or your spouse does not qualify for a card because of poor credit, and you are willing to give your spouse account privileges anyway, you can make your spouse an authorized user of your credit card. An authorized user is not a joint cardholder and is therefore not liable for any amounts charged to the account. Also, the account activity won't show up on the authorized user's credit record. But remember, you remain responsible for the account.

Insurance

If you and your spouse have separate health insurance coverage, you'll want to do a cost/benefit analysis of each plan to see if you should continue to keep your health coverage separate. For example, if your spouse's health plan has a higher deductible and/or co-payments or fewer benefits than those offered by your plan, he or she may want to join your health plan instead. You'll also want to compare the rate for one family plan against the cost of two single plans.

It's a good idea to examine your auto insurance coverage, too. If you and your spouse own separate cars, you may have different auto insurance carriers. Consider pooling your auto insurance policies with one company; many insurance companies will give you a discount if you insure more than one car with them. If one of you has a poor driving record, however, make sure that changing companies won't mean paying a higher premium.

Employer-sponsored retirement plans

If both you and your spouse participate in an employer-sponsored retirement plan, you should be aware of each plan's characteristics. Review each plan together carefully and determine which plan provides the best benefits. If you can afford it, you should each participate to the maximum in your own plan. If your current cash flow is limited, you can make one plan the focus of your retirement strategy.

Choosing The Right Method For You

The most important thing in deciding how to combine finances is to be honest about your feelings from the start and always keep an open line of communication. Money is frequently considered to be the biggest strain on relationships, but working together to find solutions that work for everyone can reduce some of the stress.

If you’re looking for some objective outside perspective to help make some of these tough decisions, please feel free to schedule a free consultation. We also have a great checklist for newlyweds – click here to get your copy.

Credit Card Dos and Don'ts

The Basics: A credit card is issued by a financial company that gives the holder an option to borrow funds, usually at the point of purchase. Credit cards charge interest and are used primarily for short-term financing. Interest typically begins to be charged one month after a purchase is made, and borrowing limits are pre-set according to an individual’s credit rating.

If you're like me, you probably receive multiple offers weekly from credit card companies seeking new customers with easy to complete applications. In fact, I'd be willing to bet you have one or two sitting in your mailbox right now! These of course are almost always unsolicited. Before you sign on the dotted line and mail in one of those application, you need to know more. Here are some dos and don’ts regarding credit cards.

 
"Do not save what is left after spending, but spend what is left after saving."
                                    - Warren Buffett
 
 

Dos

Shop around. The credit card industry is very competitive, so compare interest rates, credit limits, grace periods, annual fees, terms, and conditions.

Read the fine print. The application is a contract, so read it thoroughly before you sign it. Watch for terms such as “introductory rate,” and be sure you know when that introductory rate of interest expires.

Pay your bill in full each month. Pay off your statement each month in full and on time; otherwise, you will begin paying interest charges and may be charged late fees. Paying off your bill each month can also help ensure that you stay out of debt.

Track your spending. Look closely at your credit card statements each month to be sure that you actually approved the charges that appear. Mistakes can happen, and you don’t want to pay more than you agreed to.

Pay attention to changes in your credit agreement. Occasionally, the credit card company will send you updates on the contract you have with it. If you don’t pay attention, you could miss something important.

 
 

Don’ts

Don’t spend money you don’t have. Buying things without the money in your savings account can lead you down a dangerous path. Before you know it, you could be in a lot of debt with no way to pay it off.

Stay below your maximum credit limit. Creditors want to see that you know how to use your card wisely. Keeping your balance low and making payments in full are good ways to do that. Just because the option to spend more is there doesn’t mean that you should take advantage of it.

Don’t sign up for store credit cards just to receive a discount. Opening a credit line at a store to obtain a discount on a purchase then and there may not be a good idea. Remember that credit cards affect your credit score and that opening too many can actually hurt it. Plus, store credit cards tend to have much higher interest rates than those offered by financial institutions.

Don’t apply for additional credit cards if you have balances on others. Pay your balances on existing cards before you open new accounts. Getting in this habit will make you less likely to open too many accounts.

Don’t give your credit card to someone else. Whether you authorize it or not, giving your credit card to someone else to use is against the law.

 

Although having a credit card is important in helping you to establish a credit history, they are often misused. A credit card can be a powerful tool in the hands of a responsible individual, but it can be even more powerful in a destructive way in the hands of someone who is unaware of its pitfalls. Keep these tips in mind before obtaining and using a credit card.