Insurance Planning

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.

Are You Maximizing Your Employee Benefits?

For many of you, your salary and bonus are likely just a part of the total compensation you receive from your employer. Why not give yourself a raise by learning about and taking advantage of all your company benefits? This article will help you ensure that you’re making the most of the benefits your employer offers.

Retirement Plans

Your company’s 401(k) plan can play an important role in your future financial security. If your employer matches contributions, you should be contributing at least enough to get the maximum match. If you plan to max out your contributions, make sure you don’t do so too early in the year and potentially miss out on the matching.

For those of you that are considered highly compensated, your employer may also provide a nonqualified deferred compensation plan with matching to cover wages above the qualified limit. It is important to find out how the plans interact and how you can maximize your benefit.

Stock Options and RSUs

Some companies still grant employee stock options as a form of compensation. These can add significant value to your long-term financial success, but they can be complicated and have additional risk that needs to be considered.

 
  • Risk of termination before vesting

  • Risk of market volatility in the stock price

  • Risk of asset concentration

 

There are also several tax considerations that need to be evaluated when working with stock options and RSUs. I recommend working with a financial advisor to determine what works best for you.

Health Insurance

Many companies subsidize health insurance coverage for their employees, and some offer a choice of different plans.

 
  • HMOs generally have lower premiums and lower costs to access health care but limit which providers you can see.

  • PPOs allow you to choose any physician, but they charge higher fees if you decide to see an out-of-network provider.

 

Before selecting a plan, I recommend confirming that your doctor is a preferred provider.

If one of your health insurance choices is a high-deductible health plan, you may have the option to set aside money in a health savings account (HSA) to pay for qualified health care expenses on a pretax basis. HSA contributions remain in your account until you use them, distributions for qualified medical expenses are tax-free, and the account is portable. Some companies even contribute to employees’ HSA accounts.

Flexible Spending Account

Your company may offer flexible spending accounts (FSAs) for a variety of expenses, including health care, dependent care, transportation, and parking. If you have any of these qualified expenses, you may benefit by having pretax money taken out of your paycheck to fund them. For example, if it costs you $100 per month to park at work, you can set aside that amount in an FSA to cover the expense. By contrast, you’d have to earn $157.36 to pay for this expense after taxes, assuming a total tax rate of 36.45 percent.

Life and Disability Insurance

Some employers provide life insurance coverage equal to a multiple of your salary. In many cases you may be able to purchase group supplemental life insurance coverage through payroll deductions. While this can be convenient, the coverage amounts and features may be limited, so I recommend shopping the market to ensure that you’re getting coverage at the best price.

Your employer may also pay for long-term disability insurance. LTD payments from an employer-paid policy are taxable to you; if you pay the premiums, you will receive LTD payments tax-free. If your company gives you the option of paying for your own LTD coverage, you should weigh the cost of covering the premiums yourself versus the benefit of receiving tax-free payments.

Additional Benefits

Some companies offer employee discounts on everything from wireless plans and vision care to movie tickets, hotels, and car rentals. Your employer may also offer reimbursement for certain education expenses.

I see far too often employees missing out on key employer benefits. Working with an adviser and doing a little research could be well worth your while! Contact Us today so we can help you maximize your benefits.