American Money: Love, Finance and Preparing for Marriage

Four strategies to move toward the same financial future.

Posted: 02/20/2014 01:32 PM EST

More than 2.1 million Americans will get married this year. And if you count among those millions, then you are preparing for one of the most exciting moments of your life. Additionally, research suggests marriage yields many social and economic benefits.

It is important to embark on this lifetime partnership with a strong foundation. While challenges may arise, strategizing with your partner on how to navigate these hurdles early on will increase your ability to face the unexpected and communicate about important matters. This advice especially rings true when it comes to finances.

Finances remain one of the top reasons for the dissolution of marriages; and yet are rarely discussed before jumping the broom. When you marry, most likely you will be affected by your partner’s financial history and behaviors — which for some leads to financial stress. But try implementing some of the following strategies and you can mitigate those risks by getting on the same page now and moving toward the same financial future together for years to come.

Share Your Credit and Debt Status

Most people are uncomfortable discussing their financial status. But transparency around your credit, debt and spending habits now will make conversations around your finances easier down the road. You can pull your annual credit report for free from the three major credit reporting bureaus: Experian, TransUnion and Equifax. Be forthright about your debt and your plans to pay it off. And decide together what debt and assets you anticipate incurring in the future (e.g., purchase of a home, child’s college savings account, etc.).

Decide on Joint or Separate Spending Accounts

One of the biggest decisions most couples will make is whether to combine finances or keep them separate. Decide what best meets your and your partner’s needs. In some cases, it may be helpful to have both accounts. A joint account can serve as the primary pool for paying bills and making household purchases, while a separate account can be for discretionary funds and personal spending money.

Define Your Financial Responsibilities and Goals

No two people have identical values when it comes to money. One person may be interested in saving for retirement while the other may be interested in saving to start a business. Or you may be caring for  your elderly parents while your partner is financing their nephew’s college education. Talk about your financial priorities, responsibilities, spending habits and budgeting practices and then map your financial dream plan together.

Create Financial Roles

Designate who will be responsible for handling the administrative aspects of the relationship like paying bills, managing the budget and staying on top of checking account balance, for example. The responsibilities may lie on one person more than the other. Research shows in most relationships, one partner tends to be more money conscious. Or, responsibilities can be equally shared. Either way, it is important to respect each other as equal financial partners and consult with the other before making major financial decisions.

Your financial health is just as important as your personal health, so schedule periodic “check ups” to assess your family’s personal economy. Remember, we all enter relationships with our own attitudes on saving and spending, influenced by family members, friends and peers. To help ensure the strength of your marital union, make sure you and your partner openly communicate about these financial attitudes both before and after you say “I Do.”

American Money is a weekly column written by Dedrick Muhammad, the senior director of the NAACP Economic Programs. To learn more about preventing foreclosure and personal finance, check out the NAACP Financial Freedom Center Facebook Page or on Twitter @naacpecon

The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks. 

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(Photo: Blend Images/Hill Street Studios/Getty Images)

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