Committing to marriage or a serious relationship means working together on financial goals. Here's how to talk about and manage debt together—without fighting.
These days, the wedding vow "For richer, for poorer" has never been more important. Young people are bringing debt into relationships or even increasing their debt load as they plan their new life together. Those floral arrangements? They're not cheap.
"Young couples often assume that they can't have financial problems because they're pooling their financial resources, including income and debt payments," says Jeffrey Schwartz, executive director of Consolidated Credit Counseling Services of Canada. Unfortunately, that's not the case -- and money is one of the main reasons couples fight in their first year of marriage. So how can you address debt -- both past and future -- before it becomes contentious and affects your relationship? Here are some steps to take.
1. Be honest about your debt
Communicate with your partner, and be honest. A recent survey found that one in four respondents wouldn't tell their partner if they were experiencing financial difficulties. Yikes! Don't be a statistic -- decide on a time when the two of you can sit down in a neutral environment and calmly discuss your finances including all your debt. Don't criticize or assign blame -- just assess where you are financially.
2. Plan how to manage joint finances
After talking about your money situation, including full disclosure of your incomes and debt, talk about your spending triggers and your individual payment plans. This is where you can discuss if and how you will pool your financial resources. Will you both pay off your credit cards and get one joint card? Will you set up a joint bank account or keep separate accounts? If one of you owns property, will you put your partner's name on it? (If you do, talk to a legal professional, please.)
3. Set expectations about debt repayment
First, make sure you're on the same page about the importance of getting out of debt. Then create a payment plan that will allow both of you to pay off your debt as quickly and affordably as possible. Include items like renegotiation of interest rates as part of the plan.
4. Consider both dreams and obligations
You probably won't agree on everything when it comes to money management, but try to find mutual ground. Start with your priorities when it comes to spending on big ticket items, and move on to other goals you have. For example, one of you might want to travel while the other prefers to indulge in a hobby. However, both of you might want to pay off your student loans before taking on a mortgage. Find common ground and start from there.
5. Write down your goals
Ever notice how often we say this? Once you've had an honest discussion about your debt and have planned out your payment schedule, write everything down and keep track of it. You might be surprised at how satisfying it can be to watch the debt numbers come down.
Following these five steps will not only help you avoid money arguments but will also set you on the road to financial freedom. Instead of worrying about the "for poorer" part, you can focus on "for richer."