Financial Planning for Couples
Nothing says date night like a budgeting spreadsheet, right?
For most couples, financial planning is the opposite of romance. Money is a tricky subject, and the root causes of stressors are often about more than just dollars and cents.
Money, if not the No. 1 cause of discord, is the root of many an argument and even divorce, so being able to talk about it matters.
So SoFi called in the pros. In a panel-style event, these financial gurus talked through common issues couples encounter regarding love and money.
The live event featured:
• Chelsea Fagan, founder and CEO of The Financial Diet
• Erin Lowry, author and founder of Broke Millennial
• Lauren Anastasio, a SoFi credentialed financial planner
Here are some of the takeaways from the live Q&A-style event.
Make a Money Date
So often with pairs, one party brings up finances and blindsides the other, Fagan said. Get both of you on the same page with a money date. It could be anything from a good meal to a hike. The twist is, expect to talk about money during it.
Lots of relationship milestones revolve around spending, Fagan noted. From a wedding to kids and homeownership, each step has spending attached to it. When couples haven’t talked through these topics, “we make assumptions, even if your partner’s answers aren’t the same,” Fagan said.
A money date doesn’t have to be intimidating. Think about it as a way to learn some new things about your partner and yourself. Fagan suggested setting it up as a “Newlyweds” style game where you both write down answers to money questions and reveal them simultaneously.
Start with questions:
• What is my best habit when it comes to finances? Worst?
• What was my financial upbringing, and how has it affected my relationship with money as an adult?
• What does my emergency fund look like?
• How much do I think partners should combine finances?
• What is my current debt situation?
Making a date to talk about money gives everyone time to prep and can be a more carefree way to talk about what is, for most people, a taboo topic (even in the age of oversharing about everything else).
Combine Finances? Yours, Mine, and Ours
Lots of questions cropped up around if, how, and when couples should combine their finances.
“Fair is not always 50/50,” Lowry said, meaning couples don’t have to split their finances down the middle or even combine them at all if they don’t want to. Married or not, it’s up to the couple to decide how they want to approach money.
Anastasio framed the different approaches as:
• Split. Couples keep their accounts separate, from checking to savings and retirement.
• Combined. All accounts, from investments to savings, are combined for equal access.
• Hybrid. Couples could perhaps contribute to a shared checking account for things they pay for together and keep some accounts, like savings, separate for different spending goals.
Similarly, callers asked questions about what to do when they make significantly more than their partner. Do they keep splitting things down the middle?
Once again, it’s up to the couple to decide, Lowry said. They could choose to keep paying 50/50 for things, or perhaps the partner making more wants to pay the rent or mortgage proportionally based on take-home pay.
The important thing is communicating about the choices as a couple, Anastasio said.
“When you talk about the values you share, you can help establish your joint goals,” the financial planner said.
Is it ‘My Debt’ or ‘Our Debt’?
Other questions revolved around marriage and the willingness (or reluctance) to take on each other’s debt, particularly student loans.
“As a legal reminder, you are not liable for the debt your partner brings into the marriage,” Lowry explained. The debt accrued together in marriage is a joint responsibility.
That doesn’t mean you can’t help your partner pay off their loans if you genuinely want to, or vice versa.
Another caller explained that she had been delaying combining finances with her partner because she didn’t want him to bear the burden of her student loans, even when he offered to help pay them back.
“We have so enmeshed morality and debt in a frustrating way. Your debt shouldn’t be tied to shame,” Lowry said.
Helping each other pay off student loans or other forms of debt may be a way to achieve joint money goals faster. If a recently married couple wants to buy a home soon, they may choose to pay down student loan debt aggressively, even if the debt is only held by one of them.
While many of us tend to make our debt a personal matter, being open about it could foster a deeper relationship. And if a partner wants to repay the debt with you?
“Believe them when they offer help,” Lowry said.
What About Prenups?
When couples are planning marriage, they don’t want to think about the worst-case scenario. But a prenuptial agreement is important, Lowry said.
“I feel very strongly that prenups are important and that we should have them,” the “Broke Millennial” author said.
Lowry explained that without a prenup, in the event of a divorce, the division of assets defaults to state law.
“Do your state laws feel good? Do you agree with them?” Lowry asked, as she encouraged attendees to look them up for themselves.
There’s a misconception that prenups are just for the super wealthy or those with inheritances, but the legal pact can protect anyone for things like a retirement fund or benefits, Lowry said.
Bringing up a prenup with a fiancé can feel scary, but try setting a money date and the following:
• Start by asking each other what feels fair in the event of a split. Is it just what you bring in is yours to take out?
• Download a prenup template and read through it together. Try to talk about issues that come up around assets. Doing this before bringing in a lawyer can cut down on costs, Lowry said. “They’ll charge by the hour to talk through this.”
• Once the two of you have the gist of it, visit a lawyer to make the agreement official.
While no one enters a marriage thinking that it will end, it can be important to have protections in place.
“You have no control over whether or not your spouse is going to leave you. People grow and change over the course of decades,” Lowry said.
Speaking of change, a prenup can always be amended during a marriage. Couples can draw up a postnup when the dynamics change over the course of a marriage. For example, if one party is leaving the workforce to take on child care full time, the couple might choose to craft a postnup spelling out how specified assets and liabilities would be handled in the event of a divorce.
The world of finance and relationships is tricky, and there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to managing money as a couple. “Let’s talk about your debt, honey,” is hardly an aphrodisiac, but communicating leads to goal-setting.
Luckily, SoFi members don’t have to figure it all out on their own. Members get access to no-cost financial planning with a professional who can address their specific needs, goals, and mindset.
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