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How to Talk About Finances with a Partner
How Can a Couple Avoid Money Conflicts?
You may like the same movies, share hobbies and interests, and even agree on politics. But when it comes to money, it’s not surprising that couples can find themselves at odds.
In fact, 1 in 4 Americans married or living with a partner say financial decisions are a source of tension in their relationship at least once a month, according to a recent survey by the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA). And only 56% of them say they’re very comfortable talking with their partner about finances.
Money remains a topic that many couples avoid tackling in depth, even though it’s a big part of our lives. But sharing money views with your partner can help relieve tension. It can also put the two of you on the important path of meeting financial goals together. Here’s how to start the conversation and topics you’ll want to discuss frequently.
Understand Your Unique Money Perspectives
The way we deal with money is often influenced by our upbringing. That’s why it’s a good idea to begin by talking about how your parents managed their finances. Together, you can explore how that shaped your views of money and how to handle it.
For example, did you grow up in a family where the budget was often tight? You might view money as security and need sizable savings to feel comfortable. Or perhaps your parents’ tendency to spend freely without worry made a lasting impression on you?
Next, expand the conversation to include money mistakes that each of you have made and what you learned from them.
The goal is to listen without judging or arguing. And when financial decisions arise, remember where your mate is coming from. That understanding can help defuse a money argument.
How to Share Financial Details with Your Partner
You don’t need to divulge all your financials to each other if you’ve just started dating. But as you approach a partnership, like marriage or living together, you’ll need to share numbers on income and liabilities. Knowing this information will help you map out a plan to reach the goals you set together.
For full disclosure, consider exchanging credit reports with each other. A credit report shows open lines of credit, outstanding debts, whether bills are paid on time or if a personal bankruptcy occurred in recent years. Each of you can get a free copy of your report from the three major credit reporting companies at AnnualCreditReport.com.
It’s also wise to resist the temptation to withhold financial details, although that’s not uncommon among couples. A poll by CreditCards.com found that 44% of respondents admitted to hiding a bank or credit card account from a partner, carrying secret debt or spending more than a partner would like. But such financial infidelity can destroy a relationship. The AICPA survey found that 40% of respondents would lean toward breaking up with a partner who was financially dishonest with them.
Ways to Agree on Money Goals
What are your financial goals in the short term (within 12 months), midterm (one to five years) and long term (more than five years)? Both of you should make a separate list of goals and then compare them. You might discover you’re on the same page, need to compromise or should develop a new set of mutually agreeable goals.
As you’re coming up with new objectives, be specific, realistic and deadline-oriented. That way, you can measure your progress. For example, saying you want to save more money is too vague. A more focused goal – which makes it easier to work toward – would be aiming to salt away $30,000 for a house down payment in five years. Or setting aside three months’ worth of living expenses in an emergency fund within the next 12 months.
Should You Merge Financial Accounts?
That’s a question many couples have, and there is no right or wrong answer. Instead, the key is to find a system that works best for both of you.
For example, partners who have long managed their own money may be uncomfortable combining accounts. One solution may be to keep separate accounts but open a joint checking account that both contribute to for paying household expenses.
Younger couples with few assets might merge bank accounts after marriage to make managing money easier and to feel like they are part of a team. And to maintain some independence, they can set a figure, say, $200 or $500, that each can spend without first getting approval from the other.
Be aware, merging accounts can have some risk. Making a partner a joint owner or authorized user on your credit card, for instance, means you will be liable for your partner’s purchases. And your partner can withdraw any money sitting in a joint checking or savings account.
Should You Get a Prenup?
A prenuptial agreement spells out marital responsibilities related to financial matters and describes how to protect or divide assets in the event of divorce or death. Traditionally, these contracts have been used when one partner has a family business or substantially more wealth than the other. And couples who have prior marriages between them often use prenups to preserve assets for children from a previous union.
These agreements are increasingly being used by millennials, who are marrying later and bringing either more assets or more debt (such as student loans) to the marriage. Along with protecting assets, prenups clarify who is responsible for repaying debt.
Because guarding against post-divorce money havoc is a big role of a prenup, broaching the topic can be difficult. That’s why it’s important to raise the issue a few months before the wedding so your partner doesn’t feel pressured. If a prenup is something you both think you want, you’ll need time to negotiate, with the assistance of separate lawyers, an agreement that each side agrees is fair. After all, you’re still a team.
Such couple contracts aren’t just for those getting married. Unmarried couples living together can create a cohabitation agreement. And those already married can create a postnuptial agreement.
How to Make a Successful Money Date
Set aside time, say once a month, to talk about your finances without any other distractions. During this money date, you can review your budget, raise financial concerns or discuss investments. You can also revisit your goals, track how close you are to achieving them or set new ones.
By keeping the line of money communications open and ongoing, you and your partner can prevent small money problems from growing into big ones that damage your relationship.
 Relationship Intimacy Being Crushed by Financial Tension: AICPA Survey, American Institute of CPAs, February 2021.
 Financial infidelity poll: Extracurricular activity is on the rise, CreditCards.com, Feb. 5, 2020.
 More Millennials Seeking Prenups Say Nation's Top Attorneys, American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, Oct. 28, 2016.