A Financial Cloud Over Wedding Season: How to Pop the (Money) Question

A week into wedding season, many betrotheds haven't a clue about their soulmate's finances. Here's how to pop the money question.

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It’s not too late to call off the nuptials. Here we are a week into wedding season and a good many soon-to-be newlyweds have yet to inquire into their dearest’s financial situation.

There is nothing sexy about budgets and debt. In fact, couples find such subjects so off-putting that most simply skip the discussion. Two-thirds of Americans engaged to be married say talking about money with their fiancé is painful, according to a new poll from the National Foundation for Credit Counseling.

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Such soon-to-be-wed couples are in good company. More than a quarter of married couples say disagreements over finances are most likely to lead to arguments—ahead of children, work, chores and friends, reports the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants.

The NFCC found that, among those contemplating marriage and money:

  • 45% regard the money talk as necessary but awkward.
  • 11% believe they’d learn something surprising if they spoke honestly about finances.
  • 7% say a personal finance discussion would lead to a fight.
  • 5% believe talking about money would lead to calling off the wedding.
  • On the happier side, 32% say discussing finances would be productive and easy.

We’re making some progress towards full disclosure before slipping on the ring. Many young people today vet prospective matches through credit scores and inquiries into student loans. The New York Times interviewed more than 50 daters under 40 from around the country and found that many regarded a good credit score as a prerequisite for a good date. As the Times reported:

‘“Credit scores are like the dating equivalent of a sexually transmitted disease test,’ said Manisha Thakor, the founder and chief executive of MoneyZen Wealth Management, a financial advisory firm. ‘It’s a shorthand way to get a sense of someone’s financial past the same way an S.T.D. test gives some information about a person’s sexual past.’”

When discussing personal finances with a fiancé, four key subject areas are family history, including how your mate’s parents handled money; credit, including outstanding loans and timely payment history; control, including who will pay the bills each month; and wealth aspirations, including what kind of lifestyle you expect and what sacrifices will be needed to get there.

These can be touchy subjects. To smooth the conversation, the NFCC recommends you:

  • Set a time to talk that is convenient for each. Don’t spring this subject unexpectedly.
  • Respect that each person has valid opinions and concerns.
  • Be honest about the current financial situation.
  • Probe to understand long-held financial attitudes, often present since childhood and likely ingrained by observing how parents addressed money issues.
  • Acknowledge that one may be a saver and one a spender, understanding that there are benefits to both approaches.
  • Never assign blame. That’s a conversation stopper.
  • Plan to deal with any skeletons that come out of the financial closet. Surprises can hinder access to future credit.
  • Construct a budget that includes savings.
  • Decide which person will be responsible for paying the monthly bills.
  • Set short-term and long-term financial goals.
  • Talk about loaning money to family and helping struggling parents.

“The fact of the matter is that people bring financial baggage into a relationship,” Gail Cunningham, NFCC spokesperson said in a statement. “The time to address money differences is up front, before the financial bottom falls out.”

Taking action now could prevent a disaster later—and with so many other potential obstacles to overcome in marriage, it would be nice to deal with this one up front.

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