10 Tough Money Questions You Must Ask Your Future Spouse

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Congratulations on your pending nuptials! There's nothing like finding the person you want to spend your life with. But at the risk of dumping a bucket of cold water over your romance, here's an awkward question for you: Have you run a credit check on this character?

Or, putting it another way, your marriage is "for richer or for poorer." Wouldn't you rather know now which it's going to be?

"Few people speak about the link between finance and relationships, yet money often acts as a major contributing factor to divorce," said Joshua Kadish, a partner at RPG-Life Transition Specialists, an Illinois wealth-management firm. "Understanding how to navigate through financial challenges and preparing for the future will allow you to build a strong financial foundation for your relationship."

That might sound reasonable if unromantic. But a survey just released by Experian (EXPR), the credit rating agency, says that the credit score is the top financially-related topic that couples do not discuss before marrying. In fact, the survey says, 14 percent of couples don't talk about it after the marriage, either.

And yet, survey respondents said that financial responsibility matters more than physical attractiveness. And financial compatibility ranked above sex, religion and politics.

It may feel awkward. The conversation may be embarrassing. But here are 10 questions you really should ask your partner before you get married.

10 Tough Money Questions You Must Ask Your Future Spouse
Your credit score can affect your ability to start a family, buy a house or replace a car. Once you've married, your partner's credit score can be your problem, too, and it's not one you want to find out about after you file a loan application. Hint: It's a bad sign if your intended can't or won't answer this question.
Most of us consider this to be a closely guarded secret, but you can't hide it from your soon-to-be spouse for long. Nor should you. As you plan a life together, you need to know that both of you have realistic hopes and expectations about the lifestyle you'll enjoy.
You should know whether the person you're about to marry is living paycheck-to-paycheck. Many young people just starting out haven't banked much, and can't. But together you can work out a plan to establish an emergency fund covering three to six months of expenses.
A truly embarrassing question, but one that must be asked. Marrying someone makes their debt yours, too. And a substantial debt can wreck the lifestyle you want together. There is a worst-case scenario here: If the person you're planning to marry is skipping out on obligations like a student loan, credit card payments or child support, you might rethink your choice of partner. If your loved one just has poor spending habits, work it out together now.
As a couple, you need to decide whether you will keep your money in separate or joint bank accounts. Kadish notes that many couples opt for both, with a joint account for family expenses and separate personal accounts to cover day-to-day spending. Agreeing in advance on their use prevents squabbles later, not to mention the potential for bounced checks.
Talk about whether the health coverage each of you has is adequate to your needs as a couple. You may find that your partner's policy is better than yours, and that you can opt into it.
You or your spouse may have other job benefits that affect your joint planning. If, for example, one of you is eligible for a pension, that's a factor in your retirement planning. In any case, there's paperwork to be done, like adding your spouse's name as a beneficiary.
As a couple, you need to hash out your expectations for day-to-day life, and month-to-month spending. Will you eat out often? Is an annual vacation necessary to your well-being? Would you rather sit on the floor than buy furniture on credit? You need to understand each other's priorities. And if you're wise, you'll craft a spending plan that formalizes those priorities, so you're not spending carelessly.
Your retirement benefits are an asset that each of you brings to the marriage. You need to know what each of you is contributing now, and make changes if necessary. If, for example, your partner has a better 401(k) matching plan, it could affect your joint savings decisions.
You're getting ready to share the rest of your life with another person. Make sure you share dreams and aspirations as well. The colorless phrase "financial goals" covers a host of expectations for your life ahead. But you can't reach those goals without a plan -- so start crafting it now.
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