It’s wedding season, but before the happy couple can tie the knot, there is another not-so-romantic topic that all newlyweds or engaged couples need to think about: finances.  More than a quarter of married couples say disagreements over finances are most likely to lead to arguments, according the American Institute of CPAs.

So before you walk down the aisle and exchange your vows, make sure and have the financial conversation with your spouse.   The most important financial topics to discuss:

Know Each Other’s Financial Histories

You probably know everything there is about your soon to be spouse, to the foods he likes and his taste in clothing. But do you know his financial history? Gather all of your paperwork, statements, bills and personal financial information and really evaluate your finances so you both are on the same page. Do either of you have student loans or credit card debt? What kind of retirement plans or saving vehicles do you contribute to? How much are you paying for your cell phone and cable bills? Do either of you have an emergency fund? What is your general attitude about money? Knowing where your partner stands with his or her finances is crucial because they’re now becoming a part of you.

Beneficiaries

Revisit all of your accounts from retirement plans, wills, trusts and insurance policies, and update your beneficiaries where you see fit. Doing this before you become husband and wife will avoid problems down the road. Make sure both of you know where your assets are going if you should both pass unexpectedly, and have it legally outlined so there is no confusion once you are gone.   Insurance Review your medical, life, and car insurance plans. You may find that combining coverage may save you money or that your plans have some overlap. When it comes to life insurance, don’t be naïve and think you have forever to live. The greatest gift you can give your spouse and family is peace of mind through life insurance. You’ll also feel better knowing they’re protected if you are no longer here to provide for them.

Name Change

Having a marriage license with your new last name on it is only the first step in changing your last name. If you or your spouse is opting for a name change, it is important to notify the Social Security Administration and the DMV. You will also want to notify your financial institutions, employer, credit card companies, voter registration office, doctor’s office and others.

Joint or Separate Accounts – or Both? 

Long gone are the days when it was assumed that marriage meant newlyweds would open a joint bank account and share credit cards. Some couples are now keeping separate accounts while others still choose the traditional route, and everything in between is a viable option. There’s no right or wrong way; it’s whatever works best for you and your spouse.

Determine a Budget and Financial Goals

Hopefully you were good about budgeting when you were single, but getting married is a good time to start the invaluable practice of budgeting, especially if you have never done it. Once you have a joint budget, you can evaluate your discretionary income and determine both short-term and long-term financial goals. If you plan on having kids, remember it’s a lot easier to save money before children come into the picture. Be careful about the so called ‘American dream’ of homeownership, and realize that renting is a prudent alternative that will help you save money. Owning a home is one of the biggest expenses known to man.   The bottom line: If you can’t afford it, don’t buy it, and in any financial discussion, the key is open communication between both partners.

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