Money after Marriage

Merging Your Money When You Marry

Getting married is exciting, but it brings many challenges. One such challenge that you and your spouse will have to face is how to merge your finances. Planning carefully and communicating are important because the financial decisions that you make now can have a lasting impact on your future.

Discuss your financial goals

The first step in mapping out your financial future together is to discuss your financial goals. Start by making a list of your short-term goals (e.g., paying off wedding debt, new car, vacation) and long-term goals (e.g., having children, your children’s college education, retirement). Then, determine which goals are most important to you. Once you’ve identified the goals that are a priority, you can focus your energy on achieving them.

Prepare a budget

Next, you should prepare a budget that lists all of your income and expenses over a certain period (e.g., monthly, annually). You can designate one spouse to be in charge of managing the budget, or you can take turns keeping records and paying the bills. If both you and your spouse are going to be involved, make sure that you develop a record-keeping system that both of you understand. And remember to keep your records in a joint filing system so that both of you can easily locate important documents.

Begin by listing your sources of income (e.g., salaries and wages, interest, dividends). Then, list your expenses (it may be helpful to review several months of entries in your checkbook and credit card bills). Add them up and compare the two totals. Hopefully, you get a positive number, meaning that you spend less than you earn. If not, review your expenses and see where you can cut down on your spending.

Bank accounts–separate or joint?

At some point, you and your spouse will have to decide whether to combine your bank accounts or keep them separate. Maintaining a joint account does have advantages, such as easier record keeping and lower maintenance fees. However, it’s sometimes more difficult to keep track of how much money is in a joint account when two individuals have access to it. Of course, you could avoid this problem by making sure that you tell each other every time you write a check or withdraw funds from the account. Or, you could always decide to maintain separate accounts.

Credit cards

If you’re thinking about adding your name to your spouse’s credit card accounts, think again. When you and your spouse have joint credit, both of you will become responsible for 100 percent of the credit card debt. Also, if one of you has poor credit, it will negatively impact the credit rating of the other.

If you or your spouse does not qualify for a card because of poor credit, and you are willing to give your spouse account privileges anyway, you can make your spouse an authorized user of your credit card. An authorized user is not a joint cardholder and is therefore not liable for any amounts charged to the account. Also, the account activity won’t show up on the authorized user’s credit record. But remember, you remain responsible for the account.

Insurance

If you and your spouse have separate health insurance coverage, you’ll want to do a cost/benefit analysis of each plan to see if you should continue to keep your health coverage separate. For example, if your spouse’s health plan has a higher deductible and/or co-payments or fewer benefits than those offered by your plan, he or she may want to join your health plan instead. You’ll also want to compare the rate for one family plan against the cost of two single plans.

It’s a good idea to examine your auto insurance coverage, too. If you and your spouse own separate cars, you may have different auto insurance carriers. Consider pooling your auto insurance policies with one company; many insurance companies will give you a discount if you insure more than one car with them. If one of you has a poor driving record, however, make sure that changing companies won’t mean paying a higher premium.

Employer-sponsored retirement plans

If both you and your spouse participate in an employer-sponsored retirement plan, you should be aware of each plan’s characteristics. Review each plan together carefully and determine which plan provides the best benefits. If you can afford it, you should each participate to the maximum in your plan. If your current cash flow is limited, you can make one plan the focus of your retirement strategy. Here are some helpful tips:

  • If both plans match contributions, determine which plan offers the best match and take full advantage of it
  • Compare the vesting schedules for the employer’s matching contributions
  • Compare the investment options offered by each plan–the more options you have, the more likely you are to find an investment mix that suits your needs
  • Find out whether the plans offer loans–if you plan to use any of your contributions for certain expenses (e.g., your children’s college education, a down payment on a house), you may want to participate in the plan that has a loan provision

Tax Issues Related to Marriage

What are tax issues related to marriage?

If you’re married (or about to be married), financial planning is certainly important. It’s also important for you to be aware of the income tax ramifications of your decisions. Although there are several tax issues related to marriage, you should pay particular attention to your selection of an income tax filing status. Thorough familiarity with the filing status rules applicable to married couples requires some knowledge of the rules for innocent spouse relief and injured spouse claims. Along with filing status, married couples might wish to know how to perform a second income analysis, which measures the after-tax benefit of both spouses working.

Same-sex marriages are now recognized by every state and the federal government. However, for federal tax purposes, marriage does not include registered domestic partnerships, civil unions, or similar formal relationships recognized under state law.

Why is filing status so important?

Your filing status is important because it determines, in part, the deductions and credits available to you, the amount of standard deduction that you may be entitled to, and your correct amount of tax. Therefore, you need to know which filing statuses are available to you and which one will best fit your needs. There are five possible filing statuses:

  • Single
  • Married filing jointly
  • Married filing separately
  • Head of household, or
  • Qualifying widow(er) with dependent child

For tax purposes, whether you’re considered married or unmarried depends on several rules and your legal status as of the last day of the tax year.

What is innocent spouse relief and what are the rules for injured spouse claims?

Although many married couples opt to file their tax returns jointly, it is wise for you to become familiar with both the advantages and disadvantages of joint filing. Generally speaking, if you sign a joint return, you take full responsibility for the accuracy of the information contained in your return. Therefore, if your spouse intentionally underreports his or her income, you, too, could be held liable if the IRS sends a deficiency notice with accompanying interest and penalties.

In some cases, however, you can be relieved of responsibility for your spouse’s errors. This relief is known as innocent spouse relief. If you file a joint tax return, it’s also possible that the entire tax refund due on your return will be used to offset certain debts of your spouse, including student loans, taxes, and child support arrearages. Because it may be inequitable for you to lose your portion of the tax refund simply because your spouse owes money, the IRS allows you to file an injured spouse claim (in some cases) to claim your money.

What is a second-income analysis?

Another decision facing many married couples today is whether both spouses should work outside of the home. This decision often arises when a couple has children or when a retiree collecting Social Security considers a re-entry into the workforce. If you wish to consider whether a second income is advisable, you need to consider the personal ramifications, as well as the financial and tax aspects of your decision. A second-income analysis involves an evaluation of the net benefit derived from