Business Saving Money

New couple? Here are the money questions to address.

Retired couple Harvey and Cora Alter take a walk in their planned-community in semi-rural Frederick, Md.
Jason Reed/Reuters/File | Caption

Are things starting to get serious enough in your newish relationship to consider marriage, moving in together, or at least some major joint purchases, such as vacations? If so, it’s probably time to sit down and talk money. Here are questions you should address together.

How much do you each earn?

You may both have a sense of this for the other, but you’ll want to share real numbers. Agree to show one another documentation, pay stubs, the past year’s tax return, or the budgeting program you use to track finances.

This is a first step towards jointly planning money. It also educates and helps build trust – unless of course, it exposes that one of you has been less-than-forthcoming about your income, which has its own value as well.

How much and what kind of debt do you each have?

Obviously, a high level of debt isn't ideal, but your prospect to pay it down is arguably more important than the amount involved. Having $100,000 in law school debt while on track to make partner at a big firm is obviously a lot different than having $50,000 in credit-card debt and a job as a daycare worker.

Both partners should share credit-card statements, student-loan documents, and proof of any other debt like a car loans or mortgages. Depending on what program you use, this may be as simple as logging into your budget. Mint, for example, gives you this sort of 1,000-foot overview of your financial picture.

How much do you each have saved, and where?

Having anything much saved is a welcome start, since many people have little to no long-term savings. And where the money is invested can tell you a lot about your partner's money tendencies. Is it stuffed under the mattress? Maybe they’re averse to banking. Is it in penny stocks and lottery tickets? Maybe they’re comfortable with greater risk than they should be.

Does your partner participate in an employer based 401k plan, have an IRA, or own a rental property? Do they have an emergency fund? Everyone should have one, and it should have at least $1,000 in it, or better still enough to cover a full six-months-worth of expenses.

What are your credit scores?

The higher your score, the better an interest rate you will be offered when you borrow money for things like a home or car loan. A low interest rate can save you tens of thousands of dollars over the long term, making this perhaps the most important question on this list.

If you buy a $300,000 home with 20% down and a fixed rate 30 year mortgage at 4.5% vs. a rate of 5.5%, you will have saved $52,794 in interest.

There are lots of places to get your credit score. Many credit cards provide them with your statement or you can use a site like Credit Karma to get a ballpark number.

Will we join our money or keep it separate?

There are several options here, obviously, including whether to completely mingle, completely separate, or somewhere in between – like a shared account for shared expenses. Discuss each option and agree on one.

Do you keep a budget?

For many a careful single person, this is close to non-negotiable in a would-be spouse. There is arguably no dependable way to keep track of money or reach financial goals than to create and keep some kind of budget. It needn’t be fancy and complicated, but it does need to be, period.

If you’ve decided on the yours, mine, ours approach, that’s three budgets to keep, but you only have to share the “ours” budget. That’s the point of keeping some money separate. No one has to justify their individual spending.

This story originally appeared on ValuePenguin.

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