'Til Debts Do You Part? Maybe Not

Q. My fianc and I just started talking about finances. He has graduate-school debt ($25,000) and credit-card debt ($15,000) incurred during his school years. I have $20,000 in a 401(k) retirement plan, $3,000 in a mutual fund, and no debt. (Yeah!) When we marry, will his debt become my debt? What if we want to buy a small house in a few years?

- B. Wright,


A. First, congratulations! Not just on your coming marriage but on the decision to talk about finances. They are best managed as a joint responsibility. So keep talking.

On the debt question, you're almost always off the hook for debts incurred by a prospective spouse prior to marriage, says attorney and financial planner Gary Schatsky, in New York.

Your fianc should keep all paperwork on his prior debts to eliminate confusion about when the debts were taken out. That could be important in buying a house, Mr. Schatsky says.

Mortgage lenders will consider your [future] husband's personal debt load when measuring your joint ability to pay the mortgage.

And make certain he keeps up his monthly payments, cautions Schatsky.

Incidentally, he says, in many states, debts incurred separately after marriage are also not joint debts, unless they are joint obligations, such as a home loan.

Q. Do you know any Web sites that will give net asset values of closed-end funds? Is there a Web site for the closed-end industry?

- J.G.,

via e-mail

A. A cursory check of the Web doesn't turn up a "closed-end" site. Information firm Morningstar Inc. (www.Morningstar.net) says it hopes to put closed-end numbers on its Web site by mid-October.

Barron's magazine prints two pages of data on closed-end funds each week, including net asset values. Barron's gets the material from Lipper Analytical Services.

Shares of closed-end funds trade like stocks, and individual funds are listed in daily newspaper listings of the New York Stock exchange. A broker can probably get you a report on a specific fund.

Questions about finances? Write:

Guy Halverson

The Christian Science Monitor

500 Fifth Ave., Suite 1845

New York, NY 10110

E-mail: halversong@csps.com

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