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The following commentary comes from an independent investor or market observer as part of TheStreet's guest contributor program, which is separate from the company's news coverage.
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I recently asked my girlfriend of two years to marry me. My friends keep telling me that we need to have a real discussion about money before the big day. We are both financially responsible people, so I have never seen this as a problem. What do you think the best way to proceed is?
A: Your friends are correct. Money problems and divorce frequently go hand in hand. As a result, couples need to discuss finances in terms of the past, present and future.
Here is how I would proceed:
What is an individual's net worth entering the marriage?
Past . . . This is what you bring to the table.
This might not be the sexiest thing to talk about, but welcome to marriage! Not simply a matter of salary and savings, this includes investments as well as debts, retirement accounts and yes, credit scores! You may also need to look at potential monetary inheritance including real estate. New discoveries will be uncovered for better or worse. However, it's better to know now, in lieu of being surprised later.
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Marriage is as much a merger of personal assets as it is a declaration of one's desire to have and hold. Therefore matters of finance are important to unearth prior to stepping into your future life together.
How will each partner handle day-to-day money management?
Present . . . This is how you'll play the cards you've been dealt.
Obviously as a unit, you're going to have joint bills. It is essential to make decisions regarding the financial aspects of your twosome prior to marriage. Logistically, you'll need to determine all aspects from how you approach your personal bank accounts to how bill payment might be allotted. Different couples have different approaches; some will simply merge all of their finances, while others will designate one joint checking to pay all bills and decide to keep their separate checking accounts active.
There are endless possibilities and no one correct way to join financial forces. It all boils down to the people entering the union and how they best work together. The significance in choosing to have these discussions prior to marrying will create a very powerful adhesive in the partnership. As two unique individuals come together and share in a strong decision-making process they can both agree upon, the couple will inherently grow together and bond more fully.