Your Investing Life: Getting married
October 31, 2013
The question's been popped, the answer's yes, and you're anticipating a long and happy lifetime with the one you love.
It's an exciting, hectic, and quite possibly nerve-wracking time. After all, you're about to entwine your life—and your financial well-being—with another person's. Doing a few things early on in your marriage can help you start out on firmer financial footing and set you up for success over the long term.
Open up to your spouse about money matters
When you first fall in love, you're not likely to have deep discussions about your financial situation and investment philosophy. But having those conversations as you build a long-term relationship can enrich your partnership emotionally as well as financially.
"Suddenly allowing another person—even one you love enough to marry—into your financial life can have you feeling pretty vulnerable," said Karin Risi, who leads Vanguard Advice Services. "But it helps to think like a team, which can be new (and perhaps hard) for some of us."
A few topics you should think about discussing include your:
- Credit ratings and debt loads. You're not just sharing your life with your new spouse; you're also sharing financial obligations. If one of you has a lot of credit card or student loan debt, or perhaps even a lower-than-desired credit score, you may need to adjust your plans to buy a car or home.
- Emergency plan. You may not be able to prepare for everything, but having an emergency fund can buy you some time to deal with whatever surprises you'll face together. Strategize with your spouse about how to build up your safety net. Maybe it's setting aside $10 a paycheck or socking away your wedding gift money. But, because you'll need to be able to access the cash quickly, you'll want to be careful about what type of account you keep it in.
- Spending styles. Do you treasure every dollar you've ever earned while your new spouse is more of a free spender? If so, work out a compromise to purchasing you can both live with. Some ideas: Set a reasonable limit—maybe $100—that each of you can spend without at least giving the other a heads up. You can also maintain separate checking accounts, with each of you paying for certain housing expenses. Whatever works for both of you is the way to go.
- Budget balancing. Build a monthly budget together that covers the regular expenses you'll have in common, such as rent/mortgage, utilities, and food. While one of you might handle the day-to-day administrative tasks, set aside an hour or so each month to share information so you both stay involved in the process.
- Future goals—and how to fund them. Discussing how you each envision your future together can be fun. Some common goals may include buying a home, changing careers, having kids and sending them to college, starting a business, or traveling and spending time with loved ones once retired. Planning for your goals together can make it even sweeter when you achieve them.
- Investment holdings and preferences. Sharing details about your investments—an IRA, a 401(k), perhaps an extensive portfolio—allows either of you to take action on an account if necessary. Take a look at your mix of stocks, bonds, and cash, called your asset allocation, with your spouse to see if it's appropriate now that you're married. To spark the conversation about investing styles, you can both complete our short Investor Questionnaire and then compare notes.
"Ideally, both spouses are active in managing the family's money," said Chuck Riley, a financial planner with Vanguard Advice Services. "When you make spending and planning decisions together, it prevents one spouse from having to 'play the heavy' when it comes to working toward financial goals."
Mr. Riley suggests sitting down together regularly to review your financial and investing information. "My wife and I review our spending at least twice a month and our longer-term savings and investments roughly once each quarter," he said.
Change your status
Now that your relationship status has changed to married, there's a lot of paperwork for you to complete. Here are some things you'll want to do as soon as possible.
- Change your name on official documents. Are you both becoming the "Smith-Joneses"? If so, you'll need to update various legal documents, such as your Social Security card, driver's license, passport, and any other identification card.
- Add your spouse as a beneficiary on your insurance policies and financial accounts. Including your spouse's name on your list of beneficiaries will simplify access to accounts, as well as smooth the way for your spouse to receive benefit payments. (You can update your beneficiaries for your Vanguard investment accounts online.)
- Update your health insurance coverage. Most insurers allow you to change your coverage within 60 days of a qualifying life event, such as marriage. So you may either want to add your spouse to your health plan or vice versa, depending on whose health coverage is better. Compare options to see what makes the most sense. You're not obligated to make a move; you can both maintain separate coverage if that's your best option. But keep in mind that if you do so, you may have to wait until an open enrollment period or other life event occurs before you can make a change.
- Explore life and auto insurance coverage options. As a married couple, you might qualify for discounts and other savings that come from combining your coverage under one policy.
Decide what you'll share . . . and what you won't
If you had substantial assets before you got married, you may decide to keep your banking and investment accounts in your own name, rather than convert them to joint accounts.
You may also decide that a prenuptial agreement, which lays out exactly how assets will be divided should you divorce. Protecting your financial interests may not seem romantic, but it can be a practical move.
Prepare for tax implications
Preparing for tax season is likely to change now that you're married. Whether your wedding date was January 1 or December 31, the IRS considers you married for the entire tax year.
You can choose your filing status for your federal taxes. While most couples choose "married, filing jointly," you can choose "married, filing separately" if it makes more sense—for example, if one of you has hefty medical expenses and can meet the deduction threshold by claiming an individual income.
If you decide to file separately, here are two things to keep in mind:
- If one of you is itemizing, the other has to as well. The standard deduction might be more than the amount you'll be able to take if you itemize, so prepare for the possibility that you might end up getting a smaller return—or even owing income taxes.
- You don't accept equal responsibility for tax liabilities. So if you're uncomfortable with some deductions your spouse wants to take (maybe some more aggressive write-offs for a business), this option could be good for you.
Another thing to keep in mind is the so-called "marriage penalty." Although some changes in the tax laws have made it less onerous, the penalty is still alive and well for dual-income couples who may get pulled into a higher tax bracket when they combine their incomes. You could get good news at filing time, though, if one of you makes substantially less than the other. Your combined incomes and deductions could end up lowering your tax bracket and result in a nice tax return.
It may also be worth exploring the various tax benefits that are available to encourage retirement savings. IRAs allow you to save for retirement and save on your taxes. When you get to take the deductions depends on the type of IRA you open; you can choose a traditional one, which allows you to deduct contributions on your federal tax forms, or a Roth IRA, which lets you take withdrawals tax-free. For more information about IRAs, including income requirements, different types, and benefits and penalties, check out our IRA resource page and irs.gov.
In 2013, the IRS allows you to contribute up to $5,500 ($6,500 if you're age 50 or older) to an IRA on behalf of a nonworking spouse. (One of you does have to have income and you can't contribute more than you earned during the tax year.) Of course, you can also contribute to an IRA on your own behalf if you're not already contributing to an employer's retirement plan.
Enjoy your life together
These simple suggestions give you some tools to build a solid financial foundation for your married life. Keep talking, dreaming, and planning together.
- All investing is subject to risk, including the possible loss of the money you invest.
- We recommend that you consult a tax or financial advisor about your individual situation.
- When taking withdrawals from an IRA before age 59½, you may have to pay ordinary income tax plus a 10% federal penalty tax.