11 Tips and Tricks for Merging Finances

By Linsey Knerl on 16 September 2014 0 comments

Getting married can be a chaotic ordeal. It's one thing to combine household contents (which blender will you keep?) or decide which side of the bed you'll sleep on. It's quite another to go through the hard work of putting together money accounts and arranging for a single budget. (See also: The 7 Worst Money Mistakes Married People Make)

As someone who has been happily married for 12 years, paid off a mound of consumer debt from before the marriage, and has kept an excellent credit score throughout, I've learned a thing or two about what I did right — and wished I had done right.

1. Take Inventory

This important step is sometimes painful for couples to do. It includes writing down every account you hold, including the balances, as well as all the debt and loan accounts that are owed on. It's best to do this before the marriage, as full disclosure is probably wise before that trip down the aisle.

2. Figure Out Your Net Worth

Next, it's probably a good idea to tally everything up and see what you'll be worth as a couple. Get it out of your mind that there are "his" and "hers" assets. You'll likely own everything together now. (Legally, this is also true in many states. With certain exceptions like trust fund payments and inheritances, some assets may be kept separate. Check with your CFP or attorney for details.)

3. Decide Which Accounts to Keep

Do you really need four checking accounts, 12 credit cards, or two car loans? If it's possible to combine some accounts, do so. Likewise, if credit card payments can be simplified by transferring balances and culling payments down to just four or five creditors, it might be the best solution for both of you. Note: Be mindful of closing any accounts right away. Scrapping lines of credit may be detrimental to your credit score, as it will lower your available credit amount by quite a bit. A more suitable option may be to agree to not use any cards from several accounts until they are paid off and then closed. Or you could choose to keep them all open, but not use them indefinitely.

4. Add Your Spouse to Keepers

Now comes the fun of getting a second credit card or debit card, adding a second name to the checkbook, and putting another authorized user on the online account access. This can take many days, as some banks still require both account holders to come in person with their documentation and papers to sign. Since banking must be done during "bankers' hours," it may require taking time off of work. Get everything in order before your big day to ensure you don't run into any snags.

5. Pick a Payer

While you'll both be involved in the planning of finances, it is usually wise to pick one person to actually pay the bills. Setting your accounts up for automatic payments can cut down on some of the work, but someone will still need to follow up monthly to be sure payments were made. If you don't want to be saddled with the job for long, you can choose to switch off every few months or so, which is also a great way to ensure that there are no financial secrets between spouses.

6. Set a Budget

Now it's time to get down to the nitty gritty. What financial goals will you set as a couple? What can you expect to live on? What will you do with the extra money every month (if any)? A budget can be as simple as writing two columns for spending and income on a piece of paper, or it can be as complicated as a budgeting software program will allow. The important thing, however, is that you just do it!

7. Communicate

Things change daily in a marriage, and this includes the financial realm of it. A broken belt on the car or a change in work schedule can really throw your best-laid plans into turmoil, but most things can be overcome by talking it out early on. Remember that spouses hate to have things sprung on them suddenly, so pick a safe time to discuss these things each day. Don't have the talk right before bed.

8. Adjust as Necessary

Marriage is a funny thing in that it is never quite like you expect it to be. Personalities can cause conflict, and expectations will need to be lowered quite often. Finances reflect this in that your budget and plans won't be perfect, either. Learn to laugh at mistakes and do better next time.

9. Forgive

Your spouse will screw up royally at least once in your marriage. This will likely have financial consequences. You will, too. Forgive easily, and you'll find grace when it's your turn!

10. Ask for Advice

If all your best intentions have failed, and money merging is still a painful or aggravating part of your marriage, it may help to enlist a neutral third party to help you along. Financial planners can be a good source of common sense in an otherwise emotional conversation. Just avoid employing anyone you both knew well prior to the marriage; it will keep things professional and easy to agree with.

11. Remember What Money Means

Finances should be handled with sensitivity because money rarely just stands for money. Spending can mask hurts that your spouse is dealing with, and trying to solve money issues can be taken personally. If you find that after merging finances the advice of your professional goes unheeded, it may be time to take things to the next level with a marriage counselor that specializes in financial problems. Sometimes, there really is an underlying cause to the money woes.

My marriage hasn't been perfect, but it has been one of the most enriching parts of my life. Having the money issues under control has allowed my husband and I to spend our energy on other, more pressing issues, like our six children!

Did you merge finances when you tied the knot? How did it go? Please share in comments!

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