Combining Finances with your Fiancé, Tips & Tools – What to do AFTER you say I Do

The cake has been cut and the honeymoon was wonderful.  Now it is time to let the world know that you are now a singular financial unit.  Sure you sent wedding announcements and invites maybe even to your bosses.  There is quite a bit of paperwork to be done now though.

Becoming Mr. & Mrs.

First whatever name changes you decided to make need to be made official.  Whichever of you is changing your name will need proof of your old name and your marriage certificate.  It is a good idea to order more than one copy of the certificate so you don’t have too get another if one is lost.  You want to change your name with the social security administration, your local department of motor vehicles as well as your place of employment.  This will ensure you get future credit for earnings and all of your paperwork matches.  You also want to go to your bank and get the names on your accounts changed.  Now is a good time to combine or add each other to any accounts you want to make joint.  You will also need to notify your doctors, lawyers, landlord, mortgage company and utilities of the name changes.  For all of these things it is simply a matter of proving old name and new name.  Be sure to alert your voter registration board and change your name on magazine subscriptions and memberships.

You will also need to add your new spouse as a beneficiary on any insurance policies and investments.  401K, life insurance and CDs are some examples of things that may need the updated information. If you haven’t yet adjusted your tax withholding to be ideal for your combined income level now is the time for both of you to do so.

Create a Budget

You will want to sit down with your partner and create a new budget for paying off debts, paying current bills and saving for future expenses and retirement.  Set money goals for the long and short terms.  It is important to know in detail where your money goes.  List everything from 401k payments to utilities and even lunches out and dry cleaning costs.  Consider starting an emergency fund for unplanned expenses like needing a water heater or emergency car repairs.  Savings are important for a growing family so try to think of t as a priority and not a “when we can” expense.  If your accounts aren’t fully joint decide what bills will be paid from what accounts and who is responsible for what.  Decide on a system that both of you can and will easily use to keep track of the budgeting.  Software programs can make this easy and provide either partner with a quick look at where things stand.

Stow Away the Important Things

Consider getting a safe deposit box or a fire box for all of your important documents like birth certificates, mortgage papers and military service records.  Jewelry, important family photos and the like can also be placed here.  A lot of it is replaceable but it is much more convenient if you both know where it is in case of an emergency.

Discuss Debt

Start paying down your debts and decide whether you will get a joint credit card.  Consider both of your credit reports and how to best build the credit of the financially weaker partner while not dragging down the credit score of the stronger partner.  If one or both partners have strong issues either way an accountant may be a good investment.  They know all the tax and credit laws and can help you make informed decisions on using your newly combined credit to both of your advantages.  Consider whether or not debt consolidation will work for you as well.  Keep your creditors informed on how you intend to repay your debts and any changes in payment schedules you would like to make. 

Start Saving

As well as debts you want a clear plan on how you will be saving and investing.  Will you use company 401ks?  CDs?  A savings account?  It is best to discuss all your options so you can make the most of your savings.

Taking on Property

If you are saving to buy a home now is the time to discuss amounts and timetables.  Buying a home can provide great tax breaks and quite a bit of freedom.  However all expenses on the property are your responsibility which is something you will want to budget to accommodate.  Renting means you aren’t responsible for most repairs and gives you the freedom to move as often as you’d like.  However you may be subject to rent increases, you receive no tax benefits and you own nothing of increasing value.  You may also be evicted with little notice if your landlord sells the property or fails to pay taxes.  Be sure to have a clear idea of how much you want to spend on your house and what you want to get for the money spent.  Choosing an are to make the purchase is also important.  Consider schools, both of your jobs and other community factors.

Review Financial Plans 

All your insurance plans will need to be reevaluated as well.  Are your current policies best for you now that you have tied the knot?  Be sure to review your health, car, home/renter’s, disability and life insurance policies.

Look Ahead

 It may be a good idea to create wills and powers of attorneys naming your wishes and each other as decision makers.  These are not things you want to think about but you will be glad you did when and if they are ever placed into use.  Consulting a lawyer on these is often a good idea.

Stay Organized 

Record keeping is never a fun process but once you have addressed all the main issues and set a basic system in place it can make things much easier for both of you.

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