6 keys to a financially happy relationship

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You and your significant other likely have shared dreams for the future. Here's how keeping an open dialogue can help you save, invest and plan together.

Key takeaways

  • Combining your finances means no secrets about what you own and owe
  • Talk about your joint finances to discuss your hopes and dreams for your money
  • There's no one right way to manage day-to-day finances, so find a system that works for both of your spending styles
  • You need a compatible investing approach, even if your styles and risk tolerance differ
  • Once a year, review your finances, make any necessary course corrections — and celebrate your financial accomplishments
Money. It's an important issue for most couples. Although successfully managing finances is essential to your happiness together, talking about money may not come naturally. No worries, though. If you haven't gotten around to discussing the role money plays in your life together, it's not too late to start.
Here are six money-and-relationship conversation starters that could help you get closer to your financial happily ever after.

1. Have we shared all of our financial secrets?

Have you traded financial statements with your partner? That means sharing what each of you owns — and owes — plus key numbers like your income and credit scores. Your assets should include your savings and retirement accounts. Your liabilities may include student debt, a car or business loan, credit card balances and even mortgages.
Why is this important? "A shared financial future means you're combining your assets, but that also means you may be taking on each other's debts," says Debra Greenberg, director, Personal Retirement Product Management, Bank of America. It's best to not be surprised by something that could have an impact on your finances as a couple. One low credit score, for example, could become a roadblock if you apply jointly for a mortgage.
A shared financial future means you're combining your assets, but that also means you may be taking on each other's debts.
— Debra Greenberg,
director, Personal Retirement Product Management,
Bank of America
After everything's on the table, start talking about where you want to go from here. You can begin with questions about your spending, money management approaches and financial goals. Then go further by asking yourselves what your aspirations are for key areas, such as investing in real estate, more education and your retirement. Do you expect to help support your parents financially as they age, or help pay the education costs of children or other family members? Sharing your vision of your financial future is part of aligning your finances as a couple.

2. How can we create and embrace a budget?

Figure out how you have been managing costs. Even if you both work and have personal assets, you may not want to divide expenses down the middle. "If you have the higher salary, you might take full responsibility for the housing costs, and your partner could cover the other monthly expenses. You might also contribute a larger percentage of your income to your retirement fund," Greenberg says. "Both of you, however, should try to contribute the maximum to your retirement accounts and make sure you receive any matching benefits offered by your employer."
When it comes to managing your daily finances, talk about what makes you both comfortable. Some couples have a joint account for all expenses and savings. But maybe you prefer individual accounts — and dually contribute to a joint account to save for larger purchases.
To help you keep track of your spending, income and net worth, you could look into any number of budget-tracking programs or apps, such as our Cash Flow Calculator.

3. How do we match up as investors?

Your attitudes about money and investing may differ — and you may need help sorting things out as you plan for your future. Maybe you're willing to take on some risk for the potential of a higher return, but your partner prefers to stick with a slow and steady approach. That's OK — your different financial styles may even complement one another. You just need to be up front about it and think about how the investing decisions you make today could affect your financial security later.
For those who aren't quite sure about the level of risk they're comfortable with and how that relates to different kinds of investments, Merrill offers online Investor Education. There you'll find articles, videos and tutorials geared to different levels of knowledge, on topics such as investing and markets, mutual funds and other investment products.
From time to time, it makes sense to take a fresh look at your financial situation and goals. You'll probably want to make a few changes along the way.
— Debra Greenberg,
director, Personal Retirement Product Management,
Bank of America
Keep in mind that, whether as a couple or as individuals, you may not always make the right decisions about money or investments. When mistakes happen, learn from them, refrain from blaming yourself or your partner, and move on.

4. What's different about taxes for couples?

Married couples filing taxes jointly could see impacts to their finances. Make time to talk with a tax professional about different filing options and how they may affect your tax picture. It might also be a good idea to review your investment choices and find out if there are any tax-efficient steps you might consider taking.

5. Are our wills and other legal documents up to date?

This is always a smart thing to think about — and it isn't complicated. If your intent is to have your significant other as your beneficiary, you'll want to communicate your estate wishes and be sure they're reflected in your will and other key legal or financial documents, including insurance policies and retirement accounts. And it's a good idea to review all of these documents every year or so — or more often if there's been a change in your circumstances — to see if revisions are needed and to inform beneficiaries of any changes.

6. When did we last review and recommit to our goals?

Nothing's set in stone. "All the plans you make can be quickly upended by new jobs, new expenses and new family members," Greenberg says. "From time to time, it makes sense to take a fresh look at your financial position and goals. You'll probably want to make a few changes along the way."
Think about making this an annual exercise, Greenberg suggests. "Whether you choose to do it at the same time each year — say, the first week in September — or at certain financial milestones, like when your 401(k) or IRA balance increases by a certain amount, it's valuable to put your heads together and review the financial state of your union."
Then, when you take joy in the life you've built together, you can celebrate your financial accomplishments as well as your relationship.
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