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Debt is a scary thing. Whether it's credit card debt, car payments, or student loans, nobody likes to talk about what they owe with anybody. But push aside the awkwardness and discomfort, because you have to talk about it with your fiancé.
For years, I've preached how important it is for brides and grooms to be completely open and honest with each other about their finances before they get married. You should be sharing information about all of your assets, too. It's important for the long-term health of your marriage to have a clear understanding of where each of you stand before you link your finances (and credit records) together for the rest of your lives.
I have a good friend whose marriage only lasted a year because the groom didn't tell the bride the extent of his debt prior to the wedding. She didn't leave him because he owed money — she ended the marriage because, after she found out about the almost $50,000 in student loans he'd been dodging for years, he wasn't willing to sit down with her and come up with a plan for how to deal with paying it off. In her mind, they couldn't have kids until they were financially stable, and if he wouldn't even discuss how to solve the problem, they would never solve it and pay it off.
Rather than finding yourself married to the person of your dreams but saddled with debts you had no idea even existed, sit down and have an open conversation ahead of time. There should be zero secrets when you sign the marriage license.
Here are three specific categories you should tackle in the conversation:
It doesn't matter if it's a mortgage, a car loan, or school loans, put it all on the table and add it up together. Sometimes, if you own a home together or separately, or have other assets that supply you with credit, there are debt consolidation options that can save you on interest and help you pay everything off much faster. Although a loan pre-dates your marriage and may not technically be yours, once you've combined all of your assets and merged finances, who brought what into the marriage won't matter unless you're getting divorced.
2. Credit Card Debt
NOBODY likes to talk about their credit cards because, to some extent, we're all ashamed of the bills we can't pay to zero on a monthly basis. With that said, you should evaluate all the credit cards you have between the two of you, how much debt you have total, and consolidate things where it's advantageous. If you've got a lot of debt, individually or together, you need a joint plan to pay it off.
3. Large annual expenditures
Golf club memberships, insurance premiums, charitable contributions, and any other significant expenditures that you made regularly as a single person should be evaluated as a couple, and budgeted for together. Once married, it's perfectly acceptable to vary which schools get your contributions, or adjust amounts so that you're both covering your obligations, for example.
Sandy Malone is the owner of Sandy Malone Weddings & Events and author of How to Plan Your Own Destination Wedding: Do-It-Yourself Tips from an Experienced Professional. Sandy is the star of TLC's reality show Wedding Island, about her destination wedding planning company, Weddings in Vieques.