Earlier this month – just in time for the Valentine’s celebration – CreditCards.com released a survey that was sobering. 12 million Americans have committed financial infidelity by concealing a bank or credit card account from their live-in spouse, partner or significant other.
Maybe you can get away with your financial infidelity for a period of time, but just like the other kind of infidelity, chances are that the act itself is likely covering up a major issue: you and your honey have not had an honest conversation about money. Of course it’s tough to do – these discussions often bring up core issues about our own relationship to money, as well as anxieties about the future. That’s why money can be so loaded and often leads to heated battles. According to Money Magazine, seventy percent of couples fight about money – that’s more than brawls about household chores, togetherness or sex!
Trying to have a meaningful conversation about money amid a heated argument is fruitless. Instead, to break the cycle of non-communication, set aside a specific time and place to talk about the dreaded topic. You can reduce emotions by setting ground rules: No judgments – just open dialogue.
During this opening conversation, you should share information, like outstanding debt or any of those secret bank or investment accounts that may be floating around. If you have never created a balance sheet, this is a perfect time to do so. Figure out what you own and what you owe. While you are at it, you should also create the master list of documents necessary to organize your estate, and make sure to note in whose name the asset is held or whether it is jointly owned.
Include your bank accounts (as well as user names and passwords for online banking), the contents of any safe deposit boxes (and where the key is located), 401(k) accounts, IRAs, Roth IRAs, annuity contracts, brokerage account information (with the broker’s name and contact phone number) and a detailed list of savings bonds (or login information for treasurydirect.gov). Also list your house and vehicles (make sure you have deeds and titles) and any debts that are outstanding in your names.
You should also make sure that you and your partner are on the same page when it comes to financial priorities – check in on retirement, college planning and cash flow management. Do you want to keep separate bank accounts and then both contribute to a joint account? There is no “right” answer on this one!
After you have that conversation, it’s time to divide financial responsibilities. Work toward each partner’s strength. If one is an app queen and likes to track money, perhaps she should manage the day-to-day bill paying. If the other is more inclined to manage the investments, that’s ok too…again, the main point is that you must understand the game plan together and then allocate the tasks appropriately.
If one spouse is completely uninterested in all of this stuff, especially the investments, you still need to have quarterly meetings to walk him or her through the most recent statements. Start with the overall objective, like “we have a balanced portfolio, which means that we split the risk between stocks and bonds”, and make sure that you explain the different parts of the statement itself. Often times, one person is more comfortable with risk than the other.
If you are having problems even having the conversation, you might benefit from working with a CFP® professional, who is committed to objectivity and to what is best for you as a couple. It’s amazing what an impartial third party can do to clarify your issues, set common goals that you can pursue together, and find solutions that can work for you both. Just like most issues, communication and empathy are the go-to tools that will help you navigate the process.