"Communication is a key part of a strong marriage, and it's also the basis for a strong financial partnership," says Barrett Burns, president and CEO of VantageScore Solutions. "Being proactive before and planning ahead of the wedding while sticking to a financial plan will help guard against common financial mistakes that can occur early in a couple's life together."
To start your new life together with a strong financial foundation, check off a few important money to-dos before you say "I do!"
1. Have the debt talk
All couples must have the debt talk. It may not be romantic, but it is necessary in order to plan a bright future together. Be open and honest about debt, savings and spending habits, even if they are less than perfect.
Financial turmoil is one of the top reasons cited for divorce, so understanding each other's finances today and what goals you have for the future will help reduce stress on your partnership. With the average college student graduating with $26,600 in student loan debt, according to The Project on Student Debt, young couples need to create a plan for managing debt and saving for the future.
2. Control wedding spending
The "big day" is a defining moment in life, but it's important for couples to remember it's just one day of many that they will spend together. Weddings and related events cost a whopping $28,427 on average, according to theknot.com, and that doesn't even include the honeymoon.
"When it comes to young couples planning a dream wedding, the plastic tends to be relied upon," says Burns. "It's important to be realistic about how much you can spend. Becoming over extended on credit cards is a common mistake, and this type of high-interest debt is not the wisest way to begin your lives together."
The best course of action when it comes to wedding planning is to create a budget and stick to it. It's not necessarily bad to use credit, especially if you can take advantage of a credit card rewards program, but Burns advises only charging or borrowing what you know you can pay back in a reasonable amount of time as keeping high balances and missing payments can have significantly negative impacts on your credit score, which in turn leads to stress.
3. Work together to build a positive credit profile
Married couples do not have joint credit files or credit scores. Each individual has their credit files with the credit reporting companies and their own credit scores, but in some cases like when joint accounts and co-signed loans are created, the actions of one can impact the other.
"It's common for younger people who are just beginning their financial independence to not have much, if any, credit history. It's important to be proactive and take steps to build a positive credit profile and score so you can demonstrate to lenders that you are a good manager of credit," says Burns.
Get a copy of your credit report and resolve any issue you may have with the information presented in it. If you have a limited credit history, carefully consider the benefits of joint accounts, but keep in mind that the positive financial actions like paying bills on-time and keeping balances low, as well as actions that can have negative impacts like missing payments will influence the couples' individual credit scores.
"The importance of paying bills on time cannot be understated," says Burns. "A single missed payment can drop each person's credit score 80 to 100 points. This can affect a couple's ability to get the best interest rates and terms for a loan."
Another important step in building credit after a marriage is to make sure that all financial lenders are aware of name changes. "If you choose to change your name after you are married, make sure all your accounts have your current information, otherwise positive actions may not get reported correctly or in a timely manner," Burns says.
4. Shop around for rates
"Whether you're taking out a personal loan or selecting a credit card, you absolutely must shop around for rates," advises Burns. "Don't just take the easiest or first option. You want to get the best deal available with low interest rates and reasonable terms."
When shopping for rates, Burns notes to do so within a two week period of time. Credit inquiries from auto and mortgage lenders and credit cards issued from banks and credit unions are only counted once if done in a two week period causing just a slight decrease to credit scores.
Finally, couples soon to be married or those that recently were married can also test their knowledge about credit scores at www.CreditScoreQuiz.org, a website created by VantageScore Solutions and its partner, Consumer Federation of America, one of the largest consumer advocates in the country.