Getting married changes your financial life in profound ways. It’s not just that you’re living together or sharing expenses (you don’t need marriage to do that…), it’s that your legal and tax status changes. And while your credit rating remains individual, your future choices could be changed by what your spouse brings into the financial picture.

Whether you’re getting hitched for the first time or remarrying after a divorce or death, it’s smart to sit down with your partner well before the wedding to talk about these issues and do some financial planning. Granted, it’s not the most thrilling premarital activity. But the decisions you and your future spouse make about how to handle money will have long-term repercussions for you—not just as individuals, but as a couple, whether you choose to combine your finances completely or keep certain things separate

  • Partners should fully disclose their assets, liabilities, and credit reports to each other before marriage.
  • Financial decisions around wedding budgets will affect couples for years—for better or for worse.
  • Marriage can have major financial benefits, especially if you understand the best way to file your taxes as a couple.
  • Learn your state’s laws regarding marital property, and understand how assets and liabilities acquired before and after marriage will be shared.

Before You Say ‘I do’ 

Before you exchange vows, it’s important that you and your partner each disclose your full financial circumstances to each other. Because marriage is a legal and financial decision—the government couldn’t care less how in love you are—you need to know what risks you are taking by binding yourself to another person. Disclose all assets and liabilities (including those from a previous marriage, if applicable, or responsibilities you have for members of your family). Obtain both of your credit reports and scores from all three credit bureaus. Sit down and review each other’s balance sheets together and discuss any concerns.

If either or both of you carries considerable debt, it’s time to make a plan for paying it off. One spouse’s premarital debt does not automatically become the other’s upon signing a marriage license, but that debt can still affect you after marriage insofar as it affects your joint finances.
  • What are your top priorities in life, and how do finances factor into those priorities?
  • What are your long-term career prospects and goals?
  • Will either of you need financial support for additional education or time out of the workforce to work toward your goals?
  • Will one spouse stay at home full time or part time to care for children?
  • Do either of you have children from a previous relationship, and if so, what kind of financial responsibilities will you have for them?
  • Do either of you expect to be called on to support other relatives, such as aging parents?
  • At what age do you hope to retire, and what kind of retirement do you envision?
  • Do you have different attitudes toward saving and spending? How will you manage those differences?

Even if you don’t know all the answers, it’s helpful to get a sense of where your partner stands and evaluate what you each might need to think about or research further.

Planning Your Wedding

How much you will spend on the wedding and who will pay for it are two of the first big financial questions engaged couples need to answer together. Your decisions can have a major effect on how the marriage starts off, which can set the tone for your partnership.

Who Pays?

In some families, the father of the bride pays for the entire wedding. But sometimes there’s no bride, sometimes there’s no father, and sometimes neither of the engaged couple’s families have the financial means to contribute to the wedding. When you’re paying for the wedding yourselves as a couple, especially if you’re a young couple with little money saved up and many unmet goals, it’s imperative to establish an affordable wedding budget and adhere to it.

Sticking to a wedding budget can be harder than it sounds. Once you start researching wedding costs and talking to vendors, you might learn that the magical event you’ve envisioned costs a multiple of what you expected or can afford. You then have to choose whether to go into debt, scale back your expectations, or get creative—or do a bit of all three. Does the wedding have to be on a Saturday? Do you really need to have 300 guests? If you’re crafty, can you make your own centerpieces instead of paying for them?

Ring Decisions

Decisions about what to spend on rings are also important. Ultimately, wearing a band on your ring finger is a symbol of commitment, and that symbol can be had for as little as $10.

It’s up to you whether you want something fancier, such as having a family heirloom ring resized or reset, opting for traditional gold and diamonds or a modern alternative, shopping at a major jewelry store, or working with an independent jeweler who does custom work. Couples who opt for pricey rings should make sure they have enough homeowners or renters insurance to replace the jewelry if it’s lost or stolen.