When you get married, you tie an emotional and financial knot that you have to keep strong throughout your lives together. To start strong, set money expectations right away, make financial plans together, and then check in with each other regularly to keep your finances on track as things change.
“Don’t let disagreements about spending or different attitudes about money derail your newlywed bliss,” says Ann Dowd, CFP®, vice president at Fidelity. “Recognize that you are partners in financial planning, and take that partnership seriously.”
Here are five ways to help successfully unite your financial lives.
1. Set goals
Because much of what couples do together comes down to dollars and cents, set some common goals, whether you’re buying a home, taking a yearly vacation, or planning for retirement. Work together to figure out what you can realistically afford.
Next, make disciplined saving a habit. For retirement savings, we suggest aiming to save 15% of your income for retirement, including any employer matching contributions, in a tax-deferred savings account like a 401(k) or traditional or Roth IRA.
If your retirement contributions are not automatically taken from your paycheck and put into your account, you can automate your savings by setting up regular, automatic transfers from your bank account to your investment accounts. Consider setting up automatic transfers to your emergency savings as well—it’s one less thing to think about.
For more on retirement savings, read Viewpoints special report: Retirement rules of the road.
Finally, think about how you can match your investments to your goals. For short-term goals—those less than two years away—you may want relatively stable investments, such as money market funds or even shorter-maturity CDs, as opposed to stock funds. For longer-term goals—like saving for retirement or college—you and your spouse should consider a mix (asset allocation) of stocks, bonds, and short-term investments based on your risk tolerance, financial situation, and time frame for investing. Though you both might come into the marriage with your own investments, be sure to review your overall portfolio together to ensure that your asset allocation strategy is consistent and aligned. To check or set up a proper mix, try the Planning & Guidance Center on Fidelity.com.
2. Get organized
If you didn’t talk seriously about how you’ll manage money together before you got married, now is the time to start. What you have, what you owe, what you spend, and how you feel about investing should all be part of the conversation. In other words, avoid financial secrets. Here are ways to do that.
3. Minimize taxes
Once you’re married, you need to review your tax withholding and the ways you invest, to potentially help minimize taxes and maximize your retirement savings.
When your marital status changes, you must fill out a new Form W-4, Employee’s Withholding Allowance Certificate, with your correct marital status and number of W-2 withholding allowances. These determine the amount withheld from your wages for federal and state income taxes.
Tax-advantaged accounts like workplace savings plans, health savings accounts (HSAs), and IRAs can help you plan wisely for your long-term goals. Earnings in tax-deferred accounts can compound faster than those in taxable accounts because all your potential earnings remain in the account tax deferred—adding to your earning power until you withdraw them.
Another potential benefit: Contributions to these types of accounts are made with pretax dollars, which can reduce your taxable income, or you can deduct the contribution when it’s time to file your taxes.
If each of you has a workplace savings plan like a 401(k) plan or 403(b) plan, contribute as much as you can—at least enough to earn any company-matching contributions. If only one of you—or neither—has a workplace plan, an IRA offers the same tax deferral, and you may be eligible to deduct your contributions from your tax return. People who are self-employed may have other options for retirement saving in addition to an IRA.
Read Viewpoints on Fidelity.com: No 401(k)? How to save for retirement
If you have a high deductible health plan, you may be able to save in a health savings account (HSA). An HSA allows you to make pretax contributions that can be used for qualified medical expenses. Earnings and withdrawals are also federal tax free if used to pay for qualified medical expenses. You can also use the funds in an HSA to pay for both current and future qualified medical expenses.
Read Viewpoints on Fidelity.com: Three healthy habits for health savings accounts
4. Protect what matters most
When you get married, it is important to review, update, and in some cases purchase different types of insurance, including life insurance (to help protect your loved ones), health insurance, and disability insurance.
Some insurance coverage may be provided by your employer. But if you’re both working, “review your current coverage to see where you can cut costs and avoid redundant coverage,” Dowd says. For example, it might be less expensive to be on your spouse’s health insurance than to pay for your own.
Life insurance can help replace lost income and eliminate debts, which enables surviving family members to maintain their lifestyle. Life insurance proceeds are generally free from income taxes.1 Decide together whether you want to buy term or permanent insurance.
Term life insurance, which is generally less expensive, provides coverage for a specified time period, and pays a benefit only if you die during that time period. Permanent life insurance (generally more expensive) remains in effect for as long as you live, and offers an investment component (cash value) that grows tax deferred.
How much insurance do you need? Use our Term Life Insurance Needs Estimator on Fidelity.com.2 If you’re employed, you’ll also want to consider whether group life insurance offered by your employer is enough to cover your needs, or whether it makes sense to buy an individual policy as well.
Disability insurance usually covers a portion of your salary if you become disabled before retirement. Your employer may provide you with coverage, but make sure it’s enough to cover your expenses. If not, consider purchasing disability insurance on your own, since an unexpected event could prevent you from working and earning a paycheck for some time.
There are two general types of disability insurance: short term and long term.
5. Create a will
Your will is the most important legal document in your estate. It establishes your wishes with respect to the distribution of your estate and provides direction on how they should be carried out after your death. Even if you already have a will, you’ll have to update it when you get married. Dying intestate—or without a will—can wreak financial havoc on surviving family members. Estate laws vary from state to state, but in the absence of a will, surviving spouses without children typically retain only between one-third and one-half of the deceased’s estate.3 You and your spouse should contact your attorney for more information, and create wills as soon as possible. Be sure to review them every three to five years to make sure they address your changing circumstances.
The beneficiaries on your retirement accounts are as important to your estate plan as a will can be. The beneficiary designations on retirement accounts take precedence over instructions left in a will—so be sure that your beneficiaries are current.
Read Viewpoints on Fidelity.com: Do you need an estate plan?
Money discussions aren’t always easy for newlyweds. But, as with any marriage issue, it’s best to approach them with an open mind and as a team. The more thoughtfully you work together on money matters, the more financial harmony you’ll maintain in your life together.
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