Prince William and Kate aren't the only twentysomethings getting married

Financial advice for commoners tying the knot

  • Ashley Hodak, 25, and Ian Sullivan, 24, are getting married in June and have thoroughly discussed their finances. They're shown here looking online for an apartment to rent. They're currently renting from Ashley's mother.
Ashley Hodak, 25, and Ian Sullivan, 24, are getting married… (Baltimore Sun photo by Algerina…)
April 24, 2011|By Eileen Ambrose, The Baltimore Sun

When it comes to the royal wedding, no detail is off limits — the bride's weight, who's making her dress and who didn't make the guest list.

Even the couple's finances are open to scrutiny. Will Prince William break with tradition and ask bride-to-be Kate Middleton to sign a prenup?

While all eyes now are on the "wedding of the century," there are plenty of commoners in their 20s getting hitched every day. Their finances aren't fodder for the tabloids, although money will play a major role in their lives together. That's why, as unromantic as it may sound, young couples need to have a heart-to-heart talk about money long before they walk down the aisle.

"It's a business arrangement," says Mari Adam, a financial planner in Florida. "You really want to put aside your emotions and put on your little green eyeshade."

Ashley Hodak and her fiance, Ian Sullivan, are getting married in June after dating five years. The Millersville couple started talking about finances a couple of years ago.

"We discussed debt, college loans, car payments and insurance. We really put everything out on the table," says Hodak, 25, a communications coordinator for a nonprofit organization.

"As far as money is concerned, we are really very compatible," adds Sullivan, 24, an adjunct professor at Towson University. "We both believe in saving," but not to the point where they don't have any fun, he says. Sullivan acknowledges that it would be stressful if his future wife were a big spender.

Ideally, couples will be on the same page. But to know that, they need to talk about money. If you're getting married and haven't had that discussion, here are financial matters to consider:

Full disclosure Once engaged — and before you book the venue for the wedding reception — you need to put finances on the table. Disclose your retirement accounts and other assets. Own up to student debt, car loans, credit cards and other obligations.

And exchange credit reports. They are far more informative than a credit score. Reports reveal credit card balances, late payments or a past bankruptcy that could hamper your ability to buy a house together.

"You don't want to be in front of the mortgage broker and find that out. That would be embarrassing and upsetting," says Brooke West, a SunTrust financial planner in Florida.

If you're reluctant to bring up these issues, take your partner for a premarital consultation with a financial adviser, who can ask the tough questions for you.

Till debt do us part You don't have to call off the wedding if your betrothed is buried in debt. But it should trigger a conversation about how that debt was incurred and what's the plan for paying it off.

Be aware, marrying someone steeped in debt will lower your standard of living, says Adam, the financial planner.

"You have to ask yourself: What is the life impact of that debt and what will it stop you from doing?" she says. For instance, you might have to postpone buying a house or starting a family until you erase the debt.

A prenup? Many young couples have few assets and aren't likely to draw up a prenuptial agreement. (News reports say Kate won't have to sign one either, despite millions of dollars at stake.)

But Susan Elgin, a divorce lawyer in Towson, recommends couples at least write down any financial agreements they've made and sign it. For example, if the bride's parents provide a down payment for a house, the couple may agree that she will get that money if the marriage sours and the house is sold, Elgin says.

The agreement is a handy reminder when memories fade and these thorny issues come up.

To merge or not to merge Some couples open a joint bank account after marriage or add a spouse's name to existing accounts. Others maintain separate accounts — and a little independence — while opening a joint one to handle household expenses.

Couples need to decide what works best for them. But financial advisers say a joint account works best when saving for a big goal, such as a house, so both can monitor their progress.

A joint account might also help couples with little money to meet minimum balances and to avoid bank fees, says Brian Pon, a California financial planner.

Be aware, if you received an inheritance, that money will remain yours even in a divorce, provided it remains in an account in your name only, planners say. Deposit the money in a joint account, and it belongs to both.

Credit cards Keep credit cards separate. Open a joint credit card, and both of you are liable for whatever debt is on the card — no matter who ran up the balance.

If your spouse has poor credit and you don't, you can help out by adding your mate as an authorized user on your card, says John Ulzheimer with SmartCredit.com. Your spouse's credit score will benefit from your good history without damaging your score, he says.

But there's a risk: The authorized user can max out the card, and only the primary cardholder is responsible for repaying.

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