Love may be in the air on Valentine’s Day when about 10 percent of marriage proposals occur, but Cupid’s dart isn’t the only thing flying high. The average credit card debt is $15,270, which means that many couples are merging much more than their kitchenware and furniture when they say “I do.”
1. Do you have any credit card debt, and if so, how much?
If the answer to this question is yes, full disclosure is necessary, not optional. Trust is a cornerstone of a successful marriage, so being honest about how much you each owe on credit cards is your first step toward financial fidelity.
2. What is your plan for dealing with the balance on your card(s)?
Is there a solid plan in place to pay off any debt? A head-in-the-sand mentality doesn’t bode well for your partner’s financial management skills or your fiscal future as a couple. Acknowledging the debt and devising a consistent, realistic plan to pay it off is the only right answer here.
Also make it clear exactly who will pay off the credit card balance. If you plan to help your partner pay off the debt, that will have a direct impact on your financial situation.
3. What are your future plans for credit card use?
Does your partner plan to continue using credit cards, despite carrying balances? Or is the plan to use the credit cards for everyday expenses but make sure to pay them off each month? If this is the case, are there incentive plans attached to the cards to make such tactics rewarding?
And, even more importantly, how do you feel about the proposed credit card use plan? For some people, regular credit card use is unsettling, while others have no problem carrying a balance or even paying interest each month. Now is the time to speak up about your credit card risk tolerance or intolerance.
4. Will large purchases be paid for with credit cards?
In which camp does your significant other sit? One says you should delay gratification and pay for a large purchase like a vacation with cash. The other says to pull out a credit card and worry about paying off the balance when you get home from Bali. Being on the same page in this area is bound to prevent some nasty financial tension when planning the honeymoon.
5. Will you have separate or joint credit card accounts?
Do you both wish to open a joint credit card account for purchases you make together? If so, keep in mind that you are both legally liable for the debts incurred on that card. If you have different spending styles, a joint account may be a bad idea. Keeping cards in your own name is also a good way to ensure that you continue to build credit, which is crucial if you split down the road, or if your spouse dies.
Learn more about how to manage your funds before and during marriage with our post “Happily Ever After: Protect Yourself Financially.”
6. Who will pay the credit card bills?
If you or your partner wants to carry a balance from month to month, it’s critical that the cards are carefully managed so that you avoid missing a payment or paying late, which could negatively affect your credit score(s). Decide who is best suited for paying the bills, but agree to touch base on a regular basis about your finances.
When you’re popping the champagne bottle at your engagement party, credit card compatibility may be the last thing you want to think about—but rest assured, it will be the first thing you talk about when the bills arrive. Having the credit card talk now is your best bet to ensure wedded bliss.
Julie Bawden-Davis is a widely published journalist specializing in personal finance and small business. She has written 10 books and more than 2,500 articles for a wide variety of national and international publications, including Parade.com, where she has a weekly column. In addition to contributing to SuperMoney, her work has appeared in publications such as American Express OPEN Forum, The Hartford and Forbes.