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Affairs of the Wallet: Financial Smarts for Marriage and Divorce

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While it's shocking front page news that gets our attention like Larry King not having a prenuptial agreement with his seventh wife, the more sensational thing to me is that most people don't really even know who they are marrying ... financially speaking. Otherwise intelligent adults continue to enter into affairs of the wallet with little or no research as to how to protect themselves financially, or more importantly for most, how to protect their credit. As cynical as it may seem, I believe the best time to start talking about credit and financial stability is early in the dating game -- the earlier the better! Don't you want to know if a person is a financial train wreck before you fall in love with them? It's hard to one day buy that nice house in the suburbs with bad credit and no sense of financial responsibility, so take the time to get to know each other, in every sense of the word. While discussing religion, politics and what type of pizza you both enjoy, take extra time to talk about credit, money and long term financial goals.

Romance aside, let's talk about marriage from the practical standpoint. Two individuals decide to merge their lives and "become one." If this is taken to the full extreme, they'll soon share a bank account, a joint credit report and a family budget. So how do you really know that Mr. or Mrs. Right is truly Mr. or Mrs. Financial Right?

Here are a few hard and fast rules -- things you MUST do before you say "I do."

1. Pull each of your credit reports and review them line by line. Are you marrying bad credit or a huge amount of debt? These issues can cause animosity and resentment later -- deal with it up front! You can tell a lot about a person by how they manage their credit.

2. Review the last six months' worth of bank statements together. Spending habits are a common cause of marital discord -- get to know them up front and tackle potential issues early in the game.

3. Review the last six months' worth of credit card statements. Are balances increasing each month, or are they being paid in full? Are late fees being assessed? A lot can be learned about a person by reviewing their credit card activity, and it's less likely that there will be any "surprises" in the future.

4. Determine based on credit and bank records who is more fit to take on the role of "Family CFO." This person should be responsible for the payment of bills and the overall adherence to a budget.

5. If this is not the first marriage for either partner, it's imperative to review any past divorce decrees in detail. Know who's on the hook for what, and if there's any undisclosed liabilities or dependents.

Ideally, a marriage will last forever, but statistics continue to show that this is simply not the case. (Best of luck to you to Larry!) If I can give one piece of advice here, it's to keep your wits about you, and don't sabotage your future by keeping your head under the covers. Divorce is an emotionally trying and sometimes nasty business. Even the most amicable of splits can take a turn for the worse at a moment's notice, and verbal agreements are quick to go by the wayside. Hearts are broken, feelings are hurt, and one of the most effective tactics of revenge is to hit' em where it hurts: the pocketbook. Shopping sprees on the ex spouse's credit cards, maxing out the home equity loan to pay for plastic surgery -- believe me, I've seen it all!

Divorce can bring out the worst in people, so I've also compiled a few tips for the "soon to be divorced."

1. Change your address. When it comes to divorce, one thing is sure -- someone is moving out. Make sure your creditors know where to find you so that your credit isn't destroyed during the proceedings.

2. Pull your credit report, and bring it to the Attorney on the first visit. Debts must be itemized and awarded to one or the other, and a judge can't release you of liability to a creditor.

3. Pay off and CLOSE all joint accounts. The last thing you need is a vindictive ex-spouse running up your credit card balances, leaving you to hold the bag.

4. Change your PIN numbers and passwords. No one should have access to your funds but you.

5. Notify each of your creditors of the impending divorce. Ask that they notify you if any payments are not received by the due date. Protect your credit!

Life is full of hurdles and roadblocks, and it's unrealistic to expect to be fully prepared for all of them. I can, however, assure you of one thing: If you find yourself embarking on marriage or divorce, and you follow these few simple steps, the odds of your facing financial ruin in the wake of these life changes are greatly reduced. You may now kiss the bride.

Rodney Anderson is author of the new book "CREDIT 911," a credit activist, and the #1 producer of FHA / VA loans, the second highest originator of overall mortgage loans in the U.S.