This Valentine's Day, consider thinking beyond the roses and candlelit dinners to a potential future of merged finances. If your relationship is heading that way, a discussion is essential before making the move.
A 2014 survey by the National Endowment for Financial Education (NEFE) found that 13 percent of adults with combined finances said they had failed to share information about their personal debt or income, which had "an effect on the relationship."
How can you ensure finances don't put a strain on your relationship? First, talk about your goals, histories, challenges and credit -- to name a few of the important topics.
Here are five key questions to jumpstart your conversation:
Where are you financially as individuals? Talk about debt -- including student loans, credit cards, mortgage and medical bills, and share your credit reports from the three major credit-reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion). Each can be obtained once a year for free. It's also important to discuss assets -- not only the savings and investments you hold but how future job or education plans can improve the marriage or family's financial health.
What are your money personalities? This is a personal finance question that many financial planners still ask to get a sense of your money management habits. It's intended to identify which person in the relationship is the spender or the saver. It's particularly important to ask each other whether you save or spend to make sure you you're on track to achieve your long-term goals.
How do you want to live? Discuss how you've been living thus far and what you might change. Be honest about where you want to live, what kind of home and family you want to have, and what kind of career or retirement you want and start discussing concrete ways you will get there together.
How will you handle your everyday spending? Determine how you will share accounts, pay bills, budget, save for the future and bank -- jointly, separately or both. Decide who writes the mortgage or rent check and who will buy and maintain the car. Figure out how will you jointly manage credit and the smartest ways to save for retirement. Finally, work together when problems come up. As with all issues in a relationship, ongoing communication is key.
What if you need help? If you or your partner feels out of your depth discussing these issues or setting up a financial system for your relationship, there are options. A licensed financial and tax professionals can provide guidance on issues from basic budgeting to prenuptial agreements. Friends and family are a good first stop for recommendations. Also keep in mind that some religious denominations actually offer solid financial planning advice as part of premarital counseling, and the NEFE has a quiz for potential spouses that can help. It's important to gather these advisors as early as possible. For debt issues, the National Foundation for Credit Counseling is a good independent resource that can offer advice on improving credit issues as a couple. The earlier you can put together an advisory team that fits your needs, the better.
Bottom line: If you and your sweetheart are considering tying the knot, don't ignore money issues. It can be a difficult conversation to initiate, but it's an important one to start planning your financial future together.
Jason Alderman directs Visa's financial education programs. Follow Practical Money Skills on Twitter: www.twitter.com/PracticalMoney.