MONEY College

Will a Trust Fund Mess Up Our Financial Aid?

Ask the Expert - Family Finance illustration
Robert A. Di Ieso, Jr.

Q: My father has put money into a trust for my daughter; she gets access to it in November 2015, when she will be a senior in high school. How will this affect her financial aid for college in 2016? Should we put the money into our name? — Sheila Basom, Maryland

A: Trust funds must be reported as an asset on the FAFSA; as a result, this will likely hurt your daughter’s financial aid eligibility.

That’s because financial assets belonging to a student have a far greater impact on financial aid than parent-owned assets do, says financial adviser Fred Amrein, author of Financial Aid and Beyond: Secrets to College Affordability. Colleges expect a family to use 20% of a dependent child’s funds each year to pay for college, Amreim says, while parents are only expected to use 5.6% of their own assets to pay for college expenses. So for example: If your daughter is the sole beneficiary and the total amount held in the trust is $25,000, her aid eligibility would be reduced by $5,000.

And there’s a double whammy: Annual income from the account must also be reported as part of your daughter’s income on the FASFA form. This could reduce her aid eligibility by as much as 50% of the amount of income.

If your daughter cannot access the funds within the trust until a later date — when she is 30, for instance, or after her grandfather passes away — Amrein says you can make an argument to the financial aid office that those unavailable trust assets should not be factored into the aid equation. But there is no guarantee this will work, because each college’s aid office uses its own discretion.

As for whether to move the funds into your name: It may not even be possible, depending on the type of trust and the wording of the documents. But even before you go through the hassle of attempting it, Amreim suggests, calculate your Expected Family Contribution to see if your income and assets as a parent are already too great to qualify for financial need. (You’ll also need to know the cost of the schools your daughter will be applying to.)

If so, it won’t matter what assets are in the child’s name, he says.

For more information on how your assets will impact your financial aid, see our Saving for College guide.

MONEY Credit

This City Has the Highest Debt Burden

Market Square in San Antonio, Texas
Jim West—Alamy Market Square in San Antonio, Texas

A new survey identifies the spots where credit card debt causes the most (and least) pain.

Locals like to brag that everything’s bigger in Texas. But they might not be boasting about a new ranking that places three Lone Star metro areas among the U.S. cities with the highest credit card debt burden.

San Antonio residents face the greatest credit card debt pain in the nation, according to a new analysis by CreditCards.com; Dallas/Fort Worth and Houston take the No. 2 and 5 spots, respectively. (Atlanta and Miami rounded out the top five spots.)

Using data from credit bureau Experian, the U.S. Census Bureau and the Federal Reserve, the study compared the average credit card debt total in the 25 largest U.S. metro areas with each area’s median income. It assumed that 15% of that median income would go toward credit card debt repayment each month, then calculated how long it would take an average resident to pay off his cards — and how much interest they’d pay while doing so — with a 13% APR, which the company says is the average rate for people who carry a balance.

That meant that high-income cities had an edge. The affluent San Francisco Bay Area had the lowest debt burden, with residents needing only nine months to pay off the average credit card debt. San Antonio residents, by contrast, would need 16 months to do the same, and would end up paying $214 more in interest.

Below are the top five metro areas with both the highest and lowest debt burdens:

Highest Credit Card Debt Burdens

1. San Antonio (16 months, $448 interest)

2. Dallas/Fort Worth (14 months, $382 interest)

3. Atlanta (14 months, $376 interest)

4. Miami/Fort Lauderdale (14 months, $351 interest)

5. Houston (13 months, $363 interest)

Lowest Credit Card Debt Burdens

25. San Francisco/Oakland/San Jose (9 months, $234 interest)

24. Boston (10 months, $267 interest)

23. Washington, D.C. (10 months, $286 interest)

22. Minneapolis/St. Paul (11 months, $266 interest)

21. New York City (11 months, $293 interest)

For help managing your own debt, see our credit guide.

MONEY Ask the Expert

Can You Write Off Your Vacation Home?

Ask the Expert – Everyday Money illustration pulling cash out of wallet
Robert A. Di Ieso, Jr.

Q: I own a vacation home on the beach. I want to rent it out for part of the year and use it myself the rest of the time. Can I write off my expenses?

A: The answer depends on how much you use the home yourself. If your property is rented most or all of the time, you should be able to deduct your rental expenses, although you’ll also be declaring the rental income. But when you also use a rental property as a home, deductions may be limited.

One key thing to know: The IRS defines personal-use days broadly, including days a property is being used by relatives — even if they pay market-rate rent — as well as time the property is being used by non-family members who do not pay market-rate rent. Any days you fully devote to repairing or maintaining the property are not counted as personal use days, however — no matter how relaxing you find rewiring the bathroom.

Taxpayers tend to fall into three different categories, say CPAs, depending on how often they rent the space and their level of personal use.

Limited Rental Use

If the property is rented for fewer than 15 days a year, or less than 10% of the total number of days you could rent it to others at a fair rental price — whichever is greater — you do not have to report or pay taxes on any of the rental income you receive, says Jerry Love, a CPA in Abilene, Texas.

Love calls this the Masters Golf loophole, as it can be a huge boon for owners of properties located near events like the Masters Golf Tournament, the Super Bowl or Mardi Gras that tend to drive up rental rates for a short period of time.

You will not be eligible for a Schedule E deduction for any expenses associated with renting the property. You can, however, deduct qualified residential interest expense and real estate taxes as itemized expenses on Schedule A, as you would with your primary residence or other property used for personal needs.

Hybrid Rental and Personal Use

When you both occupy the property and rent it out for 15 days or more per year, you must report the rental income you receive to the IRS, and you can deduct part of your rental expenses and depreciation.

To determine your deduction, you would need to divide your expenses between personal use days and rental days, says Love. If you plan on renting out the home half the year, for instance, 50% of the property use is rental, meaning you can allocate 50% of your maintenance, utilities and insurance costs to the rental, as well as 50% of your depreciation allowance, interest, and taxes for the property.

Note that your deductions cannot exceed the amount of income you received. “You can’t claim a loss, but you can offset the rental income,” says CPA and financial planner Ted Sarenski in Syracuse, N.Y.

The IRS recommends that for the rental portion of expenses, you use the deduction for interest and taxes first, followed by operating costs and then depreciation. Any expenses you were unable to deduct because of the limit can be carried forward for possible future use against rental income.

You can also take separate deductions — although not the depreciation — against the portion of personal use days. So in the example above, the remaining 50% of the interest you paid could be deducted on Schedule A.

Limited Personal Use

Use your rental property fewer than 15 days a year, or less than 10% of possible rental days? In that case, the property won’t be considered a residence and so your rental expense deductions are not limited to the property’s rental income, meaning you can claim the loss.

However, you still must prorate expenses to eliminate any period of personal use. Let’s say you stayed in your beach house 10 days a year, and rented it out the other 355 days. In that case, 10/365 (or 2.7%) of each expense you incurred could not be taken as a deduction on Schedule E as a rental property expense.

You do not have to prorate deductions that are directly related to renting it out, such as advertising or listing fees, says Love. You can still deduct any property taxes attributable to the personal portion on Schedule A, but not your mortgage interest, since the property isn’t a residence.

You can also deduct travel costs to your vacation home as a business deduction, says Love, as long as the reason for the trip is related to maintenance needs — like winterizing a ski condo in Colorado before renters arrive — and is not for your own family vacation.

MONEY Love and Money

How We Paid Off $10,000 in Debt in 20 Months

150629_LOV_OutofDebt
Lisa Dell and Cory Tiffin No wonder Lisa Dell and Cory Tiffin are smiling

Think there's no way to get out from under your credit card debt? This couple proves it's possible.

When Chicago couple Lisa Dell and Cory Tiffin tied the knot three years ago, they had $10,000 in credit card debt spread across four cards—a common problem among their peers in debt-ridden Gen Y.

But the newlyweds, who had already been practicing frugal tactics for months to pay for their wedding, decided to apply their methods to a new goal: erasing their debt. The move is likely to offer emotional as well as financial dividends: MONEY’s survey of 1,000 millennials and boomers found that 70% of millennials and 77% of boomers say properly managing debt repayment makes for a healthy relationship.

To tackle the problem, the couple took a systematic approach.

“Once we got to the point where we could afford to pay more than the minimum on our credit card balances, we made paying off that debt our top priority,” says Tiffin. Initially the couple, now 31 and 29, started paying the minimum on their lowest-rate cards and double the minimum on the highest-APR ones. “But we kept feeling we weren’t making progress,” he says.

That feeling of stress and frustration is why many financial experts recommend starting with the smallest balance. Enjoying an early success can be a big motivator to stay on track with your payment plan.

Consolidation Play

But Dell and Tiffin took another approach. The two moved their remaining credit card balances onto a single card with a 0% APR for balance transfers and agreed to pay $900 a month to vanquish the debt in just 20 months.

Making such large monthly payments did have its drawbacks. “Money was so tight it caused some stress and bickering between us,” says Tiffin. To end the money disagreements while keeping focused, the couple kept detailed spreadsheets and analyzed their spending regularly.

“The numbers don’t lie, so that makes it easier to have an objective conversation” advises Tiffin. “It is always more stressful when there is less money, but if you communicate regularly and keep good records, it keeps you from having a major falling out.”

Indeed, credit card debt is tied for third among the most common sources of conflict for both boomers and millennials, the MONEY survey found. And debt not only increases the frequency of money arguments, but can also affect couples’ feelings about the union. Utah State professor Jeffrey Dew found that marital satisfaction is tied to assets, so that as debt increases, happiness wanes.

The good news? Paying it off can bring a couple closer together and instill smart money habits going forward.

“The good thing about that experience was we got accustomed to living without that money,” says Tiffin. “So now we just put that same amount in savings.”

Read next: How to Deal With Your Boyfriend’s $50,000 Debt

MONEY Love and Money

How to Deal With Your Honey’s $50,000 Debt

young couple on beach
Eric Audras—Getty Images

Here's how you can both break free of that financial ball and chain ... together.

As a generation overburdened with debt, millennials are also very forgiving of their debt-laden peers. In MONEY’s poll earlier this year of 1,000 millennials and boomers, we found that Gen Y was far less likely to say a large amount of debt was an unattractive quality in a mate, 41% vs. 61% of boomers.

They were also less likely to reject a relationship because of debt. While nearly a third of boomers said having more than $50,000 in student debt was a relationship deal breaker, only a fourth of millennials felt the same.

To some extent, this is basic empathy and shared experience. But Gen Y may be failing to truly take into account what carrying debt into a union can do to future aspirations like owning a home or raising children.

So before you unite your finances with the one you love, follow these steps to ensure you have a solid plan for handling and paying off your debts so that it doesn’t end up chipping away at your happiness and self-confidence within the relationship.

Confront the Situation

You and your partner may have discussed debt in passing, and maybe even bemoaned how much of your monthly paycheck goes to paying back loans. But if you’re thinking about tying your life and finances to each other, you need to come completely clean. Have a respectful and honest conversation with your mate in which you both outline every debt.

Discuss not just the amount of each loan, but the terms, any plan you’ve made for its repayment, and the progress you’ve made. “You can’t fix a problem if it’s not accurately defined,” says College Station, Texas-based financial planner William Grantham.

Then, together, create a net worth statement: List your incomes and other assets as well as debts and other obligations. Get a clear sense of how much is currently going toward debt repayment and how long your current payments will take to eradicate it.

Decide How to Tackle It

Once you know exactly how much debt you have as a couple, you need to have a frank discussion about whether you want to regard each debt as the sole responsibility of the one who incurred it or want to regard it as “ours.” Obviously, your partner’s debt load will affect you too, even if you’re not directly putting a portion of your income toward its repayment, as it will limit the amount you both can afford to spend on housing, vacations, retirement savings, etc.

Marriage is the inflection point, says Brian Wright, a planner in Fishers, Ind. For couples who are still dating but not married, “keep focused on paying your own debt and don’t obtain any joint debt,” he suggests. “If married, [you should] budget together, even if you don’t physically merge bank accounts. Once you’re married, treat the debt as ‘our debt’ and put a plan together to pay it off, regardless of whose debt it is.”

To find the funds to help you and your partner pay off the debt, comb through your spending. “Sit down with your credit and debit card statements and other bills, and highlight in one color the things you need to have [like] food, gas,” says financial planner Jeff Motske, author of The Couple’s Guide to Financial Compatibility. “In another color, highlight items that you really want to have, like gym memberships or other entertainment; and in a third color highlight your other more emotional purchases. You can quickly see if you’re spending hundreds in one area, and what unnecessary items you can cut out.”

Set Payoff Priorities

Once you’ve found the extra funds, determine which debt requires your attention first. Planners tend to break debt into two categories: “good debt” — a category that includes mortgages, student loans, real estate loans and business loans, and often allows the holder some tax breaks — and “bad debt” (credit cards and auto loans).

Focus on paying off the bad debts first, starting with credit cards. Many people recommend starting with the highest-rate card, to reduce the total interest paid. It may be more emotionally satisfying to start with the smallest balance, however. “Once you’ve successfully paid one off, you’re emotionally excited about doing the same with the rest,” says Motske. “If you tackle your highest debt first, you may feel frustrated by the lack of accomplishment, and end up falling back on old habits.”

You could also transfer all debts to one new card that has a 0% APR on balance transfers, like the Chase Slate card — but only if you have a realistic plan to pay off the balance in 15 months. After the 0% period, the APR can spike to as high as 22%.

Change Your Student Loan Payment Plan

Meanwhile, rethink your approach to the good debt. Federal student loan program automatically enroll all borrowers in a standard 10-year repayment plan, but the feds also offer six other repayment options. This tool, created by the Department of Education, will help you figure out the right plan for you.

Income-driven plans tend to be the best fit for most recent graduates, as the monthly bills adjust to your salary and in some cases offer a possibility of loan forgiveness. For example, if you work for the government or a nonprofit and pay on time every month for 10 years, the remainder of your debt can be forgiven; you won’t even owe taxes on the balance. Graduates working in other fields may have similar opportunities after 20 or 25 years, but will owe taxes on the amount forgiven.

Keep in mind that if you opt for income-based repayment, and you marry, filing a joint tax return could have a big impact on your monthly burden, as the loan servicer will consider both incomes when calculating payments.

If you’re a graduate with a steady job, good credit and enough income to pay down your loans, you can find much lower interest rates with private consolidation loans, but the amount you can save is generally not worth giving up federal consumer protections and possible debt forgiveness. (The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau estimates that more than one-quarter of working Americans are eligible for the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program.)

For more ideas on ways to get your student loans forgiven, see this list.

Make Sure You’re Paying the Principal

To rid yourself of the debt faster, you’re going to need to put down more than the minimum required payment each month — and make sure the money goes toward lowering the principal. The CFPB says borrowers have complained about lenders applying extra payments toward next month’s bill instead.

To avoid this confusion, the CFPB suggests sending a letter to the lender explaining how your extra payments should be credited. Here’s their sample letter.

Consider Life Insurance

If you and your partner have taken on debt together, such as a mortgage or an auto loan, and you think your mate would have trouble covering those bills without your income, “protect yourselves from financial disaster by purchasing enough life insurance to cover at least the amount of your debts. The loss of a loved one is hard enough without having to worry about a mountain of debt,” says Grantham.

Celebrate the Victories

Your debt won’t vanish overnight, and paying it off will require a lot of self-restraint and patience. So review your progress regularly to ensure you’re remaining on track to meet your payoff goals — and as you whittle down the debts, don’t forget to reward yourself (frugally, of course).

“Maintain a positive outlook, says Grantham. “If you have multiple loans and pay one off, commemorate the event by going out to dinner. Even a small gesture like dinner can be good motivation to stick to the plan.”

MONEY Insurance

Here’s How to Figure Out How Much Life Insurance You Need

Ask the Expert - Family Finance illustration
Robert A. Di Ieso, Jr.

Q: How much insurance should I have? I was recently married and have been considering acquiring life insurance. We do not have any children, and I cannot really find any information on how much I should get. — Marcus Smail

A: It’s a smart move to get life insurance if you have a spouse or other family members who depend on you and your income, especially if you don’t have a large savings account.

Figuring out how much insurance you should buy basically boils down to answering one question: How much income do your survivors need if you’re gone?

Of course, to know this you’ll need to first look at your debt, monthly spending, monthly savings, and your long-term savings goals, as well as your expected funeral/estate settling costs. Steven Weisbart, senior vice president and chief economist at the Insurance Information Institute, recommends using this calculator from Life Happens, which walks you through the process by allowing you to input those details, as well as play with the estimated inflation rate and after-tax investment yield to get a recommended figure for the amount of life insurance you need.

Weisbart suggests getting coverage equal to 10 times your annual income, if you can afford the premiums. “Anything less doesn’t provide much transitional time for your surviving spouse or children,” he says. “You don’t want to put them under time pressure while they try to adjust to life without you.”

This approach, which is focused on income replacement, generally results in a large amount of insurance coverage. Another approach people use when determining life insurance needs is to focus instead on buying enough insurance to keep their financial obligations from causing a hardship to their survivors. “They’d look at the mortgage, car leases, and other commitments they’ve made and figure out how much their family would need to cover those bills without their income,” Weisbart says.

Keep in mind that you may already have some life insurance coverage through your employer and that your spouse and children may be eligible for Social Security survivor benefits, depending on how many credits you have earned at the time of your death. Any funds stored away in retirement accounts or other savings vehicles can also be factored in to lower the total amount of insurance coverage you’ll need.

Before you decide to purchase a policy and select a coverage amount, it is a good idea to meet with a fee-only certified financial adviser, who can tell you if the amount you estimated using the calculator is, in fact, correct for your situation and family. An adviser can also help you decide what kind of life insurance you should purchase and the amount you should expect to pay for it. Says Weisbart: “It’s good to talk through this with someone who has done this a couple of thousand times before and who can really guide you.”

Be sure to revisit your life insurance coverage amount when major life events occur, such as the birth of a child, divorce, or when you become empty-nesters, as your coverage needs will likely alter.

MONEY home buying

Buying a House Together Before Marriage? Read This First

house keys in a ring box
iStock

Love may be blind, but don't go into a real estate purchase with your eyes closed.

Serious young couples used to mark their commitment to each other with an engagement ring, but now they’re in the market for a bigger asset: a set of shiny new house keys.

One in four couples between the ages of 18 and 34 bought a house together before they were married, according to a study by Coldwell Banker Real Estate. MONEY found in our own poll of 500 millennials’ financial attitudes that 40% think it’s a good idea for a couple to buy a home together before marriage, while 37% think the purchase should take place prior to the wedding.

Low-rate mortgages, rising rental costs, and the ability to deduct mortgage interest from income taxes all make being a homeowner now rather than later seem like an attractive option. And while making that move first can work out well, as it did for Seattle couple Katy Klein and Charles Hagman, not every story has that same happy ending.

In fact, many financial planners advise against it. That’s because buying a home is often the biggest and most financially complicated move a couple makes, and unwinding it can be especially difficult for unmarried partners if the relationship ends. So if you’re buying a home with your beloved before getting hitched, spare yourself any potential financial heartbreak by following these tips.

Compare Credit Scores

You and your partner have probably already shared details about your income and savings when determining if you could afford to buy. But another piece of information you’ll need to share well in advance of closing is your credit report.

“If a couple is entering into a business deal, which is what a home purchase between two nonmarried people is, they should know the creditworthiness of their business partner. A person’s credit score will impact your ability to obtain a mortgage and the interest rate you will pay,” says Pewaukee, Wisc.-based financial adviser Kevin Reardon.

If you or your mate has a poor score, it could influence how you decide to title the property and who takes responsibility for the loan. Married couples are generally viewed by creditors as a single unit, but unmarried couples are assessed as individuals, even if applying for the loan together.

“This can work to your advantage if you have the person with stronger credit purchase the home,” says Sandra O’Connor, regional vice president with the National Association of Realtors. By eliminating the poorer score from consideration, you can secure better rates. On the flip side, with only one person applying for the loan, and thus one income on record, the amount you qualify for could be lower than what you could get with two incomes. And, of course, only one person’s name will be on the loan and deed, leaving the other partner vulnerable in the event of a breakup.

Open a Joint Account

Consider setting up a joint bank account, if you don’t already have one, that can be used to pay the mortgage, property taxes, insurance, and maintenance, Reardon suggests. Each of you can set up automatic monthly deposits into the account from individual bank accounts; this way neither party can forget. You can further simplify bill paying and budget tracking by having home expenses automatically deducted from the account each month.

Decide How to Manage Costs

When you cosign on a mortgage, you are 100% liable for the debt, which means if the relationship turns sour and your partner stops paying, you must assume the entire obligation. For this reason, financial planner Alan Moore, co-founder of the XY Planning Network, recommends choosing a home with a mortgage you can swing on one income. That can also be a huge help down the road in the event of unexpected illness or injury, since you’ll still be able to afford the monthly payments.

Before setting a housing budget, both partners need to have an honest conversation about the amount of debt they’re comfortable living with. Just because you can borrow the maximum amount doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. Stretch your combined budget too far, and any unexpected expense will likely have one of you coming up short when the monthly payments are due.

Put Your Agreement in Writing

Contact a real estate lawyer to prepare a written document, such as a property, partnership, or cohabitation agreement, that clearly outlines the full details of your arrangement, including what percentage of the home’s equity each partner is entitled to, especially if you contributed different sums to the down payment or mortgage balance, and what will happen to the property if you split up.

“The contract should specify whose name will be on the deed or lease, one or both, who will pay for what—I pay the utility bill, you pay the cable bill—etc.,” says Reardon. “It would be productive to note what happens if one party can’t pay. Will both parties move out? Will one party take over the payments for the other, if they are able to, then create a note receivable from the partner who can’t pay to the partner who can? Will this note be collateralized? It’s great to iron out these details in advance because it removes any doubt or emotions in the event things turn out badly.”

Title It Right

You and your partner must decide how you will own the home or take title. You have three options: One person can hold the title as sole owner, both of you can hold title as “joint tenants,” or you can share title as “tenants in common.”

Typically, you would want both parties to hold title, as putting the property in only one partner’s name leaves the other partner without equity in his own investment. (You’ll certainly want that separate written contract mentioned above if you go this route.)

If both partners sign the title as tenants in common, then each owns a specified percentage of the property. One person may own a 60% interest, while the other owns 40%, for example. This split is specified in the deed. If one partner dies, ownership will not automatically transfer to the other homeowner unless that person is named in the will; instead the deceased owner’s heirs will inherit his or her share.

When you hold title as joint tenants with right of survivorship, you are considered equal owners, and if one of you were to die, the other would automatically inherit the other’s stake and own the entire property.

Bottom line: No matter how you hold title, it is important that you and your partner enter this agreement with a complete picture of each other’s finances and a written contract outlining your desires for the property’s division should the relationship end.

MONEY Love and Money

What the Same-Sex Marriage Ruling Means for Couples’ Finances

7 things that will change how couples manage their money

The much-anticipated Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage has been decided, with the majority of judges declaring it a constitutionally protected right.

While 37 states previously recognized same-sex marriages, today’s ruling means that no state can ban same-sex marriage, or refuse to recognize a marriage performed legally in another state.

It also heralds big changes in the way same-sex couples manage their finances. Since the court struck down a key part of the Defense of Marriage Act in 2013, couples who were legally married in a state that recognized their union have been able to file joint federal tax returns and receive other federal benefits. Today’s decision extends that ruling to the rest of the country and affects a host of other financial issues, including Social Security, estate taxes, and retirement planning. Here’s a rundown.

Income taxes: Married same-sex couples in any state can now file joint federal returns. Those already living in states where gay marriage is legal know that this can be a mixed blessing, because in some cases filing jointly could trigger a higher tax bill. Typically, the more disparate a couple’s incomes, the more likely spouses are to benefit from filing jointly, says financial planner Stuart Armstrong II, who married his partner in Massachusetts in 2005. If filing together results in a lower tax bill, Armstrong advises looking into filing amended returns for the past three years.

Social Security: Now that same-sex marriage is legal in all states, couples can access spousal benefits no matter where they may be living at the time they file. That’s a big deal when it comes to retirement security. A recent analysis by investment advisory firm Financial Engines found that a same-sex couple could receive an additional $20,000 to $250,000 in lifetime benefits from Social Security by taking advantage of spousal and survivor benefits that were unavailable to them as single filers.

Estate taxes: Before the DOMA case, same-sex spouses could not transfer property to each other without potentially owing federal gift tax, nor could they inherit assets without paying federal estate tax (if the estate was large enough to trigger the tax). Now there is no limit on the amount spouses can give each other, during life or through an estate plan, without incurring taxes. They’re also entitled to the married couple’s estate tax exemption of nearly $11 million for 2015.

Employee benefits: In the past, partners of people employed by small companies were unlikely to have access to their mate’s health insurance or other benefits, a situation likely to change with federal recognition of same-sex marriage. But even at companies that offered partner benefits, the value of those benefits was treated as taxable income in the policyholder’s paycheck, which will no longer be the case. It’s worth noting, though, that some employers have already rolled back health-insurance and other benefits offered to domestic partners in states where it has been legal for same-sex couples to wed, requiring them to get married in order to keep those perks. With same-sex unions legal nationwide, more employers may follow suit.

Pensions and retirement accounts: Previously, same-sex couples were not eligible for survivorship benefits from pensions and other retirement plans. Now a surviving spouse can roll an inherited IRA into their own account without triggering a taxable event. Married same-sex partners can now also fund a spousal IRA for a nonworking spouse, and no longer need to worry about losing out on 401(k) benefits even if they weren’t specifically designated as the beneficiary.

Default decision making: Same-sex partners who wanted to be sure that they could make health care or financial decisions on the other’s behalf used have to complete legal paperwork granting power of attorney. Now, spouses will automatically be regarded as the default decision makers for each other.

Divorce: While we all want to think that a union won’t end, the right to marry brings with it the possibility of divorce. Previously, same-sex couples could have faced significant taxation when they divided shared property. Now, says Armstrong, in the event of a split, the division of assets such as property or an IRA account won’t be treated as a taxable event.

Read next: Same-Sex Marriage Rights Can Boost Social Security Benefits By Up to $250,000

MONEY Love and Money

Financial Habits That Will Make You Sexier

couple on first date, man paying with credit card
Alamy

Money skills are more important than good looks when seeking a mate.

Ditch the makeup and hair products. Your budgeting skills might be the thing you should really show off on your next date.

In a recent survey about relationships and finances, MONEY found that both baby boomers and millennials agree on the three most attractive traits in a potential mate: a sense of humor, compassion, and—yes—financial responsibility. For both groups, those qualities all rank higher than physical chemistry, diligence, and even intellect.



Don’t worry if you don’t make a ton of money now. The survey, which included about some 500 millennial and 500 boomer respondents, found that smart financial habits were deemed more important than current salary among members of both age groups.

Both generations ranked budgeting and timely bill paying as particularly attractive behavior, though younger survey takers were more likely to value future earning potential in a mate. Property ownership was the least important for both generations.

Read next: Are You and Your Partner a Money Match?

MONEY Love + Money

How to Start a Money Conversation With Your Mate

150622_LOV_PartnerOpen
Peter Dazeley—Getty Images

Use this dialogue to let your partner know it's time to come clean financially.

Most Americans would rather have a talk about the birds and the bees than any conversation related to finances.

In a Northwestern Mutual study, money outranked other uncomfortable topics that included not only sex but also asking adult-age children to move out and discussing one’s own death.

While you can argue for a certain level of discretion when talking about money with friends and even family, the one person you need to come financially clean with is your mate. Couples who are on the same page about issues like saving, budgeting, and retirement feel more financially secure, argue less about money, and have hotter sex lives, MONEY found when we polled 500 boomers and 500 millennials on their behaviors and beliefs concerning money and relationships.

For many couples the hardest part is simply getting started. “I can guarantee that you and your partner won’t have the same views on finances. There are always variations in thinking about how much goes to what and what goal should take top priority,” says Jonathan Rich, author of The Couple’s Guide to Love and Money. “You want to work out those differences and reach compromises before there is an actual money problem.”

If you’re having trouble getting your partner to open up, follow these tips to steer the conversation in a productive direction.

THE STRATEGY: Solicit your partner’s opinion about someone else’s financial situation.

WHAT YOU CAN SAY: “My dad is thinking about retiring this year, and he wants my mom to retire with him. I’m worried about my mom retiring that soon. What do you think?”

WHY IT WORKS: “People are always more comfortable discussing others’ choices and responsibilities than they are their own,” says CPA Kitrina L. Wright. Talking about a financial decision made by a family member or close friend can be an easy way for you to get your partner to share thoughts about money without feeling like all the attention is on him. Then you can use the moment as a springboard to related topics or questions that hit at more personal issues.

Financial planner (and Kitrina’s husband) Brian Wright recommends opening by sharing a detail about a parent’s financial behavior, since most people learn their financial habits and attitudes from Mom and Dad. “Everyone has lessons they learned about money from growing up. Getting your partner to open up about those experiences, good and bad, can give you the best insight into how they view money and what their expectations are.”

Hearing about family experiences can give you added perspective on your partner’s financial choices, or insight into why they may be reluctant to talk about money, says Ed Coambs, a marriage and family therapist. “”Maybe they’re quiet because they grew up in a household that never talked about money, not because they’re hiding thousands in debt.”

THE STRATEGY: Pose a hypothetical question.

WHAT YOU CAN SAY: “If you inherited $100,000 from a relative, what would you do with it?”

WHY IT WORKS: Asking an open-ended question is a way to talk about financial priorities without being confrontational, says Paula Levy, a marriage and family therapist. “People tend to get defensive when taking about finances. The key is to focus on your future hopes and dreams more than the money itself, because after all, when we talk about money we’re really talking about it as a tool to achieve what we want,” Levy says.

Avoid launching into too much talk about your own plans; instead, Levy advises, let your reticent partner speak first. “You want to avoid interrupting as well,” she says. “If they get a strong reaction from their partner, then they’re even more hesitant to be open about that topic again.”

THE STRATEGY: Make an appointment

WHAT YOU CAN SAY: “I’ve been wanting to go over our monthly bills with you. Can we set aside some time tomorrow night to do that?”

WHY IT WORKS: If there is something in particular stressing you out about your union—maybe you don’t feel like you have a good handle on where the money is going, or you’re concerned about debt—it’s best not to blame or blindside your partner when bringing the topic up.

Rather, be intentional and make time, says Coambs. “It’s about pacing. It’s going to take time to get all the information you want, and you need to be patient.” Avoid delving into the nitty-gritty when you’re feeling heated or stressed. Your already defensive partner will feel under attack and clam up even more. By creating a time for this kind of talk, you’ll both feel prepared and can keep things free of an emotional charge.

You’ll also want to start small. Set yourself a time limit, maybe 10 to 15 minutes to talk about the issue, then go out and do something fun together, recommends Kitrina L. Wright. “Keep having these talks and work your way up to longer conversations.”

THE STRATEGY: Show your appreciation.

WHAT YOU CAN SAY: “I’m glad we’re doing this. I feel like I know so much about you except in this one area.”

WHY IT WORKS: You want your partner to know that you understand these discussions are difficult and uncomfortable—but at the same time you don’t want to let them off the hook. Stress why it’s important to you that you and your partner discuss finances together, and that this is just one piece of a much larger and ongoing conversation. You want your partner to know that you appreciate the openness and want this kind of exchange to continue.

THE STRATEGY: Engage a neutral third party

WHAT YOU CAN SAY: “I think we should meet with a financial planner to make sure we’re on the right track.”

WHY IT WORKS: If you’ve tried to start the financial conversation several times with little engagement, involving an objective third party might be the icebreaker your partner needs.

“A meeting with a financial adviser can help with this process. They’ve done this many times before and can ask the right questions and make your partner feel ok talking about money” says Alan Moore. You can also consider meeting with a therapist or counselor trained in the area of financial therapy, a new field of study that merges money and psychology.

Shelling out for the extra help, even as you tussle over money, will be well worth it in the long run when you consider the rewards—financial, emotions, and sexual—that being in sync financially can bring.

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