MONEY

How to Stop Fighting About Money

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Uwe Bauch—Getty Images

3 ways to keep the peace in your relationship.

Trouble talking money with your honey? Do you just defer to your partner? Money remains a major reason couples split, and here’s how you can douse the arguments before they ignite.

As a financial planner, I know that staying in love and managing money over a lifetime can be tricky. As a wife, I’m also aware that financial intimacy didn’t come to my husband and me without a few bumps.

Couples who “disagree about finances once a week” are over 30% more likely to get divorced than couples that report “disagreeing about finances a few times a month,” according to a Utah State University study examining finances and divorce.

Part of your job as a couple committed to staying together: Learn yours and your partner’s money psychology. Here are three steps to help you stop fighting about money.

Share your money past. Be honest and humble. Look into your financial habits to determine if they work the way you want. If not, do you really want to keep repeating behaviors that get such results?

What is your story about money? Sentenced yourself to a life of hardship and scarcity? What’s the money pain you don’t want to let go of, the financial thing you can’t leave in the past? What are you afraid of when it comes to you and money?

Now you can see the futility of your money attitudes producing bad results yet you still argue with your partner that you want to conduct financial affairs your way.

Work together to improve your financial wisdom. My husband likes to play the game of credit card points and rewards. I have a strong aversion to credit cards because of overspending in my past.

Don’t get me wrong, point programs can be valuable (as I learned). I still want only a couple of cards at any one time.

My husband, though, keeps 12 to 15 cards active simultaneously. He also maintains an excellent Fair Isaac Corp. (FICO) credit score of near 800 and pays the cards off every month.

Early in our marriage, when I figured out how many credit cards he carried, I was freaked out, floored and, honestly, frightened. I wanted him to cut some up.

I decided to look at it rationally. Because of my money history relative to his and because he manages all of those cards effectively, I just decided to trust him.

We paid for most of our wedding on those cards, and then we paid off the cards. You know what? We went to Hawaii for two weeks for free because of his credit card points.

Forgive your partner and yourself, and move on with a plan. Feel compassion for yourself and for your partner in this stage. This doesn’t mean excuse anyone of responsibility with money but simply acknowledge the power of previous behavior and programming.

(I teach people about their Money Operating Systems in my online course, Your Rich Retirement Academy and in my TEDx talk, “The Surprising Power of Language to Make You Rich.”)

In my case, my husband managed his finances on his own for 46 years before I met him. He isn’t naturally inclined to ask me before applying for another credit card.

We know now to take each other’s money languages in stride. I no longer accuse him of trying to keep me in the dark, and he tries to be more forthcoming.

It takes work for me to be that analytical about my own money, but it does bring us to the table together in financial partnership.

Hilary Hendershott, MBA, CFP, is founder and Chief Executive of Silicon Valley-based Hilary Hendershott Financial. The firm offers a suite of products and services including fee-only planning. She regularly writes about personal finance at HilaryHendershott.com. You can find her on Twitter @HilarytheCFP.

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MONEY Financial Planning

5 Marriage Milestones That Will Forever Change How You Think About Money

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sturti—Getty Images

From buying your first house to planning for retirement.

First comes love, then comes marriage …

Then come all kinds of exciting-yet-stressful life events that can completely transform your finances.

Babies. Houses. Job changes. The list goes on and on.

And like any major shift, these events can stir up emotions that will not only affect your relationship, but also impact the financial decisions you make.

“Everyone tells you not to make big decisions from a place of worry or upheaval, but that’s exactly what big milestones create in our lives, making it impossible to feel like you’ve made choices from a place of peace,” says Megan Ford, LMFT, a licensed marriage therapist and president-elect of the Financial Therapy Association.

The solution?

You need to recognize (and prepare!) for the fact that these major life moments are likely to send you on an emotional roller-coaster—and spur a need for significant financial adjustments.

It’s precisely why Mary Beth Storjohann, a CFP and founder of Workable Wealth, tells all of her clients to set a monthly money “date” with a partner—a designated time to talk through the state of your finances and what emotions are coming up around them.

With regular financial check-ins, you’re more likely to discuss the big milestones before they come, Storjohann says, and be in a much better position to plan for them.

To help you navigate the ups and downs of life, we’ve asked marriage and money pros to offer their best advice for how to keep five common milestones from derailing your marriage—and finances.

Marriage Milestone #1: Buying Your First House

Purchasing a new pad is exciting—but once that first rush of adrenaline is over, the new day-to-day reality quickly kicks in, says Ford.

Aside from the increased money pressure, having to agree on every last paint color and fabric swatch can highlight your differences and drive home just how difficult compromise can be.

What You’re Both Likely to Feel … Excited, scared, proud, frustrated and overwhelmed. And while it may seem counterintuitive, buying a new home can also spark a sense of loss.

With such a big purchase comes big responsibility, and the number of unexpected expenses that often surface can lead to the realization that you’ve just lost a lot of your freedom.

“Your priorities around being able to do things—both financially and timewise—are going to shift once you’re a homeowner,” says Ford, adding that this can significantly impact the dynamic between you and your partner.

How to Keep Your Finances on Track … When a good chunk of your available funds go into your home, says Ford, you can end up house-rich and cash-poor—a recipe that’s likely to highlight financial friction between the two of you.

So before you even apply for that mortgage, have a frank conversation about how much home you can really afford—and how you’re going to finance it.

And if you find yourselves feeling maxed out once you’re in your new digs, you might want to look into refinancing your mortgage to reduce your monthly payment, says Storjohann, and even consider taking on a side gig.

And although it can be tempting to get your home pulled together quickly, you should also delay spending on other big-ticket items, like that fancy Viking range you’ve been coveting.

Read next: Buying a House Together Before Marriage? Read This First

Marriage Milestone #2: Bringing Home Your (Million Dollar) Baby

Few experiences in life can produce as much joy—as well as sleep deprivation, stress and money concerns—as a new addition to the family.

And when we say money concerns, we mean it: The average lifetime cost of raising a kid now exceeds $245,000, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

What You’re Both Likely to Feel … Happy, exhausted, thrilled, depressed … and very, very stressed.

With your bills at record highs, and your savings goals more ambitious than ever (college costs how much?!), it’s no wonder many new parents tend to feel overwhelmed when they take a closer look at their finances.

It’s also understandable that you’d want to make sure your new center of the universe has the best of everything—no matter the cost.

“So many new parents feel pressured to buy the most expensive items for a baby,” Storjohann says. “That pressure to spend more than what’s really needed—or what you can actually afford—can be intense.”

How to Keep Your Finances on Track … Before your baby is born, look into exactly what you’re entitled to when it comes to your company’s maternity and paternity leave policies, says Storjohann, as well as what less obvious expenses are covered by your company benefits—such as a gym membership and even help with child care.

Bottom line: You don’t want to miss out on any paid time off or covered costs.

Also, once your baby arrives and you have a clearer picture of how much things really cost, redo your baby budget. Factor in every detail you can think of, including things like birthday gifts for other kids.

Then run the numbers and have an honest conversation with your partner about what you can afford to spend—and where you should cut back.

“These things can add up to thousands of dollars a year,” Storjohann says. “Figuring out how you’re going to adjust can feel empowering and reduce your stress.”

Marriage Milestone #3: Your Combined Income Dips

Whether one of you intentionally leaves a job—perhaps to take care of children or start a new business—or you’re dealing with unexpected job loss, making less money as a couple can create a lot of strain.

What You’re Both Likely to Feel … Anxiety, pressure, fear and maybe even resentment.

“When one partner has to pick up all of the financial slack, it can be really tough on a marriage,” Ford says. “Not only does the working partner feel extra stress and responsibility, but the partner who’s not making money can feel shame.”

How to Keep Your Finances on Track … If a job loss is unexpected, you should discuss together just how much you’re going to tap into your emergency fund, as well as where you can cut back expenses for the short-term.

And regardless of whether you can or can’t plan for a loss of income, says Storjohann, you should be prepared for it by having a retooled household budget at the ready.

Another crucial move, says Ford, is for both partners to continuously identify and discuss their feelings, so they don’t fester.

“When you keep emotions locked up, they end up taking on a life of their own—and have the potential to cause you to make rash financial decisions,” she says.

Marriage Milestone #4: You Have to Care for an Elderly Parent

When a parent or loved one reaches the point of needing your help—both physically and financially—the situation can shift how you spend your time and finances.

There’s even a term for those who find themselves having to juggle the competing demands of caring for young kids and elderly parents at the same time—the sandwich generation.

What You’re Both Likely to Feel … Sadness, worry, guilt, anger and frustration. And those are just some of the emotions you may be experiencing.

Not only are you worried about your aging parent, but you’re also feeling the ripple effect on your own finances and commitments. All of this rearranging of time and money can be stressful—especially if you’re also taking care of your children.

And you may feel angry and frustrated because you’re the one having to carry the burden for everyone—which can lead to guilt, says Ford. And that guilt can create even bigger money worries if it causes you spend more money than you can afford.

“It can be very scary to pull money from your retirement accounts if you don’t have a system in place, and having a plan ensures what you’re taking out of savings is sustainable.”

How to Keep Your Finances on Track … Ideally, this is something you and your partner will talk about—and plan for—well before your loved ones need elder care, says Storjohann.

“This is actually part of the discussion when my husband and I have our monthly money dates,” she says. “It’s crucial to talk about who might need our help one day, and what we, as a couple, are willing to do to support those people.”

Her advice if you’re feeling guilty about not being able to do enough?

“I recommend saying to family, ‘This is what I have to help support you, but that’s all I can do at this time,’ ” she says. “The more parameters you’re able to set, the less obligated you’ll feel to go above and beyond.”

Marriage Milestone #5: You’re Ready to Retire

After years of being knee-deep in deadlines and conference calls, your time hasfinally come to clock in for the last time.

But while you thought you’d be celebrating that much-deserved retirement on your first European cruise, you haven’t even booked your tickets yet.

What You’re Both Likely to Feel … Elation, fear, relief, stress and more. Ford says that, in her practice, she’s seeing a lot of retired couples who should be rejoicing—but who are worried and unhappy instead.

“People are living longer and saving less—and that can create a stress storm that impacts marriages,” she explains.

And for those who have carefully saved, says Ford, they face a big adjustment when it comes to actually tapping into those accounts.

How to Keep Your Finances on Track … First, Storjohann suggests coming up with a list of all the things you want to do in retirement.

“This will put you in the best position to come up with a spending plan for those retirement goals,” she says. “It can be very scary to pull money from your retirement accounts if you don’t have a system in place, and having a plan ensures that what you’re taking out of your savings is sustainable.”

Plus, if after doing that plan, you find your retirement spending isn’t going to allow you to live your current lifestyle, it gives you time to reassess.

For example, you might want to scale back on spending in your golden years in certain areas, or consider taking on a part-time job in retirement, so that you can withdraw less.

Feeling particularly anxious that you haven’t saved enough? You may want to consider easing into retirement part-time—often referred to as semi-retirement.

“I think a lot of new retirees benefit from getting used to the retirement lifestyle in stages,” Storjohann says. “It can help you figure out what it is you really want to do—and how, exactly, you’ll pay for that.”

LearnVest Planning Services is a registered investment adviser and subsidiary of LearnVest, Inc., that provides financial plans for its clients. Information shown is for illustrative purposes only and is not intended as investment, legal or tax planning advice. Please consult a financial adviser, attorney or tax specialist for advice specific to your financial situation. Unless specifically identified as such, the individuals interviewed or quoted in this piece are neither clients, employees nor affiliates of LearnVest Planning Services, and the views expressed are their own. LearnVest Planning Services and any third parties listed, linked to or otherwise appearing in this message are separate and unaffiliated and are not responsible for each other’s products, services or policies.

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MONEY Financial Planning

This Quiz Will Tell You If You Need a Prenup

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Even an informal disclosure of assets, debts and financial goals can help avoid any unpleasant surprises down the road.

Here’s a quick quiz on money and marriage. Which of the following engaged couples needs a prenuptial agreement about finances?

A. He’s a wealthy celebrity with several previous marriages; she’s decades younger with no wealth to speak of.

B. Both are in their 50s, with successful careers, substantial net worth and adult children from previous marriages.

C. They’re in their 20s, just starting out, with jobs and college debt and high hopes for the future.

The right answer? D: all of the above.

Couple A, with a wide disparity in age and wealth, is the classic example of a couple that has a legally executed prenuptial agreement. Such prenups are often regarded as the province of the wealthy. They offer a way to provide for the non-wealthy spouse but protect the bulk of the wealthy spouse’s assets in case of a divorce.

Certainly, not all couples need or want this form of legal protection. All couples, however, would be well served to sit down together before the wedding and make their own prenuptial agreement about finances.

Here are some of the issues such a do-it-yourself (DIY) prenup might include mutual agreements on:

1. Full disclosure. Ideally, this includes the past, the present and the future.

Past: What’s your money history? This might include financial mistakes, lessons learned, and childhood experiences that have shaped your beliefs around money.

Present: What are your current earnings, debts, assets and expectations? One way to share this information is to schedule an appointment to share bank statements, tax returns, records of loans and other debts, lists of assets and anything else that seems relevant to the couple’s current and future finances.

Future: A crucial part of financial disclosure is an ongoing commitment to share all financial information and make major financial decisions as a couple.

2. Financial priorities and goals. This might include a wide range of money and money-related concerns. A few examples: when or whether to buy a house, willingness to relocate for one another’s careers, funding retirement plans or when to start a family.

3. A method of managing money. What that method looks like – joint or separate bank accounts, for example, or who pays the bills – doesn’t especially matter. What does matter is that partners take joint responsibility for their finances and work together to consciously create a system that works for them.

4. Working together on tough money issues. This is especially important for couples with previous marriages and children or those bringing significant financial baggage (such as debt or bankruptcy) into the marriage. Ideally, a couple will agree on how to handle specific matters like paying off premarital debt or funding kids’ education in a blended family. If that’s too big a step, the prenuptial agreement might include full disclosure of potential problem areas and a promise to resolve them together.

5. Financial fidelity. Sharing the truth about your earnings, assets and debts is one aspect of this. Ongoing financial openness (such as no secret borrowing or lending, no lying about spending, no large purchases without your partner’s knowledge) is another. But being true to each other around money goes even deeper. Financial fidelity is a commitment to act with integrity, work together as a couple and build habits of financial health that support the well-being of everyone in the family.

Taking the time to talk about money before marriage is a wise move. Making written commitments to each other about finances, in the form of a DIY prenup, can make that money talk even more valuable.

Rick Kahler, CFP, is president of Kahler Financial Group in Rapid City, S.D.

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MONEY Insurance

Why Your Auto Insurance Rate Could Go Up If Your Spouse Dies

couple holding hands in automobile
Marius Hepp—Getty Images

Critics are calling it the "widow penalty."

It’s hardly news that unmarried drivers tend to pay more for auto insurance than married ones. In today’s auto insurance industry, complex pricing algorithms take into account an ever-growing number of factors like driver credit score, gender, and age—factors that seemingly have very little to do with, well, actually turning the steering wheel.

But according to a new study by the Consumer Federation of America, a change in marital status from married to unmarried (through divorce or the death of a spouse) can cause a woman’s auto insurance premiums to rise as much as 226%—suggesting a “widow penalty” that CFA director of insurance Bob Hunter said in a press teleconference Monday with executive director Stephen Brobeck is “immoral and should be stopped at once.”

Using the stock profile of a 30-year-old female with a perfect driving record and holding all variables (from income to car model) constant except for marital status, the CFA study surveyed quotes from six auto insurance giants—State Farm, GEICO, Farmers, Progressive, Nationwide, and Liberty—across ten different U.S. cities. Of the six, State Farm was the only provider to never change its prices according to driver marital status; the remaining five routinely quoted higher prices to single—never married, divorced, or widowed—female drivers. Of those five, only Nationwide sometimes made exceptions for widows by not raising their rates. The “widow penalty” overall averaged to an approximately 14% increase.

The logic of the “widow penalty,” according to insurance companies, is simple: unmarried drivers are, allegedly, statistically riskier drivers. According to James Lynch, who serves as chief actuary and director of information services at the Insurance Information Institute, this is hardly immoral. Rather, it’s “very much the way that insurance works.”

“Rates aren’t supposed to be based upon what makes you feel good,” Lynch said of the CFA study. “Insurance companies are not in the business of creating favored classes of people.”

The CFA questions whether insurance companies’ risk information about unmarried drivers is even actuarially sound, claiming it comes primarily from a 2004 New Zealand-based study, which admits to including too few instances of accidents among divorced, separated, and widowed drivers to make any conclusive statements about them. Lynch counters that insurance providers are basing their rates on significant correlations in their claims data.

Yet it’s hard not to object to the notion of an insurance “widow penalty,” which seems to compound personal loss with financial loss, raising the question of how far insurance classification plans should be allowed to go. We wouldn’t, after all, accept a race-based insurance system; and under the Affordable Care Act, gender-based rating for health insurance is out.

The CFA argues that “widow penalties” are part of a trend in the auto insurance industry of charging higher premiums to those least likely to be able to afford them. Drawing a parallel to the practice of charging higher insurance premiums to customers with bad credit scores, Hunter and Brobeck noted during the teleconference that unmarried women tend to be less well-off than married women. “[Insurance companies] are just not that interested in selling liability coverage on an older car to a younger or lower income person, and they price it accordingly,” they said.

It’s an insurance landscape not unlike that which has provoked efforts to overhaul the American healthcare system—and that in December 2013 caused the Federal Insurance Office to issue a report entitled “How to Modernize and Improve the System of Insurance Regulation in the United States,” including the suggestion that states revisit the question of “whether or in what manner marital status is an appropriate underwriting or rating consideration.” The report pointed to same-sex couples in states where it was then illegal for them to get married as one key population discriminated against by marital status ratings.

But what to do for the single consumer here, now, and not looking to get hitched?

Shop around. Get as many quotes from as many providers as you can. And take into consideration all of the factors (and not just your single status) that might jack up your insurance rates. Most importantly, don’t feel tied to the same insurance provider you’ve been using for years. Should your marital status suddenly change, get back out there and shop some more.

Read next: 23 Tricks to Save Thousands on Your Car

MONEY Love and Money

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

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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 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

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 credit cards

Help! I’ve Fallen In Love With Someone Who Has Credit Card Debt

couple doing expenses
John Lund—Getty Images

There is light at the end of the tunnel.

It finally happened. After all the bad dates and heartbreak, at last you’ve met The One, and you’re ready to start down life’s road together. Except your new love is carrying one piece of baggage you hadn’t counted on: credit card debt.

You’re not alone. In a new NerdWallet/Harris Poll survey of more than 2,000 adults, 35% of those who combine at least some part of their finances with a partner brought credit card debt into the relationship. (Men are more likely to do so than women, by the way). Millennials are particularly likely to commingle I.O.U.s and romance, with 45% of those between the ages of 18 and 34 toting a revolving balance. In fact, millennials were more likely to have credit card debt than student loan or car payments.

On average, people entered relationships with $4,100 in credit card debt, and 25% of couples with at least one indebted parter reported experiencing negative consequences. One-sixth of respondents said debt kept them from doing something they planned on, such as buying a home or taking vacation.

The findings dovetail with MONEY’s research into couples and financial harmony. Our recent poll of 1,000 millennials and baby boomers found that two in 10 couples regularly fight about credit card debt. Millennials are more tolerant of debt than older generations, with 40% saying a lot of debt is a romantic turnoff, versus 60% of boomers who said the same.

If you—or someone you’ve fallen in love with—is struggling with debt, here’s how to keep it from ruining your relationship.

Don’t hide it. “Being open and transparent about your debt is very important,” says NerdWallet credit card expert Sean McQuay. “When you’re dating someone and you have the conversation about introducing them to your crazy parents, you also need have the talk about your debt.”

By opening up about debt early, you won’t cause a fissure down the line. And once you put your cards on the table, you and your partner can come up with a plan for getting out from under. One strategy suggested by Beverly Harzog, author of The Debt Escape Plan, is to start paying off the smallest balances first. The math may say to go after the card with the highest interest, but unless there’s a big difference in the two cards’ rates, it’s often more helpful to get the mental boost from clearing a debt so that you sustain your repayment plan.

Transfer your balance to a cheaper card. If you’ve squeezed every last penny from the budget and still can’t seem to make much headway, one powerful tool is a balance transfer card. MONEY recommends the no-annual-fee Chase Slate. Not only is there no interest on purchases and balance transfers for 15 months, there’s also no balance transfer fee if you move your debt within two months of opening the card.

More from the Love & Money series:
Poll: How Boomer and Millennial Couples Feel About Love and Money
Why Couples Need to Get Financially Naked
The Single Most Important Money Talk for Couples
How Money Can Improve Your Sex Life (It’s Not What You Think)

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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