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Money & Policy

5 Money Mistakes Not to Make With Your Midlife Partner

As Valentine's Day nears, these tips could help your relationship bloom


If you’re remarried or living with a significant other at midlife, managing your money together may look different than when you were younger.

When you’re married for the first time and starting out in adult life, the two of you typically grow, and develop, money habits, building wealth through the years. This go-round, however, you’re more likely to be two well-established financial beings merging your moolah.

How can you best accomplish your goals and avoid both financial infidelity and fights over money? Just in time for Valentine’s Day, here are five mistakes to avoid:

Mistake No. 1: Not sharing your money history with each other

If we look at midlife individuals, they typically have a long history with their own finances at this point,” says Jamie Hopkins, director of retirement research at Carson Group, a financial services firm based in Omaha, Neb.

37% of boomers, 45% of Gen Xers and 57% of millennials have deceived their partners financially, the survey found.

So, you each need to know what the other’s financial experience has been. “That is important because if you’re moving forward with a new relationship, you have to understand how you operated previously. Those experiences will color your future experiences,” says Hopkins.

Have a casual conversation where you both share your financial backstory. You might say things like: “This is how I’ve been saving —or not saving.” It’s prudent, too, to discuss how your family handled money when you were a child.

After this conversation, talk about your financial expectations. Explain whether you like or dislike managing the day-to-day bills, investing and insurance. Discuss how you view working with financial advisers and handling estate planning matters.

Then, divvy up the financial chores accordingly or tackle them together, if that makes sense.

Mistake No. 2: Keeping financial secrets

In a February 2020 Creditcards.com survey of 2,501 adults in relationships, 44% of respondents said they are hiding a checking, savings or credit card account from their partner; have secret debt or are spending more than their partner would think is OK. Broken down by generations, 37% of boomers, 45% of Gen Xers and 57% of millennials have deceived their partners financially, the survey found.

Once exposed, financial infidelity, says Hopkins, is fodder for fighting and eventual relationship ruin. “It can be harmful to relationships when you find someone had debt they never told you about,” he says.

Make a no-secrets financial pact and stick to it. This doesn’t mean you need to have access to the other’s person’s accounts. Only that you know what accounts and debts he or she has, and a general understanding of where you both are moneywise.

A 2015 TD Bank Love & Money study polled 1,339 Americans and found that couples who talk about money openly and regularly are happier together.

Mistake No. 3: Skipping a joint emergency fund

Creating a shared emergency fund for household and joint crises is beneficial and extremely important. “When bringing two families together, start this process immediately,” says David Hryck, a New York City-based personal finance expert and partner at Reed Smith, an international law firm.

Hryck recommends setting up automatic distributions from each partner’s paycheck to help build an emergency fund. It’s an easy way to protect your future.

A working paper by three university professors (at UCLA, Notre Dame and University College London) found that long-term committed couples who pooled their money into joint bank accounts were happier in their relationships than those who didn’t.

Mistake No. 4: Not drawing up a pre-nup or cohabitation agreement

When you marry in midlife, you likely bring more assets into the marriage than when you wed in your 20s or 30s. So, if you’re in a new, midlife marriage, you and your love will want to protect what you own.

“Come prepared by having a clearly stated agreement that identifies what your assets are, what your liabilities are and what terms are agreed upon regarding these assets and liabilities,” says Dannell Stuart, CFP, the Santa Barbara, Calif. director of business development at Mission Wealth, a financial management firm.

Having a verbal agreement is not enough.

Work with a lawyer to create a document that respectfully identifies both partners’ financial condition and how future marital assets will be treated. If you’re not married, you can enter into a contract that hammers out who owns what percent of the home in the event of a split or death.

Mistake No. 5: Neglecting joint financial goals

Just because each of you has personal savings, retirement and financial goals, doesn’t mean you should neglect your mutual objectives.

“Establishing financial goals together should be a priority,” says Hryck. You and your new partner should develop a plan regarding retirement living, vacation expenses, estate planning and other large shared goals.

Take the time to review life insurance, investments and estate planning together. Hopkins says that once you’re in a new relationship, the two of you may want a trust (a fiduciary arrangement that lets a trustee hold assets on behalf of beneficiaries); a will to catch things that fall outside the trust, like personal items and jewelry, and updated beneficiary designations.

Avoid these five mistakes and you’ll likely help yourselves get on the road to financial bliss.

By Jennifer Nelson
Jennifer Nelson is a Florida-based writer who also writes for MSNBC, FOXnews and AARP.

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