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The Unromantic (But Necessary) Tax and Money Talk Before Marriage

Check out these tax and money questions you should ask your future spouse before marriage.

1 min read

Eva Rosenberg

Eva Rosenberg

Eva Rosenberg, MBA, EA, known as the Internet’s TaxMama®, publishes the popular TaxMama.com website, cited by Consumer Reports magazine as a top tax advice site, and a LIFE Magazine Editor’s Pick.

Martha Stewart showcases 37 perfect marriage proposal stories you need to
read. Search for marriage proposal ideas, and Google and Pinterest are full of
great ideas. Isn’t that just so heart-meltingly romantic? Sigh. Love is beautiful. And can be oh so fragile. If you don't discuss finances — including you and your partner's tax situation — the relationship could quickly turn sour at the first hint of financial crisis. To avoid heartbreak, check out these tax and money questions you should ask your future spouse before marriage.

Sometimes a person waits their entire life to get even one proposal. And neither man nor woman want to do anything to ruin the romance or jeopardize that loving glow.
But, the proposal is just the beginning — it’s sort of the pre-honeymoon stage
where everything is wonderful and all of those annoying little habits (like squeezing the
toothpaste tube) can be ignored. And you believe that whatever other little cracks
that break through the glow can all be handled because you love each other.

Love conquers all ... Or does it?

My friend James died of a brain tumor a couple of years ago. Why? Although he
earned well over $100,000 a year, he was an addicted gambler. His wife knew
this long before they ever got married — but never faced him down and made him
hand over some of his earnings each month. So…they lost their home. They filed
bankruptcy. They didn’t have health insurance when he desperately needed it.
And he didn’t get treated in time to save his life.

Sally married Elliot after knowing him for a short while. They never discussed
finances. The first time they filed a tax return, her $8,000 refund was grabbed by
the IRS. Why? Because Elliot and his ex-wife owed the IRS over $10,000 – that
he neglected to tell Sally — ever. There are many more financial horror stories. Reality really is sadder than anything I could make up. Most engaged couples don’t have that conversation until it's too late — usually that talk comes after marriage and once financial disasters have already hit. Don’t let that happen to you. Why not enter the marriage with your eyes open. Face each other’s financial problems — and you can work them out. It’s such a betrayal, when a year or two later, you learn about the back taxes,
unpaid child support, student loan defaults, or other defaults. By the time you
learn about all this, it could already have affected your credit. You can easily avoid this by just — having “the talk.”

Asking the Right Questions

Answer these questions for each other —come clean:

      • How much do you earn?
      • How much do you have in savings?
      • Retirement plans?
      • Do you have health insurance?
      • Can you cover me? Or vice versa?
      • Do you have life insurance?
      • Who is the beneficiary? Why?
      • Will you change it to your new spouse?
      • How much do you have in debts?
      • Have you ever filed bankruptcy?
      • Do you have unpaid student loans?
      • Do you have unpaid taxes?
      • Do you have children?
      • Do you have unpaid child support?
      • If you are paying child support or alimony, how much of your income is
        devoted to that?
      • Do you have a healthy relationship with your ex and your children?
      • Or will their nastiness infringe on our lives together? (Not a financial
        question – but a huge problem!)
      • Do you have any addictions – like gambling, drugs, alcohol, risk-taking or anything else that will impact our security?

What new issues popped up in your discussion?

Using the Right Tools

Although there must be trust between future spouses, you can use some tools too. But why rely simply on trust? These three simple tools will reveal all.

1) You can find out about tax obligations really easily: Both of you sign an IRS Form 4506-T to request a transcript of your tax history. Check every box. Use two pages. Fill in each year for the last 10 years. In box 5, enter your fiancé(e)’s address. It’s free.

2) If you are both current on your tax return filings, you should each be able to log into the new, improved IRS My Account tool. You can look at your account transcripts, past due information, notices and more. While you might reveal good or bad things to your new life partner, you might have some surprises yourself…or just be fascinated by the information the IRS has on you.

3) Invest $30 or $40 dollars each and pull up a comprehensive credit and background check report on each of you. Even if unpleasant surprises turn up, wouldn’t you each want to know — and clear the air — before embarking on a life together?

Back in ancient times, when people got married, they knew each other, each other’s families and communities, perhaps for generations. Now, we know one another for a comparatively short time. People are more mobile than ever before and they may have only lived in the current area for a brief time.

Revealing mysteries and wonders about each other over a lifetime can improve the fun joy of a good marriage. But there are some unpleasant surprises you’d rather get out of the way in advance, right? Besides, if your relationship can survive this scrutiny, it will increase your chances of marital bliss!

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