Five Financial Tips for Newlyweds

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by Eunice Armstrong

First comes love, then comes marriage … then comes debt and other baggage!

Now that you and your spouse are one, transparency is important, especially when it comes to money. You should know each other’s credit scores, salaries, and any debts! You should set money expectations right away, make financial plans together, and then check in with each other regularly to keep your finances on track as things change. Recognize that you are partners in financial planning, and that should not be taken lightly. Check out these five ways to help unite your financial lives:

1. Set common and realistic goals.

You should set common goals with your spouse, and they should be realistic.  Whether you’re buying a home, taking a vacation, deciding on childcare, or planning for retirement, each stage should be agreed upon by both parties. Saving should be a part of that list as well. Realistic goals are more motivating than those that seem endlessly out of reach.

2. Get organized.

It’s okay to admit that you didn’t talk genuinely about how you’ll manage money together before you got married, but trust me, now is the time to start. What you have, what you owe, what you spend, and how you feel about investing should all be part of the conversation. There should be no financial secrets. Make a list of shared assets including credit cards and loans that you are bringing into your marriage. Decide if your assets will joint or individual. Start a budget and stick to it. This should be much easier now that you have a built-in accountability partner.

3. Know your taxes.

First things first, once your marital status changes, Uncle Sam expects you to update your W-4 at work as well as your W-2 withholding allowances. These determine the amount withheld from your wages for federal and state income taxes. There is a lower withholding rate for people who are married, so one option available on the W-4 is to withhold taxes from your paycheck at a higher single rate. You literally check the “Married but withhold at higher Single rate” box. Some married people find that they do not have enough tax withheld at the married rate. This can happen, for example, when both spouses work. However, discuss with your tax preparer if you should file separately or jointly at the end of the year. Each case is different and you must do what’s best for your situation.

4. Review your insurance.

When you get married, it’s important to review, update, and sometimes purchase different types of insurance. This includes life insurance, health insurance, and disability insurance. Some insurance coverage may be provided by your employer, but if you’re both working, review your current coverage to see where you can cut costs and avoid redundant coverage. For example, it might be less expensive to be on your spouse’s health insurance than to pay for your own.

5. Update paperwork.

I never knew how extensive this actually was until I got married. You literally have to think of all the places that need this updated information. If you’re taking your husband's name, I recommend that the first place you go after you get your marriage license is to the Social Security office. Changing your name on your social security card is a pretty quick process. Once I did that, a bank sent me an updated card in the mail with my new name, without initiation on my part. How convenient. Now don’t forget your driver’s license, passport, credit and debit cards, etc. (I’m personally holding off on my passport until it expires, just keep in mind you need to book your international tickets in your maiden name.) Even the beneficiaries’ section on accounts, like your life insurance or retirement accounts, should be updated. Consider preparing a will, since this is technically the most important legal document in your estate. You and your spouse should contact your attorney for more information. Be sure to review them every three to five years to make sure they address your changing circumstances.

Talking to your spouse about money may not be at the top of your to-do-list, but it’s important for your marriage. Money discussions aren’t always easy but, as with any marriage issue, it’s best to approach them with an open mind and as a team. Thoughtfully working together leads to the financial harmony you’ll maintain in this new life together.

Try this financial compatibility quiz to find out how you and your partner align.

Hey Girl, God Doesn’t Need Your Money

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Photo by {artist}/{collectionName} / Getty Images

Even to this day, tithing can be a very difficult subject within the church. The topic usually comes with the groans of hypocrisy and chants of “I don’t got it.” I’m just here to enlighten you by giving you some biblical context on the matter: tithing is pretty easy once you school yourself on the purpose of God’s intention for us. I’m, most importantly, going to tell you that tithing is not an obligation, it’s a PRIVILEGE. Remember, everything we have comes from God.

Let’s face it, in this economy living paycheck to paycheck is way more common than I would like, and many of us have mountains of student loans and credit card debt. When you finally begin “adulting,” your paycheck feels it’s gone before it even hits your account.

Where does tithing fit into our budget? I would, convincingly, debate with myself that God wouldn’t want me to be broke, and the Old Testament was just that, old. They didn’t have bills in Israel. God would keep blessing me no matter what, right?

So let me tell you it didn’t work that way. I found myself blowing money fast and feeling guilty for not giving God his due. I convinced myself that I “needed” the rest of that money. Then I realized that I was making tithing a chore instead of an expression of love, worship, and faith to God my Father. So, I gave all my money to God, out of obedience. I put it under His control and gave as much as I felt led to give. And as shocking as it seemed to me, I didn’t go broke and end up in the street. In fact, God provided in the most crucial of times. Maybe you’ll experience this. Maybe you wont. I’m also not suggesting that we tithe to be blessed. But surrendering my money to God convinced me that I needed to give up the idea of giving God the minimum.

I’m making a bold statement here, but if you say you can’t afford to pay your tithes, then I would argue that you haven’t really dedicated your life to God. You’re still sitting on the outskirts of your “potential relationship” with the Him, and you’re probably negotiating with God about what you will or won’t do in your relationship with him.

Read this article by Dr. George Bullard.

So, as believers, we give because God calls us to give and because all that we have is His, not because we’re supposed to. If we think of tithing as just a rule instead of seeing giving as an act of grace and love, we can easily miss the point. God gave us His son, and then Jesus gave His life. I mean, that wasn’t 10 percent, that was the whole thing!

 *cues Here I Am* I’ll never know how much it cost, to see my sins, up on that cross!

Why You Should Say No to That Store Charge Card

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Photo by {artist}/{collectionName} / Getty Images

by Eunice Armstrong

"Would you like to save an extra 10 percent today?"

How many times do you hear that while checking out? Retailers train their employees to pitch to you and convince you of the perks and benefits of signing up for their credit card. Just because a store offers you a tempting discount to sign up on the spot doesn't mean that you should do it. If you’re about to make a $200 purchase, the cashier will quickly indicate to you that using the card will save you $20. Now, this expensive purchase seems less expensive but let’s consider what owning a store card really means beyond that initial price break.

There are generally two different categories of store credit cards. Private-label retail cards, which can only be used at the retailer that sponsors it. These are generally easy for people with low credit scores to obtain because the underwriting standards are more lax than those of traditional credit cards. But if establishing credit is your primary goal, why not seek a secured credit card instead? They have lower interest rates and much easier to maintain. The other kinds are co-branded store credit cards, which are sponsored by the retailer but backed by one of the major networks: Visa, MasterCard, American Express or Discover. These cards can be used at nearly any retailer, just like a traditional credit card product. Alas, underwriting standards on these type of cards are the same as traditional credit card products, so consumers with low credit scores or shallow credit history won't qualify.

Keep in mind that a store’s primary focus is always about getting the customer back into the store to spend more money. It can take a significant amount of spending just to reach the different tiers and to actually enjoy some benefits of the rewards program. Take time to consider if you are even shopping at the store frequently. The annual percentage rates on these products tend to run high, 22.9 percent is a common APR on such cards. In a few months, your 10 percent discount has been eaten up by finance charges. Undisciplined shoppers could easily rack up a bill they can't afford to pay off at the end of the month, which would negate the value of any rewards or discounts you’ve just “earned” on the purchases.

If you do decide to take your favorite retailer up on an offer, make sure to carefully read the terms and conditions. Check to see if the card carries an annual fee and what the APR will be once any deferred-interest promotions lapse. You should also ask at the register how you can pay your bill, because in order to qualify for the promotional discount, that day's purchases will typically be charged to the new card. You could easily miss your first card payment, incurring late fees, interest and other potential penalty charges. Like any financial decision in your life, make sure you are well informed and understand the implications of your choices.