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Four Financial Questions for Couples


Financial discussions, though necessary, can be a minefield for couples. Half of couples frequently or occasionally argue over money and 38% actually never resolve the disagreement.

Financial discussions can be a minefield for couples. Disagreements and money trouble are the top reasons for divorce and half of couples argue frequently or occasionally about money, according to a new study.

But these discussions are necessary. A new Fidelity Investments survey found of the 51% of couples who fight over money, 38% actually never resolve the argument in a mutually agreeable way, according to Fidelity.

“The fact that many couples disagree about money isn’t surprising, but the realization so many don’t actually resolve their financial squabbles is cause for concern,” Lauren Brouhard, senior vice president of Retirement at Fidelity, said in a statement. “When it comes to making your relationship a financial affair to remember, even the closest of couples have opportunities to get more on the same page.”

Even couples who never or rarely fight about money can be in a difficult situation. More than a third of couples admitted that not both of them know where important household financial and legal papers are.

A survey from COUNTRY Financial recently discovered that 81% of married Americans know about their spouse’s debt. That’s means there’s still a significant number of married couples that aren’t open about all of their finances.

Retirement is also a source of contention. The Fidelity survey found that a third of working couples disagree on the role working will play during retirement. Furthermore 38% aren’t on the same page regarding the lifestyle they expect to lead in retirement.

“Just as you plan for everything else in life, it’s important to make financial planning a regular part of your conversations,” Brouhard said.

The following essential questions from Fidelity should be discussed among couples.

Are you truly equal partners when it comes to handling finances?

Even if one person is the financial planner, both need to know and understand everything in case someone needs to take over.

“A bit of contingency planning now can help you avoid a larger problem down the road,” according to Fidelity.

A Fidelity survey from September 2013 found that women remain much less confident in their finances. Just 19% are primarily in charge of long-term retirement decisions and a quarter is responsible for day-to-day financial decisions. And, yet, with the divorce rate greater than 50% and the average woman outliving the man in her life by nearly five years, it’s likely she will have to assume sole responsibility of finances at some point.

Do you both have a handle on the insurance and brokerage accounts?

If beneficiaries aren’t assigned to these accounts, then there are legal implications, according to Fidelity. However, the survey found that 31% of couples disagree about who the primary beneficiary is on their life insurance policies, while 27% disagree about retirement account beneficiaries.

If you’re not careful, beneficiary designations on bank or brokerage account forms could contradict and supersede instructions in the will, which can lead to many unintended and unwanted consequences.

Are you jointly maximizing your savings potential?

Both members of a couple should be contributing to tax-advantaged savings accounts (if eligible), such as a company’s workplace plan or an IRA, with the joint assets properly allocated.

“Establishing and maintaining an age-appropriate asset allocation that adjusts over time is critical to savings success,” according to Fidelity.

Do you have a shared vision for what your retirement might look like?

Unfortunately, many couples aren’t in agreement when it comes to retirement. There’s a big difference between traveling and being content to stay at home. If your goals aren’t the same, how can you plan appropriately?

The fact that couples haven’t discussed paying for expensive health care costs in retirement is concerning. A Fidelity study from March 2013 calculated that couples will need $220,000 to cover medical expenses throughout retirement. That could consume a considerable amount of retirement savings.

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Victor J. Dzau, MD, gives expert advice
Victor J. Dzau, MD, gives expert advice