You agree with your spouse to meet with an attorney regarding your financial issues. The first thing your spouse says is that you no longer own your home. You freeze. You’re still living there. Your spouse says that you lost your home because you failed to pay your property taxes and have been renting the home for several months from the new owner. The attorney hesitates before informing you that a bankruptcy won’t help you regain ownership of your home. He continues that had you filed a Chapter 13 before the tax deed transferred ownership, then you would have had an opportunity to pay the property taxes owed in a plan over 3-5 years.
This situation occurs frequently with varying degrees of severity. Your spouse could have told you that he or she paid a bill that you just received a garnishment notice for from your employer. Your car lender repossesses your car without warning because the car insurance has lapsed without your knowledge. In any partnership, it is common for there to be a division of labor with one spouse managing the household finances. However, it is important that the non-managing spouse to have a general understanding of the state of household finances. Here are some tools and tips for spouses to ensure that understanding:
- Review monthly bank statements, retirement statements, billing statements, and tax returns. When the statements come in the mail or in a paperless format, set aside time to review the documents with your spouse. This will increase your mutual understanding of your financial situation and protect you against any unexpected financial issues in the future.
- Monitor your Credit Report. Use a free service like creditkarma.com to know what is going on with your debt. Your credit report will show whether any of your accounts are in default or any of your creditors have filed lawsuits against you and received judgments.
- Create separate budgets and compare. Now that you are reviewing your financial information, create a budget separately from your spouse then compare. Hopefully, this will inspire a conversation about your financial goals and motivations. Try using a free online tool like mint.com to assist you with managing this aspect of your finances.
- Seek support from an accountant, financial advisor, or attorney. You may need assistance with understanding your finances with ease. Many professionals in the financial services industry offer free consultations to advise you of your options and to dispel common misconceptions regarding personal finances. If you unexpectedly find yourself in financial distress, it is helpful to have already built a meaningful relationship with a financial professional who can advise you knowing your goals and what matters most to you.
It is never too late to initiate these good habits. If you need some tools to have that courageous conversation about finances with your spouse, refer to my last blog. Your finances impact every aspect of your life. You don’t have to be in the dark about them. Start today and take control of your financial future.