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Money Talk: Couples need to talk about money – no matter what age

Lack of communication can devastate your finances

By Rodney A. Brooks

In any successful marriage or relationship household duties are shared. Each person does what they are best suited for, which means one person usually handles finances and pays the bills.

But couples will certainly run into trouble if one partner completely absolves themselves from finances. Even if one partner pays the bills, it is critically important that both be involved in the couple’s finances.

Money is the top cause of stress in a marriage and one of top reasons for divorce. That includes people of all income levels. Black couples especially need to talk about money. We have one-tenth of the wealth of white households, and the pandemic has hurt our finances even more than White Americans.

But many couples avoid discussions of finance altogether, putting additional stress on both the relationship and their finances.

  • Forty percent of couples that live together don’t know what the other makes, according to the Fidelity 2021 Couples and Money Study.
  • Forty-four percent of couples say they argue about money, at least occasionally.
  • A second report from UBS says only 20 percent of couples in the U.S. make financial decisions together.

So, why are these trends so troubling? Financial planners talk about clients they have had for years, but never met the wife. In One financial planner told me about a husband who was incapacitated, and the wife needed emergency access to the couples fund.

The problem was her name was not on the investment accounts. He couldn’t even discuss the account with her.

It’s not just with older couples.

Millennials are even more secretive about their finances than Boomers or Gen Xers. There’s the newlywed couple: She had no idea that he had thousands of dollars in student loan debt until after they were married.

She felt that he had not been honest about bringing that much debt into the marriage, and he was offended that he accused her of hiding out debt.


According to the Fidelity study, couples who talked about finances say money is not the biggest challenge in their relationship and they rated their household finances as good or very good.

Still, that’s not to say that all the couple’s finances need to be mixed together in one joint bank account. In fact, personal finance guru Suze Orman says: “I would never, ever have just one joint account.”

She recommends having a joint bank account to pay joint expenses, if It works for you, but says a couple should have separate accounts as well.

Here’s some advice when it comes to couples and communications:

  1. Do a budget. Make sure both partners buy in. One partner should not feel they are sacrificing things that are important.
  2. Have an open discussion of finances. Talk frankly about their salaries, debt, savings and investments and credit scores.
  3. Set a schedule. Partners should sit down for a financial discussion at least monthly. There should be a set date or time, and it should be on both calendars.
  4. Do not let the discussion turn into an argument. Avoid placing blame even if one partner is responsible for most of the difficulties.
  5. Focus on shared goals rather than differences. Make sure both spouses feel like their input is taken into consideration.
Rodney A. Brooks is a Senior Fellow at Prosperity Now and the author of Fixing the Racial Wealth Gap: Racism and discrimination put us here, but this is how we can save future generations. A former Deputy Managing Editor/Money at USA TODAY, he has written for USA TODAY, The Washington Post and National Geographic.


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