6 Tips for Managing Money in a Same-Sex Marriage

Here's what same-sex couples need to know about financial planning.

Like Cinderella before midnight, in June 2015, when same-sex marriage was finally legalized in the U.S., many in our queer community tied the knot without knowing if our wedding shoes fit.

It wasn’t until these couples said, “I do,” that many asked, “And what about money, retirement, children, career and life goals?” Unlike in fairytales, happily ever after isn’t the end of the story.

If there’s anything we learned from The Knot’s 2016 LGBTQ Weddings Study, it’s that between June 2015 and June 2016, Prince Charming and Prince Charming’s marriage looked similar to Snow White’s.

By avoiding the money talk like a poisonous apple, are same-sex couples casting their marriage in a spell destined to “mirror mirror” their straight peers? Will money be a main cause of divorce?

By following these six steps, same-sex couples can make their marriage a fairytale.

1. Hope for Fairy God Mothers, Plan for Big Bad Wolves

It’s an unfortunate fact that in 28 states, queer people can be fired for being queer. While it’s legal for us to get married in all 50 states, those who live in these 28 states without LGBT workplace protections risk losing their jobs if they put a picture of their spouse on display.

This risk reaffirms the age-old advice of having an emergency savings account of enough cash to cover between three to six months’ worth of living expenses. When we were living paycheck to paycheck, this seemed impossible. What’s more impossible is surviving without a paycheck when you’re living paycheck to paycheck.

Even by putting just $10 of each paycheck into an emergency savings account, you’re replacing a house of straw with a house of bricks.

2. Be Transparent Like a Glass Slipper

Before two become one, make sure the math works. With escalating student loan and consumer debt, it’s important that each person knows the financial benefits and burdens they’ll adopt when they get hitched.

Not until we talked honestly about each of our financial situations did we have clarity on where we stood. When we learned that we had $51,000 in credit card debt between the two of us, it made sense why we were living in a friend’s basement apartment.

Both people should disclose the good, bad and ugly about their pre-marriage financial condition. This includes student loan debt, credit card debt, bankruptcies, liens and other financial infractions. This also includes credit scores and credit history, annual income and tax brackets. (You can view two of your credit scores, updated every 14 days, on Credit.com.) Don’t forget health and life insurance coverage, retirement and other savings.

With a clear picture of what each party brings to the marriage, both ensure they’re making wise decisions. The likelihood that either would terminate an engagement because of the other’s financial situation is low, but at least neither will feel they were deceptively given a poisonous apple.

The best scenario is that with clarity they can come up with a plan to fix their financial problems.

3. Whistle While You Work … Together

Successful marriages are a team effort. It’s helpful to divide and conquer in some parts of marriage. Money is not one of them. The best reason of all to talk about money is because couples that talk about it are often happier.

We’ve tried dividing and conquering our money management, but we’re never as successful as when we collaborate on it. Even just a 15-minute monthly meeting to assess income and expenses keeps both parties aware of their financial progress. As they make progress, they’ll see the value and the fun.

As Mary Poppins said, “In every job that must be done, there is an element of fun.”

4. Learn From Your Past

Unlike the future of cars, it’s never good to put one’s finances completely on auto-pilot. All too often, most people avoid ensuring they’re staying within budget or their retirement contributions and investments are keeping up with their goals.

With our own finances, we usually feel these emotions of avoidance when we think we’re off track. When we know we’re off track, we feel compelled to make corrections.

As with many in the queer community, we were afraid that adjusting our financial plan meant we couldn’t maintain the appearance of having a fabulous life. Many of us grew up in a time and a place when it wasn’t OK to be queer. Therefore, we spend our adult lives making up for lost time and seeking validation through outward appearances.

The most memorable movies have great endings. Make sure you have one with frequent checks and balances on your financial progress.

5. Be Like Ohana

Ohana means family, and family means no one gets left behind or forgotten.” — Lilo and Stich

Family members, even same-sex partners, don’t need to have the same financial goals, but they do need to support each other.

If one partner tries to save money while the other spends, it won’t be long before a disagreement happens. Likewise, it shouldn’t be the sole responsibility of one partner to achieve a mutually beneficial goal.

The fact that we can support each other’s financial goals has made all the difference in our ability to pay off our credit card debt and achieve our mutual and individual financial and life goals. Neither of us antagonizes the other.

6. Plan for a Visit From the Stork

Unlike our straight peers, having children in same-sex relationships is never a surprise. Building a family in a same-sex relationship can be exorbitant. Because the cost of having a child can range from free (foster adoption) to the hundreds of thousands (gestational surrogacy), it’s important to determine why you and your spouse want children. With this information and your budget, you can then determine how you want to have children. When planning a visit from the stork, it’s never wise to bury your head in the sand like the proverbial ostrich.

With same-sex marriage being relatively new, many of us are only just now learning of the unique financial nuances of our same-sex marriages, such as employment protections and family planning. Our advice is to understand the nuances before walking down the aisle, otherwise you’ll just be happy for the moment.

This story is an Op/Ed contribution to Credit.com and does not necessarily represent the views of the company or its partners.

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7 Social Security Tricks You Can’t Use Anymore


The Bipartisan Budget Act signed into law on November 2, 2015 effectively eliminated the File and Suspend and Restricted Application strategies for anyone younger than 66 and 62, respectively. These “unintended loopholes” were the product of three legislative changes that allowed for creativity, flexibility and pay raises for those who were well-informed. As of May 1, the party is over. So what’s the best way to adapt? Here are a few strategies.

Strategies That Apply to Everyone

The Do Over 

According to the Social Security Administration, 74% of beneficiaries collect early. I assure you at least some of these folks will regret their decision. The good news is if that regret comes within a year, you can pay back the benefits you’ve received in a lump sum, and you will be treated as if you never took them at all.

Voluntary Suspension

In certain instances, it does make sense to turn on Social Security early. You may simply need supplemental income, or you may want to trigger benefits for a minor child. But it may not be a permanent need. If you decide for any reason that you no longer need that payment, you can suspend it. Your benefit will start to earn delayed retirement credits until you are 70.

Strategies That Apply to Married Couples If at Least One Spouse Is 62 or Older

Restricted Application

This “loophole” is being phased out by the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015. However, if you were born before January 1, 1954, you are still eligible to file for a restricted application when you reach full retirement age. This allows one spouse to collect a spousal benefit based on the other spouse’s earnings record while Spouse One’s benefit continues to grow until age 70. At 70, Spouse One will switch back to her increased benefit. In order to use this strategy, Spouse Two has to be collecting his benefit or have filed and suspended before May 1.

Strategies That Apply to Married Couples If Both Spouses Are Under 62

Higher Earner Delays, Lower Earner Gets a Raise

When married couples are planning for retirement, it is very important, if possible, for the higher-earning spouse to wait until age 70 to collect his or her benefit. Not only will the higher benefit increase by 8% every year between full retirement age and 70, but the benefit will also become the survivor benefit should that person die before his or her spouse. Depending on the gap in earned benefits and whether or not the lower earner is still working, it often makes sense for the lower earner to start collecting early. If the person is fully insured but not working, she or he can collect at 62. If the person is still working at 62, it probably makes sense to wait until she or he stops working or reaches full retirement age so that the earnings offset isn’t a factor.

Strategies for Widows and Widowers

Collect Now, Survivor Later

If a surviving spouse had a significantly lower earned benefit than the decedent, he or she should collect the benefit at age 62. Once the recipient hits full retirement age, he can switch over to the survivor benefit.

Survivor Now, Collect Later

If a couple had similar records, it makes sense for the survivor to take the survivor benefit as early as possible, at age 60. His own earned benefit will continue to grow until age 70. At 70, the person will switch over to her earned benefit.

Strategies to Claim on Your Ex-Spouse

Restricted Application

The rules for divorced couples are very similar to those for married couples, so long as the marriage lasted at least 10 years. The restricted application strategy described earlier can be used by only one spouse in a married couple. If you’re teetering on the edge of divorce, this may get you there. If you are divorced, both you and your ex can claim a spousal benefit on each other while your own benefits grow in the background until you begin receiving them at age 70. It’s essentially the restricted application times two.

Every single one of these strategies has exceptions, and this is by no means a comprehensive list. Until the most recent legislation, there were 567 different ways to collect Social Security. You should work with your financial planner to develop a customized claiming strategy. Make sure that as you are putting together that strategy, the rest of your assets, liabilities, income and expenses are factored in. Social Security is an important piece of the puzzle but should never be considered in a silo.

Remember, before you make any serious money moves, especially when planning for retirement, be sure you know where your credit score stands. You can view your scores, updated monthly, for free on Credit.com.

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How to Make Early Retirement a Reality


Sometimes you might feel as though you are chained to a job for the next 20, 30 or 40 years and there’s no way out. If that describes you, I have some great news. It’s not necessarily true.

If you are willing to think outside the box and take decisive action, you can retire decades earlier than you otherwise might think.

Here’s how to turn your retirement dream into reality.

1. The Dream

Your first task along the freedom trail is to define exactly when you want to retire, how much you are willing to give up now and what you want that retirement life to look like. Do you want to retire in five years, 10 years or 20? During retirement, are you willing to downsize or do you want to maintain your current lifestyle? What are you willing to give up now in order to pull that retirement date forward?

All these elements are important because they impact each other. For example, the sooner you retire, the fewer resources you’ll have during your golden years because you’ll have fewer years to save up. That means you may have to do with less. Also, the more you spend now means it may take longer to accumulate the assets you’ll need in order to retire.

Everything has a trade-off and you need to be clear on what trade-offs you are willing to make in order to achieve your early retirement goal.

2. The Written Goal

Now that you’ve thought it through, it’s time to make a rough draft declaration. It might look something like this; “I will retire in the year 20XX and have the resources to sustain a lifestyle I love at $XXXX per month. I will love this lifestyle because it will enable me to (describe what your retirement looks like).”

This sets forth the time frame and what your retirement life will be. It also forces you to determine how much you’ll need to achieve your goal and create a plan to acquire those resources.

Don’t share this declaration with anyone just yet. In a minute, we’re going to work some numbers and see if this will fly. This is a starting point and while it may be just fine, we have to create a workable plan before we adopt it.

3. The Plan

The most important financial driver of any financial plan is spending. You need to know how much your retirement is going to cost in order to know how much money you’ll need.

It is really hard to accurately predict what your future cost of living is going to be, but it’s important to make some educated approximations. You can do that by taking what you spend on average now and inflating your number using any number of online calculators.

Simply do a search on “online financial calculator” and get to work. I did that and plugged in some numbers to get a sense of what retirement might look like for a hypothetical Jane Brown. I assumed she spends $42,000 a year now, wants to retire in 10 years, inflation is 2.5% and she can earn 6% each year on average over the next 10 years. Jane wants to determine what it will cost her to live when she retires and with inflation running at 2.5%, in 10 years she determines that she will need over $127,000 a year to maintain her current lifestyle. The calculator also determined that she would need to have approximately $1.3 million in order to achieve her goal.

Can she hit those numbers? It depends on her starting point and how much money she can save over the next decade. If Jane searches for “future value calculator” she can easily get a clearer picture of what lays ahead.

If she starts with $450,000 today and adds $35,000 each year, for example, she will get pretty close. But what if she doesn’t have that kind of money to stash away?

That’s where the tradeoffs kick in. She has already established how much money she needs to accumulate. At this stage, she can play with the calculator, entering the amount she currently has and the amount she is willing to save. Of course, she can also play with the interest rate she thinks she can earn, but she should probably remain conservative and realistic. This 6% refers to the return she projects that she’ll be able to earn on her savings on average over many years. There is no guarantee, of course, but if she invests using a balanced approach for 10 years, an average return of 6% is not unreasonable.

If there is a divide between her dream and her current abilities it’s time to compromise. Let’s say you are “Jane” in this example.

If you can’t hit your number, re-work your plan. For example, let’s say you are starting with $150,000 and the most you can save is $10,000 a year but you are willing to work for another 15 years rather than 10. That suggests that you’ll save up about $450,000. It’s a lot less than $1.3 million. What does that mean?

If you do some simple math, you can see that $450k is roughly 35% of $1.3 million. That means you will have 35% of the income you want. Are you willing to live on a lot less during your retirement years? Are you willing to give up a lot more now so you can save and have a richer retirement? Are you willing to take a slice out of your future needs by working part-time after you quit your full-time gig? These are all personal questions that only you can answer, but at least now you know which questions to ask.

The numbers don’t lie. Work on the balance that is right for you and get ready to put your plan in place.

4. Action

Now that you know what your financial life is going to look like, automate your success by putting your monthly savings on autopilot. In other words, instruct your financial adviser to have the investment custodian take that monthly savings amount directly out of your bank account each month and invest it for you into your investment account. This saves time and frankly, takes you out of the equation. You don’t have to think about writing a check or transferring funds. It all gets taken care of for you. All you have to be concerned with is making sure the money is in the account and that you can live on what’s left over for the remainder of the month.

5. Accountability

People who get this far are my kind of people. They have an ambitious goal, they work out a plan and they put it in place. That’s what I’m talking about.

But the reality is that most of us encounter roadblocks along the way. We get tired and we lose enthusiasm. That’s why it’s crucial to have an accountability partner and provide that person with timely reports on your progress. This can be your spouse, a friend or your financial adviser. It doesn’t matter who it is as long as that person is willing to hold your feet to the fire no matter what.

You can retire early if you are willing to do what it takes. Many people have a dream of leaving work while still in their 40s and 50s, yet they find it difficult to do because they don’t have a realistic plan. You can take the steps I outlined above to calculate exactly how much money you’ll need and build a plan to achieve your goal. If the bar is too high, you have the opportunity to amend the plan into something more doable.

Take the time now to map out your future. Figure out what you need to do to have the life you will love and ask a trusted friend to hold you accountable.

I’ve seen these tactics work for many people over the last 30 years. I know it can work for you, too.

[Editor’s Note: You can monitor your financial goals, like building a good credit score, each month on Credit.com.]

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Budgeting to Take Care of Aging Parents

BudgetAgingParentsAs your parents age, you may find that taking care of them becomes a financial issue for you. Even parents who have prepared well for their retirement years can find they need help from their children to handle rising medical costs and other increasing expenses related to getting older.

Figuring out how best to help your parents with a mix of their money and yours, while still budgeting for your own household expenses, can be a balancing act. The best way to prepare for a potential impact to your budget is by doing your homework before any issues arise:

1. Make a list of all assets and sources of income

When you are compiling your list, you should consider not only your assets and sources of income but also what your parents own and earn. Some potential sources of income you might want to consider include part-time employment for your parents, their Social Security benefits and pensions, and the proceeds from the sale of your parents’ home, which could unlock any equity they have in it. Unless you are your parents’ only child, you may want to make sure you involve all of your siblings, and maybe even other family members, so that you can pool your resources to help when it’s needed.

2. Set boundaries

Once you’ve made the list of assets and income, you may have to start making some hard choices. For example, if you have children, will you stop saving for their college and put that money away for your parents? Which of your own assets are you willing to earmark for your parents’ needs? Are you willing to use part of your own retirement savings for their care? These are difficult questions to ask, with no right or wrong answers. But by setting some boundaries, you may be able to make some adjustments now to be better prepared later.

3. Use senior assistance programs

There’s no such thing as free money, but your aging parents may be able to take advantage of a variety of senior assistance programs that many states and communities sponsor. For example, states may give breaks on property taxes for homes owned by seniors, utilities might offer discounts on energy bills and many local social service agencies provide reduced-cost meals and free transportation to doctor appointments, to name just a few.

You can learn more by visiting BenefitsCheckUp, a free service of the National Council on Aging. The website can help you find federal, state and private programs that help adults over age 55 pay for prescription drugs, healthcare, utilities and other basic needs.

4. Consider other resources

To shield your parents and yourself, you may want to keep your money and property separate.

You also may want to review your situation with an attorney specializing in elder law who can answer questions about wills, living wills and financial power of attorney, as well as issues related to long-term care planning and guardianship, and any other issues that could arise.

Having to manage taking care of yourself, your children, and your aging parents all at the same time can be extremely difficult. Doing your homework and being prepared to address issues as they arise can help you make informed decisions based on as many facts as possible.

Steve Repak is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professional, CFP® Board Ambassador, and financial literacy speaker. He is also an Army veteran and the author of Dollars & Uncommon Sense: Basic Training For Your Money. Follow him on Twitter: @SteveRepak

How to Do a Background Check on Your Financial Adviser

Deciding to hire someone to help manage your money requires a lot of trust, and not all people in the industry deserve yours.

About 7% of financial advisers have been disciplined for misconduct or fraud, though that rate is much higher at some firms, according to a working paper from the University of Chicago. Of those who have been disciplined, 38% are repeat offenders.

The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) requires people registered to sell securities or give investment advice to “disclose customer complaints and arbitrations, regulatory actions, employment terminations, bankruptcy filings and criminal or judicial proceedings.”

There are 23 categories of disclosures, and while disclosures don’t necessarily indicate misconduct, they’re good to know about if you’re considering giving that person significant control over your finances. Of those 23, the University of Chicago researchers focused on six that indicate misconduct, including customer disputes that end in favor of the customer, regulatory action and employment separation after an allegation.

The paper, “The Market for Financial Adviser Misconduct,” evaluated data from BrokerCheck, a public tool managed by FINRA, which allows people to see disclosure history for an individual adviser or a firm.

You can also see how long the person has been in the industry and previous firms they have been registered with. It’s a straightforward search tool, allowing you to look up advisers by name, Central Registration Depository (CRD) number, firm or location. Say you’re looking for an adviser within 5 miles of your ZIP code: You’ll likely get a long list people you could potentially work with, but going through the records could help you identify someone you may not want to hire.

Research is crucial whenever you’re making a significant financial decision, whether that’s applying for a credit card, saving for retirement or hiring an investment adviser. To minimize the chances you run into problems in the future, take your time getting as much information as possible so you feel confident whenever you make your decision.

You can monitor your financial goals (like building good credit) for free on Credit.com.

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