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Before you settle down with your Valentine, ask these tough money questions

Jeanie Ahn
Senior Producer/Reporter

Valentine's Day is around the corner, which means a lot of diamond rings will be sliding onto fingers as it’s the second most popular day of the year to propose, according to Weddingwire.com, and 40% of engagements take place between Thanksgiving and Valentine’s Day.

If you’re among the ranks of the newly engaged, here are four tough questions you should discuss with your partner before tying the knot.

Are you a spender or a saver?

You might think you already know your future spouse pretty well, but you can uncover a lot when you openly discuss your salaries, debts, savings and spending habits. Don’t spring this conversation up out of nowhere—set up a time to start discussing things like credit scores, checking account balances and how much credit card debt you have.

Remember, it’s not a competition but a conversation that will help manage expectations. “We have pretty much total transparency and we use the same financial advisor,” Hermoney.com CEO Jean Chatzky says of her second marriage. “It was a lot simpler, but it also forced us to come together to have the kind of conversations about goals -- and having those conversations, even though they're not always pleasant or sunny -- is a really wonderful thing to do, and my first husband and I did not do it often enough.”

What are your financial obligations?

Talk about your financial responsibilities such as child support, alimony, an aging parent or student loans. With student debt at an all-time high, it’s likely you have loans you’re bringing into the marriage, so think about how you would like to handle the debt together or separately. Julie Ford, a certified financial planner and founder of Ford Financial Solutions, says that paying off the debt together can help create unity and a clean slate more quickly than if one person is struggling with it alone. “It’s no longer yours and mine, but ours. This doesn’t mean there’s no independence. It’s more about a mental shift and recognizing that your good is attached to his/her wellbeing,” she says.

In most cases, a spouse is not legally responsible for his or her partner’s student debt acquired before the marriage. But if one of you defaults on your loans, both of you could have your tax returns garnished. “When debt is foreign to one party, create a plan to pay it down and live within your means with no shame and no blame on both sides. The upside to having debt is that it forces your spending down. Once that debt is paid off, you can immediately start saving the amount that would’ve gone toward the debt payment,” says Ford.

Will we merge our money in marriage? If so, how?

There’s no wrong or right way to do this. It might make the most sense to set up a joint account, keep things separate or do a combination of both. In one study by TD Bank, 42% of those in relationships who have joint accounts also kept their own accounts. And there may be a generational shift occurring, with separate accounts gaining popularity. According to a Bank of America study, 28% of millennial couples keep their finances separate, versus 11% of Gen-Xers and 13% of baby boomers.

On a personal note, before I got married to my husband, we were at odds with exactly how to go about merging our financial lives. It got so difficult that we decided to seek out some pre-marital counseling from a professional to work through it. Sorting through our financial fears helped us be more transparent before marriage. As our counselor said: If we can’t talk about it before marriage, it’ll only get tougher during marriage.

Should we sign prenups?

These days more millennials are entering marriage with prenuptial agreements to protect their assets. Prenups can be especially wise for couples who are blending families and/or getting married for a second or third time. A prenup shields pre-marital assets in the event of divorce or death and protects any future income and assets you acquire during the marriage.

Not everyone needs a prenuptial agreement, and there are drawbacks to consider, including the romantic toll it can take. So seek the help of certified financial advisor before moving forward. And if you get married without a prenup, that doesn’t mean you’re out of options. Postnuptial agreements can address many issues, including property, debt, future inheritances and earnings after the honeymoon is over. They can also actually make a couple stronger by fostering healthy communication about finances.

Don’t forget: Money issues are consistently among the top reasons for divorce. Not talking about your finances is like shooting yourself in the foot before you walk down that aisle. So tidy up your finances before you tie the knot.

Follow Jeanie Ahn on Twitter.

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This video was originally posted on December 1, 2017.