The venue is booked, and you've written your vows. But have you discussed your credit histories? Or decided whether you'll keep separate or joint accounts? Those discussions can be just as essential to future wedded bliss as agreeing on the invitation list.
Even though research suggests that married couples are more likely to accumulate wealth and meet certain financial goals than their single peers, disagreements over money can derail those plans. Before tying the knot, experts recommend that couples have these six big money talks to prevent conflicts later:
Your credit histories. If either of you are bringing debt into the marriage, that is a topic you want to address in advance. While married couples aren't directly responsible for each other's debt as long as they maintain separate credit accounts, one person's poor credit can ruin a couple's chances of jointly taking out a home or auto loan, or at least make it much more expensive than it would have been otherwise.
"Couples who fight about money more frequently get divorced, and the thing they're really fighting about is debt," says Jean Chatzky, financial editor of the "Today" show. Developing a plan for paying it down as quickly as possible can help ease those strains.
To prevent surprises, personal finance educator Taffy Wagner suggests asking each other: "What student loans do you have? What car payments that parents will stop paying? Are you about to lose your car? If you have a child, do you have child support?" If the discussion generates some unexpected answers, try not to get angry, she warns. You shouldn't hold anything against your partner that happened before you met, she says. "You were not there. We all make mistakes," Wagner says. That spirit of forgiveness also extends to yourself. "Forgive yourself for financial mistakes that you made," she adds.
Whether you want separate or joint accounts. Experts don't agree on whether separate is always better, so the decision of whether to combine bank accounts or not depends on the couple. In general, older couples bringing substantial assets into the marriage -- or the responsibility of children -- are more likely to keep their money in individual accounts. But many personal finance advisors say even younger couples should consider doing the same. "It's always best to have some separate accounts," says Sharon Epperson, author of "The Big Payoff: 8 Steps Couples Can Take to Make the Most of Their Money -- and Live Richly Ever After ." That way, each person has some freedom when it comes to making purchases.
Epperson practices that approach in her own marriage. Her husband likes to make almost daily purchases from Amazon.com, for example. "I don't bother my husband about it. I know it's on his credit card," she says. On the same note, her husband doesn't ask her about the makeup and clothes she buys with her own money. Even when just one spouse works, the same advice applies, Epperson says, because a stay-at-home parent needs to be able to have some "fun money," too.
Separate accounts also ensure that both partners know how to manage money, says Candace Bahr, co-founder of the nonprofit Women's Institute for Financial Education and owner of an investment firm whose clients are predominantly divorced women. She points out that marriages don't last forever. "Even in the best marriages, one spouse is going to die. So it's still important to maintain your own identity," Bahr says. She recommends keeping assets, retirement accounts and credit in your own name. If one spouse is completely responsible for the finances, that leaves the other vulnerable in the case of death or divorce, she says.
Your long-term financial goals. Some people want to go on an exotic vacation once a year; others prefer to scrimp for a down payment. Talk about it ahead of time so you're on the same page.
Your spending styles. Don't be surprised if you're a spender and he's a saver. In fact, says Bonnie Eaker Weil, a New York-based relationship therapist and author of "Financial Infidelity," that's probably why you're getting married. "People don't understand that if you pick a person who gives you the most [financial] trouble, that [it] will challenge you in the areas you need help with. It's very unusual for people to have the same money [attitude]," she says. If you discover that you and your betrothed are polar opposites when it comes to budgeting, try to turn that into a positive by working with each other to find a happy medium, Weil suggests.
Who will do what? Do you like paying the bills, while she tends to lose them under a stack of paperwork? Is she the investing whiz, while you prefer to keep track of the checking account? A system of assigning tasks and making sure each spouse takes over some financial responsibilities tends to generate the best financial results.
[See: How to Manage Money in Your 20s .]
How will you respond to needy family members? If either partner has family members who might ask for financial help, make sure you're on the same page with your response. How much are you willing to give and for how long?
With these difficult topics addressed before the big day, you can enjoy an extended honeymoon.
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