Getting married is one of the biggest decisions you'll ever make, and marriage has a huge impact on your life. When it comes to your finances, there are many consequences of getting married that you should know upfront to avoid any surprises. Below, we'll go into some of the most important ones.
Community property: Where you live matters
One key aspect of marriage and finances hinges on whether you live in a state that recognizes community property laws. Following the southern and western borders of the U.S., community property states include Louisiana, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, California, Oregon, and Washington, as well as Idaho and Wisconsin. In these states, assets obtained and debts incurred during marriage are considered to be part of the marital community, and therefore both spouses are technically responsible for assets and liable for repaying debts. Alaska allows residents to choose community property treatment but doesn't impose it automatically. By contrast, if you live in states where community property laws don't apply, assets and debts typically follow which names appear on key documents. For instance, if only one spouse's name is on a credit card, then the other spouse won't be liable.
Even in community property states, there are things you can do to recognize your intended ownership of assets or liability for debts. However, you have to take affirmative action to do so. A visit to a local attorney can help you answer questions and get the specific advice you need for your personal situation.
Taxes: Will you get a marriage bonus or marriage penalty?
Getting married also has a big impact on taxes. What most couples will find is that if the two spouses each earn roughly the same amount, then they'll end up paying the same or more in total taxes. If the two spouses have wide differences in earnings, or if one spouse stays at home and doesn't work at all, then the family's total tax burden will typically decrease.
The one thing you have some control over with respect to marriage and taxes is the timing of your wedding. Your tax return reflects your marital status as of the last day of the year. So if you intend to get married in December but would suffer a marriage penalty, waiting until January to tie the knot will put off the tax hit for another year. Conversely, moving a wedding earlier can help couples who are due a marriage bonus to reap that benefit sooner.
Social Security: Know your benefits
Finally, Social Security plays a vital role in the financial security for families, and knowing all the benefits that are available is critical for your financial planning. Most people think of Social Security as being only for retirees, but many benefits are geared toward spouses as well. Therefore, getting married can have a dramatic impact on Social Security.
For couples under retirement age, the key Social Security benefits are designed to help in the case of unfortunate situations. Disability insurance kicks in if a working spouse becomes permanently disabled, while survivor benefits are available in the event of the death of a working spouse. For both disability and survivor situations, spouses are also entitled to receive benefits if they are caring for a child who's under age 16 or disabled. Families are also allowed to receive children's benefits for those children who are under age 18, 18 or 19 and attending high school, or disabled.
The amount of benefits that a spouse is entitled to receive depends on the benefit. For survivor situations involving children, the spouse gets 75% of the worker's benefit, and children are also entitled to 75%, up to a total family maximum of roughly 150% to 180%. For disability, family members get 50% of the worker's disability rate, with a similar family maximum.
If you're getting married in 2017, congratulations! The information above should help you to get your finances in order and set a strong foundation for a lifetime of happiness and financial security.