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Seven Financial To-Dos for New Couples

You had a lovely June wedding -- sunshine, roses, raspberry truffle cake, and the bunny hop. Now July is here, and you're looking forward to spending the next month agonizing over the photographer's proofs and cooing to each other.

Oh, and you also have a zillion thank-you notes to write, six waffle irons to return, and... while your day-dream is already interrupted, mind if we interject with a few money chores as well? We promise to make it as quick and painless as possible.

We've come up with seven financial to-dos for all of you new couples (or not-so-new couples who got bogged down with house-shopping and demurring about questions about children). These steps are ranked in order of ease and, to a lesser extent, urgency.

1. Change your beneficiaries/emergency contacts. Remember when you filled out forms ages ago for your 401(k) or insurance? Your beneficiary is the person you named to be the recipient of those monies when you die. Bummer stuff, we know. Thankfully, the paperwork is pretty easy. Just ask your human resources manager at work for a "life event kit" (she or he may refer you directly to the companies providing these services). You'll also need to change any accounts that are not work-related. Here's a checklist of forms/people to contact:

  • W-4 forms (if you need to change the number of dependents)
  • 401(k), pensions, profit-sharing accounts
  • Misc. programs your company may offer
  • Insurance -- life, car, home, or health insurance (make sure to change contact info)
  • IRAs and other investments accounts

2. Think about insurance changes. Your life has changed; you got a better half, maybe a new pet, and a precious George Foreman grill. Your insurance should change too.

  • Life insurance: Life insurance is meant to help with expenses if one spouse dies and the surviving spouse's income is insufficient to cover household expenses. If this sounds like your situation, take a look at our life insurance section.
  • Disability insurance: The average 20-year-old is twice as likely to become disabled than to die before retirement. In other words, it's important to have disability insurance.
  • Homeowners/renters insurance: Even if you already had homeowners or renters insurance, you may want to update it to include your engagement ring and any particularly valuable wedding gifts.
  • Health insurance: Coordinate your health and dental insurance if you are both covered by your respective employers. Eliminate any duplicate coverage and maximize your benefits if one of you has a more generous employer.

3. Put the wedding-gift money to good use. Sure, a large flat-screen TV might make a fabulous one-month anniversary present. But think about giving a gift that'll bring peace of mind. You may want to use some of this money to pay down any debts you incurred throwing the wedding, or to set up an emergency fund (a good rule-of-thumb is to have three months of income on hand). How nice to start your life together with the honeymoon paid off!

4. Set some early goals. We don't want to ruin any of your candlelight dinners by suggesting a discussion about what size RV you need for retirement and how you'll pay for the twins to go to Harvard. That can wait a few months. This is a good time, however, to decide on some shorter-term goals that will help set the foundation for your future money talks.

When would you like to buy a house? How much can you afford to pay toward your credit card debt each month? How soon do you want to go on a second honeymoon, now that you've realized how much you like Mai Tais, sunset cruises, and midnight buffets?

5. Review what you have. Grab a leftover bottle of champagne, order some Chinese food, and find your bank statements to see what the two of you bring to the marriage (a modern dowry). See if you can cut down on some redundancies. Review your:

  • Bank accounts -- savings, checking, CDs
  • Credit cards -- number of cards, amount of debt, interest rates
  • Investments -- stocks, bonds
  • Misc. assets -- house, car, jewelry, silver, Beanie Babies, comic books, your love for each other
  • Misc. loans -- house, cars, school, loans to your parents

Distressed that marriage seems to have just brought you credit card debt and school loans, which you already had plenty of yourself? Take a look at some ways to save money through marriage.

6. Change your name? While it may be emotionally important to you to change your last name, it is not financially important. If you have to choose between spending an annoying afternoon opening an IRA account or an annoying afternoon filling out forms to change your name, the IRA is the better financial step. But for those who are changing their names, here's what you need to do:

  1. Contact the Social Security Administration (800-772-1213). The phone system will walk you through the process of getting a new blue card with your new name. You can also download the form online.
  2. Visit the Department of Motor Vehicles. Bring a bunch of forms of identification (they tend to be fussy) and your original marriage certificate with the pretty seal.
  3. Contact lots of people once you have your Social Security card and your driver's license: banks, credit card companies, phone company, anyone who sends you bills or mail that you want to have the correct name on. For a while you may get twice the junk mail.

7. Write a will and set up a power of attorney. Alas, we are back to the death theme. When you write a will, you should visit an attorney (maybe you have one in the family who would do this as a wedding present). It will cost $100-$300. Avoid using a preprinted fill-in-the-blank form or off-the-shelf-software. They are often out of date and may not comply with your state's laws. Also have your lawyer set up durable power of attorney, which names your spouse or someone else you trust to make financial, investment, and health decisions on your behalf if you can't act for yourself.

Whew! Working your way through this list may feel as tedious as the weeks you spent listening to tapes of wedding bands playing "Celebration" and Macarena medleys. But nothing says "I love you" like being the first one to say, "Honey, I just named you as my beneficiary."

Duffy Winters and her husband, Dan, have been stuck at step 5 for two and a half years now -- but their intentions are really, really good. The Motley Fool is investors writing for investors.


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