Financial Affairs: Is it OK to ask a spouse about personal accounts before becoming engaged?

by epi on March 14, 2014

Q: I have a serious girlfriend that likely a few years from now I will become engaged to and marry.  She’s curious about my finances, and I don’t feel that it’s appropriate to be asking about my finances already.  I’m a lawyer, so my financial future is not bleak.  Is it appropriate for one to ask about personal finances before there is an engagement?

 

A: Financial matters are personal and private.  Instead of answering, ask her why she is asking.  Even if she has a reasonable answer, you are not at all required to respond.  You can always say that should your relationship develop further you would have a “full disclosure” discussion about finances and managing money together, but that right not it isn’t relevant, even though you are very close.

 

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Zouzou March 14, 2014 at 8:28 am

We live in interesting times, where tradition and etiquette can be blurred and bended by current socio-economical conditions.

It’s not good etiquette to ask financial questions at the dating phase. But…

Is it morally correct to leave out a **serious** (emphasis on “serious) boyfriend or girlfriend out in the dark about one’s financial health? Especially in light of said marriage proposal isn’t planned before few years? Particularly in this day and age of highly stringent credit requirements to finance the basic needs of a family? Especially for professionals who might be highly burdened by students’ debt?

Yes, it’s bad etiquette to ask about personal finances. But in my opinion, if the dating phase is planned to last few years (years!) before a marriage proposal materializes, it’s not fair not to volunteer them so to allow the serious (again emphasis on “serious”) boyfriend or girlfriend be fully aware of what they are getting into. A family isn’t easily built on the revenue of one spouse, as was the case in the 50′s and 60′s. Both spouses’ full fledge efforts are needed for that. Not to mention parents of the couple are more than ever solicited in that effort. I find it unfair not to volunteer such information.

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Alicia March 14, 2014 at 10:05 am

Absolutely you should be upfront about your finances prior to engagement. If you are or are not at that stage now depends on your relationship. But way prior to considering engagement you should discuss frankly fiscal situation your ,hers, and plans together. Money is the number one reason for divorce and being on the same page fiscally makes sense.

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Rusty Shackleford March 14, 2014 at 1:52 pm

I would say in the old days, before all sorts of exotic financing became the vogue, what you saw was what you got, and people could make their own judgments, and yes, talking about money was rude. But today, nice cars, clothes, and houses can easily mask someone who is heavily in debt with highly leveraged assets. There are also a large number of, how shall we say…dishonest people out there who overly inflate their careers, their financial position, and mislead even those closest to them. I realize people should fall in love with the person, for richer or poorer, but there are simply too many cold, hard realities in society today. It seems morally wrong to ask a marital partner to commit to helping to make a home, if its a home they could never lay claim to because its in a family trust, or has 3 liens. Factor in the significant investment of time, in the prime years of a young person’s life, that a courtship can now consume, and your girlfriend is smart, in this era to trust but verify. Traditional rules of etiquette will not resolve this difference between the two of you, you will have to make a personal decision.

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AntoniaB March 14, 2014 at 4:30 pm

I would say it’s foolhardy to become engaged to someone with whom you’ve not had ‘full and frank’ discussion about finances and approaches to money. After all, your will be tied to your spouses finances. There’s the obvious nuts and bolts of how much savings and debt your intended has. I would have been incredibly alarmed not to know about any student loans before marriage – not all debt is a sign of poor fiscal management.

But it goes beyond the figures but to the philosophy of money. Are you savers or spenders? Do you bend over backwards to have no debt at all while your fiancee sees nothing wrong with a few thousand credit card debt here and there? These are the sort of things that cause great strife in a marriage.

You need to talk about finances if you see yourself on track to marriage.

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Heather March 14, 2014 at 8:50 pm

I agree with the posters saying they should discuss it beforehand! His assurance that “my financial future is not grim” is not very reassuring. My husband is also a lawyer, and like many, he graduated with close to a quarter of a million dollars in student loan debt. Fortunately we paid it off thanks to a great job and frugal ways– but I would have been very upset if I hadn’t learned about it until after our engagement. I would, in fact, probably have ended the engagement if I felt like he was hiding a debt of that magnitude with breezy assurances.

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Tana March 15, 2014 at 10:11 pm

The issue is that it is unfair to keep seeing someone for however long you intend to wait to propose, if you end up having vastly different financial styles. This could be a dealbreaker in some relationships. If the relationship is long term and it’s expected to be very serious, I would not be surprised if the future fiance(e) has some concerns about financial compatibility. Since a lot of states are now community property, it’s important. And if you’re so adamant about not answering these questions and it’s important, then it’s only fair that the other party has a chance to walk away from it.

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