One of the most common concerns I hear from my clients is that they do not know their family’s or spouse’s finances. This is more common than you think. According to some statistics from last year, in 42% of relationships one partner in the relationship handles the finances, and in 46% of marriages the couples have separate bank accounts. This means almost half of married people don’t know their complete financial picture.
If you don’t know about your family’s finances, and you’re not comfortable asking your spouse or your spouse is non-cooperative, here are eight easy self-help steps you can take to start putting the pieces together.
- Make an inventory of your incomes, assets and debts – just what you know. You can start building from there.
- Gather copies of the pay stubs, bank account statements and credit card statements that you can. You can search shared filing cabinets, go online to shared accounts and your individual accounts, or physically to your bank.
- Get copies of your income tax returns. Many people don’t know what their spouse earns or where their spouse banks, but they often file joint tax returns. Joint income tax returns will show your combined incomes, and your and your spouse’s interest and dividend income, including the institutions from where it came from, so you will know where you and your spouse bank. If you don’t have a copy of your income tax returns, you can ask your accountant, or you can request a copy of your tax transcript for several years back online from the IRS at IRs.gov.
- Run a credit report on yourself. This will tell you what debts are in your name.
- Make an appointment for you, or you and your spouse, with your financial advisor to find out what you have.
- Make an appointment for you and your spouse to review or create an estate plan. The first thing most estate attorneys will do is make an inventory of your assets.
- See if you can do a Public Records Search on your spouse. A public records search scours the internet for public records that match certain criteria of the individual you are researching and gives you a report of what it finds. There is usually a fee for this. It often shows information about the individual’s court records, social media, addresses and telephone numbers, information from credit bureaus, asset ownership, and business associations.
- Open your mail and save everything you get for a full three months. You can just stick it in an envelope or snap a picture of it with your phone. This isn’t helpful if your spouse gets their mail sent to them at their office or electronically. Many of my clients tell me that their spouse always gets the mail. In that case, sign up on the United States Postal Service’s website for Informed Delivery. Informed Delivery is a service that scans and sends you images of the outside of your mail. That way, even if you never tangibly have your mail, you’ll who you and your spouse are receiving mail from.
Getting your arms around your family’s finances is the first step to taking control of your financial future.