A 2015 Fidelity Investments survey, which for some reason is being frequently reported on by the media now, found that 43 percent of Americans, who are married or in long-term committed relationships, do not know what their partner earns. Moreover, among that group, 10 percent were off by $25,000 or more.
Clearly, couples come in many forms these days, but this survey is of real concern, since no matter what the facts and circumstances of the relationships are, it would seem that in 2016, there should be more financial transparency than this. By the way, the survey doesn’t go into whether the uninformed partner simply does not care about what the other partner earns, or whether the other partner is keeping it a secret.
It would seem that if there is always enough money to go around for the couple, both jointly and individually, and there always will be, this information may not be that important, or not seem that important. However, if there is a need for a joint budget, and the need to achieve common financial goals and objectives — like minimizing overall debt, providing for the education of children and an eventual retirement with dignity — this information is critical to an effective household financial plan and, no doubt in some cases, a healthy relationship.
No matter what the couple’s situation may be, it is important that there be access to all of the relevant financial information of the other partner in case something happens – a long-term illness, disability or death. In my personal situation, where my wife and I mostly maintain separate personal finances, I keep a file with my personal financial information that I periodically update. For example, semi-annually, I will put in the file copies of my current bank and investment statements. In addition, I have separate files with my one credit card’s statements and my other personal bills; each of the separate household bills that I pay, but that we both contribute to; and the household contracts I am responsible for monitoring, like snowplowing, insurances, and furnace maintenance. These are all in a single filing cabinet, and my wife knows where they are.
There is even one step further that you can take to provide your partner and family some additional peace of mind, and perhaps save them some time and money. In talking about this survey with a number of people at the Fringe Festival, one woman expressed that she had recently lost her husband. She said that in addition to identifying all of the relevant financial information, he has written down all of the additional information he could think of about the household. When the vehicles had to be registered and inspected, when the furnace needed to be cleaned and inspected under the maintenance contract, when the roof was last replaced and the driveway sealed. Which plumber, handyman, painter, and heating contractor he hired, and their telephone numbers. When the plants had to be fertilized, where the lawnmower was serviced, and so much more. I really like that idea, and will do that myself.
On a different subject, we have talked about the popularity of gift cards in the past. We have also discussed selling gift cards, and the problems of fees and expirations, if they are not used in a timely manner. Of course, these problems can be avoided by gifting cash, which is “King.”
This week there was good news for gift card holders. A bill was signed into law in New York state to take effect on Dec. 25, which expands the expiration date to five years. In addition, unused gift cards cannot be charged a fee until 25 months, up from the previous time of 13 months, and only after three years can there be a monthly service fee charged. In any event, make sure that you know and understand all of the terms and conditions of any gift card that you purchase or receive,
In the next column we will look at those Reverse Mortgages.
John Ninfo is a retired bankruptcy judge and the founder of the National CARE Financial Literacy Program.