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Tying the Knot? Beware of the Post-Wedding Debt Vortex

A few tips to help you navigate.

For many young couples, wedding planning often brings with it a sense of excitement; but for those who may not feel financially prepared, entering marriage can also elicit serious financial anxieties. Aside from the costs associated with the actual event, married life brings with it a whole new set of financial considerations — like whether to combine assets, how much of your income should go to savings, when to spend on big-ticket items, and where to cut costs. To make matters worse, newlyweds may be dealing with other new experiences and expectations, which combined with an overall lack of financial awareness, can add to their anxiety.

This is particularly true for millennial couples. Having taken on 300% more debt than their parents, millennials are frequently forced to straddle the line between their lack of financial wellness and their desire for independence.

So it’s really no surprise that 56% of millennials with student loans have delayed a major life event, including getting married or having kids, because of their debt.

The impact of this debt can be seen in the increasing popularity of “wedding loans.” At present, some online lenders are reporting that they’ve issued up to four times as many loans for weddings as they did a year ago. These loans often carry interest rates ranging from 7% to 18% which, while certainly cheaper than some credit cards, will take years to pay off. As the average cost of weddings continues to increase, more and more young people are taking on even more debt to fund what’s supposed to be the happiest day of their lives.

So, it’s really no wonder that millennials have become increasingly concerned about their finances. In fact, MetLife’s 17th annual U.S. Employee Benefits Trend Study (EBTS) explored employees’ impressions of their financial wellness and found that, despite having a full-time job, 73% of married millennial workers have voiced concern over the likelihood of paying down their debt, in contrast with 67% of their single counterparts. What’s more, a staggering 77% of married Gen Y workers have voiced concern over being able to save up for big-ticket goals, like buying a home or saving for college. Although 74% of married millennial workers reported feeling financially on-track, more than a third, 36%, admitted to having a second job (compared with 24% of their single counterparts), with 34% needing the extra income to help make ends meet and 31% to combat debt.

These couples are facing an uphill battle. So how do we help them?

By helping them to prioritize their financial wellness. Defined as the state of being in strong financial health — able to successfully manage day-to-day finances, protect against unplanned expenses and financial shocks, and plan and save for future milestones — financial wellness lays the groundwork for not only millennials’ financial futures, but also their holistic wellbeing.

Below are a few tips on how millennials can build up their financial wellness, combat their crushing financial stress, and escape the post-wedding debt vortex.

Create a budget to track expenses

It’s an unfortunate truth: millennials, many of whom are new to the workforce, often go about their daily lives in a state of uncertainty surrounding their financial wellness. As a result, many have a limited view of their financial situation, which can lead to poor decision-making and, most importantly, stress.

Setting a budget to track general expenses and plan for the future may help couples stay informed financially. Begin by assessing your household needs (making sure to prioritize these over your wants), and then regularly track your spending. Comparing these two categories side-by-side is a helpful practice to understand your financial behavior both individually and as a couple — and allows you to not only set, but also achieve tangible goals in the future.

Choose Your Benefits Wisely

For many new hires, selecting a benefits package often seems more like a chore than a key step in setting up their financial foundation. Particularly for young people with limited background or experience, decisions around their healthcare elections, 401k benefits, and tax withholdings are made without doing any research. In the moment, these decisions may seem insignificant; however, over time, they may have a serious impact on an individual’s financial health.

It’s imperative that millennials seeking to create a secure financial future carefully consider the benefits they’re offered at the workplace and take the time to learn about them. By taking the time to fully understand what is available, the protection they offer and how they fit into the larger financial picture, you’re far more likely to make the best decisions for your personal situation. And if you don’t know what to do, ask. By talking to a friend or enrolling in a financial wellness program at work, you’ll pick up important skills that will allow you to overcome financial hurdles as they arise.

Pick Your Financial Battles

It’s one of the most frequent topics of marital arguments: money. As newlyweds, the idea of making joint decisions about mutual assets can seem overwhelming. If, for example, one party were to buy a car or sign up for a multi-year loan, both of you would be liable for the payments. It’s a reality that can be particularly concerning for millennials, who are already facing issues such as student loan debt and stagnant wages.   

It may sound overly simple, but the key to success for millennial couples is communication and transparency. For example, if you’re swimming in thousands of dollars of credit card debt, make sure your partner knows this before the wedding. And if you’re interested in investing, or saving for a big-ticket item, be vocal. By taking the time to ensure that you and your partner are aware of both your financial shortcomings and your priorities, you can more easily ensure that you’re financially in-sync.

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