For young couples starting out, money can be tight. Most likely, you’re starting a new career or a family; paying back college loans; or simply suffering though a slow job market in a sluggish economy. Utility bills, credit card debt, car payments, rent and other expenses can add stress to your relationship and your budget. If only one partner works outside the home, the budget can be further strained.
When you’re young, it’s tempting to live for the moment. Taking care of work, kids and busy schedules can blot out any well-intentioned thoughts of careful financial planning. But if you neglect basic financial planning principles during these early years, you could find yourself paying for it later in terms of subpar credit, debt, a lack of college funding for your kids or inadequate retirement income.
Following are five simple tips that can help young couples manage basic financial planning needs.
Think Like a Couple
When you were single, you only had to worry about your own financial health. If you spent too much, you could simply decide to spend less. Now that you’re living as a couple, you will share income, debt, expenses and, for better or worse, spending and saving habits.
To encourage a successful financial future, agree to work toward financial stability together. Make a habit of calmly discussing your finances. Create a realistic but strict budget you can both live with, and then stick to it. This will help avoid future financial crises and prevent unnecessary stress and worry about money.
Get Out of Debt – and Stay Out
When you became a couple, you not only combined your incomes, but you also combined your debts. Being constantly in debt drains your monthly income, creates stress and puts you in an unstable financial situation. If one person loses an income and you can’t make the credit card payments, your credit rating will decline and you will pay higher interest rates on future loans – and even possibly fail to qualify for car or home loans.
Make it a priority, as a couple, to get out of debt as soon as possible. Develop a strategy to pay off your debts that have the highest interest rates or that don’t qualify as a tax deductible expense first.
Start Saving for Retirement Now
Even while eliminating debt, do not neglect saving for retirement. When you’re in your 20s, retirement seems far away, but the earlier you start saving, the better. Because you’re young, you can be more aggressive with your investments, take more risks in an effort to reap higher returns. Even modest investments can grow exponentially over the decades leading to retirement, meaning that you can sacrifice less each month and end up saving more for your retirement. Compound interest and the historically upward trend of the financial markets are vehicles you can climb aboard early and ride to retirement success.
Start a College Fund for Your Kids
If you have children, now is the time to start putting away money for their college education. College tuition is on the rise, and there is no reason to expect that trend to reverse. A 529 college savings plan is a great way to save. Contributions are tax deductible in some states, but not on your federal tax return. However, investment earnings in a 529 college savings plan are tax exempt when used for qualifying college expenses. States also offer prepaid plans that let you lock-in college tuition at today’s prices. Either way you go, the key is to start early to maximize your savings. Talk to a financial planning professional about options in your state and start saving now.
The fees, expenses, and features of 529 plans can vary from state to state. 529 plans involve investment risk, including the possible loss of funds. There is no guarantee that a college-funding goal will be met. In order to be federally tax-free, earnings must be used to pay for qualified higher education expenses. The earnings portion of a nonqualified withdrawal will be subject to ordinary income tax at the recipient’s marginal rate and subject to a 10-percent penalty. By investing in a plan outside your state of residence, you may lose any state tax benefits. 529 plans are subject to enrollment, maintenance, and administration/management fees and expenses.
Plan for Your New Home
You will need to start saving for a new home if that is one of your goals. Buying a new home can be a good investment and can provide a solid anchor for your family and financial life. Down payments are usually a substantial sum, so it is essential that you start saving early.
Make sure you pay your bills and credit card payments faithfully and on time each month to boost your credit rating, which will lower your interest rate and monthly payment and make it easier to qualify for a home loan.
Finally, buy a home within your means. Just because you can make the monthly mortgage payment under ideal circumstances doesn’t mean it’s a smart financial decision. Buy a home you can comfortably afford now, and move up to a larger, more expensive home later when you’re in a better position.
A Smart Strategy
Laying a solid financial foundation when you’re young is a smart strategy. It’s easier to maintain your financial situation than it is to fix it after it’s broken. If you’re a young couple, start now to gain control of your debt, create a budget and save for retirement, education expenses and your first home.