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6 Financial Missteps of Married Women

How to share your life without giving up financial independence

A May 2013 report by the credit services company Experian found that women deal with debt more responsibly than men do. In a broader questionnaire, 60 percent of women surveyed confidently stated they were indeed better at handling money than men.

Whatever the research, married women sometimes find themselves in perplexing — yet avoidable — financial situations.

1. Not saving enough for retirement after marriage.

If your spouse earns a huge salary and has invested avidly, you may have less impetus to save for retirement yourself. Your IRA, 401(k) or 403(b) may start to seem more supplemental than primary. Yet what happens if the relationship ends someday and you personally end up with a retirement savings shortfall? Keep contributing to your own retirement accounts.

2. Dipping into retirement savings once married.

If your spouse is wealthy or has a much greater net worth than you do, your retirement nest egg may seem minor in comparison. Your spouse may tell you that with all your collective investments and savings, it’s OK to take a loan out of your 401(k). Think again. Drawing down your own retirement savings could look l01ike a very bad move 20 or 30 years from now. Who knows what changes life could have in store? Resist the temptation to siphon off your retirement savings.

Women-Centric Financial Resources

  • WISER Woman (Women's Institute for a Secure Retirement) is a nonprofit educational/advocacy entity that helps women with long-term financial planning.
  • Wi$eUp Women focuses on financial education for young women in generations X and Y.
  • Worth for Women offers a wide range of fiduciary info, from Finance 101 to an interactive fincancial worth calculator.
  • WIFE.org (Womens Institute for Financial Education) has a motto that goes a little something like this: "A man is NOT a financial plan." Topics covered include divorce, widowhood and budgets.

3. Trusting a reckless spouse with your finances.

When you marry someone who is cavalier with money or has severe debt problems, don’t think that you will be financially immune from the effects of those issues. If your spouse is a wastrel or has a terrible credit rating, do not “hand over the keys” to the household finances. Watch what goes on with your shared bank accounts, investments and credit cards — keep communication open and encourage transparency.

4. Forfeiting some or all of your financial identity.

You may have taken your spouse’s name but that doesn’t mean you should give up your own credit card for a shared one or merge your personal checking into a joint account. If you don’t use a credit card for several months or years, you won’t have to pay a fee, but it could show up as “inactive” on your credit report. The credit card issuer may move to close the account, and losing that card’s credit history could hurt your credit score. Retain individual credit cards and savings and investment accounts.

5. Divorcing with an “equal” rather than equitable financial settlement.

In the event of a divorce, the impulse may be to amicably split things “50/50,” or your focus on keeping custody of the kids or ownership of your home may overshadow your financial potential. Don’t let that happen. Quite often, a woman is instrumental in building a business or professional practice with her spouse but does not remain part of that professional entity after a divorce. In such cases, women find themselves out of work, forced to take a job that pays less or having to learn new skills to compete in the job market.

To maintain your earnings potential and retirement savings, seek an equitable divorce settlement that considers your future financial potential; this is even more important than retaining material wealth or property from the marriage.

6. Losing touch with your career path.

If you have happily put a career aside to raise kids, keep in mind that you might find yourself returning to work sooner rather than later. Life events, economic necessity, personal desire and growing children may all be factors. Yet a long, total absence from the workplace can make it difficult to step back in — the technology or outlook of any given field can change radically across a few short years. Try to keep a foot (or at least a toe) in your career via consulting or networking efforts.

The takeaway

Look out for your financial well-being. It is OK to emphasize (and plan for) your own financial destiny when you are married. In fact, it is both wise and appropriate to do so.

Bill Losey, CFP®, CSA, is the former resident retirement expert on CNBC’s On the Money. Find him online at Billlosey.com.

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