VIVIANA HURTADO, HOST:
This is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Viviana Hurtado. Michel Martin is away. Coming up, when Beth Howard's husband died, her grieving process involved pie and lots of it. We'll talk to her about her book, "Making Peace: A Memoir of Love, Loss and Pie." That's in a few minutes.
But first, in keeping with matters of the heart, summer is a popular time for people to get married, but did you know that money is the most common source of conflict among American couples leading to an average of three arguments a month, according to a recent Harris interactive survey. And couples who fight over money - this isn't good news - once a week are 30 percent more likely to get divorced, according to a 2009 Utah State University study.
So we thought we'd try to head off some of those fights before they ever start. We've called upon one of our regular money coaches, Louis Barajas. Welcome.
LOUIS BARAJAS, BYLINE: Thank you, Viviana.
HURTADO: Louis, you suggest that one of the things new couples should do is pull out their credit reports. That seems a little bit unconventional, but why do you say that?
BARAJAS: Let's talk about the bottom line. I think that every relationship - every intimate relationship is always based on trust. Trust, for me, equals truth and transparency, and one of the best things that people can do is be transparent with their finances before they get married or even if they've just gotten married. And what better than pulling out a credit report? How much better can you actually see if somebody's really telling you the truth?
HURTADO: And so, we're talking about money, which is a really emotionally charged topic and certainly truth, as well. So how is it that you're able to talk to your honey without making sure that that money talk turns into a money argument?
BARAJAS: The problem is that most people are afraid to talk about money because you just mentioned - it's so emotionally charged and, if you do talk to your other - you know, your significant other about money and it always ends up getting into a fight, what you have to do is meet and look for help.
And, usually, a good certified financial planner or a financial therapist is an ideal person because what they do is they mediate. They can have that conversation with both of you without picking on each other or blaming each other, but the problem is that, most of the time, the couples just haven't really taken the time to think about their future, their goals, their values, and those are the conversations that you want to have, not just how much money do you owe? What are you earning? Those are obstacles that are not a big deal.
The biggest deal is just communicating and I always talk about cooperation and compromise.
HURTADO: At what point in a relationship do you bring up money? I mean, do I go out on a first date and do I say, hi. I'm Viviana. What's your credit score?
BARAJAS: No. I think what happens is, whenever you seriously think about that you're going to be marrying this person or you're going to be living with this person and this person's going to have an impact in your financial future, as well.
You know, I always say that money is just a means to live a better quality life and what people are looking for, ultimately, is just to be with someone that they can love, admire, cherish, but the problem is that, if money is so ingrained into the fabric of your relationship that, if you don't have that conversation at some point, it will affect the relationship.
HURTADO: And I think one of the big areas of money is allocation of assets. Right? What belongs to you, what belongs to me? So let's talk about one pretty important topic, which would be bank accounts. Do you find that couples, especially newlywed couples, are choosing to, say, open joint bank accounts or are they keeping things separately?
BARAJAS: If they're a young couple that have never been divorced, haven't gone through some terrible marriages, I almost always see them put their money together and do joint bank accounts.
If they're a little older and they've had some really bad relationships or relationships where there's lack of trust, they'll tend to have separate bank accounts and, if they're a little older and I think that there's a little bit more of what I call financial maturity in the relationship, sometimes, they'll have separate accounts, plus a joint account.
HURTADO: And what do you - how do you weigh in on a prenup?
BARAJAS: Yeah. Prenups are really important, especially if there's one spouse that's really focused on their career and focused on building assets and has a lot to lose in case there is some kind of divorce. When you've got couples that have been divorced, sometimes twice, and have built really, really strong balance sheets, then it does make sense.
But, Viviana, what I have found overall - we're going back to - we were talking about joining accounts - I've found that the most successful marriages that I've worked with over the last 20 years when it comes to money is when they actually do join their accounts and when they do share everything and when they share their goals and they sit down and talk about their future and they're really cognizant of their values and they're being open and honest with each other, that's when you really have these wonderful long-term relationships, I think, where money does not affect it.
HURTADO: And speaking of joining, if you're joining us, this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Wedding bells are ringing, and we wanted to know how couples can keep their relationship financially sound. Our guest is one of our regular money coaches, Louis Barajas.
There are a lot of reports about financial deceit going on. Three in 10 adults living with their honey were found to be dishonest in their spending behaviors, like lying about a big purchase. I'm going to put my Louis Vuitton bag not under the desk. I don't have one. But that's according to a recent survey conducted for the American Institute of CPAs.
So, Louis, what do you make of this statistic?
BARAJAS: I agree with that statistic because I've seen it throughout my lifetime working with a lot of couples and I think those are big issues of character, not as much as issues of money.
You know, money just is very - a neutral source, but the problem is that we make it emotional. We use our prior experiences, how we've handled money, how our parents handled money and we bring those into a relationship and the other person doesn't have that prior knowledge. And so that's why it's important, like I said, you know, once you know that the person you want to be with the rest of your life - this is a conversation, that money talk conversation that is so crucial in making sure that your relationship lasts long term. My suggestion is, sometimes, you need to invest in that marriage, as well, and you have to take a look at using money to make your relationship stronger by going to see a counselor or a therapist or even a financial therapist.
HURTADO: So, Louis, I've got a trick question for you, or maybe not so trick question. I can't trust my boyfriend with my bank account, so what do I do?
BARAJAS: You know, the issue is deeper than that. Right, Viviana? I mean, if it's - whether it's you or someone else who can't trust their boyfriend, I'd just go back to the whole concept as - what else do you not trust this person with? What kind of person would you want to be with down the road if you just can't trust him? And so there has to be a level of financial maturity, but also, at the same time, relationship maturity.
And that's what I go back to. The issues, sometimes, are a lot deeper, but if the issue is that you want to be with this person, you're not going to marry them, you know, in the meantime, you're going to have a separate account, and what you're going to do is you're going to sit down and decide what bills you're going to pay, what bills he's going to pay and how you're going to share that.
And then what happens, also, with couples is that, when they actually join their accounts, they have this fear of losing their independence. Now, you have to actually compromise, and you don't want to do that. So, again, it's up to you, but I always go back to - you know, it's an issue of character. It's an issue of trust. There's nothing wrong with having flaws. As humans, we're flawed. But being honest, being truthful and transparent are going to make the big difference in your relationship with money.
HURTADO: As always, Louis, really great advice. Louis Barajas is a love - I mean, a financial and business - life strategist. He's also the author of several books, including "My Street Money: A Street Level View of Managing Your Money From the Heart to the Bank." He was kind enough to join us from Costa Mesa, California.
Thank you, Louis.
BARAJAS: Thank you, Viviana.
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