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Couples encouraged to discuss finances before tying the knot

| Sunday, June 16, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Ashley Matusz and Joe Fisher, both 24, talked about cutting $800 off the flower bill for their wedding reception on Saturday and saving $1,000 by forgoing flowers in the church.

But the really big budgeting headaches will hit they tie the knot. Ashley, in Wayne State University's medical school, is expecting $130,000 in student loans.

Many young couples are dealing with delicate conversations about debt, such as student loans, credit cards or other debt — or they should be having those discussions this wedding season, financial experts say.

It's best to come clean before saying “I do” when it comes to what some call the anti-dowry — when you bring debt to the marriage. Some financial advisers suggest “money dates” instead of movie dates to discuss debt, and they say the most important number is not how many exes you have, but what your credit scores are.

If you're going to take someone for richer or poorer, it's far better to know particulars up front. If you can tell someone about your old flames, why not come clean and disclose your credit score, too? A low credit score is going to drive up the price of taking out a loan to buy a car or a home.

“Ever since the beginning, I was like, ‘You know, I'm going to have a lot of debt,' ” said Matusz, who told Fisher about her plans when they started dating slightly more than two years ago. She has completed her first year of medical school.

The couple says they were careful not to overspend while dating. Fisher cooks a lot of “date night” meals instead of going out, Matusz said. Neither has credit card debt.

Couples need to share that credit report information with each other to get a plan in place for tackling any problems.

“It's a matter of understanding what the impact of those debts are,” said Wayne Titus III, a member of the Michigan Association of CPAs financial literacy task force. Titus, an owner of AMDG Financial in Plymouth, Mich., said full disclosure is needed and recommends the money dates to keep the marriage on a financial track.

“I see it as both of our debt, not just hers,” said Fisher, who works as a market research analyst for the Paul's TV retail chain in Warren, Mich.

For some couples, a heavy student debt load has meant postponing marriage. About 7 percent of adults who took out college loans said they delayed getting married or starting a family because of their need to pay back the debt, according to a 2011 Pew Research study.

Lauren Locker, a certified financial planner and chairwoman of the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors, said anyone who is getting married needs to discuss how they're going to deal with debt.

The average wedding costs $28,400 — close to the average amount of student loan debt. If couples borrow for the wedding and if one has the average amount of student loans, they could be $56,000 in debt before they share the first slice of wedding cake.

For many young couples, she said, expectations for how much money one can make or how well one can live are not in line with real life. She blames the beautiful lifestyles often shown in the media. Most of the country cannot afford to live like that without going too deep into debt.

The key, she said, is couples asking: What's the plan? What's the goal and strategy for paying off debt?

“They have to make a plan. What are you going to sacrifice to get out of that debt?” said Locker, who founded Locker Financial Services in Little Falls, N.J. “It doesn't go away.”

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