Marriage brings with it many changes to your life, not the least of which is a shared responsibility for the bills and the question of how to handle your finances. There are no hard and fast rules in this area and much of your decision depends on your personal situation, but knowing the pros and cons should make it easier to decide whose name goes on the bill.
Which bills you put in both names may depend on how you handle your personal finances. If you are both working and have your own bank accounts, bills for services you share, such as electricity, should go in both names. Decide how you will pay for them before the bill comes due. If you pool your earnings in a joint bank account, all bills paid from that account should carry both names. However, if you have a joint account to pay some bills and you each also maintain your own accounts, some bills should be kept separate.
Unless you have an apartment or condo with utilities included, phone, gas, electric, cable TV and Internet comprise the basic bills many people have. If one of you has never had a gas or electric bill in his or her name, you should definitely put both names on these bills. Should something happen to one of you, the surviving spouse will still need service, but utilities frequently charge a deposit if you have no history with them. Having both names on the bill avoids that issue. If you get a landline you should probably have it in both your names, as well as the cable bill. If you have your own cell phones, you may want to keep them separate.
If you each had credit cards prior to your marriage, and you have balances on the cards, keep those as they stand, particularly if you are paying these cards from your personal account. If you get a card after you marry that you plan to use for household items or other shared expenses, it should be in both of your names. The same is true of vehicle loans. If your spouse wants a motorcycle and you want no part of it, there is no reason for you to be responsible for the loan. If your name is on it, you owe it if your spouse defaults. Both names should be on any mortgage or apartment lease.
Community Property States
If you live in a community property state, the pros and cons go out the window. Creditors can go after either spouse for the the debt of the other. As assets are shared, so is debt. Debt brought into the the marriage is usually the responsibility of the spouse who brought it to the marriage, but debt acquired after the marriage will belong to you both. Even if you don't live in a community property state you may be responsible for the debt of your spouse depending on your state's laws. Get your credit report each year and go over it carefully. If you find accounts of which you were unaware, sit down and talk about it with your spouse before you find yourself in a situation that can adversely affect you for a very long time.
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