Moving to a new stage in your relationship? If you've found that special someone in time for Valentine's Day, sooner or later you'll need to sort out the joint financial setup.
And sooner is probably better, especially for military couples where deployments, frequent moves and other service-specific concerns can create a special brand of financial headaches. Here are 10 financial tips to consider as a couple:
1. Pull your free credit reports. The law allows you to order one free copy of your credit report from each of the three nationwide credit reporting companies every 12 months. The only place where you can get a truly free credit report is annualcreditreport.com, or 877-322-8228. You can do these all at once, or you can spread them out during the year.
Now is the time to get any errors corrected. If your significant other refuses to show you a credit report, there might be a deeper issue you'll want to explore.
2. In debt? Get help. If there is more debt than either of you feel comfortable with, seek advice from a financial adviser. Even if you don't have debt, schedule an appointment through one of the free resources available through the military.
You can check with your closest military installation to make an appointment with the personal financial management specialist -- visit www.militaryonesource.mil, scroll down to the installation program directory, and select "personal financial management services" for your installation. If you're not near a base, or prefer another option, request financial counseling under the "confidential help" button on the website, for free in-person or telephonic counseling.
The military relief societies offer budget counseling and emergency financial assistance. On-base banks and credit unions also provide financial counseling.
3. Get your accounts in order. Determine whether you're going to have a joint account, separate accounts, or a combination of both. Some people pay all the bills from one joint account; others divide the bills. Consider the consequences if both don't have access to all accounts, such as in the case of deployment.
4. Make a fresh financial start. You're likely setting up new accounts anyway, so shop around for a new financial institution that might offer better deals. Check out some of the military-oriented banks and credit unions: Some of them may offer better terms on checking accounts, such as no-fee options, and better rates on credit cards.
5. Discuss your financial philosophy. Cover things such as emergency savings, retirement savings, whether to pay off credit card debt each month, and saving for things instead of buying them on credit.
6. Make a plan. Be sure you know where money needs to go to pay necessities such as rent, utilities and food. If there's not much left over, both you and your significant other need to be aware so that spending doesn't spiral out of control.
7. Don't wait until deployment. Get your will and similar documents updated, and make sure you've changed the beneficiary on life insurance policies.
8. Learn your support structure. Whether you're a service member or significant other, take advantage of briefings on base or through your unit that highlight benefits and protections. There are a host of benefits too numerous to begin to list.
You may not need particular assistance now, but when you have a need in the future, you'll remember help is available. Whether you're new to the military or a seasoned service member or family member, places to start for information are the family assistance center on base and www.militaryonesource.mil.
9. Celebrate Military Saves Week. It runs Feb. 27 to March 4. You and your intended can pledge to save money through this campaign that's aimed at raising awareness and education about the importance of saving. There's a variety of information available at www.militarysaves.org, and a number of bases and financial institutions are participating, including many with incentives to save.
10. Stay on the ball. Continue frequent discussions about money throughout your life together.