NEW YORK (AP) -- It's spring, when thoughts turn to love and marriage -- but not necessarily to money.
This year's crop of engaged couples might want to consider putting some financial planning on their ''to do'' list in advance of their wedding.
''It's often easier to talk about finances before marriage because there's less baggage,'' said Donn Sharer, a vice president at MetLife Financial Services. ''Too often, couples wait until there's a problem. Then emotions can take over and cloud the real issues.''
Increasingly, money issues are being included in church-sponsored programs for the soon-to-wed.
Daniel Close, a financial analyst in Chicago, said he and his fiancee, Anna Marie Kintis, a college professor, hadn't talked much about money until they got involved in a premarital program at a local Roman Catholic church.
Each filled out a 180-point questionnaire and found their answers didn't always match up, he said.
''One of the questions was, 'Will you have a joint checking account?''' Close said. ''I said 'yes,' but Anna Marie wrote 'no.' The married couple working with us picked up on it right away and said, 'Let's discuss that.'''
Before they were done, Close and Kintis -- who are both 26 and will marry in August -- had settled a number of issues. They will have a joint checking account. Also a joint credit card. And, if they have children, they think they can budget to manage on just one salary.
''I don't think we would have talked about those things on our own,'' he said. ''We would have gone on with our different assumptions and later, we probably would have had disagreements.''
Rev. Frank Nelson, pastor at the Woodbury Baptist Church in Woodbury, Minn., includes financial issues in his counseling for engaged couples.
''My philosophy of marriage preparation is that the most important skill couples need is good communication,'' Nelson said. ''So I try to help couples communicate about different issues, including money.''
He uses a booklet published by TalkPoint that asks a couple questions on 10 different topics, from faith to leisure and finance. Each is designed to spark a conversation.
''All the statistics and surveys say that money is probably the No. 1 cause for breakup of a marriage,'' he noted. ''It's not just having enough money. It's the conflicts that arise around money that aren't resolved.''
He added that some of the people he sees are marrying for a second time, and that talking things out ''can be just as important for them as for young people.''
MetLife's Sharer believes that ''the couples who are most successful financially in dealing with money tend to be more open about it.'' He suggests a series of topics for discussion:
-- What's important about money to each of you?
''One might view money as a source of recognition -- that it's important to own a nice car and have a big house,'' he said. ''The other might see money as a source of security -- that it's important to save in case our jobs go away.''
If one is basically a spender and the other a saver, the couple needs to find common ground.
-- What should our financial goals be?
A short-term goal could be saving for the down payment on a house; a long-term goal could be saving for a comfortable retirement or to start a business.
''There's no right answer,'' Sharer said. ''But at least you need to make sure you're going in the same direction.''
-- Are you committed to full disclosure?
If either member of the couple is bring $30,000 in credit card debt to the relationship, the sooner it's disclosed the quicker it can be dealt with.
''It's not the kind of surprise you want the month after the honeymoon,'' he added.
-- How are decisions going to be made?
Will there be one pot of money? Yours and mine? Some yours, some mine, some ours?
''This can be an especially emotional issue for women, an identity issue'' Sharer said. ''They sometimes see it as, 'I've changed my name, now you're asking me to wipe out my personal accounts.'''
-- Should we get outside help?
''A coach of some kind or a financial planner can ask those uncomfortable questions,'' Sharer said. ''If it's a question of you're not saving enough, for example, you can get mad at the planner. You're safely on the same side of the table as your fiance.''
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