When one spouse is deployed, the spouse on the homefront often handles the lion's share of financial tasks. Of course, military families aren't the only ones who face long-distance marriages. As women continue to achieve higher levels of career success and pursue advanced degrees, many dual-career couples have entered into commuter marriages. And the U.S. Census Bureau reports that 1.5 percent of Americans over age 15 were married with a spouse absent in 2015.
While these good housekeeping tasks are especially important prior to an absence, even if you aren't anticipating taking on new financial responsibilities, completing many of these tips can help you ensure you're in tiptop shape for the future . Read on for a checklist of suggested financial tasks for military and civilian couples to tackle in preparation for a spouse's absence.
1. Go over your finances together. Make sure you both know what bills and accounts you have. "Lots of times the husband will be taking care of all the finances, and the spouse doesn't know where the documents are, what the documents are and what to do if something happens," says Jim Hanna, the founder and CEO of the San Antonio-based Retire with Jim Hanna Wealth Advisors. "You've got to include your spouse in everything you're doing," he adds. If one spouse needs signature authority to manage the account, it's easier to make that change before leaving town.
2. Agree on who will pay what. Get clarity on who will pay what bills and when each payment is due. Most expenses, including credit card and cellphone bills as well as mortgages and car payments, occur monthly, so it's easy to forget bills that pop up less frequently such as quarterly taxes or annual life insurance premiums. However, never sign blank checks. "If that [a blank check] falls into the wrong hands, that can wipe you out," says Kevin Cortes, chief military officer at Miramar Federal Credit Union , a military membership credit union in San Diego. 3. Monitor bills. Experts are split on the value of paying bills automatically. On the one hand, automated payments ensure that bills get paid and you never pay a late fee. But if nobody is monitoring the bills, you could be overpaying for extra fees or not realize when a bill has skyrocketed. "They need somebody that's more hands-on of the two to actually write the check and know what they're spending each month," says Drew Horter, founder of the Cincinnati-based Horter Investment Management LLC.
4. Check your insurance. Especially in the event that you're going into a combat zone, make sure to assess whether or not you have enough life insurance to cover your survivors' financial needs and confirm if you've purchased disability insurance. Also, make sure that your insurance beneficiaries are current, Hanna adds. The last thing you'd want is to pay for an insurance policy, only to have the benefits go to an ex-spouse or someone else who is no longer in your life.
9. Put support systems in place. The last thing you want is for a young spouse living in an unfamiliar place to feel overwhelmed, or, in a worst-case scenario, get conned. "You may have somebody who got married at the last second and [the husband is] gone for six months," Cortes says. "A brand new wife has no resources because she has nowhere to go on base. She doesn't know all the benefits available," he adds. Fortunately, every military installation has a resource center for families, offering benefits like financial education, parenting classes and integration training.
Nonmilitary spouses may not have these official resources, but they should look to strategies for creating their own support systems, whether it's a relationship with a trusted financial advisor , the phone number of the in-laws or a colleague's spouse they can call for emergency childcare or other assistance.