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Couples and money: How to work it out

CNBC's Sharon Epperson offers advice for figuring out financial matters.
/ Source: TODAY

Couples need to learn how to handle money situations together — from paying down credit card debt to financing their home to saving for retirement and sending their kids to college. But, as I write in my new book, “The Big Payoff: 8 Steps Couples Can Take To Make The Most Of Their Money — And Live Richly Ever After,” men and women often find it difficult to talk honestly about their financial goals. They wind up fighting about money instead of figuring out how to make the most of what they have so that they can realize those dreams. Try following these steps to get the conversation started:

First, each of you should give yourselves a financial check-up. We see a doctor once a year, see a dentist more than that, but when is the right time for a financial check-up? At least once a month, better yet, try once a week. Having your paychecks directly deposited into your checking account and banking online can make it easier to keep tabs on the money that you have coming in and going out. Sign up for online access to your credit cards so you can watch those transactions. Limiting the number of cards you have to one or two will make this process even simpler. Also, keeping money in three different accounts — yours, mine, and ours — can help you save and plan for your individual goals and those that you share — and can lessen the tension.

Second, know your score. Find out your credit score, and also your spouse's. It's easy to get a copy of your credit report, just go to annualcreditreport.com and you can get a free report from each of three major credit reporting agencies. Your credit score costs a little extra, but you’ll need that too. Share the report and score with your spouse. Make sure it’s accurate. And work on raising your score, by paying bills on time and in full when you can. You need to make sure delinquent credit card bills, medical bills and even library fines don't derail your dreams.

Third, find a quiet time to work together on your financial plan. Make it a money date! At a nominal expense find a relaxing atmosphere where you can talk about your goals for the short- and long-term. Talk with your partner about purchases, vacations, perks and necessities, too, at least once every few months.

Finally, you may want to consult with a financial advisor. You may find talking to a third party who is already well-versed in helping couples manage their finances can get the conversation started pretty quickly. And the discussion that begins in that meeting with the advisor will likely continue. You can search Web sites like wiseradvisor.com, plannersearch.org or napfa.org to find a financial advisor in your area. Many advisors don’t charge for the initial consultation and you can use that opportunity to find out if the advice and fees are worth it.

CNBC correspondent Sharon Epperson’s new book, “The Big Payoff: 8 Steps Couples Can Take To Make The Most Of Their Money — And Live Richly Ever After,” is available online and in stores now.