Marrying for Money

The path to greater wealth may start with making a commitment-of the romantic kind

Single people buy their own china. It’s one of the financial realities of life as a single person-no bridal registry. Of course, marriage is about far more than new bath towels and small appliances. When two people say “I do,” all sorts of good things can happen. Studies show that married people are healthier, happier, and tend to be better off financially. “Marriage increases African American wealth by about 50% over single respondents, and each year of marriage pushes wealth up by an additional 4%,” says Jay Zagorsky, author of Marriage and Divorce’s Impact on Wealth, a study released by the Center for Human Resource Research at Ohio State University.

Indeed, the proof of the financial implications of marriage is simple mathematics. Studies show that African American men who are married make more money and are seen as more responsible and dedicated to their jobs, says Nisa Islam Muhammad, executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based Wedded Bliss Foundation, a national initiative to promote marriage in the black community. She says that the children of married couples tend to do better financially as well, creating a legacy of wealth. “Most of the black students that go to Ivy League [or other] elite college and universities come from two-parent families,” Islam Muhammad says.

In fact, income figures raise eyebrows. “Statistics show family incomes of black single parents grew when they married,” says Clarence Shuler, president and CEO of Building Lasting Relationships, a nonprofit based in Colorado Springs, Colorado. And this financial benefit stems from more than consolidating monthly expenses to free up more money to save. For instance, when one spouse makes significantly more than the other, there is a substantial tax savings for filing jointly. In terms of estate planning, many states allow some or all of the assets of one spouse to pass to the other without a will and without a tax consequence.

It’s enough to make you want to take a walk down the aisle. The potential for economic advantage has given rise to programs
targeted to couples-some specifically for African Americans-to strengthen families on all levels. Because financial matters are major contributors to divorce there’s momentum for
programs with a special interest in finances. You can find,
among others, nonprofits, faith-based organizations, and government-sponsored programs that can guide a family’s path toward prosperity.

What’s more, spouses are automatically the beneficiary of each other’s retirement accounts unless otherwise stated, says Ginita Wall, a certified financial planner in San Diego. Couples also benefit from additional flexibility because they can transfer unlimited amounts of funds and assets to each other without having to file gift tax returns, unlike unmarried couples who make transfers of more than $12,000 a year.

Time to open an account?
“Whenever I heard about programs for first-time homebuyers or saw anyone getting assistance for home renovations, it seemed to be someone who was low-income,” says Capucine Scott Carrington. “We are in the middle; we didn’t have enough money to purchase a house but made too much money to get help.”
But Capucine, 31, found that

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