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LGBT Couples Need Marriage Advice (the Financial Kind)

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The vast majority of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans expect marriage equality to improve the financial lives of same-sex couples, according to a new Wells Fargo survey.

Fifty percent of LGBT respondents said financial security and benefits were a main reason for wanting to get married.

At the same time, the poll showed a big need for financial advice both by people planning to marry and by those already married.

Versta Research conducted an online national survey for Wells Fargo in April among 1,152 LGBT Americans. Qualified respondents were non-students, ages 25 to 75, who were the primary or joint financial decision-maker in the household.

The survey also included an oversample of respondents currently in same-sex marriages who lived in states that had recognized same-sex marriage before the Supreme Court ruling to explore the effects so far of legalized marriage.

Seventy percent of married respondents said they felt better off financially.

Among these, 73% said same-sex marriage having become legal had changed how they planned for the future.

Sixty-eight percent said being married had influenced how they thought about their financial future, and 60% said it had changed how they planned for their financial future.

“The decision to marry seems to bring with it a level of financial security for same-sex couples,” Wells Fargo’s LGBT segment manager John Lake said in a statement.

Lake added, however, that although LGBT Americans recognized that access to marriage provided certain financial benefits and obligations, “there is still a significant knowledge gap around specific issues.”

To Marry or Not

Eighty-one percent of LGBT Americans in the survey saw getting married as a big financial decision, and 89% said it was important to evaluate the financial implications of getting married before doing so.

The survey found that 47% of respondents considering marriage were unsure whether legal marriage would be financially beneficial for them.

Fifty-two percent did not feel fully prepared to make an informed financial decision about whether to marry, and just 25% said they had fully discussed with their partners whether marriage would be a good or bad financial decision.

Complexities abound. Only 32% said they fully understood the financial implications of marrying, and just 29% knew how federal and state laws applied to same-sex marriages in their states.

Likewise, most survey respondents did not fully understand all the legal implications of being married versus living together in specific areas related to money and planning.

For example, 75% were not fully aware how legal marriage affected access and rights to workplace pension benefits, and 72% how legal marriage affected rights to inherit money from a spouse.

Although 48% of already married respondents said they had a financial advisor (compared with 23% of U.S. traditional married couples), only 18% had consulted with a financial or legal professional before getting married.

Fifty-six percent of LGBT Americans in same-sex marriages said they had much financial planning work to do.

More than half said being married made talking about money easier. But 19% said they had disagreements about money at least monthly, and 30% admitted that discussions about finances had caused tension in their relationships.

Advice Needed

The need for more conversations about money touched some very basic issues, which LGBT Americans considered important to discuss before marriage, though few had done so, according to the survey:

  • Whether to merge all of their accounts and assets: 30%
  • Their personal feelings and views about money: 28%
  • Personal debts and how marriage brings joint obligations: 27%
  • What they want to save or invest for: 24%
  • How much each partner can, will and wants to earn: 23%
  • Their mutual risk tolerance with savings and investments: 18%

“There are many unanswered questions out there, and as an industry we must keep working hard to provide useful information same-sex couples need in order to achieve their financial goals,” Lake said.

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