Monday, January 31, 2011

The Financial Case for Marriage

Two of the seven Kay kids are married and loving it. We've always believed that marriage is the best option from a spiritual perspective and I'm often asked about how it stacks up from a financial perspective. Recently, on ABC news I addressed this issue from the viewpoint of a financial expert.

According to the Census Bureau, the number of opposite sex couples living together jumped 13% this year to 7.5 million. Demographers attribute the increased number to a post recession economy and increased unemployment which has forced many young adults to share living quarters. Older adults who have previously been married may view living together as a way to avoid the issues often associated with the end of a marriage. But if you and your partner share property, a breakup could be even messier than a divorce.

Q. Ellie, while there are economic reasons that account for the increase in the number of couples living together, there is also a broader societal issue involved as well. What are some other reasons for these new statistics?

ELLIE: While the downturn in our economy is certainly the top reason that more people are choosing to postpone or forgo marriage, there are other factors as well. Researchers estimate that more than half of married couples live together before they get married. Only 38% of Americans believe that unmarried couples living together is bad for society; half said it doesn’t make much difference, according to a Pew Research Center survey.

Q. What would you say is the biggest financial issue that unmarried couples face?

ELLIE: Without a doubt, I would say it’s the issue of “yours, mine and ours.” A legally binding marriage is a system that organizes the landscape for you. If you had it before, it’s yours. If you earned it while you were together, it’s ours. But when there is no marriage contract, there’s nothing in place that legally defines this landscape and it’s all up in the air.

Q. The first area you say is a drawback for unmarried couples is when buying a home. Isn’t it enough to assume that your partner wants to put both parties names on the title and that will take care of it?

ELlIE: Unlike married couples the courts won’t assume you have equal ownership of the houe in the event of a breakup. The house will go to whoever is on the title, even if one partner puts 75% of the money into the home and the other only antes up 25%, it will be an equal divide. So if you break up two years later, and you’ve put in more, you’ll take a significant loss on your investment. Furthermore, I know relationships are all about trust, but you can’t assume your partner will put your name on the title unless you see it first in writing.

Q. What issues do couples who are living together face in regards to estate planning and why is it especially important if you are not married?

Personally, I believe that everyone should have an estate plan but for unmarried couples, it’s essential. If you die without a will, your estate will be divided according to state law, which usually doesn’t recognize domestic partners or common law spouses. Family members that you don’t even like could end up inheriting everything you own. But even if you have a will, your partner could still be forced to sell the home to pay federal and state estate taxes. Whereas a surviving spouse can inherit an unlimited amount of assets, tax free. This makes a strong case for marriage, especially for those couples who are planning to stay together a lifetime.

Q. The final area we want to consider is health care. Most large companies let their employees add domestic partners to their health insurance so why is this a financial matter differ for those who are living together?

ELLIE: The main reason is that while benefits to spouses are tax free, the IRS doesn’t recognize domestic partners. Consequently, the benefits provided to your partner are treated as taxable income. This is a huge tax hit which makes extending group coverage to your partner more expensive than just buying an individual policy. If you’re both employed, then keep your separate plans, unless you get married. If your partner is a legal dependant, then that would be the other exception. However, getting legal dependency declared is very difficult. You should draw up a durable power of attorney for health care and make sure you’ve drawn up advanced health care directives. Without one of these, hospitals and doctors don’t have to give you information about your mate.

Viewer Questions

Q. My girlfriend and I are getting real serious and thinking of living together or getting married. With so many things going on, Ellie, tell us where you can start when it comes to dealing with money before you live together. Submitted via online – Ted from Thomasville

ELLIE: The most important financial merger of your life requires hard work—but it’s worth it. COMMUNICATION is the key to dealing with money in marriage. According to a 2009 study conducted by California State University, 21% of couples fight over money daily or weekly. 10% fight monthly and 46% put on the gloves every few months. So start talking about money matters to include: expectations, budgets, long term planning, goals.

Q. My boyfriend and I decided not to live together before we get married. We’re engaged and have set a date for next spring. What steps should we take to make sure we start off on the right foot when it comes to our finances?

ELLIE: I think it’s critical for couples to get premarital counseling that specifically deals with money matters. Each partner comes to a marriage with different money management styles. For example, I was a born saver (big surprise) and my husband, who had a good work ethic from the time he was a child was a born spender. In fact, his money never say the inside of his pocket! Consequently, I recommend date nights should be set aside monthly (if not weekly) to regularly talk about your financial progress with your mate. Spouses-to-be who discuss their views of money and work together on how to use their financial resources may discover that they actually like the process.

Q. My parents argued about money so much it led to their divorce. What are some specific topics I should learn to talk about with my girlfriend before we make any kind of long term commitment? Greg submitted via facebook

ELLIE: There are some basic topics that all couples should cover as they talk about financial matters
• Long Term Financial Goals (buy a car, home, have kids, vacations)
• Spending Plan
• Saving Plan
• Retirement
• Debt Management
• Short Term Financial Goals (new furniture, trip to Europe)

Ellie Kay
America's Family Financial Expert (R)

Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Top Do's and Don'ts for Tax Time

Last week, the IRS issued a press release that the delayed returns, any returns including Schedule A (itemized deductions), the educator expense deduction or the tuition & fees deduction – will begin to be processed on Feb. 14 – Happy Valentines Day! This is good news because taxpayers didn’t know when their returns might be processed and rumor had it as late as the end of February. The delay followed the Dec 17 enactment of The Tax Relief, Unemployment Insurance Reauthorization and Job Creation Act of 2010, which extended a number of expiring provisions. So you can file now and the sooner you file, the sooner you will get that tax refund back, especially if you e-file and select direct deposit. I’ve been doing a lot of research on taxes this year and my best tips are listed below, courtesy of TaxACT Free Federal Edition, a free filing solution that quick, easy, and available to everyone.


Do Get Organized Ahead of Time – I recommend my “Sixty Minute Tax Workout” where you whittle down the tax task a bit at a time. Get organized before you sit down by gathering all your W-2s, 1099s, and other tax documents.

Do Get Smart – Familiarize yourself with the new tax law changes by going to and look at Publication 17, the first few pages summarize the major changes. You can also go to

Do Ask Questions – It’s smart to ask for help when you don’t understand something about your return. Use the Answer Center in TaxACT, type in your question and get fast answers. Or, email your question for free.

• Do E-file – For the fastest refund (in as few as 8 days with direct deposit). Unlike paper filers, e-filers get an e-mail when the IRS has processed your return.

• Do Get it Free – Use a free tax preparation solution. I recommend TaxACT Free Federal Edition. You can print, prepare and e-file simple complex return absolutely free. TaxACT will guide you step by step through your return and all the tax law changes. Includes free tax help via e-mail. Even if your return won’t be processed by the IRS until February 14th, there’s no reason to wait. You can prepare and e-file with TaxACT now, and they will let you know when the IRS has processed your return.

• Do Pay What You Can – If you cannot pay your tax balance, then file and pay as much as you can by the April 18th deadline to avoid penalties and interest. Call the IRS to discuss payment options, including installments.


Don’t Forget to Import – Save time and aggravation by importing key data from a PDF copy of last year’s return. If you have multiple W-2s, a 1099 or investment data, use the quick entry features available on TaxACT Free Federal Edition at

• Don’t Procrastinate – Although this year’s filing date is April 18, 2011, don’t procrastinate because rushing can = errors.

• Don’t Get a Cash Advance On Your Refund – When you can get your refund in as little as 8 days by e-filing and selecting direct deposit, it’s a dumb money move to pay all kinds of interest to get your cash a few days earlier. You need that extra money, don’t throw it away!

• Don’t pay more than $15 to e-file State Taxes – If your state charges income tax, then all your federal info transfer to your state when you use an online solution such as TaxACT. The federal solution is free and the state solution costs less than $15.

• Don’t Use A SmartPhone Application – TurboTax released a smartphone application for 1040EZ returns. When it comes to taxes, it’s not about saving time as much as it is about ensuring accuracy and getting the largest refund you possibly can. Spending the extra few minutes could mean a bigger refund or less taxes owed.

• Don’t Spend your Refund on Disneyland or a new iPad – Instead, use 50% of the refund to pay down credit card debt and the other 50% to build up your emergency fund. You may not get the mouse ears this year, but you’ll be in better financial shape!

Ellie Kay

America's Family Financial Expert (R)

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Five Top Money Moves for 2011

This week I'll be on over 25 television and radio stations talking about the Top Five Money Moves for 2011.

According to a recent survey, 40 to 45% of American adults make one or more resolutions each year. Among the top new year’s decisions are resolutions about weight loss, exercise, and money management or/ debt reduction. While a lot of people who make decisions during the new year do break them, research shows that making a decision to change is useful. People who explicitly make resolutions are 10 times more likely to attain their goals than people who don't explicitly make resolutions.

If one of your resolutions involve getting fiscally fit, then there are five things individuals, couples and families should do every January, year in and year out, to help their financial picture. These five money moves will help you pay down debt, save more in your emergency fund and be prepared for possible financial setbacks in 2011. They include:

– there are some expenses that people rarely check, but they could be missing out on hundreds of dollars of savings. For one thing, it’s important to call your homeowners insurance provider and ask about getting a better rate. Oftentimes, you don’t think about this policy because the bank may cover this premium and you put that renewal to the side—wrong answer. The other biggie in fixed expenses is auto insurance. If you drive less, in safer ways, and during safer times of the day you can save money on your car insurance. With Progressive’s Snapshot Discount you can save up to 30 percent. It’s currently available in select states so go see if it’s available where you live. A lot of these money savings tips are courtesy of Progressive Insurance, where you can compare rates with a local insurance agent or online at. It’s a good idea to look at the rates listed from different insurance providers because drivers who saved when switching to Progressive reported saving an average of over $500. Shopping around can add up big time! One final, quick tip to cut costs by shopping around, is for groceries. Go to where the site will tell you what’s on sale in your neighborhood, which items have coupons, double coupons and store coupons. Using this layered savings approach in the store helped our large family save hundreds of dollars a year on food.

2) COMPLETE TAXES EARLY & FREE– The sooner you file, the sooner you’ll get your refund. When you have your tax forms, do your “Sixty Minute Money Tax Workout”. I recommend TaxACT Free Edition has everything you need to prepare, print and e-file your federal return free. I’ve partnered with TaxACT because it guides you step by step through your return and guarantees your biggest refund. It’s fast, easy and even offers free help. Remember to e-file and choose direct deposit for the fastest refund. Go to And once you have that refund, put the money to smart use.

3) CATCH UP ON SAVINGS – In money moves one and two, you freed up extra money by cutting costs and getting your refund back early. I recommend that you take a hard look at your emergency fund. If you are a single income family, you should have twelve to fifteen months of living expenses in this fund. If you are a dual income family, you need six to nine months of living expenses. With unemployment hovering between 9% and 10% in early 2011, it’s important that you save for a rainy day. Use 50% of that tax refund and money saved from cutting fixed expenses to help build up your emergency fund. Then every time you save money on expenses, write a check or transfer those funds into this important account. It will become a habit and you’ll build that account up more quickly.

4) CUT DOWN DEBT – You took 50% of the money you gained from steps one and two and put it in your emergency fund—good job! Now it’s time to use the other 50% to pay down credit card debt and get started on the “snowball effect” of getting rid of consumer debt. This snowball plan works by paying off the credit card with the highest rate first. Then you take the payment you would have made on that first card and put it toward the next card on your list. Each time you pay off a card, you keep taking what would have been that minimum payments on paid off cards and put them toward the next credit card balance. By the time you get to your last few cards, you are paying 2, 3, 4 times the minimum payment, thus getting ahead of interest charges and paying your debt down more quickly.

5) CARE AND SHARE MORE – This is a good time of the year to map out a strategy to give more and get more out of your giving so that you can itemize your deductions. Go through closets and donate clothing and furniture to IRS- approved charities, but keep track of your donations. Ask charities for receipts. You usually get more for each item than you would selling it at a yard sale. Getting certified values for your donations is where a solution like TaxACT can also help. Remember, monetary donations and certain expenses for volunteering are also deductible.
Happy 2011
Ellie Kay

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The Sixty Minute Money Workout

Today's blog is a test: do my kids read my blog or not? For example, here's a pic of my son , from a few years ago, making a New Year's resolution to be more buff. He's now a senior, how long will it be before I'm forced to remove the photo.

According to a recent survey (Source: Auld Lang Syne) 40 to 45% of American make one or more resolutions each year. Among the top new year’s decisions are resolutions about weight loss, exercise, and money management or/ debt reduction.
The following shows how many of these resolutions are maintained as time goes on:
- past the first week: 75%
- past 2 weeks: 71%
- after one month: 64%
- after 6 months: 46%
While a lot of people who make decisions during the new year do break them, research shows that making a decision to change is useful. People who explicitly make resolutions are 10 times more likely to attain their goals than people who don't explicitly make resolutions.
If you are wanting to make a decision to get fiscally fit in the new year, then take a look at my newest book, The Sixty Minute Money Workout (Waterbrook, 2011) Let’s go through each part of the workout:

As people prepare for the workout, it’s important to establish boundaries, here are some of the things that you need to know before you begin.
First of all, people need to understand that you don’t have to be a couple in order to do the workout. You can do it by yourself, or with a trusted friend, or even a family member who isn’t your spouse if you are single. But whoever you do the workout with, it’s important to set some boundaries to prepare:
• no condescension or negativity
• no interrupting your workout partner when they are talking
• no name calling
• no throwing food - :-)
• start by saying one positive thing to each other
• end by saying one positive thing to each other
• create an environment that encourages comfort and success
• have a timer on hand
• Do the pretest to prepare you for the work. Each pretest will vary according to the chapter or topic you choose.

Part 1 - 5 Minutes - Make Up Your Mind Warm-Up
Here is where you set your timer for each section. When the timer goes off, then move on! In this section, you set the topic for the hour and begin with a "can do" attitude. It’s important to begin by saying or doing something positive. If you’re working out with a spouse, then begin by taking your spouses hands, looking into their eyes and saying something affirming.

Part 2 - 10 minutes - Strength Training
While step one was to start with affirming words and decide on your money topic, this next section is a time to write down goals on paper so that you will have a tangible and objective standard to work toward. Decide how you would like to see the topic resolved today, in six months and what the outcome of your goals will be in the long run. This gives you both a temporary focus (for today) and a long term focus (for the next few months) as well as a big world picture (for the long term.) Your goals will depend on your topic of the day. For example, if you are discussing a budget your goals might include: a) to set up a budget that is real and workable, b) to stay on that budget for the next six months in order to learn how to spend less than what you make, c) to have a budget become such a habit that it is a financial vehicle that will get your family out of consumer debt, help you pay for your kid’s college and fund your retirement.

Part 3 - 20 Minutes - Cardio Burn

In this step, you give feet to your goals. If you’re setting up a budget, then you write down the specifics and course of action for your topic of the day. This may not seem like a lot of time on this section, but realize that you may not get it resolved during the first workout. The key is to keep the discussion moving and work on what you can, whatever you missed, you can get the next time around. Go to my tool section for free online financial tools,

Part 4 - 20 Minutes - Taking Your Heart Rate
This is the point where you do any “work” that needs to be done after you’ve written a step by step plan from the previous section. For example, if you need to save money on your expenses in order to live on the new spending plan you set up, then you could spending this time on quick ways that will save you hundreds of dollars:

1) Save on Tax Preparation - Go to in order to prepare and file your federal income tax return for free. This free software asks you all the right questions to make sure you are getting every deduction that you have coming your way.

2) Save on insurance – Go to to compare auto insurance. It only takes a few minutes to get several quotes from different companies. You can save as much as $500 by shopping around.

3) Save on groceries – When you can combine sales, coupons, double coupons and store coupons, then you can save thousands of dollars every year on your grocery bill. We’ve saved over $160,000 in the last 20 years by doing this. Go to and enter your zip code they will show you what is on sale and what coupons match up with the sales items to get things for pennies or free.

4) Save with Social Media – By going to the page of your favorite retailer or signing up to follow a beloved restaurant on, your savings can add up to hundreds of dollars every year. Social media followers are often the first to know about limited offers or free items. For example, my college student daughter, in Chicago follows her favorite cupcake store and by saying the word of the day, she gets a $5 cupcake free. That’s a savings of $1865 every year! Somedays, she gives the cupcake away—so she saves and shares!

Part 5 - 5 Minutes - Congratulations Cool Down
The workout has gone by quickly and now the last 5 minutes are dedicated to the “Congratulations Cool Down.” End your workout and sit back, grab a glass of something cool to drink and reflect on all you've accomplished in just one hour! You started on a positive note and you’re going to end positive as well. Take this time to tell your partner one thing that you appreciate about today’s workout in order to end the discussion well.

Keep in mind that just as you don’t get physically buff in just one workout, your finances aren’t going to get in shape after the first try either. But after you and your mate have exercised with this money workout a half a dozen times you’ll find you are making progress that can revolutionize your finances in only an hour a week!

Ellie Kay
America's Family Financial Expert (R)