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9 Financial Moves to Make Before a Divorce

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

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When most people first decide they’d like to file for divorce, the minutiae of their finances might not be top of mind. The psychological burden of a marriage ending can be all-consuming, making it difficult to consider any practical matters.

Plus, the costs associated with divorce — things like lawyer fees and selling one’s home — can be so complicated and overwhelming that people put off thinking about them. But making certain financial decisions prior to filing for divorce can ensure you emerge from the tumultuous process with solid financial footing.

Before filing for divorce, consider making these financial moves.

1. Take inventory of your finances.

One of the most important things you can do if you’re considering divorce is taking a comprehensive look at your finances. This includes things like your salary, any loans you have in your name, the amount you have in your bank accounts, credit card balances, retirement accounts, insurance policies, etc.

Diane Pearson, a certified divorce financial analyst and wealth adviser at Legend Financial Advisors in Pittsburgh, said oftentimes, clients come to her firm before even telling their spouse they’re considering divorce.

“The first thing that I tell them is to account for all of their assets and all of their liabilities,” Pearson said. “Just knowing what you own and what you owe can be very, very valuable.”

Patrick Nelson, a divorce attorney at Casey Nelson, LLP in the Chicagoland area, said organization is crucial when preparing for divorce, in particular, because you will need to sign a financial disclosure statement.

“I would organize your documents,” Nelson said. “When you file for divorce, there is a requirement that both parties complete an exchange — what’s called a financial disclosure statement. It’s a comprehensive document that’s signed under oath. And every county requires this.”

Nelson said in addition to a complete disclosure of assets and income, clients have to provide supporting documents, which generally includes three years of tax returns.

“Just preparing these things and getting the documents together would be helpful,” Nelson said. “Because if I’m going to be asking for these, you’re just kind of wasting time, and it’s costing you more money if I’m constantly on you.”

2. Check your credit reports and credit score.

Pearson and Nelson both advise people who are considering filing for divorce to check their credit reports and credit score. Take a look at your credit history, and understand what your score means. This step is particularly crucial if you left most of the finances in your marriage to your spouse.

“Let’s say the husband has never taken out a loan to buy a car, or has never taken [out] a loan to buy a house,” Pearson said. “If you don’t have some history, your credit score might be low.” This means that if you try to purchase a house or a car post-divorce, for example, you might not get approved in a favorable manner, Pearson said, because you don’t have the credit history.

In addition, Pearson said going through divorce can affect your credit score. “There may be joint accounts that are going to be closed,” she said, which can negatively affect your score because you will lose the credit history. “When you remove the history of a mortgage, or the history of a car loan, or things that were in joint name, it actually can send the credit score downward, just because history is what helped build that credit score.”

Pearson adds that this step can be valuable because some spouses aren’t even aware that certain loans are in their name. “Some people might want to run a credit report and make sure there haven’t been credit cards or loans taken out in their name that they’re not aware of,” she said.

3. Figure out your spouse’s finances (if you don’t know them already).

Pearson said oftentimes, the people who meet with her are clueless about the finances in their marriage. “In most relationships, you usually have one spouse that handles the financial situation,” Pearson said. “Somewhere along the line, they’ve made the decision that, ‘OK, well you’re going to pay the bills, and you’re going to handle the investments.’”

Nelson said that in his opinion, one spouse not fully understanding the financial state of the marriage is actually quite common. “Sometimes, you have one spouse who is basically in control of all the finances,” Nelson said. “And the other spouse, they just have no clue.”

Some people might not even know their spouse’s salary or the amount of their monthly mortgage payment.

Leaving the finances to one spouse, however, can prove dangerous in divorce. “When this happens, the other spouse kind of loses touch with everything the other spouse is doing, so it’s very important to sit down and try to understand what the assets are,” Pearson said.

This is one of the first things she discusses with her clients who are considering divorce, because someone needs to fully understand what has value before deciding what to fight for. “If somebody doesn’t have any financial history or background, what we try to do is help them understand what those assets are because having a checking account is extremely different than having a retirement plan.”

Pearson also said it’s important to know where the cash flow is coming from in a marriage, which means understanding how much each spouse’s salary contributes to the overall household budget.

“If you’ve got a two-earner household, understand how much of the opposite spouse’s income is being used to run the household,” Pearson said. In addition, you should discern how you will be able to financially manage your own household post-divorce without your spouse’s income.

4. Decide what’s worth fighting for and be prepared for unexpected costs.

When considering what to fight for in a divorce, it’s important to think beyond just the face (or emotional) value of an asset. Consider the potential tax liabilities, too. For example, if one spouse keeps the house, that spouse will also have to keep the mortgage.

Another unexpected expense people don’t consider is the cost of refinancing the home in one spouse’s name. Pearson said clients are often surprised to discover that when one spouse keeps the house and the mortgage has to be refinanced in that spouse’s name, it can be very expensive. “A lot of people don’t realize that has to happen,” she said.

Perhaps another asset, like a car that is already paid off, would be more valuable to you. Instead of getting wrapped up in what you think you should fight for, consider what’s actually worth it to you and your financial future.

5. Consider hiring a real estate agent specializing in divorce if you’re selling your home.

Selling a home during a divorce can be a stressful experience for many reasons, including a quicker timeline and, if the couple has kids, the need to move children seamlessly. Pam Evans, an associate broker at Century 21 Results in the Atlanta metro area, often works with clients going through divorce. Working with a real estate agent who has worked with other clients going through divorce can offer a welcome perspective.

“Moving and selling a house is just a very stressful period, so then when you overlay divorce on top of that, it’s a very volatile situation,” Evans said. “It can just send people over the edge, so I get it. I get where people are because I’ve been through it myself.”

Evans said it’s important to do your due diligence when selecting an agent.

“Interview your real estate agent carefully,” she said. “You shouldn’t be afraid to ask questions. Make sure your Realtor is asking you questions about what you’re trying to accomplish. Ask them if they’ve helped other divorced people because it is a very emotional segment.”

Even though it can be tempting to work with a family member or friend who is a new and affordable agent, you should opt for experience over all else, as the home is one of the biggest assets in a divorce. “You definitely want to go with somebody who’s experienced and empathetic,” Evans said. “People have got to understand what you’re going through and how to make it better.”

6. Be ready to have difficult financial conversations with your spouse.

Nelson said communication is crucial during divorce proceedings. Many couples find it difficult to speak during this time, but doing so could save you both stress and money.

“Unfortunately, a lot of times people who are going through this situation, they’re not able to communicate, or they don’t talk,” Nelson said. “Well, then I have to reach out to the other attorney, and say, ‘Look, can you provide this or that?’ And every time I have to reach out to the other attorney, they’re both getting charged.”

Even though it might seem impossible in the moment, having difficult conversations will prove beneficial in the future. “If you’re just able to be cordial and communicate on a basic level, [it] would be helpful and minimize attorney’s fees,” Nelson said.

7. Meet with a financial adviser, if necessary.

As a financial analyst who specializes in helping people going through a divorce, Pearson said it can always be worthwhile to consult a financial adviser. A financial adviser or even a nonprofit credit counselor can help you get a complete financial picture, which includes your assets, liabilities, income and expenses.

“You don’t have to hire somebody to do that, but if you yourself can do it, those four areas need to be addressed before you even move forward,” Pearson said.

8. Think about where you might need to cut back financially following divorce.

Not only will the process of divorce be costly, but your finances will likely be drastically different.

“People fail to realize that after you’re divorced, essentially you’re dividing the income,” Nelson said. “And you have twice as many expenses because now you have two separate households.”

Prepare yourself by thinking about where you might be able to cut back following divorce. How can you begin saving now? What could you live without post-divorce?

9. Shop around for an attorney.

Nelson recommends doing your due diligence when searching for an attorney to represent you in a divorce. Nelson advises meeting with the attorney in person for a consultation and gauging how you feel. (Oftentimes, these consultations are free.)\

“Do you feel comfortable?” he said. “It has to be a good fit. It has to be a good fit for the attorney, and for the client.”

Nelson said you shouldn’t be afraid to interview the attorney and ask specific questions. “Do they have experience? Do they know what they’re doing?”

Divorce can be a difficult, emotional time fraught with obstacles and roadblocks. Getting your finances in order prior a divorce can be one way to make the process less stressful. And in an unpredictable time, having a clear understanding of your financial picture can help you feel empowered and in control.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Jamie Friedlander
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Jamie Friedlander is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Jamie here

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How to File Taxes as an Immigrant

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

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Two recurring themes have dominated the news cycle over the past few years: immigration and taxes. While these may seem like entirely separate issues at first glance, immigrants do pay federal income taxes — and face a variety of unique challenges in the process, including dealing with language barriers and learning to file for the first time.

To help make filing your taxes as an immigrant a little easier, here’s an overview of who needs to file, how to file for the first time and where you can turn for help.

Who files taxes?

Citizens aren’t the only ones who pay taxes in the U.S. Immigrants who are authorized to work in this country are required to pay the same federal and state income taxes that citizens do, and undocumented immigrants pay billions of dollars in taxes each year — often for public benefit programs that they are unable to use.

Filing requirements depend on whether you are considered a nonresident alien or a resident alien.

Resident aliens

A resident alien must meet one of two tests:

  • Green card test. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services issued you an alien registration card, also known as a “green card,” which allows you to permanently live in the U.S. as an immigrant.
  • Substantial presence test. You must be physically present in the U.S. for at least:
    • 31 days during the current year, and
    • 183 days during the three-year period that includes the current year and the two years immediately before that. (You can read more about how days of presence are determined here.)

Resident aliens follow the same filing requirements as U.S. citizens.

Nonresident aliens

If you are not a U.S. citizen and don’t meet either of the tests to be considered a resident alien, you are considered a nonresident alien.

As a nonresident alien, you must file a tax return if you own a business in the U.S. or have U.S. income and did not have enough tax withheld by your employer. You may also want to file an income tax return to receive a refund of tax withheld.

What’s a W-4?

If you work in the U.S., your employer should ask you to complete Form W-4, which is used to determine the correct amount of tax to withhold from your pay.

Form W-4 includes worksheets to help you determine how many “allowances” you should claim. Each allowance reduces the amount held from your paycheck. You get one allowance for yourself, one for your spouse, and one for each dependent you claim on your tax return.

You can complete a new Form W-4 at any time, and it’s a good idea to submit a new one to your employer anytime your tax situation changes, such as if you get married or divorced or have a new baby. Adjusting your withholding can help prevent having too much or too little tax withheld.

Rather than relying on the worksheets included with Form W-4, you may want to use the IRS’s Withholding Calculator.

How to pay U.S. taxes

In some countries, the government withholds tax from your paycheck, and that’s the end of your tax filing requirements. In the U.S., it’s more complicated. Here’s an overview of what you’ll need to file a tax return.

SSN or ITIN

To pay taxes in the U.S., you will either need a Social Security number (SSN) or an individual taxpayer identification number (ITIN).

Noncitizens authorized to work in the U.S. by the Department of Homeland Security can apply for a Social Security number in their home country before coming to the U.S. or by visiting a Social Security office in person. You will need to complete Form SS-5, Application for a Social Security Card, and provide documentation to prove your identity, work-authorized immigration status and age. You can learn more about the acceptable documentation here.

If you are not eligible for an SSN, you can apply for an ITIN by filling out Form W-7, Application for IRS Individual Taxpayer Identification Number and submitting it to the IRS along with documentation proving your identity and foreign status. The Instructions for Form W-7 include a list of acceptable documents and instructions for submitting your application.

Which tax forms to file

The tax forms you’ll use to file your tax return depend on whether you are a resident alien or a nonresident alien.

Resident aliens use the same tax form as citizens: Form 1040, U.S. Individual Income Tax Return. Generally, Form 1040 is due on April 15 of the following year. However, if you are living and working outside of the U.S. on April 15, you are given an automatic extension to June 15. You can request a longer extension, until Oct. 15, by filing Form 4868, Application for Automatic Extension of Time to File U.S. Individual Income Tax Return.

Nonresident aliens file using Form 1040-NR, U.S. Nonresident Alien Income Tax Return. Form 1040-NR is also due on April 15 of the following year, but taxpayers who are not living and working in the U.S. on that date have until June 15 to file. You can request an extension to October 15 by submitting Form 4868 by the due date of your return.

Reporting income earned outside the US

Many resident aliens and nonresident aliens continue to receive income from outside of the U.S. even after they begin working in the country. Resident aliens are required to report income from all sources within and outside of the U.S. on their tax returns, whether they are living in the U.S. or abroad.

However, you may qualify to exclude a portion of your foreign earnings from your taxable income — the amount you can exclude changes each year. You can determine your eligibility and the exclusion amount using Form 2555, Foreign Earned Income. You can also use the IRS’s Interactive Tax Assistant Tool to help determine whether the income you earned in a foreign country can be excluded.

What to do if you’re undocumented?

According to the Pew Research Center, there were roughly 10.5 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S in 2017, and 7.6 million of them are a part of the U.S. workforce.

Whether undocumented immigrants work legally under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) protections or work illegally with falsified or nonexistent documentation, they are required to pay taxes on any income earned in the U.S.

Many undocumented immigrants face barriers to complying with U.S. tax laws due to language barriers, difficulty understanding complex tax laws or fears that the IRS will pass their information along to immigration enforcement.

Later, this article will cover resources where immigrants can find help with tax filing. As for immigration enforcement fears, you generally do not have to fear that the IRS will share your application for an ITIN or tax information with immigration enforcement officials. The IRS is not allowed to release taxpayer information to other government agencies, except for providing information to the Treasury Department for tax compliance investigations or under a court order related to a non-tax criminal investigation.

Benefits of paying taxes

Filing a tax return and paying taxes to the U.S. does not entitle nonresident aliens or undocumented workers to claim Social Security benefits, but there are other benefits to filing tax returns. According to the National Immigration Law Center, paying taxes:

  • Demonstrates compliance with federal tax laws
  • Gives immigrants who want to legalize their immigration status and become a citizen an opportunity to prove they have “good moral character”
  • Document work history and physical presence in the U.S.
  • Claim certain tax benefits, such as the Child Tax Credit
  • Claim insurance premium tax credits for children who are U.S. citizens

Where to find help

The IRS’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program helps taxpayers who cannot afford traditional tax preparation service, need translation assistance or need help applying for an ITIN. The IRS trains and certifies volunteers to provide free basic tax return assistance to individuals.

You can locate a VITA site by visiting http://irs.treasury.gov/freetaxprep/ and entering your ZIP code. Before visiting a VITA site, you may want to review Publication 3676-B (available in English and Spanish) to verify the services provided by VITA and check out the IRS’s What to Bring page to ensure you have all of the required documents and information volunteers will need to help prepare your return and apply for an ITIN, if necessary.

If you prefer to handle tax filing on your own, check out our recommendations for tax filing software.

The bottom line

Working through the forms required to apply for an ITIN and prepare a tax return can be daunting, but seeking help and overcoming the barriers to complying with U.S. tax law is important. If you plan to seek citizenship down the road or someday appear in front of an immigration judge, the fact that you’ve dutifully filed income tax returns while you lived and worked in the country can help make a stronger case for you to remain in the country.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Janet Berry-Johnson
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Janet Berry-Johnson is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Janet here

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Financial Therapy: What It Is and How to Know if You Need It

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

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Whether you’re stressing over paying bills or spending money to make yourself feel better, anxiety and money often go hand in hand. Still, financial advice tends to emphasize numbers and strategies, not the root cause of money concerns.

Financial therapy is a holistic process that enlists both therapeutic and financial methods to help you transform your relationship with money. Here’s how to tell whether or not it might be the right move for you.

What is financial therapy?

The Financial Therapy Association was born out of the 2008 financial crisis, which left many Americans feeling totally hopeless and out of control with their money — a kind of trauma that went deeper than traditional financial counseling could heal. Researchers and practitioners from both the mental health and business fields teamed up shortly after the crash to create a unique, new practice that combines the best aspects of both disciplines.

By late 2009, the Financial Therapy Association, or FTA, was officially recognized as a nonprofit corporation, and the group held its first annual conference in September of 2010. Today, the association offers a variety of tools for both consumers and professionals looking to participate in this unique practice, and also offers a searchable database for finding financial therapists by state.

The association defines financial therapy as “a process informed by both therapeutic and financial competencies that helps people think, feel and behave differently with money to improve overall wellbeing through evidence-based practices and interventions.”

In short, just like regular therapy, it helps you get your head on straight — except in this case, it’s particularly concerned with financial matters. Many financial therapists are also licensed family or marriage counselors, so you can take it on solo or with a partner.

5 signs you need a financial therapist

So, how can you tell if financial therapy is right for you?

Chances are, almost anyone could benefit from professional coaching… but if these scenarios sound familiar, you might want to take finding professional help more seriously.

1. Your relationships are strained, and money’s always the reason. If you’re constantly fighting with your spouse (or other relatives or family members) about money matters, a financial therapist can help you find productive ways to navigate your relationships.

2. You’re depressed or anxious about your money in a way that’s impacting your wellbeing. While money can be a stressful topic for anyone from time to time, if it’s ruling your life, a therapist can help you find new behavioral patterns. Whether it’s the emotional toll of debt or the stress of saving a workable nest egg, a financial therapist can offer both mental and monetary tactics to help you tackle the problem.

3. You know the steps you need to take, but can’t quite seem to make them happen. Whether it’s balancing your budget or paying down debt, if you can’t make your behavior match your financial plan, a financial therapist could have the answer.

4. You find yourself lying about money and hiding your excessive or emotional spending. These kinds of behaviors can wreak havoc on your wallet, not to mention your relationships, and may be based in compulsion. A financial therapist can help you develop alternative relaxation tactics so you can overcome your emotional splurges without doing damage to your nest egg.

5. Thinking about your financial future is leading to unexpected emotions or creating family tension. As important as estate planning may be, it can also be a difficult and emotional experience. After all, it means thinking seriously about the reality of your own death. And divvying up your stuff can lead to difficult conversations, particularly if you have a blended family or strained relationships. A financial therapist can help you work through all that emotional baggage and offer helpful communication tactics.

Do you need a financial therapist and a financial advisor?

There’s no specific set of certifications or degrees a professional must have to be a member of the Financial Therapy Association — so each individual counselor is just that: an individual. He or she may lean more heavily toward one side of the professional aisle or the other, and finding the right fit could take some trial and error.

For instance, if you’re mostly concerned with the how-to part of financial advisement, like figuring out the difference between a Roth IRA and a traditional IRA or the best way to tackle credit card debt, a plain-old financial advisor can probably help you, but so could a financial therapist who works primarily as an advisor or wealth management professional.

On the other hand, if you’re really digging into the emotional side of your financial landscape, finding a financial therapist who is a mental health professional first can help you tackle those struggles, while also laying the framework for solid monetary planning and behavior down the line. A financial therapist who identifies more strongly with the clinical counselling part of their job title may also be able to help you in other aspects of your mental health, if you’re struggling with matters beyond your money.

The bottom line is, there’s no one approach that’s right for everyone — and, just like dating, you’ll definitely want to shop around. Whether you hire a financial therapist, a financial advisor or both, when you’re talking about people who are going to advise you on matters as important as your financial future, getting along well is key. It’s worth making several calls and sitting through a few introductory interviews to make sure you’ve found a good fit.

How to find a financial therapist

If financial therapy sounds like it might be a fit for you, there are some wonderful resources available from the Financial Therapy Association to help you find and hire a professional. For instance, it offers a great database of financial therapists that’s searchable by both name and state.

Of course, since it’s such a new field, financial therapists are relatively few and far between — and you may find there’s not one in your area. Several states on the list have zero names listed beneath them (so far, anyway).

Fortunately, the internet makes it possible to do financial therapy work at a distance, and many professionals do just that. If you find someone whose credentials, focus and basic methodologies you like, you can reach out to them directly to see if they’d be able to perform therapy via Skype or phone call. You can also check out the specific “at a distance” list available via the FTA database. The association also offers monthly online webinars and other educational tools to start the process on your own if you’re not quite ready to hire a professional.

The bottom line

Financial therapy can be a great way to help alleviate your anxieties and fears about financial matters, or to help you find ways to break money-related habits you just can’t seem to knock out on your own. And as with any type of therapy, seeking out professional help is anything but a sign of weakness. Money touches all of our lives and has a huge impact on our lifestyles, so it makes sense that it’s a wildly emotional topic. So if financial therapy sounds like it might be a fit for you, don’t be afraid or ashamed to reach out. If anything, recognizing you need help makes you that much stronger — and both your brain and your bank account will thank you for it.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Jamie Cattanach
Jamie Cattanach |

Jamie Cattanach is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Jamie here