Ending a long-term relationship can be a complicated affair. Not only do you have to learn how to be single all over again, you’ve got to tackle all life’s various responsibilities on your own. Taking ownership of your finances as a newly single person can be especially challenging.
“Suddenly finding yourself divorced or single can be overwhelming, particularly if you've relied on a dual income and your partner to handle the finances,” Leah Hadley, certified divorce financial analyst and senior financial adviser at Great Lakes Investment Management, says. “You're in a new place in life, and you'll probably have a new perspective on what your life and retirement will look like.”
With careful planning and an eye on the details, you can take charge of your money. Here are nine financial empowerment tips for the newly single.
1. Take inventory
First, you should complete a thorough inventory of your finances. This review should include:
- Accounts: Make a list of each financial account in your name, whether you share it with your ex or not. This includes bank accounts, credit cards, retirement and investment funds and any other accounts that contain liquid assets.
- Property: Next, list your other assets: cars, your home and valuable property.
- Cash flow: You need a thorough understanding of your monthly cash flow. Take note of your monthly income and your outgoing expenses, including bills, child support and savings, with the understanding that you may need to adjust your budget.
- Monthly bills: As you total your monthly expenses, make sure you know what bills you’re still expected to pay post-breakup, and keep track of the due dates so you don’t miss a payment.
“After one has a working understanding of their cash flow, debts and savings, one can develop a strategic plan to work toward increasing savings (personal and investments), decreasing debts and working toward their future goals,” said Margaret M. Koosa, CEO at The Alchemists, Your Wealth Concierge.
2. Create a budget
Now that you know your income and expenses, you can put together a realistic monthly budget. This simple spreadsheet can help.
Account for necessities such as rent, bills and groceries, then prioritize savings. Recreational and discretionary spending should come last. Your budget may be more conservative than you’re used to, but having one and sticking to it will help keep you in good financial health.
3. Split your accounts
During a divorce, splitting up joint accounts is sometimes a legal affair. But when possible, work with your ex to shut down credit cards, bank accounts and utilities. Work on opening up accounts in your name. You may need to establish your own health insurance coverage, utilities and even Netflix account.
4. Understand your divorce decree
If you’re going through a legal separation, your divorce decree will influence how you restructure your finances. For instance, you might have to account for child support or alimony payments in your new budget. Some divorce settlements also mandate an ex-spouse maintain or buy life insurance with the other as their beneficiary. That way, your ex and your shared dependents are protected from the loss of income in the event of your death. Be sure you understand what your settlement requires to set yourself up for financial success.
5. Update beneficiaries
If your divorce decree permits (or you weren’t legally married) and you no longer want your ex as the beneficiary on any of your financial accounts, update that information immediately.
“Newly single people should update their beneficiaries on all of their insurances, financial accounts, estate documents (will, power of attorneys, healthcare proxy, trust), etc. to reflect their post-divorce intentions.”
Keep in mind, there are situations where you might want to keep an ex on a certain account. We mentioned life insurance above, but the same rules generally apply to disability insurance, which protects your income — and your ability to pay child support or alimony — in the event you become too ill or injured to work. Learn more about updating your insurance policies specifically post-divorce.
6. Review tax implications
If you previously filed taxes as a married couple, your tax situation may change dramatically. Filing as a single person might be beneficial, especially if you previously were a dual-income family. But there are many wrinkles, such as if you sold a home or have kids. Review the tax implications of your separation carefully and look into whether you should change the amount of money your employer sets aside from your paycheck for Uncle Sam during the year.
The Internal Revenue Service has a calculator that tells you how much to have withheld from each check based on your filing status, number of dependents and income. Use it as a starting point — and make sure you are extra-diligent at tax time.
7. Reassess your retirement
Because your financial outlook may be very different as a single person, evaluate how you’re preparing for retirement. Without your partner, you may need to adjust your retirement savings to make sure you have enough money in your golden years. It’s never a bad idea to increase your retirement savings for better financial security, especially since there are easy ways to do so in five minutes or less.
8. Check your credit
Divorces and breakups can be hard on your credit. Closing old accounts, applying for new credit cards or loans, and liquidating assets can have major implications for your creditworthiness. Check your credit report periodically to look for unpaid bills that got lost in the shuffle and old accounts you forgot to close. You may even want to make sure your ex isn’t opening accounts in your name.
You can pull your credit reports from the big three credit bureaus for free every 12 months at AnnualCreditReport.com. There are numerous websites and credit card issuers that let your monitor your credit score at no charge every month, too.
After the dust settles, you should be able to build strong credit by practicing good financial and debt management habits.
9. Hire a professional
If navigating the waters of personal finance as a newly single person is too overwhelming, you might want to enlist professional help.
“The day-to-day expenses might be overwhelming at first, but thinking ahead is also important,” Hadley says. “Develop a strong partnership with a trusted financial adviser. Knowing that you have someone in your corner who can explain the short and long-term implications of your financial decisions can be a huge asset.”