Marrying into a mortgage? Here's how to navigate a joint mortgage

Is a joint mortgage part of your newlywed finances if one of you already has a mortgage before you get married? Here's what you need to know.

For most people, marriage is some combination of wonderful, confusing, and completely terrifying. That's not a judgment. Marriage is a big life change, and of course you're going to stress out about it! In fact, that may be why more Canadians are tying the knot later than ever before.

When it comes to money, waiting to get married means you both have a better idea of what you want and how to get it, but it also means that each of you already has a long financial history. You have different credit histories, credit accounts, and probably different incomes, too. You've formed entirely individual financial habits, and that impacts more than just whether you make coffee at home or stop at Tim Hortons.

If a new spouse comes with an old mortgage, things can become even more complicated. Especially if you weren't planning to own one, a house can set the tone for your financial future. But, merging your finances can be simple, even if there's a mortgage in the mix.

The importance of open communication

Canadian laws about matrimonial homes differ across the country, impacting everything from property rights to mortgages. In Ontario, for instance, the equity of a home owned by one person at the time they get married can be protected if they then sell it and buy another home with their spouse.

If you find yourself in a confusing situation with something as big as a house on the line, it's always best to talk to your bank or ask a legal expert.

Luckily, while the laws around joint mortgages can be complicated, merging your finances with your partner's doesn't have to be. All it takes is a little bit of strategizing, some math skills, and communication. A lot of communication.

Conversations about money can be tough, and it's important to know that going in, it might lead to conflict. That can't scare you away, though. It's vital to be open and honest about your financial history and goals as a couple. The earlier you work out the kinks in your finances, the faster you can catch those problem areas and work on solutions to strengthen your relationship and your bank account. Put off talking about money and you'll find yourself knee-deep in frustration instead of enjoying your shared life.

Ease in by starting with goals. What are some of your goals? What are theirs? Zeroing in on common goals helps lay the groundwork for your financial unity and makes it easier to tackle trickier topics going forward, from your credit issues to splitting up expenses to going in on a mortgage.

You're not going to cover everything in one day, so don't even try. Money should become an everyday topic of conversation, like the weather. Check in with each other and avoid getting caught in the rain.

Luckily, while the laws around joint mortgages can be complicated, merging your finances with your partner's doesn't have to be. All it takes is a little bit of strategizing, some math skills, and communication. A lot of communication. "

Joining finances around your spouse's mortgage

As you talk through your finances, consider if one of these strategies for approaching a mortgage together might work for you:

  • Split the mortgage, property taxes, fees, and utilities right down the middle so that each spouse pays half.
  • Add up all joint expenses, including your living expenses, groceries, home maintenance costs, vacation costs, and so on. Then divide the expenses proportionately based on their income, with a bank account devoted to joint expenses.
  • Have one spouse pay for everything. This option is more common when one spouse leaves their job to care for children.
  • Get a new joint mortgage on the home. This may make sense if the mortgage is up for renewal and you'll avoid a mortgage prepayment penalty. Talk to your bank about this, as policies may vary regarding names on the title versus names on the mortgage. Ask if your spouse's name has to be on the title. If you do get a joint mortgage, keep in mind that you may each be equally responsible for the entire mortgage, not half of the mortgage payment or the amount you owe. This is known as being "jointly and severally" responsible for the mortgage and will be spelled out in the mortgage's standard charge terms.

Combining your finances is confusing and intimidating, especially when one of you brings in an existing mortgage. A mortgage is a lot like a dragon in a video game — huge, impossible to ignore, and ready to take any coins you have without question. If you're battling a dragon, don't you want to know that your partner is fighting alongside you?

You have the best chance of getting past your financial obstacles when the two of you are on the same page. So grab your partner, your coziest blanket, and maybe a calculator. You have a mortgage to discuss.