Feeling worried about how to handle the money side of divorce? Here’s exactly what to know – you may be better off than you think!
- Having access to information regarding your finances is extremely important when it comes to divorce, and life in general.
- Start keeping a file of up to date important numbers/forms (tax returns, income before/after taxes, mortgage, life insurance, etc etc etc)
- Keeping track of your day to day spending can be a hassle, but is a bid deal for budgeting.
OUR GUEST – TRACY BYRNES
Welcome to another episode of the ExExperts podcast where we give you all kinds of tips and advice on everything divorce. Today is going to be so important because we’re talking all about finances and budgeting. I’m Jessica.
TH: I’m TH.
Jessica: We’re so happy to introduce you today to Tracy Byrnes, a financial advisor at UBS and also a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst. Thank you, Tracy, so much for being here.
Tracy: Thrilled to be here, you guys. This is such an important topic. I love that you’re tackling it.
Jessica: I didn’t even know that a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst was a thing. As soon as I had seen that I’m like, oh my god, she’s an exEXPERT!
Tracy: Well, the thing is there’s a lot of divorce out there. There are very specific, especially financial, issues that divorced people encounter. Divorce, especially the ‘gray divorce’, even though by the way, I’d like to think I’m not gray, but people 50 and over are seeing divorce rocket. More and more people are saying, and especially now this post-COVID era, I want my life back! I want to get out there and live! So more and more we’re seeing it, divorce has doubled for people 50 and over since the 90’s. One in four divorces these days are couples 50 and over, so more and more people need help.
Jessica: Our motto here at the ExExperts is ‘We’ve lived it, so we get it,’ but you also are divorced?
Jessica: I know your background, full disclosure: Tracy and I met because we used to work together at the Fox Business Network. Obviously you have a financial and business background, but at the time that you got divorced, I don’t know exactly when that was, did you feel like you were financially prepared for what you needed to know when you got divorced?
Tracy: Full disclosure, I had my MBA in accounting, so I knew what I was doing. What I didn’t know was how expensive it was going to be. They say if the household has $100k, shave 30% off the top between legal fees and now you have two houses and two cable bills and two of everything, right? You don’t take 50% and go your merry way. It’s much less than that. So I think that was a little bit of a shock to someone like me, even with an accounting degree.
Jessica: So right off the bat, part of your philosophy is your happiness is so important and it’s paramount, but on the flip side, you’ve got to get your shit together and get organized.
Tracy: You’ve got to pay the bills. At the end of the day, you’ve got to take charge and pay the bills. You put your big girl panties on and you get this done, because you do want a future and you want it to be fantastic. The best way to ensure that is to do it right from the beginning.
TH: I have a question for you. There’s a lot of education around this, I’m sure that there are many men and women who are just lost and don’t even know where to begin. I know from my own situation, I was bombarded with paperwork and requirements and printouts and records and stuff. How do you even start with that? It can be just overwhelming sourcing that information.
Tracy: For sure. That’s why I think it’s very important to, like you said, remember your happiness, find a support system, pour a nice glass of wine, and just take a deep breath on this because there is a huge document dump that you’ve got to go find and figure it out, but this is all to your benefit. There are a lot of people out there who haven’t had any interest, touched, or seen anything with this stuff before. That is totally fine. This is not rocket science by the way. You do not need a degree in this. You just need to take charge. That’s it. I don’t want people to be afraid. When you start saying go find your investment accounts and go find your tax returns and it goes right over their head. It’s only different because you don’t know it right now, but you will know it, and you’ll go find it, and you’ll take charge.
Jessica: I feel one of the things that just all of a sudden occurred to me is for people who are starting to think about the process and maybe they haven’t actually had that crucial conversation with their spouse, now they’re thinking to themselves, I have to access all this stuff and how am I going to bring that up without raising suspicions? I’m not saying you need to answer that question. I know you’re not – But that’s just an interesting thing that people are going to have to really deal with. How do you, on the down low, get access to the things that you’re going to need access to? But really, that just leads me into needing a divorce checklist of the things that people really need to know, and maybe they didn’t know that they need to know it. Where do you even start?
Tracy: I think you make a great point though, Jess. When things are still ‘good’, it’s not so terrible to say what’s the password to our kids’ college account? I just want to see what’s there. You don’t want to be calculating, and you don’t want to seem sneaky, but the truth of the matter is it is yours, and you should have access to it.
TH: You should know it anyway.
Tracy: You should know it anyway. These are the things we tell women in good times they should know. I have always said you should go on a little bit of a money date, just appetizers, ask one question. [I love that] What’s in the retirement accounts? How do I have access to it? I just want to go see it. That’s it. Then you start to gather this information. But Jessica, to your point, if you didn’t do that beforehand, do not panic. You just have to start hunting and gathering here. This is all you have to do, you’re going to make some phone calls, and you’re going to be a little investigative. The first and most important thing is to go find your tax returns for the last three years. I know TH you were saying so many women in particular are just told to sign it and don’t even know where it is and what it is.
TH: Don’t know how to read it. What does it even mean? What does it even say?
Tracy: The best start is the tax return. So one, find your accountant. There has to be an accountant number somewhere that you use. There has to be a name that’s come up over the years. Call, get access, and ask for the last three years.
Jessica: Or maybe in your household, you guys did your self-filing. There has to be access to some kind of platform wherever you do that.
TH: Or an H&R Block if you can find a bill for that.
Tracy: TurboTax, TaxCut, any of those. You just then will need a username and a password. Somehow you’re going to have to dig, but the tax return, as scary as it sounds, tells you so much. In particular, it tells you how much money you guys have after you pay Uncle Sam his big fat tax bill. Again, I would shave 30% off the top, but then you’ll know how much you might end up with.
Jessica: To your point, there are definite clues and information in those tax returns. What would you say to someone, they’ve found their accountant and they’ve got access to the tax returns, are there specific pages or sections that they would pull out? Your tax return is this thick.
Tracy: It could very well be, right?
Jessica: What is someone looking for specifically?
Tracy: It could be so intimidating. Line 8b is your adjusted gross income. That’s everything you made, both of you, before you paid Uncle Sam. Line 11b is after Uncle Sam. Those are two really good numbers to get a sense of where you are. If you really want to get creative, you can start diving in and you can see schedule D, it will have any kind of investment trades that happened. So, if your spouse is an active trader, and you didn’t even know that, you can go find that out. It is a very important document and something you want to show your attorney or whoever you hire, your advisor if you hire one, all the people that you’re going to need to help you get through this divorce. It’s super important.
TH: Couldn’t you just call whoever’s name is on the return and say listen, can you just talk me through my return? Would they even give you that kind of help? Presumably, you use their services?
Jessica: You’ll pay for it!
Tracy: You’ve heard their hourly fees!
TH: Well, or you know, if it’s an accountant… Yes, there is a fee associated with it, I guess.
Tracy: Then call me, like for god’s sake, call someone, because you should –
TH: Like, what does this mean? They don’t know what tax rate they’re in. How did you get from 8D to line 11? How did you get there?
Tracy: It’s really fascinating. There has to be online resources also to help you figure things out if you really are in the dark on your finances. Again though, it’s a big math equation. There’s nothing tricky or people think that there’s secrets to the tax return, but there’s not. It’s a big old math problem and whether you like math or not, that’s what it is. You can find out how much you gave to charity over the years, how much is put in some somebody’s retirement account, or are they fully funding it? All this, it tells you a lot of things, so that is super important to go find first.
Jessica: Now a person has their tax returns, they can decide if they’re going to keep a paper copy of it or try to re-upload it online into some kind of a file, because obviously you have to stay organized. Anyone who’s listening, you guys, keep a file, stay organized, and keep it all in one place. Don’t just start uploading it or downloading it somewhere and then you can’t find it in your computer, which happens to me all the time. After your tax returns, bank statements?
Tracy: Bank statements: That’s checking, savings, and investment, so that’s everything. Checking and savings should be pretty obvious. You have a debit card, what’s the bank you use? It’s very easy to walk in and say I just want all my statements of everything. It could be small savings, big savings, everything. Just start there. You could also, again, start to get investigative and go through your statements. You may see transfers to and from an investment account, and that could help you figure out, if you don’t know, where your investments are as well. But again, you’re talking about it could be a Charles Schwab, it could be a UBS, or it could be a JP Morgan. Those are the kinds of statements that when you get the mail, if those envelopes come in the house, that’s a red light. Somebody’s doing something there, and you should know that.
Jessica: I love that you had said to us earlier, a tip about taking screenshots or something of your account on whatever given day, because unfortunately, so many people will go in there and drain them.
Tracy: So first, again, we need usernames and passwords. This is the hardest part, I think, for most people in good marriages and bad, because especially even in good marriages, we separate our responsibilities. I’ve got the kids, I’ve got the day to day, and I’ll make sure little Johnny has milk money. You, please do something and take care of the long term expenses. It’s often, and I’m generalizing here, but it’s often a man and 9/10, it’s like Yankees1942 is the username and ARodSecondBase is your password. It’s nothing intuitive, so we have no idea how to access the stuff. That is your first and the most important thing you can do. If you can’t, then you need to get in the car and drive into a branch. All of them, JPMorgan, and UBS, they all have places where you can walk in and ask for your statements. Then yes, look at it today and take photocopies. When you’re done, and when you’re in the middle of it, you’ve got to check it again, because stranger things have happened, and people drain these things.
TH: You could probably sign up for alerts. If you really have been out of it, and you go into your bank, and you don’t have your own login, you should if you have a debit card, they can just set you up and teach you and educate you. That, they should just be doing anyway for you. That’s probably also a good resource, the people in the bank.
Tracy: Absolutely. But again, you’re going to have to be proactive here. This is not going to just fall in your lap, and your ex-spouse is probably not just going to hand everything over to you.
TH: No, no. So you could go in and just say I need information about my account?
Tracy: The joint account, my name is on it anyway, I forgot the password. Can you help me change it?
Jessica: Then what about retirement accounts? What do you need to know? Where do you find it all, all the things?
Tracy: Those could be a little harder to figure out, because if your spouse has a 401(k) at work, you might not have access to that. Again, you can see that though on your tax return, and you can see that on the person’s W-2 that money has come out of, again I’m assuming it’s a man, his paycheck into something. You’ve got to follow the trail. It’s not difficult, and again, super happy to help with this. This is not going to take a lot of time for you to figure out. The 401(k) and IRAs, all that stuff that is all part of your marital assets that will need to be split somehow at the end of the day.
Jessica: Also, for a lot of that stuff, you may have assigned your spouse as the beneficiary for it.
Tracy: So that stuff, we’ll eventually get to your health care proxy and your will and your power of attorney, all that stuff has beneficiaries and people assigned, like you said, to do things for you. Well, you can’t do much now, when you’re done and the divorce is over, you’ve got to change everything. Make sure those docs are front and center and you have them ready so that you can make all those changes at the end. I’ve seen so many people forget and then years later he’s still the person who’s going to inherit the 401(k). You just want to die, so check all that stuff.
Jessica: When I was reading through your checklist and you were talking about, I thought it was so interesting, like loan documents and insurance. I thought it was so interesting because you had said something somewhere about there might be outstanding loans or something that you might not necessarily be privy to, that could actually be on your record.
Tracy: Right, which is why one of the steps, and we’ll get to it at the end too, is to get your credit report. None of us do this, and women in particular, especially if you have been home and you haven’t worked, your credit might really be terrible, which is a crying shame, but your name might not be in anything. Credit reports are really funky things because you can have really bad credit because you have a lot of debt, and you can have really bad credit because you have no debt, and so it backfires on you. I remember when I first got divorced, and this is a true story, I had terrible credit because nothing was in my name. I didn’t even think. I went out and bought an Express card. Do you remember the store Express, is it still around? I think it’s still around. I literally would buy a shirt and then pay it off, and then buy another shirt and pay it off. I was building up my own credit and I was showing that I could actually pay a bill. I couldn’t even get a mortgage in the beginning, because again, I had no debt, and it didn’t even occur to me.
Jessica: I was in a sort of similar situation. I remember the first time being advised to go get a separate credit card and have it and make small purchases. My credit score was actually very good, but I didn’t have any credit cards in my name, so I needed to get it before I wasn’t going to be able to get it. So for anybody listening, if you actually are only a secondary card holder on your spouse’s credit cards and things like that, you should go out now and open a credit card so that you have something in your own name. Because the truth is if you don’t have great credit, that may be a problem for you to get a credit card in a few months or a year down the line, once your divorce is finalized.
Tracy: Or a mortgage.
TH: Right. Or you need a car. There are so many credit cards now that have no fees, no annual fee, or get money back. There are a lot of options out there now.
Jessica: That leads us right into budgeting and learning how to budget. What do you think are the biggest mistakes you see people making when it comes to the time that they have to sit down and create a budget for something like this?
Tracy: We don’t calculate all the little things. I know I don’t. Every time you go to Starbucks for a coffee, every time you go get – all right, a manicure, maybe you’ll include, but it’s all the little things, especially if you have kids. Every time you hand somebody $20, you don’t realize how fast money moves, so really start to think about it. There are some amazing apps out there actually that can help you track. You can also attach your checking account to an app, and it will flow your expenses through. All those things help you get a sense, and at the end, you might want to throw up when you realize that you’re spending –
TH: How much you’re spending.
Tracy: 25% on wine, once a week, or something like that. But you have to include all the times you eat out, and transportation, it’s not just the lease on your car, right? It’s the wear and tear, and it’s the gas, the tolls, and the tune-ups. It all adds up. You are going to be asked to do this, and we’ve all done it, right? This long spreadsheet where you have to include every single thing you spend money on, but you’re going to be asked to do it anyway, so why not get a jumpstart on it.
TH: And that way, you should have an education on your financial health anyway if you don’t. Even though it might be scary to look at, you need the reality check, because if you don’t do it for yourself, someone’s going to do it for you. Then you’re going to be surprised and you don’t want to be in that spot. You want to be coming in with power and education and knowledge.
Tracy: By the way, this is all income levels. I was just on a call recently, and we were doing a financial plan for a very wealthy woman. She thought her annual expenses were, I’m just going to throw numbers, like $450,000, and we calculated it closer to six, so a huge differential between the two of us. These are problems across the board for everyone and we just miss it. You pick up a shirt at the mall and you don’t even think about it or you order something online late night, and I’m speaking for myself, [and it’s there tomorrow morning] when you’re on Amazon Prime and everything and you’re like holy cow. So I think that it’s really important just to start to be aware of your shopping habits or your spending habits because it will come back to bite you at the end.
Tracy: So old school and this is something that some people close to me used to laugh a lot about, but at the time that I was getting divorced, one of the conscious decisions I made was to actually start using cash a lot more. I know that’s so 90s and a lot of people don’t want to do that today and they don’t want to touch money and things like that. But I’ll tell you, that actually gave me a really good handle on what was going on because I would go to the bank maybe once or twice a month and I would take out X amount. That was going to be my spending money, and that was going to get me through for the things that you’re talking about, getting my nails done, taking cabs, and going out to dinner, whatever it was. Because what I found that was killing me was that you go out, and you use your credit card all the time or nowadays you’re just using Apple Pay, and then holy shit you’re getting a credit card bill at the end of the month for $5,000 that you didn’t even realize that you spent. So my personal tip for myself is I really like using cash, because that helps me to rein it all in. It might not necessarily stop me from doing something, but I’m just more aware that I needed to go to the bank again this month and take out another $300 or whatever it was.
TH: Right. I also do that sometimes. I push that more on my kids to be honest, but
I use one credit card. I have a lot of credit cards, because you save 15%, and you get a gift, and whatever, but I use one credit card so that it’s there. If you have your expenses over three credit cards it’s like, that’s not so bad, and that one’s not so bad, and that’s like nothing, right? But when you add it up, it’s a holy shit moment. Do I really want to be depleting my bank account every month for this amount of money? You have to be very aware. But cash is scary, that’s like balls to the wall budgeting.
Tracy: Brave. It’s brave. [And I see that] But you know what, it’s a little bit of a come to Jesus moment too when you realize how fast it flies out. You’re right, Jess, with Apple Pay, at least I think what I see with my kids, they don’t actually get that it’s associated with something green that I earned. [That’s right] It’s like this magical thing like, oh, I got Starbucks again, look, it just showed up. But we do too. So all the more, just be aware. Document gathering is super important, and your budget is really, really important.
Jessica: Then you mentioned before, but just so people understand it with regards to the credit score, it can be such a hassle getting your credit score. I know from my own background, everyone’s entitled to get your free credit score from each of the agencies at least once a year, but you’re saying get your credit score in the beginning and then get it again at the end to make sure that you didn’t miss out on anything that you might have been stuck on a lien that you didn’t know about, or some kind of a loan you didn’t know about.
Tracy: No one wants to look at their credit report actually, because it’s just really scary. It’s like you sit there and you wait for this number to pop up and you’re white knuckled. Then it could be really bad, and it’s because of a credit card you had 100 years ago that you didn’t even realize was open. All those open credit cards count as sort of a kind of debt and they could hurt you at the end of the day. So all the more, it’s super important for everyone to pull up their credit rating at some point. You never know, you go get a car loan, it could ding you and your lease could be higher unbeknownst to you. Again, a mortgage, the rates are so great, but they’re very quick to raise the payment on you because your credit isn’t pristine. I would say do it again at the end only because you don’t know what your partner or spouse has been doing this whole time. What if he or she took out a personal loan, all of a sudden that might be in your name, and you didn’t even know about it. It’s worth doing at the beginning of the divorce process and towards the end, that way to make sure nothing funky showed up. You will get a very good sense of your overall debt too because that’s super important. This will tell you a lot.
TH: Is it true that if you tap into your credit report a certain number of times it hurts you?
Tracy: I do think it’s if it’s a big number it starts to ding you but absolutely not if you check it once, twice, three times a year. You go buy a new car and they check it, that’s just the normal course of business. I think tapping into it and asking for full reports often could potentially ding you, but you get that, I think it’s Experian, and every time it moves they send a little alert. You could get on top of this without it dinging you.
TH: I get it through my bank also.
Tracy: There you go.
Jessica: Awesome. I feel like there are a million more things that we can ask you, but we’re going to have you back definitely to talk about so much more of this stuff. But for anyone who’s listening right now who has questions, serious questions, and they really want to actually get in touch with you and get more specific advice, what are the best ways for people to reach you?
Tracy: I’m on every social media, and speaking of social, let me just say be very careful when you’re in the midst of a divorce on social. Don’t be posting dating, purchasing, nothing. Go black. Go black until it’s done. My email though is email@example.com, email me anytime. I am on Twitter @tracybyrnes. I am on LinkedIn at Tracy Byrnes, you could find me. Be super careful on social though, posting your night out with the girls when you’re in the midst of a divorce, you don’t want that to come back and bite you in the butt.
Jessica: We’ll have your contact information also linked here so for anyone listening, you can find it that way on our website www.exEXPERTS.com. Be sure to subscribe to the ExExperts podcast, and you can follow us on social all the time as well. Please share this with anyone that you know that could also benefit from this information. We want to help as many people as we can. See you next time.
TH: Thank you.
Tracy: Thank you so much, you guys.
Goodbye: For everyone out there listening, if you know anyone at all who would benefit from what we talked about today please share this episode and everything exExperts. Be sure and click to subscribe to the Podcast on iTunes or wherever you listen to your podcasts and please follow us on social media @exEXPERTS on Instagram and Facebook and YouTube. Thanks for listening!