A few examples: How many credit cards do you have? How much do you owe on each one? Do you have any major financial responsibilities, like a parent or child you're supporting, or an outstanding medical bill? What's your credit rating?
"Hands down, I want to see their credit report," Khalfani says. "It's golden, that number. It's to your financial life what the SAT is to a college student."
It's also beneficial to figure out if your financial style matches your partner's. Is he a saver or a spender? Does he stash money, splurge relentlessly, set viable financial goals, or expect to hit it big in the lottery? And what about record-keeping? Is he super-compulsive or more relaxed?
"You can't really change someone's money personality, but both parties can try to understand the root of it," Khalfani says. "Some people have been through troubled childhoods, so financial security is important. A little understanding goes a long way to make sure you're on the same page financially."
Other important questions to consider are how you feel about sharing expenses, whether you want to have separate bank accounts, and who will be responsible for specific bills. Virginia and Cristian Dobles made it a point to address these issues before they walked down the aisle two years ago.
"We decided that I would pay for food, cable, insurance, laundry, a cleaning service, and kick in a certain amount of money to the joint account a month," says Virginia, 50, a production manager at a Manhattan advertising agency. "Cristian pays for most of the rent, the cell phones, gas for the car, and when his kids come he pays for their stuff. I still have my own account for other things. I never wanted to be one of those couples who fight about money."
Kerri Kimball, a representative for the financial firm Strategies for Wealth Creation & Protection, advises couples to have three accounts—his, hers, and theirs. That way, if you want to spend your money on $500 hair extensions, he can't say anything. Having separate accounts "takes the emotion out of financial decisions," she says.
Of course, sometimes you think you're asking all the right questions and you discover—to your dismay—that you weren't even in the ballpark.
That's what happened to Monica Schiller, 34, a public relations executive from Los Angeles. She thought she knew all about her husband Ken's money habits—they were together for five years before they married.
But two weeks post-nuptials, she learned that he hadn't paid his taxes in three years. Nor, contrary to her belief, did he have any savings, even though he raked in $250,000 a year.
"I freaked out," says Schiller. "Money is really important to me—I want to be able to put my kid through school, or go to Hawaii for vacation and not feel strapped for cash. And to know that I'm married to someone who doesn't share that view ...well, it's almost a bigger betrayal than having him sleep with someone else. I could compartmentalize that. But there are so many issues and beliefs rolled up into this. It has tentacles all over the place."
Ultimately, the couple hightailed it into therapy, and as of press time they were trying to work through their problems. But it hasn't been easy; a major line of trust was broken, and Schiller is wary.
"I tried hard to ask the questions I thought I needed to ask before we got married—about kids and money—and I felt I had good insight into who he was," she says. "I still don't know where his savings went. I've looked through his bank statements; I can't see hookers or drugs or gambling. Maybe he paid cash. I just don't know."
Both Kimball and Khalfani believe that compulsive spending has the potential to kill a relationship—unless the person in question is willing to change and you're both ready to work on the issues as a couple.
"Dishonesty is a deal breaker," says Kimball. But, she adds, a little conversation can go a long way. "I've seen couples who confessed that the husband gambled away half their retirement savings. But they went to counseling and got through it," she says. "You can handle anything if you communicate."