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Cash-and-Marry

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While family and friends opting to hand over cash in lieu of silverware or sheet sets certainly is a tried-and-true wedding tradition, couples actually requesting money is something relatively new. However, according to Anna Post, wedding etiquette expert and author of "Do I Have To Wear White?: Emily Post Answers America's Top Wedding Questions" (Collins Living, 2009), it makes plenty of sense that we've evolved to this point.

"People are getting married a little later these days, so even if they've been living alone, there's a good chance they already have established households," says Post. "They're no longer coming straight from their parents' homes without a fork to their name."

To make gifting cash a little more accessible - and requesting it a little more acceptable - some financial institutions have started rolling out official "wedding registry savings accounts." Accumulated funds might be used for furniture, the honeymoon, a nest egg or the most popular goal: a down payment on a house. With interest rates the lowest they've been in years, cash gifts can help newlyweds acquire an actual home in which to keep their matching pots and pans. Here's how to start saving now.

Smart Newlyweds Finish Rich

In truth, wedding-registry savings accounts aren't that much different than a traditional savings account - they usually require the same minimums to open and offer the same rates of return.

The benefit lies in the interface. Wedding-registry accounts allow guests to make direct deposits in bank branches, by mail and occasionally over the phone or online. The depositor is then given a card detailing the nature of the gift, which they can include in a greeting card and bring to the wedding if they so wish. However, the greeting card isn't necessary, as account holders typically have enhanced ability to see exactly who is making deposits, and when, for the purposes of thanking people. In addition, some of the accounts provide perks, like discounts on loans or matching a limited amount of funds.

The Marriage Market

For example, at the Colorado-based Coors Credit Union couples who open a Wedding Savings Registry automatically receive $50 in their account from the credit union. Those who also open a Wedding Checking Account with direct deposit can receive an additional $200. Sign up for the Perfect Match Wedding Registry account with the Wyoming-based Meridian Trust Federal Credit Union, and you can get a $30 gift from the credit union for every $1,000 in deposits, up to $150, as well as a 1-percent APR discount on a vehicle loan during your first year of marriage. Other programs include the Bridal Registry savings account at Community Financial Services Bank in Kentucky, the DreamBuilder Savings Account at Mercantile Bank (Illinois, Indiana, Missouri) and the Bridal/Wedding Registry at SunTrust Mortgage, a subsidiary of SunTrust Banks, which operates all over the South.

At North Island Credit Union in San Diego, the name of the program is MatriMoney. In June 2009, North Island had 34 active accounts, with an average balance of $600, not including those that were closed or changed to regular accounts post-wedding. "We haven't experienced overwhelming interest," says Kelli Beck, North Island's vice president of Marketing & Deposit Products, "but the ones who've done it love it."

North Island also has authorized 40 other credit unions to use the MatriMoney name, and each institution may implement the program however they please. For instance, MatriMoney participants who completed four online financial management classes offered by the Los Angeles-based Water and Power Community Credit Union had their first $100 in wedding registry gifts matched by the credit union through the end of June. According to Denise R. Gabel, chief innovation officer for Filene Research Institute, Madison, Wis., a nonprofit think tank for credit unions, such deals illuminate the secondary purpose of providing accounts specifically for engaged couples - trying to encourage good financial behavior.

"Multiple studies show that money is still the No. 1 cause of conflict in most marriages," says Gabel. "It can be difficult when having to merge two different financial styles - if one is a spender and one is a saver."

Good Money Manners

Nowadays the etiquette experts agree that it's OK to ask for contributions to a wedding account, but how you communicate your request will have a lot to do with its success - which includes not offending guests.

According to Post, there are three parts to really getting it right. First, use subtle, polite language. While you can certainly say "we'd like cash" if you wish, it may help to substitute a euphemism - such as "make a donation toward" or "contribution to" - to soften the request. Second, mention your account on your Web site or if asked, but leave the choice of gift up to the giver. Remember that all registries, including savings accounts, should never be included on the invite or in the enclosures. Third, say what the money is for. "Guests generally like knowing that they are contributing to some sort of end-gift, such as a living room set or a down payment on a house, and not just padding your bank account," Post says.

It also goes without saying - say thank you, now and later. Thank-you cards should be sent right away to acknowledge each generous contribution to your account, but keep in mind that it might take a while for your end-goal to come to fruition. Consider following up with a second thank you/celebratory card when you finally make good on the gift.

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