NEW YORK ( MainStreet) — As long as there has been money and marriage, financial discord has been a leading cause of marital conflict. These days — with student debt and a tight job market challenging younger couples, while later marriages must make room for long-established spending and saving habits — the potential for a battle over economic issues is even greater.

The problem has its root in the fact that most people fail to lay their full financial lives out to their future spouses before they tie the knot. A study of engaged couples released this past May by the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC) found 68% of respondents held negative attitudes about discussing money with their intended and 5% indicated such a conversation would cause them to call off the wedding.

"It's telling that two people who intend to spend the rest of their lives together would see a conversation about money as so disconcerting," says NFCC vice president Gail Cunningham. "But the ability to have open and honest discussions about money is key to a successful marriage. And the discussions should take place before the 'I do,' not after."

Make time to talk, and come clean

Robert Stammers, director of investor education at the global CFA Institute for chartered financial analysts, says it's critical that both individuals be totally open with their future spouse. That means coming completely clean about your current situation, warts and all, and describing what you think the financial picture will look like for the two of you over the long-term — and how you hope to get there. "Be honest with your partner and make sure each of you understands what the other's goals are," he says.

Cunningham notes it's relatively easy for people to talk about the good stuff, like how much money they make, but much more difficult to discuss negative issues like poor credit ratings, significant debt and even a lack of personal money-management experience. Yet these are the very topics that must be addressed.

"The fact of the matter is that people bring financial baggage into a relationship, but often don't deal with it until problems arise," Cunningham says. "Regardless of the issue, the time to address money differences is up front, before the financial bottom falls out."

To do so, Cunningham advises setting up a convenient time to talk well before the stresses of the wedding become too consuming. For that meeting, she suggests both parties come fully prepared to discuss their income and debt situations along with other critical matters like how they would construct a mutually agreeable budget that includes savings and offers each a degree of financial independence.

"Court records show that financial stress is one of the main causes of divorce," she says. "Taking action now could prevent a disaster later."