A Couple’s Guide to Bank Accounts

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Separate or joint accounts, which is best for a married couple? When you get married, what’s mine and yours becomes ours, finances included. Whether or not you combine your bank accounts is up to you. But here are a few reasons why I think it is in your best interest to combine them.

What’s Mine Is Yours

Generally, a married couple shares responsibility for regular living expenses, discretionary expenses, debts, and savings. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, almost half, 48.3%, of families were dual-income households in 2017. The blessing of dual incomes and shared expenses often helps the budget. But keeping two incomes in separate bank accounts means you have to be more intentional in combining finances.  In single income households, it is still a shared responsibility of managing that money together. Whether you are a single or dual income household, having one bank account makes it easier to see the big picture of your finances and help you both with your shared responsibility to manage your money.

In addition to combining any income or savings you have, you also take on each other’s debt. A debt one of you owes will now affect both of you. It should be your goal to pay off that debt together.

Making big purchases should typically be a mutual decision. Smaller day to day spending can be more relaxed. Together you might decide on a limit for discretionary spending to avoid having to go over every dollar with each other. Read my article about budgeting with your spouse.

Easy Access

In a practical matter, whoever pays the bills will need access to the money. But both of you will need or want to spend money occasionally aside from the monthly bills. And both of you should be aware of each other’s spending habits. You nor your spouse want to be surprised to find the credit cards maxed out or the emergency fund gone because one of you hid their spending. So having access to that information with a shared account makes it easier to stay informed of the state of your finances.

It also makes it easier for either of you to access the funds in an emergency. If only one of you has their name on the account and for some reason they aren’t able to access it, (let’s assume worst case scenario- they die) you won’t be able to access it. If you have a joint account you can both easily access the account.

Being on the Same Page

For any relationship, it is important to be on the same page. With the transparency that comes with having a shared bank account, you can more easily see where you are both at with spending, savings, and debt. See the big picture as well as the details.

Aim to be on the same page with your spending. One combined bank account might make that easier so you can both see what you have and access the money. When you are on the same page, you can more easily work toward your shared financial goals.  

Openness and honesty from the beginning can give you a strong handle over your finances and prevent trouble down the road. It would be harder to have those serious money discussions after a problem has built up rather than getting ahead of it. This means being transparent about your financial goals, hopes, and fears. Be open about the temptations and weaknesses you have with money. Communicate how you and your partner view spending. Be aware of and honest about your own shortcomings. It might be easier to see areas where your spouse can improve in their spending, but don’t ignore your own financial shortcomings.

In a relationship, there needs to be trust. If you cannot trust your partner with how they spend money be open about why you handle money as you do. For example, if you think your husband spends too much money on eating out, explain how you hoped to put that money towards a down payment on a house. Then he can see you aren’t just trying to stop him from enjoying himself, you have a different intention for that money. Then together you can decide how you want to go forward and make any changes to your spending habits.  

There shouldn’t be many things that you’d want to hide from your spouse when it comes to finances. You shouldn’t be hiding debt or large spending from each other. But you might want to hide a purchase once in a while. You might want to surprise them with something or buy them a gift. Consider buying these with a credit card so they don’t see the purchase, at least until the credit card bill arrives. To plan for this, agree on an amount to set aside in the budget to spend on gifts and similar purchases.

Maybe one of you is better with numbers. Maybe one of you handles the lion share of paying bills or organizing the budget. But you should still both be aware of the state of your finances. Stay informed of where the money goes so you can see if you have good money habits or if there is room to improve. With communication, honesty, and transparency you can reach your financial goals together. Having a shared bank account could help.

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