You found “The One.” You popped the question, and they said “Yes.” You both said, “I do.” Your honeymoon was incredible. Now, you’re back to reality and settling into your new life together. Suddenly, you’re faced with a wave of everyday decisions you hadn’t previously thought about. Who sleeps on which side of the bed? Which toothpaste should you buy? Whose parents will you visit at Thanksgiving? What about Christmas? Some decisions are trivial, but other dilemmas feel far more important. But then, when that first monthly bill shows up and you have to decide who pays it, you come face-to-face with one more crucial decision: Should you combine your finances and get a joint checking account?
For years, financial advisors and relationship gurus have sparred over the potential dangers and benefits of joining two individual bank accounts into one. The most challenging part of this debate is that both sides appear to make valid points, which can leave you and your spouse wondering what to do. Before we go any further, it’s important to remember that just as each person in a marriage is a unique individual, every relationship is different. And while it’s wise to seek counsel and take advice, you’ll ultimately need to figure out what works best for you. In the points to follow, we’ll set out to share a few perspectives that can help you determine the best way for you to build a financial foundation that works for your family.
The Case for Separate Checking Accounts
In an interview with CNBC opens in a new window, David Back, co-founder of AE Wealth Management, advised, “You should have your own account, both of you. It’s absolutely critical, especially for women, that you keep money in an account that’s yours that you control.” Citing the fact that almost half of marriages end in divorce, Bach and other like-minded financial professionals point to the fact that not only do separate accounts allow each individual to maintain their own financial identity; they also make it easier to divide assets if the relationship dissolves. If both spouses agree, the practice of keeping separate accounts can also serve to reduce the number of disputes over spending decisions. By allowing each person to manage the finances they bring into the relationship, this approach depends on the mutual trust that each person is managing their money in a financially responsible manner. And in a marriage, that kind of trust is essential.
The Case for Joint Checking Accounts
While many agree with the practicality of married couples maintaining separate bank accounts, several studies at the University of California suggest a completely different approach. Though financial independence may be a key factor in maintaining a sense of autonomy, the UC study indicated that marital happiness might be easier to achieve if both partners agree to combine everything—including bank accounts. After reviewing the results of their studies, the school’s researchers shared the following observation, “It is important for couples to perceive their possessions and financial goals as shared, and our research identifies one practical way to facilitate this: merging bank accounts.” While happiness is a subject that extends beyond the bounds of traditional financial advice, it is worth noting that your financial practices as a couple can have a powerful impact on your relational success.
The Case for Compromise
As with most things in marriage, figuring out your finances will probably involve some give and take. While some couples can thrive with separate bank accounts, others will find far greater satisfaction by pooling their resources in a joint account. However, if you’re still not sold on either idea, there’s room for compromise. It’s entirely possible for couples to have separate personal spending accounts and maintain a joint account for shared expenses like rent, insurance, utilities, and such. While this strategy requires a little more leg work and the need for open, consistent communication, that’s not a bad thing. After all, whether it’s in relation to finances or just married life in general, fine-tuning your communication skills is always a great idea!