Should You Have A Joint Bank Account With Your Spouse?

by Neal Frankle, CFP ®

If you have a joint bank account with your spouse it could be one of the smartest or dumbest things you ever do. That’s because in the right circumstances, having a joint bank account brings you and your spouse together and helps you both stay on the same page with respect to saving, budgeting, spending and even investing.

But in the wrong circumstances, having a joint account leads to financial failure, resentment, accusations, anger and sometimes divorce. Clearly there is a lot at stake. How do you decide which way to go? My experience tell me there are 6 variables to consider:

1. Goals

Do you and your spouse share the same financial goals? Are you both working towards getting out of debt? Are you both focused on saving enough to travel or buy a house? If so, having one checking account can be a great way to introduce accountability. It’s also a wonderful way to encourage and propagate team work.

If on the other hand your goals are vastly different you should stick with separate accounts. This move will keep arguments to a minimum. If you can’t see eye-to-eye on your financial goals, you are just asking for trouble by combining your funds. Don’t try it. You’ll be sorry. I’m warning you.

If you are thinking about setting up a new account, why not consider opening an online bank account using a company like Perkstreet. This particular company has many great tools to help educate you and your partner as well. They are very inexpensive and convenient. This is perfect if you just want to start slowly combining your finances.

2. Spending

Do you agree on spending for the most part or do you disagree on what is and what is not necessary for the family? Obviously, the more you agree on spending the easier it will be to have one joint bank account.

If on the other hand you connect with me. all the time, maintain separate accounts and the fights should end.
Come to some understanding about which expenses are joint and which aren’t. For joint expenses, combine forces. For all other spending, keep your accounts as far apart as possible.

3. Debt

If you are both responsible and good at staying out of debt, there is no problem having a joint bank account. But if one of you struggles with debt while the other manages very nicely without it, do not commingle accounts.

Debt is the force that sinks all ships financial. If you combine finances with a person in debt, it will sink your financial ship – and your relationship too.

4. Record Keeping

If you agree on goals, spending and debt, the ability to keep good records doesn’t need to be the reason you keep your accounts separate.

If you are better at balancing the check book I have a novel idea for you. Keep your accounts combined but take on the challenge of helping your lovey dovey improve his skills. This is another way to work together and grow together.

5. Teachable

If you or your spouse admit that your financial life has become unmanageable and are willing (and eager) to learn and change, take a chance and create a joint bank account.

I would start slowly and with limited funds just to make sure there really is a willingness to change and grow. But go for it if you think this is for real.

In other words, your debt-ridden, free-spending, non-goal oriented spouse may have very different ideas about money, but he may realize that he doesn’t know what he’s doing. That being the case, throw him an olive branch and give it a try. You never know what could come of it.

And here’s a wild idea. Consider the fact that even though your husband might be financially-challenged, it doesn’t mean that you have all the answers either. Even if you make more money and have more experience, you might be off on a few of the conclusions you’ve come to. Am I right?

If your honey is willing to learn, consider going to a financial advisor. This is probably one of the best times to seek out professional non-partisan advice. By doing so, you’ll be demonstrating how much you appreciate his willingness and you’ll be showing how open you are to learn and change too. That can’t help but pay benefits as you work your lives together.

6. Income

My experience tells me that using income to dictate who gets to spend how much is a recipe for disaster. You are either partners or you aren’t. Don’t set up a dynamic where there is one-upmanship running the show. Bad karma man.

By all means, if you have different ideas about your goals, spending and debt, set up different accounts and let each partner be responsible for his or her own account.

But funding those accounts should be a joint decision made with true partnership upper-most in your minds.

As I’ve said before, money is the river that keeps your love boat afloat. Be willing to take a good hard look at yourself and your spouse. If you have the building blocks of a strong relationship, please don’t let money come between you. Use these 6 questions to determine if it makes sense to have a joint bank account or not and then act accordingly.

Do you keep a separate or joint bank account? Why or why not?

Carnivals with Pilgrim Sightings:

Carnvial of Personal Finance #371

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Jlloyd July 28, 2012 at 6:26 AM

Great article ! I’ve read both previous comments and if it works your way do it. I have grate wife , smart , sensitive and impulsive. If she see’s it, she wants it, causing many disagreements. Separate accounts works foe me.

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Neal Frankle July 28, 2012 at 8:03 PM

Glad you found a workable solution…..

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JP July 26, 2012 at 5:12 PM

We have both a single joint account and individual accounts. Married 27 years. The joint account covers all monthly expenses, we both get $100/week for personal fun and the rest goes into investments.

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Neal Frankle July 26, 2012 at 5:20 PM

@John. Nice compromise. Have you been using this set up for awhile? Did you have it another way and did that alternative create a problem?

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MrFrugalFrank July 26, 2012 at 4:32 AM

I’ve been both ways…First wife had the theory why don’t we have money there are still checks left…Now my 2nd wife and I have a joint and I have my own for all my small business adventures plus a brokerage account..she is the listed survior….If you dont have trust thus you shouldn’t be with that person…

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