Separate or combined checking accounts?

by Erika Torres
28 comments

When it comes to finances, there are three typical options newlyweds can choose:

  • Joint Checking: Everything is shared, including credit cards. Both paychecks are deposited into one account and everything is paid and deducted from that one account.
  • Separate Checking: Each individual keeps their own account, and they divvy up the bills or pay their portion of each bill.
  • Separate Checking and One Joint Account: Individuals have their own accounts, but keep one joint account for all joint expenses, such as rent and utilities.

Eric and I chose to go with the Joint Checking. We never even discussed having separate accounts because that’s simply what our parents did and it seemed to work for them since they’re still together. In both cases, our moms handle the accounts, so it’s no surprise that I manage most of our finances as well. It’s also convenient for us, since neither one of us would be able to pay the rent on our own and it would be too much of a hassle to have to keep switching money across accounts any time something was due.

I do know of another newlywed couple that has separate accounts and anytime something is due, one of them pays it. This seems to work for them, but they also have a much larger spending limit than we do. They are definitely NOT newlyweds on a budget.

I guess when we first started sharing an account, it was a symbolism issue as well. About a week before we got married, we spent a whole day running errands to banks to ensure we were on each others’ accounts, got set up with joint credit cards (although we do still have some single name credit cards for credit history purposes), etc. Not only was it the way our parents had done things, but we really felt like we were going to be sharing everything in our lives and it made us feel more united. Since we didn’t live together before getting married, everything was new to us. And it was all so much fun. I think we both felt that if we somehow kept our finances separate, that it would feel like having one foot out the door. A “just in case,” if you will.

Because we’ve all heard the horror stories. The housewife that gets left by the husband for the secretary and has no job history, no credit history and pretty much gets screwed. Or the spouse who wakes up one day and finds out his credit history is ruined because his wife has a gambling problem.

Divorced couples may argue that separate finances ensure security, like a pre-nup. So are us married joint checking folks simply ignorant?

There are pros and cons to either scenario.

Joint Checking

Pros: Symbolic unity, Convenience, More frequent financial check-ins and conversations

Cons: Couples may disagree on how money should be spent; The higher-income individual may become resentful of the lower-income individual; You are putting your entire financial trust into another human being who could at a whim leave you destitute; Need to have frequent conversations about balancing the budget if you’re both spending at the same time

Separate Checking

Pros: Keep track of your own money as you see fit; No wondering if there is enough money in the bank since no one else but you touches it

Cons: Deciding joint expenditures; Deciding who pays what bill; Creating a system for joint financial and savings goals

Ultimately, there are a variety of different ways for couples to handle finances. Each couple should evaluate their spending habits, saving habits, and financial goals to determine how they should manage their finances and what is best for them.

Eric and I are all-in kinda people.

What do you think? Joint or separate?

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28 comments

IntrigueMe October 31, 2010 - 2:38 pm

Separate- all the way!
As you know, I’ve been burned in this regard before and I don’t intend for that to happen again. If I’m ever in a serious relationship again (including marriage)… I want separate accounts, separate bills, separate credit, and separate assets. I also want a pre-nup so that if we divorced he would have no claim over any assets obtained before we were married. I *may* be willing to have a joint account for things such as rent and car payments but I think I would rather he pay one and I pay the other.

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Serendipity October 30, 2010 - 11:06 pm

Seperate for right now. When I was younger I had a very different point of view regarding how I wanted things done and now that I’m here, I can see how someone can say they want things a certain way but until you’re actually in the situation you really can’t say. Rambo wants to do a joint but I just feel better with seperates and giving him money every month for my share of expenses. I also buy our groceries and household items entirely out of my checking account.

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City Girl October 30, 2010 - 8:04 pm

I’m glad that you and Eric found a system that works for you both.

As you know, I’ve been single for a while. If I decide to be partners with a guy, I would have one joint account for household expenses and one separate account. And, no man is touching the assets in my name just like I wouldn’t want to touch what’s in his name. xoxo

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verybadcat October 28, 2010 - 11:07 pm

i had joint accounts when i was married. to me, you’re basically deciding if you want to disagree on money before it’s spent, or after. 😉

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Newlywed and Decorating October 28, 2010 - 7:08 pm

We all in kind of people too! It works well for us!

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Red October 28, 2010 - 6:53 pm

My husband and I are separate right now. That’s how my parents do it, and they’ve been together since they started dating at 16 years of age. So… If it works for them, I figure it can’t be bad for us!

But we are looking at creating a joint account for joint expenses, like bills. The main reason we’re keeping our money separate now is that I’m the one in the relationship with the mountain of debt. When we got married, I made it very clear to Mr. Red that I didn’t want him to pay off my debt. Yes, we’re married and a team, but I got myself into this mess. Plus, I’ve always wanted to put myself through school.

Married finances are a VERY personal decision. So it’s hurtful for those of us who aren’t “normal” to read other people (not you but other bloggers) claim that we’re not really married or not as close as we could be because we keep our money separate. We have joint financial goals, and we talk about money all the time. Deciding to keep our money separate was just a personal preference. If it ain’t broke, why fix it? Plus, my husband is seven years older than I, and he’s pretty set in his ways by now. I don’t see the point in completely flipping his financial habits over for the sake of what’s “normal.” I wish we could all just accept that marriages are never exactly alike, and just because it works for us doesn’t mean it’s the only way that works.

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OurLittleAshley October 28, 2010 - 6:23 pm

Joint for us! I just can’t imagine separating our money…

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Sara @ House Bella October 28, 2010 - 5:42 pm

We do the best-of-both-worlds thing. We have a joint account, and put the majority (but not all) of our paychecks in there. A certain percentage of each paycheck is saved out into separate checking accounts. The main reason for this is we both have really different, and really expensive, hobbies. So instead of the potential for arguments about those purchases, we save up for them in our own accounts without negatively impacting our joint pool. Works for us. 🙂

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Erini CS October 28, 2010 - 3:23 pm

I think I’d lean towards joint. We’re sharing in every other aspect of life, why not the financial? Spending could easily become an issue, but hopefully the communication will be there so it won’t get nasty. … If I could foresee it being a problem, I’d do separate with a joint. We’d each put in X amount or X% of our earnings into the join — make sure it can cover all shared expenses…. I would want it to be 50% or more of the paycheck. That last bit is yours to spend how you want… if you need to dip into the joint, then you’ve got to talk about it.

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eemusings October 28, 2010 - 3:20 pm

Initially, joint – albeit only in my name.

The main reason we don’t have a true joint account is simple: he once had an account with my bank, long closed, but still owes them some small sum. We probably should just suck it up and pay it and add his name to my account, but there’s no rush.

Then he got his own, and transfers money to me every week. His allowance stays in there. (I still operate on the basis that I pay the bills for convenience; his contributions go toward savings so it’s not a hassle timing wise at all).

So right now, my account is mine – although we really treat it more like a joint account – and he has his own account with another bank.

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prettylittlereckless October 28, 2010 - 2:05 pm

if/when I get married, I would prefer a joint acct. Like you, that’s how my parents have done it and as far as I know- everyone else in my family who’s married. My friend who is newly married (within the past year) said that she pays utilities and he pays the mortgage. I’m guessing by that, they have separate accts, but that’s just how they do it I guess. I prefer the joint acct though mostly because you’re married- there shouldn’t be any secrets and that includes finances. Hopefully there wouldn’t be any animosity regarding “who makes more” either- even if that happened to be me.

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Lea @ Healthy Coconut October 28, 2010 - 1:54 pm

Me and the fiance have decided to do both, separate accounts and joint accounts.

We both have separate accounts for our own use and a joint account for everything we do together such as vacation, social events and all the house/utility bills are coming from a joint account.

We put % of our take home money in the joint accounts and being an accountant, I manage all of it. I use Mint.Com to keep track of our budget and expenditures and savings goals.

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Jolene October 28, 2010 - 12:34 pm

Hmm, tough call. In my past marriage we had separate accts. My ex was adamant about it, and I never got why. But I guess in the grand scheme, it was better off in the end 😉 As for the future, if I ever get married again, I guess it just depends. I’m 50/50 on both ways, actually. I see value in either and think it’s just a personal preference thing.

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brandt @ New House on the Blog October 28, 2010 - 12:06 pm

We’ve had joint accounts since the Monday after we got married (which was on a Friday). I do the finances (being a finance major in college), yet Ashley (my wife) always knows what’s going down.

One of the best financial things that happened to us was both being unemployed coming out of college for about 5 months. We had no jobs, no prospects, and took every odd side job we could to give us a couple of bucks to be able to catch a cheap movie every now and then. Now that we’re both working, we still have that cheap mindset.

However, our accounts are a bit…different. We have our main checking/savings account through a national bank (something I just haven’t had the time to change over to a credit union), but we also have 1 checking + 7 savings account through IngDirect, which has done WONDERS as far as savings programs for goals go.

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Jackie October 28, 2010 - 11:45 am

For marrieds, I would say go with joint. I do think it makes it easier, especially if you don’t have a ton of “flex” money. I know if we had separate accounts, it would be a measly showing in both. If both parties want a little spending money of their own, I say that is fine. I actually started a separate savings account that I transferred money into each month to save for a friend’s destination wedding

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nashe October 28, 2010 - 11:33 am

I’d be one of those with both. I like the idea of unity and all that, but I’d also wanna hold on to my personal account which has been with me for years. 🙂

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Tyler October 28, 2010 - 9:21 am

I think that this topic is very dependent upon where you are in your life when you get married. Being engaged and in our 30’s, we have well established accounts, etc. that we have been using for years. To throw those away just to have a joint account doesn’t make a lot of sense to us. If we were younger and didn’t have that, I could understand the argument for starting new.

To make a long story short, we are leaning to keeping our own accounts, but setting up a joint. We have already established a joint savings account. But, it gets even tricker when one person owns a house and the other doesn’t… like I do.

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Ali October 28, 2010 - 9:07 am

Joints are much better (in my opinion) and I am not talking about marijuana. I think keeping everything seperate is a subconcious way of saying “if this doesn’t work out, it is one less thing that I have to mess with.” I was also all about changing my last name. To me, marriage is ALL about unity…unity in finances is a huge thing!

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Randa October 28, 2010 - 8:44 am

I’m not married just yet but my finace and I have talked about this before – we’re going with a joint account. I’m with you – I like the symbolism behind having a joint account and both our parents had joint accounts – one couple stayed together and one didn’t so I don’t necessarily believe that having a joint account or not determines the stability of the relationship.

:0]

Though, to be honest, that would be really interesting to do some research on . . . hmmmm.

I have seen other people that have a joint but each couple has a seperate account just for them where they each get a certain amount each month to spend on whatever they want. It seems to work for them but that would bug me – it’d seem like an allowance. I’d rather just talk about buying something with my partner instead of having a totally seperate account.

BTW – I love that you talk about issues like this. It’s nice to see some non-fluff about life on some blogs. :0]]

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Mysti October 28, 2010 - 8:26 am

We are in bucket 1….joint accts. We have done this since we got married almost 13 years ago. We have had some minor struggles with Hubby putting gas in the car and forgetting to tell me (this was more of an issue years ago when it could take a few days for things to clear….vs now, where by the time you get home, it has already cleared).

At this point….we are trying to find a few extra dollars for us to each have a “fun” acct. This is money for each of us to spend how we choose….so I can’t argue that his $100 fishing lure purchase is insane….and he can’t argue that my new whatever is insane. Not that this has been a huge issue….more of my issue than his. He needs a little mad money…..

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Jamie October 28, 2010 - 7:58 am

While we’re not quite married yet, we are living together and a joint account for all those bills seemed like the best way to pay all of our combined bills. We each put $1000 per month into our joint account, and keep the rest of our money in our own separate accounts. Since we still have our personal accounts, we both still occasionally pick up extras like dinner for each other, but anything that applies to the house (bills, groceries, furniture) comes from our joint account.

Right now, this is the best option since I still have some personal debt to pay off and he does not. But once all of that is settled and we do eventually get married, I can see us easily settling into a joint account simply because, like you, that’s how our parents did it.

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Melissa October 28, 2010 - 6:43 am

We have separate bank accounts. My bf makes more money and has less bills than I, so he pays the mtg and a few utilities. I pay a couple utilities and my share of some other bills, including groceries. It works out well because we are using our own money, out of our own accounts and we always know what is going where. And if one of us is ever short on cash, we don’t hesitate to ask the other for help! It works for us 🙂

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Ashley October 28, 2010 - 6:41 am

We fall in the third bucket. We each have a separate checking account and one joint checking in which all joint expenses and necessities come from. We take that to mean all bills, gas, groceries, eating out together (when I go to lunch with my friends, I pay from my account), going to bars together (same deal with going to bars with my girlfriends), etc.

80% of our salaries go into the joint and 20% go into our own accounts. We both like to shop and we both like our girl’s or boy’s weekends, so this way we don’t argue about who bought what and why we don’t have any money. I could see how this could seem petty to some, but we never argue about money. NEVER. Occasionally we need to say “Okay, we can’t eat out tonight unless one of us wants to treat the other to dinner.” And it works great for us.

However, I could see issues with this arrangement when we’re ready to start a family. But, for now, it works like a charm!

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Erin B. Inspired October 28, 2010 - 6:27 am

FACT: J and I are practically married. Aside from sharing the same last name and a paper that says we’re legally married, we’re married. We don’t have a joint account but I manage all finances because I’m better at it. I have access to J’s account online and in the coming months when he gets out of the Navy, he’s going to switch to my bank to make managing finances even easier on me.

As far as sharing an account, we haven’t discussed it and wouldn’t consider it until we were legally married but honestly, I think we’ll keep our separate accounts though we might get a combined account as well. Who knows! A joint account would be really easy, and you can call me a pessimist, but that scares the bejeezus out of me.

Who knows!

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RondaMarie October 28, 2010 - 6:27 am

I say joint all the way. I was married once, now divorced. We had joint accounts on everything and as long as we were both on the account both of our credit was helped by having the account. It wasn’t that hard to split things up when we split up, we just opened separate checking accounts and started depositing our own paychecks into our own accounts. Car loans were easy too, we just went to the bank and took my name off of his car and his name off of my car. Saying it’s bad for credit or too hard to separate finances in the event of a break up is just a bad excuse. Joint checking is just the respectful, right thing to do in a committed relationship if you ask me.

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Martina October 28, 2010 - 6:10 am

My husband and I are the only couple we know that have a joint bank account… we’re also the only couple we know that don’t fight about money. I think that’s because we have to have a constant and honest conversation about money every couple of days. While we don’t live paycheck to paycheck, we certainly aren’t rich so we budget every penny. Anything outside the budget needs to be discussed before we spend our money on it.

I always hated the idea of his and her money, it seems petty to me. We have different salaries (I make more than him) and I think I would be resentful if all the money wasn’t considered “ours”, we’re a couple, we share our lives together, every decision we make is for us.

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QuotesChimp March 2, 2014 - 7:13 am

Haha. I woke up down today. You’ve cheered me up!

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NySoonerGirl October 28, 2010 - 5:31 am

I really like the way my parents do it. They have two joint checking accounts, but one is my mom’s and one is my dad’s. Both names are on both accounts so if they ever need access to the other, it’s not a problem And they both have cards for both accounts. When they were first married and had one account, they found they would both check the balance in the morning and go spend it in the afternoon, leaving the account negative. So that clearly didn’t work for them! They divide the bills up now, with my father paying the larger ones because he makes significantly more.

I know it’s not the same, but when my old roommate and I lived together, we divided up the bills too. She always paid me half the rent and I would write the check but our electric bill was always the same amount as our cable, so she paid one and I paid the other.

I would prefer to do things the way my parents have simply because as a former banker, I must balance my checkbook and keep all receipts. I am not one of those people who just goes off the ATM tells you…. It’s never right!

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