Should you have joint bank accounts as a couple?

Jay Dee

Should you have joint bank accounts as a couple?

Oct 13, 2016

  My youngest sister recently got married. One of the questions she asked in the first few days was if they should have joint accounts at the bank. Decades ago it wouldn’t even have been a question.  It was just something you did.

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Should a couple have joint bank accounts when they get married?My youngest sister recently got married. One of the questions she asked in the first few days was if they should have joint accounts at the bank.

Decades ago it wouldn’t even have been a question.  It was just something you did.  These days, more than a third of married couples are keeping separate bank accounts.  Sometimes it’s because they got married later in life, and it just seems like too much of hassle.  You have to move your accounts, contact the banks and get your new spouse added.  Plus you might have to change your spending habits.

For others, they simply want their autonomy.  They don’t like the idea of their spouse being able to keep tabs on their spending.  Or they don’t want their spouse having a say in how they manage their money.  They prefer to keep it as “my money” and “their money”.  They split the bills and that’s that.

The scariest cases are when the couple says “If we get divorced, it will be easier because we’ll still have our own accounts”.

Our family was unanimous in their advice that joint accounts are a must for couples.  Here are some reasons why:

Joint accounts foster material intimacy

Material intimacy isn’t talked about often.  In truth, I made the name up, but I think the concept is real.  Material intimacy is how much you trust your spouse with your material things.  Be it physical, or monetary.

Having separate accounts sends a clear message.  “I don’t trust you with my stuff.”  That’s dangerous, because as married couples, we shouldn’t have “my stuff”.  It should all be “our stuff”.  When couples make statements like “I want to have my own money”, to me, that’s a clear indication that they are not wholly invested in the marriage.  Some part of them is holding back.

Joint accounts signal commitment

Those couples who say they want to be sure to keep accounts separate in case of divorce worry me the most.  It means they are already planning for a separation as a real possibility.  I think couples should go into marriage with the idea that divorce is not an option. Studies show that couples who never consider divorce an option are more likely to stay together.  They find other ways to sort out their conflicts.

Getting rid of your separate accounts is like burning the ships when you land in a new place.  There’s no going back.  You’re here to stay.

Joint accounts make logistics easier

With joint accounts, all money is pooled.  There’s less worrying about whether one account has enough money. There are no awkward conversations asking your spouse to transfer money to your account.

With separate accounts, in the unfortunate case of injury, you may also have trouble.  If your mortgage comes out of your spouse’s account, and they are incapacitated, they may not to be able to grant access.

In the case of death, this is even worse, as banks often freeze a deceased person’s assets until you deliver a probated will.  This means that if your spouse is responsible for the mortgage, you may not be able to pay it for months.

It’s harder to hide indescretions

Finally, having joint accounts makes it harder to hide things, and this builds trust.  When you don’t have the ability to have secret transactions, it makes it harder to spend money without discussing it. This is another part of material intimacy.

In our house, we have a rule.  We discuss all large purchases.  When you know your spouse has acccess to your account, it’s easier to stick with that agreement, because eventually you will be found out.

And when I’m going through our finances every week and I see a large payment for something, I can ask the question “What is this?”  I know my wife won’t get upset, because even if it was a surprise expense, I know she believes it to be important. After all, she knows I’ll see it eventually.  That lets us have conversations about money and finances much easier, and without feeling accused.  Instead we can simply discuss the facts and what we need to adjust in our budget.

Joint accounts are a good idea

Joint accounts foster intimacy, trust and make good logistical sense. In short, I can’t find any good reason to keep separate accounts. It would be like keeping separate houses, or bedrooms in my mind.  Married life should be a shared life, not one designed to keep things separate.  Relationships drift apart without continuous effort.  Joining your material possessions gives yet another tie to help hold you together.

What do you think?  Should couples have joint accounts, or is this becoming old fashioned in today’s world?

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17 thoughts on “Should you have joint bank accounts as a couple?”

  1. Kristen says:

    Thank you for the post – very interesting.

  2. Kevin Grant says:

    I think there may be an error in the article. One paragraph begins “With separate accounts, all money is pooled.” Don’t you mean, “with joint accounts, all money is pooled”?

    But I agree with you, if a couple are keeping their money separate, I don’t think they are really fully married.

    1. Jay Dee says:

      Yep, thanks!

  3. Josh says:

    Well, my wife and I kept separate accounts since we got married in 2007… and it works for us… but that is in spite of the arguments against it not because of any counter arguments. In our case, we ended up doing it because it was just the path of least resistance rather than any particular conscience decision to keep separate accounts. We got married in our early 30s, and both had established professional careers, so that part of it probably applies. The thing I would point out — my wife and I are very much in the “divorce is not an option” camp, and that was something we talked about before getting married, and would have been a deal breaker for either of us. And we do discuss “major” purchases, so it has never been a secrecy thing. I guess this is a long-winded way of saying that keeping separate accounts CAN work, while still agreeing with most of the potential pitfalls JayDee points out… It is, after all, really easy to fall into the trap of thinking “my” money instead of “our” money.

  4. Mike says:

    My wife and I have joint accounts. However, when my mother was dying and my father was getting dementia, I opened up an account with just my name. The reason was that I has holding money for my father in case he needed it for his care.

    The other reason I can see a separate account is for the reason of credit. My wife does not work and has no credit rating. I oppened her a separate bank account, credit card, debit card etc. in order to establish credit. I case something happened to me, my wife could pay the bills, buy a car, get a flight, pay medical or funeral costs, pay the rent, etc.

    1. Murray says:

      A credit rating isn’t needed for anything other than lazy large companies that think an “I Love Debt” score means someone can handle money. I’m actually working on eliminating my credit score – something that won’t be accomplished until the mortgage is paid off.

      Disclaimer – I have helped coordinate Dave Ramsey Financial Peace University courses in the past and wish I had learned / been taught the biblical financial principles Dave teaches along with the processes for implementing them much earlier in my life (instead of other “biblical” financial coaching that still relied on debt).

      1. Steve Wagner says:

        Kudos for Murray! Neither my wife or I have a credit score. We stopped borrowing money 30 yrs ago. (been married 47) House has been paid off for 25. We live very well on what would qualify as poverty level income. When we have a better year we just increase our savings and giving. Never heard it said that way but I am adopting it; the “I Love Debt” score.

  5. The Baby Mama says:

    In South Africa, we can’t have joint accounts. Our revenue services doesn’t allow for it – as I am working, and my husband works, all our tax issues have to be in accounts that are in our own personal names. I think that for us its a case of attitude – that we view all our material possessions as “ours” as opposed to “yours vs mine”…

    1. Jay Dee says:

      Wow, didn’t know that about South Africa, thanks. Yeah, if you can’t, then you can’t.

  6. HK says:

    My husband and I started a joint account when we were still engaged. It has worked tremendously well for us. When two people get married, there should be no “yours” and “mine” when it comes to finances; everything is shared. You become one flesh, as the Bible teaches. You are not single anymore. The argument that people use that they want or need their individuality, is just a selfish excuse. My husband and I believe 100% that divorce is not an option and it is never to be used as a threat for leverage. We got married at age 18 and 21, respectively, and recently celebrated our 18th anniversary. God is good, and will do good things for you, if you let Him.

  7. Jeremy says:

    My wife and I got married in 1995 from the beginning we’ve had a joint account for the simple reason that she handles the budget every month so it would make no sense to have separate accounts. Of course we discussed the budget for the longest time, but after a few years it got to the point that since I trust her and I know she’s good with getting $1.25 out of every dollar there wasn’t a reason to go over it together every month. Of course if something comes up or we have to make a large purchase we discuss it, but for the most part that’s her area of expertise. It was a little scary in the beginning to give her access to my accounts, but if it trust her enough to be my wife then I need to trust her with our money as well, and I’ve never regretted it since.

  8. Sparhawk says:

    When my wife and I got married we kept separate accounts for a very simple reason, my ex is bit vindictive. My wife makes a lot more money than I do and if we had opened a joint account we were sure my ex would try to find away to go after my wife’s money. In Colorado, joint account equals joint liability.

  9. Keelie Reason says:

    I know that some military families will keep separate accounts so that the spouse that is over seas doesn’t overspend the account. Since communications can be limited, it is easier to have separate accounts to keep that from happening. They are able to see the balance and take what they want without putting the family in jeopardy.

    I think that there are circumstances where I would say a couple needs to have two different accounts. If you have one person that is known to overspend the account, they don’t need free access to it. It can certainly be a way to keep a family out of trouble. Especially if one of the spouse’s has an addiction they are feeding, and it causes them to drain the account. Having an account they can’t touch is essential.

    Now, if you have a healthy couple that doesn’t have addictions, and they don’t have separation or something like that to contend with, joint accounts can definitely bring unity. When you have to work through the budget as a team, it makes a difference. Besides, when you put it altogether, it helps you to keep a tighter reign on the overall spending and you may find you can afford more.

    1. Mike says:

      I agree that the couple has to be healthy to have joint accounts. My mother began to write checks to phone solicitors and scammers. We suggested that my dad take my mother off the check account and put my sister on it for safety.

  10. Percy says:

    I believe you should totally have joint everything in marriage. Bank accounts, investments, beneficiaries and anything else. Your not a joint venture your a couple.

    If you believe in separate bank account why not separate beds.

    Basically my wife and I share everything. We have our names on everything. She knows where everything is. WE HAVE BILLS

  11. Scott LaPierre says:

    Jay Dee,
    You made some great points. I find it hard to reconcile separate accounts with God’s description of marriage: “two become one.”

    Plus, if people wanted separate accounts I’d have to wonder: for what reason?

    Could there be a good reason?

  12. LatterDay Marriage says:

    Our bank has a nice no-fee account option and we have a join account like that but we only use it to make it easy for one of us to move money to the other electronically so most of the time is has a zero balance. We each have our own accounts too, and each of us is the primary person to cover certain expenses, for example I cover mortgage, insurance and utilities, she covers food and clothing. We tried running everything out of one account but it didn’t work well for us.

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