Should Couples Have Joint or Separate Checking Accounts?

If you’re in a committed relationship, you might be wondering which is better: having joint or separate checking accounts. The truth is, the best option really depends on the couple, your individual incomes, lessons learned during your upbringing, and your willingness to work together to achieve your financial goals.

Some couples thrive on having joint accounts, joint investments, and more. Other couples succeed when they don’t have their spouse reviewing every purchase and looking over their shoulder. 

Checking Account Options for Married Couples

Luckily, you have a few different options when it comes to managing your accounts as a couple. For example, you can have completely joint accounts. You can have separate accounts. Or, there are a couple of different options that are a combination of the two.

Completely Joint Accounts

When people talk about having joint accounts, they typically mean combining all of your money into one checking account. That means that anything you buy including groceries, clothes for your kids, throw pillows, makeup, and more comes out of the same exact account. 

Couples with joint accounts can carry debit cards that draw from the same account. Some couples share a credit card or two as well. 

Having joint accounts requires exceptional levels of open communication. It’s helpful to have a budget meeting at least once a month to decide how you’re going to allocate your joint funds. That way, you’re on the same page and know what expenses are going to come up and how you’re planning on paying for them. 

Completely Separate Accounts

This option is exactly as it sounds. Each member of the relationship has completely separate checking accounts. They have separate credit cards. Additionally, they manage their own investment accounts. This doesn’t mean that they don’t own joint property, however. They might both share ownership in a home or an investment property, but typical day-to-day spending happens separately.

It’s important to note that separate accounts don’t necessarily mean marital issues or lack of trust. Having separate accounts is usually about autonomy. Members of these relationships like to have control over their own spending, and they don’t want someone looking over their shoulder. It’s about independence and privacy. 

Sometimes, people also have separate accounts because of one member of the relationship has debt. And, maybe the indebted person feels like they should pay their own debt. If that’s the case, this couple can still find ways to work together to achieve a common goal. For example, maybe the member of the relationship without debt pays for most household expenses so their partner can allocate most of their income to debt repayment.

Ultimately, what is helpful for couples who have separate checking accounts is to regularly check in with each other and maintain some type of household budget. This means that they know which member of the relationship is paying for bills like utilities, the mortgage payment, and groceries. They also know who is paying for family vacations or how they’ll divide those costs. Like any financial arrangement within a couple, it’s all about open, direct communication when it comes to money. Although you don’t have to share every single purchase you make with each other, it’s still important to have an open dialogue.

Combined Joint and Shared

There is a way to meet in the middle when it comes to banking as a couple. You can try something called a percentage method where each member of the partnership contributes the same percentage of their income to a joint account. 

So, whether one person makes $40,000 a year or the other person makes $200,000 a year, each person could contribute, for example, 40% of their income to a joint account. That joint account can then be used for groceries, travel, home upgrades, and more. And, whatever is left over in their own individual accounts is theirs to do what they please.  

Another way to manage money as a couple is to contribute the exact same amount every month to a joint account. So, for example, each person can contribute $3,000 to a joint family account, and then your family household budget will be $6,000 every month. Then, if one partner wants to treat the other one to dinner or family experience from what’s left over in their account, they can choose to do that. Some couples feel this is more “fair,” but it really depends on income levels and personal preferences.

Which Choice is Right for You?

There is no right answer when it comes to choosing which of these accounting styles is right for you. It depends on many factors like your income but also your upbringing.  Those who saw their parents have joint checking accounts are more likely to have joint checking accounts. And, sometimes people who marry later in life and who are used to independently managing their money like keeping things separate. 

Plus, there’s no rule that says if you start with separate accounts, you have to keep separate accounts. And, there’s no rule saying if you start with joint accounts when you’re younger that you can’t open up separate accounts later.

My advice is to have an open and honest discussion with your partner. Talk about boundaries when it comes to spending. Talk about spending limits. If you have joint accounts, discuss the amount of money you’re allowed to spend on an individual item before you have to ask permission to do so.

Whether you have joint or separate accounts or some combination of the two, make a plan on how often you’ll need to discuss your household budget. Take the time to talk about both short and long-term goals. That way, you have a sense of unity and know what you’re working towards.

Take the time to check off some personal finance basics. For example, make sure you both have an emergency fund. If one member of the partnership has debt, work on a plan together to eliminate it quickly. If you dream of owning a home someday or upgrading to a bigger home, discuss that goal often and make a plan on how to achieve it. 

The reality is, the choice to have joint or separate accounts is not what makes a couple financially successful. It’s the couples’ shared goals, open communication, and teamwork that allows for that to happen.