Money & Marriage: Joint Accounts or Separate Accounts?

sig_a40830164137.jpgA huge debate arises when it comes to marriage and money about whether or not spouses should have a joint checking account or separate checking accounts. One popular thing that people do nowadays is they keep one joint account to pay the bills from and then they keep a separate account for each of them to spend money on “personal” things. This is a total cop-out when it comes to managing money with your spouse. A marriage is not a joint venture. You cannot pick and choose which things that you want to share as a couple and which things not to share. You must be handling money as a team.

My opinion is that there is only one way to handle your bank accounts. You keep one joint checking account and one joint savings account. You write a budget together, stick to that budget together, and talk to each about making purchases over $50 dollars, unless you are going to make 10 different $50 purchases in one day, then you talk it over with your spouse!

Common Arguments: “My spouse is worse at handling money than I am”. This is why you got married, to help each other, not avoid each others weaknesses. It is okay for one of you to be more financially savvy, but you both need to create a budget together, and not sharing your incomes will only bring more division. If your spouse had a problem with drinking, would you totally abandon them or try to help them? In the same way, why would you totally abandon your spouse if they had a problem with handling money?

It is easier to keep track of the money”. No it’s not harder, it should be simpler because you are dealing with less bank accounts. What account do you use when you go out to dinner? I can hear it now “No, you pay this time; I have to pay for the dentist tomorrow”. If you are communicating about your purchases, and balancing your check book together each week, it should be easier to keep one joint account.

I make more money than her, and I don’t want her spending all of it”. You make more money than her? Well, does she cook for you? Does she wash your dirty underwear? Yeah, exactly. You cannot put tabs on your salaries, or else resentment, jealousy, and division will destroy your marriage.

Handling money is extremely important in a marriage. And just like everything else important in a marriage, communication is key to keeping your money handling healthy. If one of you wants to spend all the time and the other wants to save all the time, come to an agreement. Set aside some “Blow” money to use for having fun and blowing it without any worries about what it gets spent on. Set aside money that will be saved for long term and short term. Also, remember to set aside money to pay off debts. Never settle for just paying the minimum payments on credit cards or paying off a car or house in 20 years.

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18 Responses

  1. Anna says:

    Hey Robin;
    When my ex and I first got married we each had our own personal accounts, but then after we were married we opened a joint checking account as well. Basically what we did was take a certain percentage of our paycheques and that went into the joint and then we had a percentage that went into our personal accounts. It worked for us.

    I’ve heard alot of women say that joint accounts were not an option in their relationships because they feared that if anything went wrong in the relationship, they were afraid their partner would clear out the joint account on them and split. (there’s an issue in and of itself, lol) – though I think something like that might partially be solved by requiring both signatures on all cheques.

    Who goes into a relationship with those kinds of doubts anyway?!!

  2. Robin Bal says:

    Hi Anna,

    You are right we don’t go into relationships with those kind of doubts, but these things do happen.

    You brought up a good point though that joint accounts should be operated where both parties are required to sign to make a withdrawal, you never know one party may wipe off the account.

    Good comment mate. Take care and cheers.

  3. hubby says:

    I think you’re right, it is only YOUR opinions. Thanks for sharing but people should know it’s YOUR OPINION. Are you a marriage counselor. Are your certified in some manner to give marriage advice, as well as financial advice?

    Thanks for sharing YOUR OPINIONS.

  4. k says:

    If we are a unit and we share the accounts does that mean that we share each other debits. ie I went to medical school and I have a lot of school loans. I believe that if you have the philosophy to share all the accounts then you should also share all the debit. Put your name on my school loans since we are sharing…… I always hear a pause when this issue comes up. I think you should have a joint checking and savings and independent checking where a portion of spending money is deposited.

  5. Jane T. says:

    Do you think that even if one partner is working , they should have a joint account? The working partner may feel that the money belongs to him only and will give the non-working spouse an allowance , sometimes enough or otherwise . What right does the non-working spouse has ? How can she ask him to give her more ? Life sucks!!!

  6. Jeff W says:

    I think this is terrible advice. There is no right or wrong regarding joint or individual accounts. Neither is better than another. It depends on each situation and the beliefs and desires of both people involved. I also think, if EITHER person prefers to keep separate accounts, that is when the discussion should be over without a fight and the two should just go that route. It doesnt mean your relationship is less loving or anything like that. AND you can still assist someone who is bad at finances with their own bills without having to combine. This way no one can tap into each other’s income without both agreeing… you have a joint account for joint purposes and your individual accounts feed those accounts. If you do not combine it is way easier to see where things go and have both sides be able to see where their money goes and how fair it is. Each person is still an individual and there is always the alternative to being married… so why make marriage a punishment that could encourage a split? Separate finances encourage separate understanding and, I believe, can be used to make the flow of money towards common goals and interests far more transparent to both people.

    To insinuate that keeping individual accounts equates to being unfair or inappropriate is wrong. I think people should not be financially punished by being married compared to being single (though the government disagrees). I think it makes sense to keep separate accounts (especially if you have separate accounts and careers at the start) and each plan out your contribution to bills each month. Then, whatever is left, just as if you were single, you can do what you like with individually. Nothing stops a person from racking up debt individually that counts against the whole, so what is wrong with keeping control of left over income individually? Then there is no ownership or control factor in how people choose to endulge in their hobbies and interests.

    Unfortunately, these days too many people (often women) look at marriage like an entitlement to share and thereby receive things from the higher earner. If the higher earner made wiser decisions in life to become that higher earner and you didnt or couldn’t, why should they be punished by having to give you more of their income just because you are married and love each other? It makes no sense in cases where two people have their careers. They each already benefit by sharing bills to any extent.

    The other fault in the argument is the whole “if she cooks and cleans and all that isnt that worth something?” notion. I can buy that it has a value and a worth that should be reimbursed, however, what if you make more AND the person you are with is one of those who still does not contribute to the work around the household? Then you should pay more AND do more? That is just plain not fair and will lead to problems. When two people have incomes of reasonable amounts, especially amounts they could live on on their own, I think keeping separate accounts and just dividing common bills makes absolutely the most sense and is the most fair way to not create problems.

  7. David says:

    I think Jeff W and I may have alot in common. I have a spouce who spends without control and no attention to a budget. We’ve had a single joint account for the entire 15 years of our marriage.

    My spouce used to be at home for a few years taking care of the kids. At that time, she had an attitude of entitlement to half and felt she could spend without us having to agree.

    Now we are both working full-time and share equally in the household and children responsibilities (really!), but things are even worse than before. I make 70% of the income, but she still has this entitlement attitude, considering it one pot and that it’s OK to spend all she makes plus much of what I make. Her credit card bills alone exceed her income. Lots of purchases I disagree with. Our financial fights are going to lead us to divorce if we can’t work things out.

    Because we fight over finances all the time and can’t agree, I think our only solution (besides the fact that we need professional help) is to create separate personal accounts with a joint account for common/shared bills.

    I’d like to think the separate account idea might work as a way to force smarter spending at least in the personal accounts, but am not hopeful. The main reason is that many of our arguments are over wasteful spending on items that could be considered joint, such as Organic everything, expensive household items, overspending on clothes, toys and other items for the children, etc. She resents me and feels guilty to the kids for having to go back to work and tries to make up for it by spoiling and spending excessively on the kids.

    So, although I see the separate account helping somewhat, it is not going to solve the root of the problem. Desperately searching for help to save a marriage. :-(

  8. Em says:

    Gee, these comments got ugly fast.

  9. Michael says:

    Jeff ~
    I wonder if you and your wife sleep in separate bedrooms !
    I think It’s really sad that you feel you’re being “punished” by sharing your good fortune with your wife. Isn’t she the most important person in the world to you ? I know now why the divorce rate is so high. How about you try this….You give your wife what she needs and do things for her that you wouldn’t normally do and see how that works for you. The first step in making wise decisions is to see each other as best friends to be helped, not as enemies to be punished. Good luck to you Jeff, if I were you I would hold off on having kids.

    David ~
    I think your wife has a shopping problem and maybe you need to get her help for that. I respect you for trying to save your marriage though.

  10. Lizabeth says:

    I’ve been married for a little over 2 years. My husband has a small business and I am not working at the present time. He has 5 children and 4 that live with us. I have two children from a previous marriage. We live in 8,200 sq ft. home with addition of 9 animals. His previous wife pasted away. When I moved into his home it was as if…. they lived in trashville, the house was a wreck. It has taken a long time to get things organized, everything needed to be washed down, it hadn’t been cleaned in years. His children weren’t required to do anything. I do all the cleaning, cooking, shopping, gardening, planting of flowers and lots of landscaping. I have pressured washed the house, many things I feel some of the older children should of helped us, but never was a requirement from their father. I’m at a point of getting a divorce. My money is his money and his money is his money. We don’t have joint accounts together. I’ve spent all of my house money from a sale of a house I owned. Plus every month $746.00 that goes towards the childrens needs. I’ve helped him with an $75,000.00 dollar debt, managed to lower the bills and he doesn’t buy my children anything. Have given my older car to his child. I’m wondering when my children get bigger will they get anything the way things are going today. My name isn’t on the house or the business, still in his deceased wifes name and we do not have a new will; we are not spring chickens anymore. If we get an divorce, will I get my money back? Since we have only been married for over 2 years, what will my children have to fall back on. Good jobs with a good income are hard to find today. In the past I’ve made good money and was able to support my children and me, but now I’m worried. If I get a divorce what would be the best out come? At one time he would give me grocery money, that has stopped as well. He will go out and buy the groceries. He doesn’t pay for anything for me such as makeup,clothes or shoes or any of my debt that I had prior to our marriage, which isn’t much. Two credit cards less than $1,000.00 on each. This marriage seems one sided, is this my imagination? Any comments out there?

  11. sam says:

    The arguments from both sides a quite sexist here. They imply that the man earns more money and that the woman is less able with money and that the woman may earn less but will probably compensate in some way. Me and my wife keep separate accounts and contribute evenly to joint expenses it means that neither of us feel like we are the minority partner in the relationship in the same way that neither one of us is more responsible four housework. I earn more money than my wife and work longer hours and as such I pay for the big one-offs like sofas and tvs. Having separate accounts is nice because having our own money means we can treat each other and it feels like a treat. We worship each other and both know that neither one of us would leave the other to deal with any financial trouble on their own but this system works for us. It’s the trust which allows us to have separate accounts and not worry about it. Every marriage is different; we were living together beforehand and marriage was about commitment to each other. Our financial set up worked as it was, so we saw no need to suddenly get involved in each others finances just because of some tradition. If we have children, I would probably be the one to keep working just because I earn more and we may have to reassess how we do things Although it would probably mean splitting my salary 50-50 with her so that we still had financial independence, but for now there is no need to conform just because that’s what most people do. A marriage is what you make of it, there is no 1 “right” way, everyone is different and as a result, so are all marriages.

  12. juanita sy says:

    a newly couple get married recently .. the woman gets higher salary,, is it appropriate to have the partners have a joint account..isn t it fair that all share the household expenses equally and keep all the other income at their own savings account.. or maybe they can have joint savings also for long and short termsa goals. Please advise. thanks

  13. Stuart says:

    It’s been joint acct for 18 years of marraige until she got on fb. all of a sudden she would hide the screen anytime i came into the room. Going out, coming home well after the “bar” closes. I work full time, she stayed at home. Very often I came home to cook dinner for 3 kids all the while she was online. I tried to ask for help cooking, rsulting in a fight. Late nights continued, then I had direct deposit into my own personal acct. she will ask for $ to transfer to joint so she can buy groceries….groceries wasnt’t never her intent. So now i do the grocery shopping. So, I’m part of the “separate acct” crowd.

  14. Anne says:

    My husband and I have been married 23 years and have separate accounts. For the first 10 years I stayed home and raised our three children, then went out to work, and I now can contribute to our life financially, too, paying for certain expenses we incur. If separate accounts are what both people want, then that’s ok. But what do you do when there’s disagreement? I have never felt like this was a good situation for us, like he doesn’t trust me, and I now want us to have joint finances. He does not want to communicate about it, gets angry when I bring it up. My fear is that now that we’re getting older, what will I do to look after the house, bills, etc. if something was to disable him? (I know I can’t carry the whole burden on just my income.) We’ve seen some very scary health issues recently with people we know. I love this man and want to be his helpmate, but shutting me out is a very old-fashioned attitude. It’s going to be very hard to change things in this marriage, now, with this many years of not having to talk about money with each other.

  15. Carrie says:

    Wow – after reading all these comments, I still cannot figure out what would be the right thing to do – separate accounts or joint accounts? I personally know of someone whose 20+ year marriage ended – first thing she did was try to steal all of the joint money from the bank, but the bank only allowed her to take a portion without his OK. This horrible divorce was ALL about this lazy, sloppy, dirty, stay-at-home-have more & more Kids woman getting ALL the joint money. He had no clue; did not see this coming. She moved her boyfriend into their huge beautiful house and had him “removed” by lies to the Police and Children’s Services. HORRIBLE. I have been single my whole life, and have provided for myself 100%, and allowed various men to move into my apartments and my (owned) homes and live inexpensively using my furniture, pots, pans, towels, TVs, etc. and of course kept all my money (including their rent) in my own accounts. I can’t imagine any man telling me I “can’t” buy new towels or a new winter coat (I keep mine for many years) or a pair of shoes I think are cute and very comfortable. Or tell me I should not buy…anything. It’s my money and I work darn hard for it, many hours, working 2 jobs quite often. Joint account? I tried that ONCE with one man, a very small “house” account but he started taking $20 out at the ATM all the time and I found out. I closed that account quick! So when a person gets married they HAVE to live with the fear of all the money arguments? the issues of CONTROL, feeling like a child with a Parent not allowing them to buy what they want? The FEAR that the spouse can get angry and steal all the joint money someday? The divorce rate is so high, and the risk of losing all your money is SO high if you allow another person access to your hard-earned money. I don’t see how in 2011, people can work this out if they choose to get legally married. May work if you are only 20-something….but a later-in-life second or third marriage? How?

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  17. Phillip says:

    Bad advice.

    I have been married for 20 years the joint account approach did not work for us, my wife abused this by over spending although I make a good salary I ended up with $20 at the end of the week, now we are separated I find that I am able to save hundreds of dollars a week and pay 2 mortgages. Now we are trying to work it out – get back together and of cause this resentment is holding us back. Thanks for your opinion, but this approach does not work for everyone. look up cuban, american and french approaches to this

  18. Erin says:

    My partner earns more than me at the moment and we split bills 70/30 , however in 12 months time I will be earning more than him so I expect to pay more.

    It’s about supporting your loved ones and providing security and stability. We have our own seperate accounts and a joint account where the money for the bills and mortgage go.

    We both work hard and neither would be comfortable getting permission to spend our hard earned money on something we want. As long as the bills account covers the bill then our seperate spending and savings accounts are of no interest to each other.

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