So you’ve tied the knot, moved in together, and are excited about taking the next big step as a married unit. What about merging your finances? If you haven’t already done so, having a discussion on how to best handle your money as a couple should happen sooner than later. A big question is whether you should open a joint banking account or keep them separate. Here are five crucial questions to mull over when making this important decision:
- What are your goals as a couple?
A big part of being married is how you plan to handle your money as a team. Whether it’s saving up to buy a home, raising a family, or working less to pursue projects you’re passionate about, taking the time to sit down and talk about the life you envision with each other is key to matching up your money with your shared values and long-term goals.
Jaclyn Lambert of Student Loan Hero has found that merging finances with her husband helps keep their goals in check. “Our money goals are completely joint, and we both work together to make them happen,” the 26-year-old explains. “We’ve learned to budget and save together as a unit rather than individually.”
Although this doesn’t work for everyone, having one person in the relationship be responsible for money matters such as ensuring bills are taken care of, retirement accounts are funded, and money goals are moving along, could help. Just make sure the role of the person designated to keep an eye on your accounts is clearly defined.
- How transparent are you when it comes to talking about money?
If you find it difficult to talk about money with your spouse, you’re not alone. Talking about finances is a touchy subject for many. “Money issues come from a very emotional and personal place so it’s important to respect the other person,” explains 27-year-old Zina Kumok of Debt Free After Three, who got married earlier this year. “Having trust and good communication is the key to not having disputes about money.” Rome wasn’t built in a day, so start small and gradually develop that trust. It’s only after you build that trust that you can have candid and heartfelt talks about finances.
- What are the ground rules?
If you do open a joint account, establishing ground rules will make sure you and your partner are on the same page when it comes to spending. Some rules could be checking in with the other person for special purchases that are over X amount, or that each person is responsible for paying off their own debt.
“You have joint financial responsibility whether you want it or not,” says 30-year-old Eric Rosenberg of Personal Profitability, who opened a joint bank account shortly after he and his wife got married. “For some couples it may work better in practice to have individual accounts for everything, but it works much better for us to share accounts, particularly with one of us as a primary income earner and the other as the primary childcare provider for our baby girl.”
If one partner in your relationship is the breadwinner while the other partner is busy with schooling or tends to childcare, figure out whether the main earner has access to extra spending money, or whether disposable income be shared equally. Sussing out things beforehand will prevent conflict down the line.
- How will shared expenses be divided?
If you and your spouse have unequal salaries, will the shared expenses be split in half? If not, how much is each partner responsible for? One possible arrangement is that each partner contributes a percentage to shared expenses that is equal to the percentage of the income they bring in. For instance, if you contribute 40 percent to the total income as a couple, you would be responsible for paying 40 percent of your shared expenses, while your partner contributes the remaining 60 percent.
What you can do to test the waters is by first opening a joint account while keeping your separate accounts at the same time. The joint account can be used as a pool to pay for living expenses such as housing, utilities, and food, or it can be used to fund a shared goal, such as a dream vacation or to put a down payment on a home.
- Do you have similar banking styles?
While having a shared bank account could streamline your finances and make it easier to keep track, make sure it is a good fit for both your banking styles. Brynne Conroy of Femme Frugality and her husband found that having separate accounts has worked out well for them because they have different ways they like to bank. “I prefer the services of a web-based financial institution, while he needs access to a physical branch,” Conroy explains. “Combining our finances wouldn’t make sense because our money comes from such different places.”
If mobile banking is more of your thing and your partner is a “stop in and talk to someone” sort of person, then spend time looking at your different options to see what jives well for your banking styles. Another difference could be that one partner likes to use cash while the other prefers paying digitally. If you have questions, talk to your local credit union branch to learn more about the options, services, and tools they have to offer. This can clarify things and help with making the best decision for you and your spouse.
When it comes to money matters, there is no one-size-fits-all answer. The most important thing is to communicate with your significant other and figure out a system that works best for the both of you. In the end, doing what’s best to help build a life together based on shared values is key.