Wondering if it’s a good idea to have a joint bank account with your spouse?
Having been married for well over a decade I sometimes take for granted that my wife and I rarely argue about money. But then we cut up our credit cards almost 10 years ago and make sure to budget and pay cash for most things.
But I often hear from friends about how much they fight with their spouses over money, particularly over the question of should couples share bank accounts.
While I know why my wife and I do, I decided to investigate and see what kind of data is out there. I especially wanted to see what percentages of divorces were from couples who kept their finances separate.
Here’s what I found out:
Upwards of 75% of couples in the US share at least 1 bank account. Generally speaking the younger the couple, the less likely they are to combine bank accounts. But the younger couples also argue a lot more about money and see significantly higher divorce rates compared to couples over 50. So the data overwhelming says yes; married couples should share bank accounts.
But there’s a lot more that goes into creating financial peace with your wife or husband that just sharing a bank account. So in this post, I’m also answering all the top questions that usually follow questions about sharing bank accounts.
Why should couples pay bills together?
When everything everyone earns goes into one account and then all bills come back out of that account it just makes everything simpler and easier.
Sometimes people avoid joint accounts for some of the following reasons:
- They feel it’s not fair if spouse 1 makes more money than spouse 2
- Or they are resistant to anyone telling them what they can do with their money
- They don’t want their spouse to know what they are spending their money on
At the end of the day if you want your marriage to succeed you have to be open and transparent. So right out of the gate that knocks out the 3rd reason.
As for one spouse feeling controlled by the other, if you have a controlling spouse, it’s likely showing up in many other ways too and not really tied to finances (in short, you have a bigger problem and need to deal with it. The money issue is a symptom of the actual problem).
If you make more money than your spouse or if one spouse doesn’t work and stays home with the kids, they still provide value to the relationship and family; it just shows up in different ways.
If you don’t feel like your spouse is working as hard as you then again, you have a bigger problem than just salary amounts and need to deal with the actual problem.
But if everyone is contributing in different ways for the couple’s common goals, why keep score?
How couples can combine their accounts and not feel controlled
Not wanting to be controlled by a spouse is one of the top reasons one or both spouses resist combing bank accounts.
I get that, although when you live your life openly, honestly, making mistakes but not engaging in behaviors you don’t want your spouse to know about, it just lifts a weight off of you that just makes life that much more enjoyable.
But what my wife and I do is simple; we follow Dave Ramsey’s Envelope System.
In that system, we take out a set amount of cash from the bank each payday. How much we withdraw is based on the written monthly budget we do.
While things like mortgage payments, insurance, Netflix, etc get paid directly from our bank’s payment website, things like gas for cars, groceries, eating out and his and hers spending money we only pay cash for.
Thus, that money we withdraw gets divided up into envelopes labeled by category.
Guess what? I don’t tell my wife what she can do with the money in her spending envelope and the same goes for me. How much goes into the envelopes is something we discuss and agree upon.
But once it’s there, it’s that spouse’s choice.
Why pay cash? Because it forces you to stay on budget and it teaches you to scrutinize purchases more. When you look in your wallet and see how much cash is left, you will spend less than just blindly reaching for plastic.
A recent study by Avni Shah examined how we spend and discovered the roots of why we tend to spend upwards of 18% more when paying by plastic than if we paid with cash.
Are joint accounts a good idea?
For married couples? Absolutely.
When you said “I do” you came together and joined together. You didn’t answer “maybe”. But when couples keep their finances separate from one another, they are essentially keeping part of their lives separate.
If you want to live part of your life separate, why get married in the first place?
Ultimately when you combine income, bills, and debt, you are agreeing with your spouse to join together like superheroes to take on the world. “Your” bill or “my” debt or “your” paycheck being large just won’t matter anymore.
When everything becomes “ours”, the number of money fights diminishes dramatically!
Do most married couples share bank accounts?
In short, yes.
According to a recent Love and Money survey by TD Bank, almost 3/4 of all couples in the US share at least 1 bank account. Interesting, that seems to be on the decline with millennials as only 58% of millennials do the same.
But either way, well over 50% of couples do share bank accounts.
But only about half also combine income, and the younger the couple, the less likely they are to do that.
Other interesting takeaways from that survey include:
- 61% of couples discuss money at least once a week
- 36% of couples argue about money monthly
- The younger the couple the more they argue about money
- 44% don’t seek any financial advice
- 52% don’t seek any marital advice
- Upwards of 20% say their biggest financial successes are paying off debt & budgeting
So the obvious takeaway here is that millennials tend to combine and share less than older generations, but we also see that they also argue more about money.
Not surprisingly, the divorce rate for younger couples is almost twice as high as it is for adults 50 and older, according to the American Community Survey by the Census Bureau.
What do we older folks know that the younger couples don’t?
In short, guys like me (in my 50’s) know that money fights and money problems are often one of the top 3 Reasons for Divorce, and combining finances is one of the best ways to minimize that!
How do I merge bank accounts after marriage?
Remember, as I get into elsewhere in this post, don’t do ANYTHING with combining finances until you’ve said: “I do”.
This isn’t about love or trust. But life happens and while we never want to plan for a split before the wedding day, guess what? It happens!
So once the ink is dry on that marriage certificate, here are the steps to merge bank accounts after marriage:
1. Get a joint checking and savings account
You can start fresh together with a brand new bank or one of you can add the other’s name as co-owners on their accounts. Either way is fine, but make sure to close any non-joint accounts once funds have been moved and outstanding bills have been paid.
2. Set up all accounts on your new bank/account’s payment system
Before you go about canceling auto-drafts on old accounts or shutting down accounts make sure there aren’t any outstanding payments that haven’t cleared. Leave a small amount of cash in the old account for 30 days to catch anything that might sneak through,
3. Begin paying all bills on the new joint account payment system
Once you have your new accounts set up on the new bank website system, and you’ve verified all outstanding payments have cleared, go ahead and shut down the old accounts.
4. Transfer any cash from the old accounts to the new joint accounts
This will be easier if you were both already using the same bank. If not, it may be easiest to get a cashier’s check from the account(s) you are closing and then deposit that at the new bank.
One of the most crucial things a new couple can do is budget.
These days, Budgeting Apps make it incredibly easy to do and you can both access it on your smartphones. In the linked post, I walk you through all of the best budgeting apps breaking down pros and cons so you can decide if one of them is right for you.
Can you merge bank accounts before marriage?
Can you? Yes. Should you? Absolutely not!
While I’ve been married for a long time, I have had previous relationships. Once I bought a house with my then girlfriend. When we split up, because we weren’t married, I couldn’t do ANYTHING with the house without her written agreement.
After the split, she moved out and stopped paying the mortgage. I stayed in the house a few more years, paying the mortgage by myself.
Even though we went years of her not paying the mortgage, I couldn’t sell it or even refinance it without her agreement and guess what she wanted in exchange? That’s right, a lot of money.
Now of course since she had helped pay the mortgage when she still lived there, she was entitled to half of the equity at the time she moved out.
But she insisted on half of the equity years later and I had no choice but to agree (or keep the house and prolong the issue). In the end, I paid her $80,000 when really she probably was truly owed closer to $40k.
Had we been married and then split, the judge would have simply divided the assets at the time of divorce, but when you aren’t married, you don’t really have any legal rights to joint property or accounts.
So until you are married, while it’s great to communicate about money, income, bills, and debt, don’t get joint accounts, co-sign loans or anything else like that.
It’s an expensive recipe for disaster.
Are separate bank accounts marital property?
In short, if you are considering or in the middle of a divorce, you should obviously discuss the matter with your attorney.
Also, know that divorce laws vary from state to state. Thus, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer to this question.
That being said, we can say that whether or not a spouse’s name is on the account isn’t likely to affect whether the state and the judge will consider it joint property or 1 spouse’s separate property.
In many cases, across many states, though, any assets (including money in accounts) that were acquired during the marriage, would be considered martial or joint property and thus a judge would divide it up during the divorce.
But always consult an attorney in your state before making any legal decisions.
I would not, however, ever make a decision regarding my spouse and our finances with divorce in mind. If you already have 1 foot out the door when you set up finances in a marriage, you’re increasing the likelihood the marriage will fail.
How should married couples split finances?
For me, keep it simple!
All paychecks go into one checking account and then all bills get paid from that account. I do recommend having Multiple Bank Accounts as it makes budgeting WAY easier.
All bills get paid out of those accounts.
For finances at least, forget his and hers or yours and mine. It’s “ours”. Who makes what is irrelevant. That being said, sometimes one spouse brings a large amount of debt into a marriage.
Thus, it’s important to talk about that before you say I do.
It’s not that you wouldn’t get married to someone with a large amount of debt, but it is important to know whether or not each of you shares values with money and finances. So before you tie the knot make sure you’ve discussed and agreed upon the following:
- Debt (how much you have and whether you’re OK with using credit cards and other debt)
- Budgeting (do they budget or do they just “wing it”?)
- Spending (are the intentional with their spending, are they frivolous?)
- Red flags (large amounts of student loans, bankruptcy, etc)
Ultimately when there’s no surprises, there will be less friction, fewer disagreements, more harmony and more financial as well as marital success.
Still not convinced? Check out my post about how Financial Marriage Counseling can help improve your marriage!
Did I answer all your questions about whether couples should share bank accounts?
In this post, I took a deep dive into one of the most common questions that married couples ask about money; should couples share bank accounts.
Ultimately while I’ve always believed couples should combine accounts, the research we looked at proved that to be true.
So if you aren’t sharing bank accounts and expenses, start today!
What is the biggest frustration in your marriage?
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While I am happily married and have years of successful financial & budgeting experience and run several million dollar businesses and handled the accounting, P&L and been responsible for the financial assets of them, I am an not an accountant, CPA or a marriage counselor. Like all my posts, my posts are opinions based on experience, observations, research, and mistakes. While I believe all my personal finance and relationship posts to be thorough, accurate and well-researched, if you need financial or marital advice, you should seek out a qualified professional in your area.