If you've recently taken that next step in your relationship and increased your level of commitment to each other, say, by moving in together or getting engaged, you might be wondering if it's time to combine bank accounts. You're probably sharing a number of expenses and it might seem impractical to continue keeping tabs on who owes what to whom.
While many couples do choose to combine their finances for convenience and simplicity, sometimes even married couples choose to keep all of their accounts separate. Here are some issues to consider if you're trying to decide whether opening a joint account is right for you at this stage in your relationship.
Testing the Waters
Your Joint Account Can Be an Addition, Not a Replacement
If you'd like to test the waters on joint banking, you don't have to empty out and close your existing checking accounts and pool your resources to form a new one. Instead, you can keep your separate accounts but also start a new, joint checking account. Each of you can contribute an equal sum to the account each month and you can use the account solely for joint expenses, such as rent and groceries. Or, if one of you earns much more than the other, you can contribute an equal percentage of your take-home pay.
Setting up this type of joint account does give you one more account to manage, but it can also simplify the payment of your mutual expenses and let you test out whether you can trust your partner with access to your money. If they access the money for a purpose other than what you've agreed upon in advance, you and your partner might have a money problem and a trust issue.
Learn Whether You Can Trust Your Partner
If you're looking for a long-term commitment, sooner or later you'll want to know whether you can trust your partner with your money. Establishing a joint checking account can be a good way to answer that question. Does your partner drain the account and run off with your money? If so, that's terrible, but it could be much worse if you were several years further along in your relationship and your partner was able to stick you with a mortgage and credit card bills in addition to draining your joint account.
If you have any doubts about your partner's financial trustworthiness, you'll want to give them access to your money in very small increments until they've established their credibility. If you doubt their trustworthiness, period, you should probably wait until they've proved themselves in other areas before trusting them with any of your money.
Learn the Truth About Your Partner's Spending Habits and Debts
If you do choose to go all in and combine your individual checking accounts into one joint account, it will be difficult for your partner to hide their true spending habits or to keep credit card bills or other debt hidden. If you're lucky, your joint account will show that you have similar attitudes toward money and are both financially responsible.
Often, though, one partner in a relationship is a spendthrift and the other is a saver. If that's the case, it's important to determine whether your different attitudes about money can be reconciled or whether they're a deal breaker. If you learn that your differences are irreconcilable, you can end the relationship with your overall finances still relatively separate and intact.
Keeping the Fire Burning
Joint Finances Aren't Romantic
When both partners keep most of their money in a shared checking account, it's no longer possible to treat each other to gifts or dates since the money belongs to both of you. This reality can take some of the fun out of these activities. Also, discussing budgets and bills isn't sexy; it's mundane. If you're still in the new, thrilling, courtship stage of your relationship, you may want to postpone opening a joint checking account. Or at least keep a private account for each of you, as well.
The Bottom Line
Opening a joint checking account comes with a number of risks: the risk that you'll get ripped off, the risk that you'll kill the romance in your relationship, the risk that you'll find out you're not financially compatible with your partner. Every couple has to confront these issues eventually, but by considering when and how to combine your finances, you can minimize the risks and maximize the benefits.