Cash & Coupling: Should We Open A Joint Checking Account?

Colleen Meeks / May 13, 2010

When my husband asked me to marry him, I didn’t hesitate before saying yes. But when he first suggested that we open a joint checking account, I froze. I was thrilled to give up my single status … but signing over my financial independence? That was a completely different proposal.

There are as many approaches to shared finances as there are individuals sharing them, so the process of deciding whether or not to open an account with your partner can be overwhelming. To help you make the right choice, I asked Dr. Terri Orbuch, Ph.D. and author of 5 Simple Steps to Take Your Marriage from Good to Great, and Stacy Johnson, author of Life of Debt 2010: A New Path to Financial Freedom, for advice. Here’s how they advise going about making the “To combine, or not to combine?” call.

Ask The Tough Questions

If you’re considering sharing an account with your partner, it’s likely you know him pretty well already. But it’s still important to make sure you ask him – and yourself – lots of questions. “Be honest with yourself about how you feel about money,” says Dr. Orbuch. Then, share those feelings and thoughts with your partner. “If either of you has concerns about the other’s spending habits, financial decisions, or role in managing money, make sure you express them,” she adds.

Consider How It Will Affect Your Relationship

One advantage to having a shared account is gaining a greater understanding of the person you’re merging with. “You can see how responsible they are and whether they walk the walk,” says Johnson. “If you prove that you can budget and work together as a couple, you’ll be a lot more effective together in the future.” Additionally, a shared account can strengthen an already solid relationship. “With a joint account, the two of you have a joint investment in your relationship together, which increases your commitment to each other,” explains Dr. Orbuch. However, if your primary goal in wanting to merge finances is to get your partner to commit on a deeper level, you’ve probably got bigger problems than an unbalanced checkbook.

Remember That A Joint Checking Account Is Optional

You don’t need checks with both your names on them to prove your love. If you aren’t able to agree on shared goals, such as saving to buy a home, and can’t resolve money-related conflicts effectively, Dr. Orbuch says there’s no rush to share an account. Wait until you can trust your partner and agree on what’s important for your future together. “Conflict over money, especially early in the relationship, is typical. But the two of you must be able to resolve or work through the issues,” she says. And if you’re not ready to go all the way, Johnson suggests easing in. “Keep three accounts, one that is shared that you each put half of your money into. Then keep the other half in your own individual accounts; see how you do together and separately before you merge it all.”

Maintain Some Independence

Even if you decide to open a joint checking account, Dr. Orbuch suggests you each keep at least one account in your name. “Some things should not be jointly owned or shared. This is important for self-esteem issues, but if something happens to your partner, you need to make sure you have credit in your name only.” Johnson agrees, adding, “It is appropriate for both parties to maintain some control. Keep at least some of your own money. It is very important to have some independence.”

The Money section and all articles within it are sponsored by Free Credit Report; however, the articles are all independently produced by The Frisky and the opinions and views expressed by the writers and experts are their own.