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Love, honor and share a bank account
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Alternative financial arrangements
For every recommendation, though, there are exceptions.

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Durling has seen a number of systems work well for couples. What matters is that the husband and wife agree on the system they're going to use. And one person has to agree to take primary responsibility for making sure the bills get paid.

"The two keys are communication and being meticulous," she says. "There has to be trust involved and the primary person has to be open for both people to look at the checkbook."

Candace Bahr is a California financial adviser for high-net-worth clients and co-founder of WIFE, the Women's Institute for Financial Education. She and her husband have been married for 26 years and are both highly competent when it comes to financial issues.

"We thought we were both in charge," she says. That's not always a recipe for success with shared finances.

Now, they switch off, with each person taking primary responsibility for the checkbook for a full year. That way, you see not only the bills that come every month, but also those that come quarterly and annually, such as life insurance premiums and membership renewals.

"If one person handles it, it's so easy for the other person not to be in touch," Bahr says. "This way, you have to hand it back to the other person in good order. We've done it this way for 10 years."

When sharing won't work
And the experts acknowledge that there are some people you don't want your name next to on a checking account.

Does your mate have excessive amounts of debt? Does he have a legal judgment against him that gives the court the right to seize his assets? Does she owe the Internal Revenue Service? Has she filed for bankruptcy? Has he co-signed on a loan that he's now responsible to repay? In these situations, talk to a lawyer before you put both your names on anything.

Then there are the people who think they can't be overdrawn because there are still checks in the checkbook. And don't forget about those folks who just can't be bothered to write down deposits and debit card payments.

"When shouldn't you have a joint checking account? When your husband doesn't know how to do the math and has a tendency to add checks rather than subtract them," says Eva Rosenberg, a CPA and tax educator known on the Internet as Tax Mama.

"I was shocked when my 5-year-older husband did that for the first time and all our checks went bouncing. He did that several times. I tried to work this out for about three years. I couldn't do it for four. I had to leave him. For a very bright man, he was very stupid."

Pat Curry is a freelance writer based in Georgia.

Bankrate.com's corrections policy -- Updated: May 9, 2006
 
 
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