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Nothing sours a relationship like having disputes over finances. Even something as simple as deciding what kind of bank account to open can provoke disagreements, but it’s important to consider how your bank account can support your relationship in the long run.
“Most couples hate to talk about money and will delay discussing their finances,” says Gina Grippo-Martinez, wealth advisor at ALINE Wealth in the New York City area. “This can lead to some unfortunate surprises down the road,” she says, especially around debt and spending levels.
On one hand, it might make sense to have separate accounts so that each partner maintains some financial autonomy. But doesn’t a separate account damage the trust in a relationship with your significant other? It doesn’t have to, say financial experts, who point to other benefits of separate accounts that can actually strengthen your tie.
Here’s everything you should consider to decide whether a joint account, separate accounts or a blend of both is right for your relationship.
Key couple banking statistics
- Among U.S. couples who are married, in a civil partnership or live together, 43 percent have only joint bank accounts.
- Many couples (34 percent) have a mix of joint and separate bank accounts, while 23 percent have completely separate accounts.
- Millennial couples are the most likely to have separate accounts of any generation, with 69 percent having at least some finances in separate accounts.
- The likelihood of having joint accounts also increases with income — while 68 percent of those who earn less than $50,000 a year keep at least part of their finances in joint accounts, 83 percent of those who earn over $100,000 annually do.
- About one-third of those in couples say they have committed some form of financial infidelity, the most common of which is spending more than their partner would be okay with.
- Around three-fifths (61 percent) of couples say they discuss their finances together at least once a month.
- Still, 44 percent of couples argue about money at least occasionally — that number is higher for millennials (49 percent) and Gen Xers (51 percent).
- Couples report that their biggest financial concern is saving enough for retirement, followed by making enough income to fulfill life dreams.
Why have a joint bank account?
Some couples maintain a joint bank account because it may be a way to maintain their unity as a couple and can make it easier to monitor spending. Others set up a joint account simply because that’s “the thing to do” and don’t really consider the decision with much self-reflection.
“Foremost, it is a sign of unity, commitment, and trust in your relationship and your partner,” says Grippo-Martinez. “You are giving each other complete access and control over your money. That is a huge commitment.”
A joint account also allows couples “the ability to jointly pay for living expenses and other expenses such as vacations, home projects, and expenses for children,” says Skylar Riddle, CFP, financial advisor at Fort Pitt Capital Group in Pittsburgh.
Riddle also points to the ability to fund other savings goals, such as IRAs, and says “it creates unity regardless of income differences between the couple.”
But those benefits of closeness can also create significant problems, and in some cases, that commitment could be more of a constraint than a harmonizer.
“Before joining your finances together, you were never accountable to someone else for your spending decisions,” says Grippo-Martinez. “Now you have someone looking over your shoulder and reviewing the statements.”
On top of that you need to be aware of your partner’s spending habits so that money isn’t unaccounted for. According to a 2022 study by CreditCards.com, almost a third of U.S. adults in couples are not fully transparent about their finances with their partners, with 15 percent saying they spend more than their partner would be okay with. Further, 9 percent say they have a secret credit card, and 9 percent say they have hidden debt.
But even if your situation is not quite so drastic, fundamental differences in each partner’s saving and spending habits can easily turn into major fights as one partner wants to take a vacation while the other wants to save that money for retirement.
Still, financial disputes might be rooted in something other than having a joint bank account. What’s key is communication. A 2021 study by Fidelity found that those who say they communicate well are less likely to report money as their greatest relationship challenge, and they’re more likely to rate their household’s financial health as excellent or very good.
Pros and cons of having joint accounts
|More transparency about spending habits
|Lack of financial autonomy and privacy
|Easier to budget shared income
|Both partners have to account for each other’s spending
|Easier to pay for shared expenses, such as utility bills
|Both partners become accountable for debts that one may have
|Creates a sense of closeness
|It may be difficult to transition into separate accounts if the relationship ends
Why have separate bank accounts?
Financial experts won’t deny that joint accounts can have benefits for a couple, but for some experts those benefits can be maintained even with separate accounts. Plus, separate accounts may prevent uncertainties about each other’s spending habits that occur with a joint account.
“If your views on saving and spending are too divergent, it may be best to maintain separate accounts so spending does not become a strain on the relationship,” says Grippo-Martinez.
It’s possible that separate accounts might give more freedom to each partner. They’ll each have full control of their money and won’t have to review statements to see who spent what. That privacy means that both partners have to be comfortable with their partner having the same degree of monetary freedom.
While separate accounts may alleviate some disputes, they may stoke others, such as if one partner is paying for all of the essentials and the other is not contributing, says Riddle.
In particularly demanding circumstances it could create some problems, too.
“If you are paying a shared debt, you may have to first transfer funds to your partner’s account,” says Grippo-Martinez. “In the event of an emergency, your partner will not have access to your accounts.”
But separate financial accounts don’t necessarily mean a lack of commitment or closeness. It still requires a great deal of closeness and communication to help each other through financial hurdles and hardships, while not necessarily having complete access to the other partner’s finances.
“It’s not the fact that the money is separate or together, it is how you use the money collectively,” says Riddle. “Keeping the money separate can actually increase romance because you are able to do things for the other person without the money coming from a joint account.”
Pros and cons of having separate accounts
|More control and privacy over personal spending
|More difficult to access each other’s accounts in the case of an emergency
|Eases uncertainties about partner’s spending habits
|More communication about finances may be necessary to ensure shared expenses are paid
|Partners won’t have to be accountable for each other’s debts
|Potential that couples may feel less closeness
|Easier to divide assets in the case of a separation or divorce
|May be harder to contribute to shared savings goals without a joint account
Try a combination of joint accounts and separate accounts
Fortunately, couples aren’t forced into an either-or solution here. They can easily use a separate account for their personal spending and a joint account for their joint payments, such as rent or a mortgage, childcare, utilities and the like. You and your significant other can enjoy the benefits of both accounts, such as joint bill paying, without so much of the concern of differences in spending habits.
It’s not uncommon for couples to have a blend of shared and separate accounts. Over a third of couples reported they have a mix of joint and separate accounts in the CreditCards.com survey.
With more bank accounts to manage, more coordination will be required to ensure that money is moved into a joint account for paying bills and other shared expenses each month. But that may also give room for both partners to be more communicative about their finances and work together to achieve that coordination.
Meanwhile, having part of your finances in separate accounts means you can still spend as you wish and have more privacy over your finances. At the same time, a joint account can be used for something like contributing to shared savings goals. In that case, it might be worth considering having separate checking accounts and a shared high-yield savings account.
Navigating personal finance as a couple requires trust and communication in any situation.
“Regardless of how couples title their accounts, all joint, all separate, or a mix of both, it is important for all couples to sit down together at least on an annual basis to talk about finances,” says Riddle.
This kind of open communication itself can help foster a more positive relationship.
“Couples can make this a romantic event by having a special dinner or going out to a show and discussing what they want to do together or where they want to travel,” he says. “Like anything else in a relationship, being honest is the best way to make finances successful.”
It might also be worth talking to a financial advisor to get advice on how best to go about handling your finances for your specific relationship.
Bankrate’s James Royal contributed to a previous version of this article.