Money can be an emotional subject for couples. Without a shared understanding and commitment to financial goals, partners may find themselves arguing more and even resenting each other.

“Money arguments are normal. Even the closest couples argue about money,” says Stephanie Genkin, a certified financial planner and founder of the Brooklyn-based My Financial Planner, LLC. “The goal is to listen to your partner and avoid going to bed angry.”

In this article, we’ll break down some of the best advice from experts on how couples can navigate common financial considerations, such as opening a joint savings account and combining debt.

Here’s what financial experts have to say about the best way to manage your money as a couple.

Key takeaways

  • More than 4 in 10 (42 percent) U.S adults who are married or living with a partner say they’ve kept financial secrets from their significant other, according to Bankrate's financial infidelity survey.
  • About a quarter of Americans who confessed to keeping a financial secret from their partner admitted to racking up debt without a partner’s knowledge (23 percent), while 18 percent said they maintained a hidden credit card.
  • More than 1 in 4 Americans (26 percent) who feel financially insecure blamed high or revolving debt for their insecurity, according to a recent Bankrate survey.

Approaching finances as a couple

Managing finances as a couple extends beyond budgeting and bill payments. It’s a shared responsibility that requires both partners to actively participate in decision making.

But it isn’t always easy to talk about money in a relationship. In fact, 42 percent of Americans confess to keeping a financial secret from their significant other, according to a recent Bankrate survey on financial infidelity.

Younger generations are more likely to adhere to “new rules” about money, which can include keeping finances separate. About 67 percent of Gen Z respondents in a recent Bankrate survey admit to keeping a financial secret from their partner, compared to just 33 percent of Gen X and 34 percent of baby boomers.

Experts agree that the key ingredient for success is open and honest communication.

“Don’t start with numbers and definitely don’t start blaming — start the conversation with what you’re trying to achieve together and come up with joint goals,” says Brittany Wolff, a certified financial planner and founder of Wolff Financial.

Should couples use a joint account?

Opening joint accounts is a common practice for many couples because it helps simplify bill payments and shared expenses. However, it’s essential to consider the pros and cons.

On the positive side, joint checking and savings accounts promote transparency and make it easier to track shared financial goals. Both partners can contribute to a shared pool of funds, which helps streamline budgeting and saving.

“Seeing your money as both of yours leads to a more cohesive marriage than having a ‘mine-vs-yours’ attitude,” says Carla Adams, a certified financial planner and founder of Ametrine Wealth.

However, there are potential drawbacks. With joint accounts, both partners have equal access to funds, which could lead to misunderstandings or disagreements.

According to a recent Bankrate survey, 14 percent of Americans who admitted to committing financial infidelity said they didn’t share information because they don’t trust their partner with money. Another 17 percent said they didn’t share out of concern the relationship might end poorly.

“This is why it’s so important for both people in the relationship to know what’s going on and see financial statements, ideally with quarterly check-ins,” Adams says. “This doesn’t really have to do with whether or not you trust your partner — it’s just plain smart.”

Joint accounts are meant to act as a tool for collaboration — not a means to control or monitor each other’s spending. Experts recommend establishing clear spending limits and rules to avoid conflicts.

“I think it’s also a great idea to keep a smaller portion of money in separate accounts,” Adams says.  “We all have our own things we like to splurge on and deserve to do so — within reason — without being judged or reprimanded by our partner.”

Should you share the same financial advisor?

Deciding whether to share the same financial advisor requires careful consideration. The key is finding a professional who not only understands the couple’s financial landscape but also respects the individual goals and concerns of each person.

Most experts recommend sharing a financial advisor. A shared advisor can create a cohesive financial plan that aligns with the couple’s joint goals to ensure both parties are on the same page regarding their future.

“Financial planning is highly interconnected and missing puzzle pieces from either side could result in a less complete plan,” says Alex Ammar, a certified financial planner and founder of Paradox Financial.

Communication is key so that both individuals feel heard and their unique concerns are taken into account during the financial planning process.

“It can be hard to talk about finances when you feel like things have gotten out of control,” says Ammar. “It’s rare that this feeling manifests overnight, so keeping on top of communication can help to make it feel like a team effort.”

If you’re looking to find a financial planner, Bankrate offers a financial advisor matching tool to match clients with advisors in minutes.

Should couples combine debt?

Financial advisors aren’t united in their views on combining debt as a couple. Some see benefits while others say it’s best avoided.

On one hand, consolidating debt can streamline repayment, potentially resulting in lower interest rates and more manageable monthly payments. This approach might help couples work together to eliminate debt faster and may even foster a sense of partnership.

“If you’re married and the debt was acquired during marriage, even if it is only in one of the spouses names, then generally that is considered marital property anyhow, so there’s no downside to consolidating in this situation,” Adams says.

On the flip side, combining debt could create tension if one partner has significantly more debt than the other.

About a quarter of Americans who confessed to keeping a financial secret from their partner admitted to racking up debt without a partner’s knowledge (23 percent) while 18 percent said they maintained a hidden credit card.

“I recommend couples keep their debt separate,” Genkin says. “Combining debt doesn’t help pay it off faster.”

Instead, Genkin recommends each person focus on paying down their own debt first.

“If one can help the other, that’s great,” she says. “But there are ways to pay off debt faster and none of them call for debts to be combined.”

Experts agree that it’s crucial to have open and honest discussions about each person’s debt levels, financial habits and expectations for repayment. Establishing a clear plan and maintaining transparency can help avoid heated arguments.

Financial advice from a financial planner

Genkin has helped dozens of couples with their finances at her firm. And as a certified divorce financial analyst, she’s also seen what happens when couples fail to communicate about money in a positive way.

“If you’re in a committed relationship, the first step is sharing attitudes about spending, saving and debt,” she says. “Notice I didn’t say tell each other everything you have in savings, investments and debt.”

Genkin recommends talking with your partner about their general attitudes toward money and digging into how finances were handled when they were growing up. She recommends asking these questions:

  • Did you grow up with debt?
  • Was your family financially comfortable?
  • Was money discussed with the children? How so?
  • Were there family secrets or messages of shame and guilt around money?

“Sharing these stories builds trust, understanding and intimacy with a partner,” she says. “Over time, you should also share financial information. Financial transparency is the goal of a happy healthy relationship.”

To avoid the heartache — and cost — of splitting up, Genkin recommends setting up regular “money dates” with your partner to review finances.

She also suggests working with a professional to help couples get on the same page and reduce money conflicts.

Bottom line

Approaching finances as a couple requires a delicate balance of shared responsibility and individual autonomy. Whether it’s opening joint accounts, sharing a financial advisor or combining debt, communication is the key to success. By working together and staying transparent, couples can navigate their financial future hand in hand.