Secret Bank Accounts And Marriage Don’t Mix

by The Smarter Wallet on October 21, 2009

We all have different philosophies when it comes to dealing with our household funds. For most of us, arguments may be as simple as where to put the family savings. Here’s a common debate that transpires in many a home these days: should we keep our money in high yield savings accounts or in more volatile investments in online stock brokerages?

For others, it’s a bit more complicated. Take for instance this story of a wife who squirreled away money into a secret account (the money was obtained before the marriage). When the bank outed her and informed her husband about her “secret” stash, the husband turned around and demanded some of the money. Wife was then forced to get him off her back by relinquishing $155,000 to her spouse in order to keep the peace. Wife now wants to reclaim this $155,000 through a lawsuit against the bank (Chase Bank) on grounds that they made unwarranted disclosures and violated her privacy.

Click this link or the image below to watch the video about this story:

CNN on secret bank accounts

Secret Bank Accounts And Marriage Don’t Mix

Sure, there’s nothing illegal about having a separate bank account kept away from your marital partner, but when it’s a private, unknown account, it can certainly wreak havoc to the relationship. In my opinion, there are a couple of issues here: the first is that the wife was keeping a secret account at all, and the second is that it was worth the stunning amount of $800,000! There’s also this third observation I have, which is the fact that the women correspondents in the video are siding with the wife, while the guy in the onscreen dialogue is on the side of the husband. The argument here, in defense of the wife, is that she’s done all this because she probably feels that her spouse isn’t as financially responsible as she’d like him to be.

Here’s what I think: without knowing the real situation and dynamics here, let’s say we were to reverse the roles of husband and wife. If the husband happened to be the one with the secret account with close to a million bucks, the conversation here would be completely different. I doubt that the ladies would be so supportive of the separate account set up, and would instead be rallying for joint account status.

As for me, I’m all for the shared (joint) accounts approach — no secrets, no privacy issues, and with the household finances as an open book. But that’s just me. I understand that many people prefer to manage their own money separately despite their marital status, but it’s my opinion that if you’re living as one unit anyway, then it’s healthiest, financially, to manage money as one unit. My feelings about joint vs separate bank accounts aside, I do think that the bank was negligent about the way they handled the customer’s bank account in this particular case, although I believe this whole thing was a huge mistake (e.g. a service agent must’ve slipped somewhere). Nevertheless, the bank will most likely be liable for breaching their customer’s privacy.

Your thoughts?

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

1 traineeinvestor November 9, 2009 at 2:46 am

I agree with your observation about gender preferences amongst the commentators.

Joint accounts are fine if that’s what people want.

His, hers and ours works as well and for some people it’s better as you get a degree of financial privacy within the relationship. We each contribute to the joint expenses, each get to spend on personal stuff with limited accountability and get to invest separately. My wife and I have been doing this for about ten years now and neither of us want it any other way. It helps that we both spend less than our income and have fairly similar financial outlooks. That said, the his and hers parts are very open – we discuss where we are on a regular basis, discuss investments and keep a consolidated balance sheet to track financial progress.

The biggest advantage of this approach is we each get to lie about how little we spent on each other’s birthday presents without getting called on it :-)

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