Should You Keep Separate or Joint Bank Accounts?

by Guest Blogger on December 21, 2010

When I got married in 1998, it took me a little while to get everything situated. I had to consolidate from one household to two, submit paperwork to both the DMV and the Social Security office to change my name, and I had to add my husband’s name to my checking account. Newly married life was bliss…at least until the bounced check notices started coming in.

Should You Keep Separate or Joint Bank Accounts?

I was taught from a very young age that it’s important to have control over your own finances. I opened my first high yield savings account when I was ten years old and got a job when I was 14. By 16, I had a checking account and a debit card and I was 18 when I got my first credit card. Now, I think that it’s important to point out a few key items here: first, since I took my first job at 14, I have not spent any time as an unemployed person. I worked all the way through high school and college. Secondly, I have kept my personal financial situation very private…almost to a fault sometimes.

I think that it’s also an interesting aside (and an important element to note) that I am not great when it comes to balancing a checkbook, but as a single woman, I always knew how much I had in the bank and how much I could spend before I got too close to the line. I rarely, if ever, overdrew my account and usually had my bills covered, even if it was only the minimum payment on occasion. I had no idea how badly this form of bank account management was going to cost me after I married and added my husband to my account.

So, imagine my surprise the first time I opened our brand new mailbox to discover that small, perforated envelope in the daily mail that indicated that I was currently $215.72 overdrawn, which didn’t count the $140 the bank was getting ready to charge my account in overdraft fees and other bank fees. I nearly passed out on the street! How in the heck did this happen? I’ll tell you how it happened. I wasn’t considering the fact that I was no longer the only person utilizing my debit card. I started looking through my bank statement (yes, there was a time that online banking didn’t exist!) and started noticing a whole bunch of transactions that had occurred in places I’d never been.

Now, in all fairness to my new husband, he had no clue that he was supposed to tell me what he was spending on AND that he should be keeping his receipts. The idea of telling him that seemed ludicrous to me since I didn’t require myself to do it, but I suddenly realized that maybe I really didn’t have psychic powers and that without any communication about our money, we would be having trouble managing our family finances. So, I thought about what I was going to say, and how I was going to say it. Needless to say, three months after our wedding, we had our first argument about money. He didn’t understand why I was making him report his spending to me since I didn’t have to run my purchases through him first. Of course, explaining what I needed didn’t seem to work either. And yet, as a married couple, we simply had to have a joint checking account, right? Finally, after a few months of overdrawn accounts, excessive fees, and a few well fought arguments later, Mark and I divorced our bank accounts and have lived completely separate financial lives ever since. Of course, we still have money fights, but they are much fewer and farther between. It’s also nice to know that we are no longer singlehandedly supporting the banks of our choice through the payment of monthly overdraft charges.

Separate Bank Accounts Work Like A Charm

The moral of this story is… just because you’re married, it does not mean that you have to merge finances. It’s perfectly okay, and in some relationships even necessary, to keep your finances separate. There is absolutely no need for either spouse to feel as though they have to “report” every dollar spent to the money manager in the household.

Keeping separate accounts allows each partner to have some freedom as well as some responsibility for their own finances. Mark and I choose to maintain separate accounts, and pay specified and previously agreed upon bills out of our paychecks. Any monies left over become the property of the account owner and can be spent in any fashion the owner pleases. This practice keeps resentment from building between us AND the thriftier we are, the more money we have in our accounts to spend. It’s a win-win for us and for many others as well. Of course, this practice doesn’t work for everybody, so have “the Talk” with your spouse to see if divorcing your finances makes sense in your relationship before running out and getting your own account.

Contributing Writer: Alexis A.

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Jeff @ Before You Invest December 21, 2010 at 6:50 am

My wife and I have a pretty good setup (at least I think it’s good). We each have two Bank of America checking accounts that are linked to each other and linked to one savings account. That way we keep our money separate but it’s easy to transfer back and forth (and to savings) when we need to pay bills.

Seems to work, we get all the benefits of the combined bank account but without the aggravation of two people working off the same account.

2 CreditShout January 18, 2011 at 6:11 pm

I think as long as you talk about it before you join your finances, it can work out. I think there are a lot of benefits when couples use joint savings accounts and credit card accounts.

3 Ollie Hill July 8, 2012 at 1:07 pm

Two accounts means never having to say you’re sorry!!!

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