When you dream of being married, you probably don't fantasize about paying bills, but such practical matters comprise a big part of life after wedded bliss. Considering money is one of the top reasons couples fight over, it's important to establish healthy patterns for dealing with finances from the beginning. And since one of the first financial steps you'll take together is merging your bank accounts, it's the perfect place to start off on the right financial foot. Luckily, there's no right or wrong way to combine bank accounts — there are just different options.
Here, Mary Beth Storjohann, CFP and founder of Workable Wealth, a firm specializing in financial planning for Gen Y clients, breaks down the two approaches newlyweds should consider — and the one couples should avoid.
One Joint Account
Joint accounts allow for full disclosure, forcing you and your spouse to check in often about spending. They're also easier to manage. "Who pays what doesn't become an issue," Storjohann says. "There's a greater accountability factor and it's easier to reach joint goals." On the flipside, one joint account requires that you give up a degree of privacy and control.
One Joint Account with Separate Individual Accounts
This approach forces you to come up with a fair system for contributing money and paying bills. There's often less anxiety with this setup, says Storjohann. "Once you put aside the allotted money for bills [in the joint account], the rest of your money is truly yours. Spending habits don't cause as much tension when they're private." In addition, if one person brings a large amount of debt into the relationship, he or she can keep it separate until it's paid off.
If you're not ready for totally conjoined checking accounts — they are trickier to manage — consider setting up joint savings accounts for each of your goals (vacation, house, children). "Savings accounts are more goal-oriented," says Storjohann, "So they're usually easier to combine."
One disadvantage to maintaining separate personal accounts? "Separate accounts can mean separate goals — in an unconscious way," warns Storjohann. "It can inhibit movement toward joint goals."
Important Things to Remember About Both Options
Be sure that both parties contribute equally to financial tasks. It's dangerous when one person ends up in control and the other doesn't know what's going on. To avoid a situation like that, schedule a regular monthly money date. If you find it hard to talk about money — or are already bickering over finances — consider a financial planner. They're a neutral party who can help you learn to communicate about finances in a stress-free way.
Finally, avoid keeping totally separate accounts at all costs: "That can indicate bigger issues," Storjohann says. "If one partner is against joining accounts at all, you need to delve into why."