While planning a wedding is probably at the forefront of your mind throughout your engagement, there’s something else you should be planning for, too: your marriage. You’ve got decades of life together ahead of you, so it’s important to take a little time between the cake tastings and dress fittings to lay the groundwork for the future. More specifically, it's vital to plan your future for financial wellness.
If there’s one thing couples have a hard time discussing but really need to address together, it’s finances. "Money is rarely 50/50 and a lot of partners enter relationships with their own financial situation, whether it is student loan debt or investments that are not equal to their partner," says financial advisor Misty Lynch. From your monthly budget to savings accounts (and don’t forget college savings if you plan on having children!), money is one thing that’s never going to go away, so deciding how you and your partner will handle your finances is key. Many couples opt to combine some (or all) of their finances into joint accounts, but how do you know if it’s right for you? Below, see how to open a joint bank account and what it really means for you.
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As co-owners of a joint account, it’s important to know that both of you will have access to withdraw funds without the other’s permission, and each of you will be able to talk to the bank about the account without the consent of the other.
The Benefits of Joint Bank Accounts
Joint accounts are a great way to give you and your partner a transparent view of how your money is being spent. By both having access to your accounts, you can save toward shared goals (like a new home or a vacation), as well as keep track of household expenses like utilities or groceries. With account activity visible to both of you, there’s less temptation to splurge because you are both on the same page.
A joint account can also help you qualify more quickly for your bank’s rewards programs. For example, growing your qualifying savings and investments in a Bank of America account can qualify you for discounted home and auto loans, $0 Merrill Edge stock and ETF trades, and credit card rewards bonuses.
The Drawbacks of Joint Accounts
Of course, combining accounts isn’t always the right answer. Keeping separate accounts can be helpful if you and your partner are in different places financially. For example, if one partner is carrying a lot of debt or has mismanaged money in the past, a degree of separation can provide a sense of security for the other person (at least until the debt is paid off).
If you decide to maintain separate accounts, be sure to clearly determine how those shared expenses will be covered, whether from a single joint account or by establishing how much you each will contribute. Determining who pays for what can be a point of stress for couples. Clarity in this instance is absolutely essential.
How to Set Up a Joint Account
If you and your partner decide to combine your finances, opening a joint account is a similar process to opening an individual account. You may also be able to add one partner to the other’s existing account instead of opening an entirely new account.
You will both need to provide information and identification. "Opening a joint bank account is a fairly simple process that you can do online through most banks," Lynch explains. "You will likely need to provide some personal, identifiable information so it will help to be together when you get this set up. With some banks, there may be verification questions to answer that even the closest couples would have trouble guessing without their partner with them."
Transfer Money to the Account
"Once the account is created, you will just need to transfer in the opening balance required to get the account funded," says Lynch. "You will both want to order your own debit cards and/or checks so you can access the account when you are not together."
Alternatively, you can also choose to add your partner to an existing account instead of opening a new one. "This will give the new joint owner full access to the account once they are added, and it could be as easy as completing a form or visiting your bank branch to get this accomplished," Lynch notes.
Alternatives to Joint Bank Accounts
Some couples will opt to keep their separate accounts but to split up expenses "the way they would with a roommate," says Lynch. "This can allow each person to maintain their own access and control over their accounts." Couples who are used to making their own financial decisions might feel more comfortable this way, Lynch explains, "Needing clearance or permission to spend money in a joint account is not for everyone."
You might consider opening a joint account but keeping your separate accounts, as well. If so, talk to your bank about linking both of your individual accounts to the joint account. Linking lets couples maintain independent control of their checking accounts while sharing a joint account from which they can pay bills, manage household expenses, contribute savings, and handle other daily financial responsibilities. This way, you have a shared space to deposit money for mutual expenses or to save for future goals.
Talk to your spouse to come up with an agreed amount you will each contribute to the joint account when you get paid, bonuses, or tax refunds. Reassess this amount periodically and as your life changes.
Another similar route is to get joint credit cards for these types of shared expenses. "They could agree on the payment strategy each month," suggests Lynch. "This may also help couples get a clear idea of what their routine spending looks like if they decide later to combine all their finances."