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Joint Checking Account: “I do!” or “Do I?”

There comes a point in every relationship when the inevitable question is popped – “Should we combine our accounts?” There is no cookie-cutter answer when debating whether you should have separate or joint accounts. It starts with a serious discussion about financial habits and expectations.

  • What bills need to be paid regularly?
  • What short and long-term savings goals do you have? (Individually and as a couple)
  • What are your spending habits?
  • What are your financial assets and liabilities? (Debt, income, credit scores, etc.)

Then, talk about the pros and cons to get a better idea of which account will best fit your “couple financial style.”

Pros of a shared checking account

  • Having joint accounts will help you become a financial team
  • This option encourages communication between the couple
  • It may be easier for you to purchase big-ticket items

Cons of a shared checking account

  • There is a lack of privacy
  • If a couple’s spending habits are completely different, it may lead to arguments
  • You may feel a loss of independence having to discuss large purchases with your mate

Money plays a vital role in relationships and is one of the most sensitive topics couples face. When “my money” becomes “our money,” a certain level of independence is relinquished by both parties even though the desire to maintain some control is still natural and understandable.

Whether to have joint or individual accounts is a personal decision that is as unique as your relationship. If you and your partner cannot agree about how money should be spent or saved, utilizing one joint account for regular household expenses and individual accounts for your own “fun” money might be a good option. But, multiple checking accounts doesn’t mean you get to stop communicating about finances. In fact, it may be more important than ever to discuss how much you’re each spending, earning and investing.

If you decide to have multiple accounts, talk through what expenses are personal and what are for the household. Deciding in advance will leave little room for argument later.

“We need to talk” shouldn’t send icy chills of anxiety down your spine. If you are worried about how to begin the conversation about money, keep the following tips in mind:

Before talking about money

  • Set the mood. If you have already had a hard day and are stressed, your conversation is only going to go downhill.
  • Establish a time limit. After 15 minutes, do something fun and completely unrelated. Set that expectation up front, and you’ll find that you can really accomplish a lot in a short amount of time without anyone becoming upset. In most cases, the other person will secretly (or perhaps openly) be glad you brought it up. Once the air is clear, mutually beneficial solutions can usually be found.

How to start talking about money

It’s difficult to begin a conversation about money – it’s stressful and can cause anxiety about how your partner may react.

If you’re in a serious relationship and considering marriage or a permanent partnership, discuss finances before you take the plunge. Start with:

  • “I’ve heard that arguments about money are the leading cause of divorce. I think it’s important for us to be open about our finances as our relationship moves forward. Can we talk about what’s important to us and where we are financially right now?”  Then offer to disclose your financial situation first. Most important: be open and honest.

For married couples just starting out:

  • “Wouldn’t it be great if we could be debt-free by the time we’re <insert age here>? What do you think are some ways we could make sure that happens?” This leaves the conversation completely open to brainstorming, rather than putting blame or directives on anyone.

For couples that have weathered some financial storms:

  • “<Insert year> was such a hard year financially! I learned <insert learning lesson here>.” This is simply opening a door for your partner to walk through and continue the conversation. If he or she chooses not to, that’s fine. But try this tactic again at a later time, once your partner has had time to mull it over.

When you’re concerned that your financial values do not match your partner’s:

  • “I know we come from different backgrounds, but I think it’s important that we create our own financial future together. I don’t feel like we’re on the same page. Can we discuss some ways we can work together and support one another toward a financial goal?” Again, even if you’re unsatisfied with your partner’s financial behaviors, there’s no blame. You’re simply opening up the conversation so you can work together.

What to do during the money conversation

  • Be kind. It is a sensitive topic, and we all come to the table with our own baggage.
  • Use ‘I’ statements. For example, “I feel hurt when our credit union statement comes and I see large expenses I didn’t know about.” Begin the conversation with your concerns, being careful not to place blame on your other half. “I’m concerned that we’re not sticking to the budget like we should” or “I think we should sit down and take a look at where we can cut out unnecessary expenses” doesn’t place the focus on one particular expenditure or one person. It leaves the door open for discussion in multiple directions.
  • If the conversation becomes an argument, call a time-out. Say something like, “This is a really important discussion, and I’m glad we’re having it. It’s not easy to talk about this. Let’s take a break to think things through and continue talking when we’re both feeling better.”

Discussing finances is never easy. Keeping the lines of communication open about money helps to reduce stress so you can focus on your goals and dreams. Numerica has tools that can help track your expenses, create alerts for spending and of course, those personal and joint accounts that make it easy to separate or share funds.

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