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You can combine all kinds of financial accounts into joint status, but for at least five reasons, separate checking accounts could be a superior arrangement

Many couples combine their finances when they marry, including merging their respective checking accounts into a single joint account. This combination works well for many couples. Or it can be a recipe for disaster.

You can combine all kinds of financial accounts into joint status, but for at least five reasons, separate checking accounts could be a superior arrangement.

Provides a measure of financial independence to each partner

You can merge many aspects of your lives when you marry, including financial accounts, but some parts of your life might be better left separate. A separate checking account could be one of them. Even though you’re married, you still need some measure of independence, including financial independence.

Since checking accounts involve a large number of relatively small transactions, having separate accounts can give each partner a sense of control over their finances. You can have joint savings, money markets, loan accounts and investment accounts, but each of you may need to a separate financial space of your own.

Related: Pros and Cons of Joint Accounts

Eliminates two people withdrawing from the same account

The most fundamental problem with a joint checking account is that it enables both spouses to withdraw funds from one account. Each can write checks, use a debit card and withdraw cash from the account. It’s not hard to imagine where this can lead.

Each partner can be spending out of the account with only a vague idea of what the other is doing. The end result could be overdraft fees. With enough overdrafts, the couple can have their account closed.

Even if the account avoids overdrafts, there’s real potential for the couple to spend more money than they need to.

It works better in a two income household

If both partners work it will be easier if each also have their own checking account. This is true if for no other reason than that both spouses will be out of the home so much of the time, and there will be less opportunity to discuss spending choices.

Spending is often tied to – and necessary for – employment. This is especially true if one or both spouses are either self-employed or incur job related expenses. Not only will separate checking make cash flow easier, but it will also simplify tax preparation by segregating expenses.

Provides checking account diversification in case of an emergency

If one spouse loses access to their checking account, he or she can temporarily use the others checking account, at least until they can open a new account.

This can happen for a number of reasons, including identity theft and repeatedly overdrawing the account. If the couple were to lose a joint account for either reason, there would be no back up checking account to fall back on. This can be especially true in the event of identity theft, since there would be issues to work out before a new account could be opened.

Related: How a Savings Account Keeps You Out of Debt

Shared responsibility

In marriages where one partner handles the finances – which almost always means control of the joint checking account – the non-financial spouse may eventually become incapable of (or unwilling to) handle the household finances. But a divorce or the death of the financial spouse will leave the non-financial partner in a bad place. He or she may find financial responsibility thrust on them for the first time, and be completely unprepared.

In most marriages one partner is more financially sophisticated than the other, but if the non-financial spouse at least maintains their own checking account they will have at least a basic understanding of how to manage the household budget as a foundation that can be built upon.

Do you agree that separate checking accounts are better than a single joint account?

(Image courtesy of Grant Cochrane / freedigitalphotos.net)

Article comments

Theresa says:

We have two joint bank accounts.
My income goes into one and his into another.
We both have access into each others – there’s no secrets.
I tried the two in one when we first got married.
The problem I ran into was 1 Large bank balance, and overspending, because the balance looked big.
So I went and got a new bank account at a different bank.
Thankful I did – It actually helps not to have all your eggs in one basket. Helped with negotiations of a mortgage on our second home.

We both have our roles : he’s the bread winner – so he pays most of the bills. I am what I like to call the debt cruncher – I pay down debt. With autho withdrawals it’s easy to manage two accounts.

In the past we had separate Visa’s as well – for the sole fact I wanted to establish my own credit rating. – But a few years ago we went and got a joint one, as it no longer benefited us to have two.

30kto30million says:

Seems like you have described reasons why separate accounts are good but they seem to be describing couples that are
a) not accountable to each other
b) don’t talk about there money
c) don’t talk about what there budget will be for the month up coming
d) live independent lives of each other
e) can’t talk and come to decisions as a couple

I think by having a joint account where the opposite of the points i mentioned are true you will have a better life as a couple build more trust in your partner.. be able to achieve your goals faster with more purpose..

If worried about your joint account being compromised open up another joint account..
The over drafting of an account is more likely to happen when couples have a joint account are doing a,b,c,d,e that i mentioned.. or anyone for that matter…

All this to say i disagree 😉

Justin says:

It really comes down to the couple and what type of relationship they have. I like the idea of having a joint one for paying all the bills, then having a separate one to do as I wish. This way all the bills are paid and it gives both parties spending independence.

Lee says:

Once we got engaged we merged all of our chequing (and employment income) into a single account (but kept separate accounts with some spare emergency cash for each of us) and a single household credit card (still need to work on the joint savings though). Less work, less management, we can easily see where we both are financially (especially as we deal with a wedding and home renovations), and we can hold each other accountable for spending. Helps that we both have similar views on spending and saving though, and we make about the same income. I can see, however, how some people would be apprehensive to do that.

When we were deciding what would be the best arrangement for us, I asked a friend who had been a professional in family law, who had been through several marriages herself with various financial arrangements, for advice on the matter…. “Just figure out what works for you, and if you can do joint everything without it causing friction in your relationship, go for it because it will be simpler and you will approach all financial matters as a team”

Koala says:

We have separate credit cards and bank accounts, but we really just use one joint chequing and credit card for all purchases. It’s easier to keep track, and it’s less of a minimum balance than if we spread them out. It also allows us to easily double check that a bill was paid.

My wife and I use a joint checking account while keeping our respective accounts for our spending money. This has worked for 5 years and I don’t see it changing. It is easy to keep up with and doesn’t really require much work. I like the security aspect of it and it lets me know where we stand. I recommend it.

krantcents says:

I never had separate checking accounts, but it seems like it is more trouble to keep. Twice as much work!