Should Couples Combine Their Finances

One of the biggest decisions made by couples is whether or not to combine finances. Trying to decide whether or not to pull from a shared pool of money is a big choice to make. When you combine your accounts with someone else, you are sharing responsibility for finances. That means that you become responsible for your partner’s finances, as well as your own.

This is a big decision that can have legal repercussions, as well as a financial impact. And, of course, emotions are involved — as they always are when it comes to money and romantic partnership.


Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

3 Questions to Ask Yourself

Do You Trust Your Partner?

Before you get into the ins and outs of your financial combination of accounts, you need to ask yourself whether or not you trust your partner. Basically, do you trust your partner to work with you toward shared financial goals? Do you trust your partner not to sabotage your finances by making foolish decisions? Do you trust your partner to be up front with you about what he or she is spending money on?

If you are unsure about how much you can trust your partner when it comes to money and access to your accounts, it might not be a good idea to combine accounts. Or, at the very least, limit your combined finances to a single account that you both contribute to in order to cover household expenses. If you are worried about the way your spouse spends money, or concerned about other issues, it is usually a good idea to keep your assets in your name, rather than to combine accounts.

Do You Have Legal Protection?

Another consideration is how much legal protection you have. If you marry your partner, you are more likely to have recourse in the event of a financial dispute. If your spouse absconds with the contents of your joint bank account, the divorce judge can usually order legal actions that help you recover some of that money, or provide you with some benefit. If, however, you don’t have a legal arrangement, and you have simply added a live-in partner to your bank account, your options are more limited. If your partner is on the account, he or she is legally entitled to that money.

In some cases, it makes sense to have a prenuptial agreement in place before deciding to marry someone and combine accounts. Consider how you can protect your assets before you start combining accounts. You don’t want to start taking on your partner’s financial baggage, or providing access to your own assets, unless you’ve taken steps to protect your assets as much as you can.

How Much Debt Does Your Partner Have?

Before you combine accounts, consider the debt level of your partner. Happily, you don’t usually become responsible for your spouse’s debt unless you actually have your name put on the account. Before you have your name added to your spouse’s credit card account, consider the amount of debt he or she has. Once you add your name to the account, you become responsible for that debt as well. The same is true if you use your name to help your partner refinance Taking on someone else’s debt is a big commitment, and you may not be ready to combine accounts with some who has such debt problems.

Realize, too, that in some community property states, you might still be responsible for a spouse’s debt — even if your name isn’t on the account. Make sure you understand the law before you begin making decisions about marriage and finances. Also, understand the rules related to debt and divorce. If you aren’t careful, you might be partially responsible for the debt your partner racks up during a marriage.

Keep Some Assets for Yourself

Even if you decide to combine accounts, you might still want to keep some assets in your name only. Each partner should have his or her own retirement account, such as an IRA, and access to money that his or her own. My husband and I share almost all of our assets, but we each have retirement accounts, and I have a savings account in my name only (he doesn’t want to be bothered with setting up an account, even though I’ve suggested it), and he has a couple of credit cards in his name only. That we each have access to some form of money, independently of each other, provides a measure of peace of mind. Even though we share just about everything, we do have independent access to money.

What do you think? When should you combine accounts?

About the Author

By , on Jun 5, 2012
Miranda Marquit
Miranda is a professional personal finance journalist. She is a contributor for several personal finance web sites. Her work has been mentioned in and linked to from, USA Today, The Huffington Post, The San Francisco Chronicle, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and other publications. She also has her own personal finance blog: Planting Money Seeds.

Leave Your Comment (4 Comments)

  1. Alan says:

    These are very good tips. Luckily for me my wife and I were at the time more or less debt free when we got married. Our problems happened shortly after. I knew financially I was bringing more to the marriage in terms of net wealth and earnings but she was definite trust worthy. I am not protected though. Even though I did have more net wealth, but it wasn’t a lot, so I did not feel the need.

  2. Great article and great reminder not everything needs to be joint. Mr. FBS and I share a checking account, but the savings is under me and we have separate credit cards. Not everything needs to be combined even in my case after being married for 8 years. :)

  3. Jonathan says:

    It’s always a difficult decision to make, at what point do you take the leap into a joint account. My view is that you ease your way into it by sharing other things first, interesting issues that you raise. Good article

  4. Cathy Curtis says:

    Miranda, I agree with the points discussed in your article. It is the way I counsel my clients in regards to managing their joint and separate accounts. In addition, if there is a big difference between incomes, I suggest that each year the couple decides how much each should deposit into the joint account for expenses.That way the ower earning spouse/partner isn’t penalized on a percentage basis.

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