The Mutually Beneficial Reason I’ll Never Share a Bank Account with My Partner
A few months ago, someone tweeted that they don’t understand married couples who don’t share a bank account. I replied that I don’t share mine and never will, and the feedback was swift and negative from all corners of Twitter: “So you don’t trust each other? Why are you even together?” “Your spouse is probably cheating on you since you can hide money from each other.” “So you just nitpick about pennies? Gross.” “What are you trying to keep a secret?”
Once couples get married, it seems like they’re just expected to share a bank account. Though I’ll be married by the time this article publishes, we don’t plan to follow suit. Aside from my general feeling that this expectation is a relic of a past where women often needed to rely on men for financial security, I’ve personally been burned by combining bank accounts before because I fell for the same married life propaganda.
Steph Wagner, Director of Women and Wealth at Northern Trust Wealth Management, warns against making this important financial decision casually. “Don’t assume that your financial habits are the same,” she says. “If you choose to combine resources, ‘yours and mine’ becomes ‘ours,’ so don’t presume that you are going to be stewards of your wealth in the same way. People have different habits when it comes to spending, investing and saving.” I’ve seen divergent spending habits come into play with a partner twice before.
The first time I shared an account, I ended up managing the entirety of the household finances (which, to be honest, I preferred). My partner had no concept of money management, so he would spend all our cash on things like classes to become a dog walker and six-packs of PBR — without telling me. I routinely asked for his receipts so I could balance our account, and he would never give them to me. I ended up switching to my own account and letting him keep the joint one, because it was more stress than it was worth.
The second time, my partner let me pay for everything while he tried for a long time to find a job. I realized finding a job can be difficult, so I understood. But when he did find one, he lied about how much money he was making and instead shuttled a large portion of it to a secret bank account he was keeping — again leaving me to pay for everything and approach bankruptcy because of my own actual limited salary. I only learned about his secret account during divorce proceedings when he was using all that money to ghost me and move in with his mistress.
The man I’m marrying now has a similar background with shared bank accounts. So we won’t be sharing an account, instead choosing to split everything half and half through the magic of P2P apps like Venmo, Paypal, and Zelle. Neither of us has to be anxious about money, and neither of us will become the de facto money manager of our home. We have no problems covering each other’s bills if one of us needs help, though. The only decision is about whoever will cover the bill in full first. It’s a simple and effective system.
This choice doesn’t mean I don’t trust my partner. To me, it means we’re extra respectful and considerate of what each of us is comfortable with, and we know we’ll help each other out as needed. We’re also separately responsible for our own finances and in charge of building our own wealth.
That being said, I know for some keeping finances separate isn’t a possibility or something they fully want to do. If that’s you, here’s an option: Have both a joint account and separate accounts.
“One best practice for both scenarios is for each person to keep their own primary accounts, then open a new joint account,” Wagner says. “In this joint account, both people can contribute money for joint expenses, including discretionary spending such as eating out or vacations. This works particularly well when both parties’ income is similar. If there is a significant disparity in income, couples might want to consider making contributions as a percentage of income instead of a set dollar amount.”
Just make sure that each of you stays aware of the financial situation of your joint account and that you make financial decisions together. “Don’t inadvertently let all decision-making fall to one partner over the other,” Wagner says.