Should Married Couples Have Joint or Separate Bank Accounts?

Married Couple Working on Finances

John and Jane, a married couple, keep separate bank accounts . . . John has his money and Jane has hers, but they do not have a joint account. Running the household finances is a bit of a challenge, but they stay current on their bills by each taking responsibility for certain payments. John and Jane, of course, are not a real couple, but (through my financial counseling practice) I have met several John and Janes over the years who have a variety of reasons for dividing – not combining – their money:

  • “We have always done it this way.”
  • “I like to control my own money.”
  • “I earned this money, so my spouse shouldn’t have any say about how it is spent.”
  • “I don’t trust my spouse with my money.”
  • “He/she spends too much. The only way to keep us from bankruptcy is for each of us to have our own money.”

While some of these reasons sound almost reasonable, I always recommend that the healthiest financial arrangement for married couples is to combine their finances. Why? Read on.

5 Reasons to Combine Finances as a Married Couple

1. No dictator.

One spouse will invariably earn more than the other, meaning that one spouse will control the lion’s share of the family finances. Bad idea . . . it is never a good idea for one to control and the other to be controlled. If you carry this concept to the extreme (only one income earner in the family), the income producer becomes de facto dictator.

2. Unified budgeting and goal setting.

Jesus and Abraham Lincoln both said that a house divided against itself cannot stand . . . although neither was referring to marital budgeting, their concept is nevertheless valid. One account focused on debt elimination is working against an account based on spending. However, when these two accounts are combined, our marital team can now combine forces to achieve a unified budget designed to achieve their joint goals.

3. It forces trust.

If trust is the rationale either spouse uses to justify separate accounts, combining those accounts could force the couple to deal with those issues. Admittedly, this can be opening a hornet’s nest of issues (and sometimes these problems may need to be dealt with before combining their money), but the only way to establish trust is to bring those issues out into the open, create clear expectations and then commit to living out those expectations. I realize that these trust problems are about far more than finances, but learning to trust each other with money is a great start to earning trust in other areas.

4. It eliminates secrets.

Marital secrets are land mines to a great marriage . . . they can explode any time. When one spouse insists that, “I want to control my own money,” that spouse could well be implying that they are keeping some secrets from their spouse. If money secrets are happening in a marriage, one wonders what other secrets are going on. Combining those finances will keep both spouses in the same loop and prevent either from keeping secrets.

5. It will strengthen the marriage.

Dave Ramsey likes to say that marriage is a partnership, not a joint venture. I agree. Everything each partner brings into the marriage (be it debt or wealth), and everything each continues to earn once married should belong totally and completely to the couple. Until each relinquishes their grip on “my money” and willingly commingles it into a joint account, this couple has not fully bought into the marriage.

3 Exceptions to Joint Accounts

1. Business Accounts

My wife and I each have our own businesses and we each have a business account for our respective businesses. However, the profit from those businesses is transferred into our family account and spent in accordance to our joint goals. To avoid any possibility of secrets, we are both intentionally transparent about how well our businesses are doing.

2. Allowances

Jan has never wanted an allowance, but I have always enjoyed having a little of my own money, so our budget includes “Joe’s allowance.” This is a cash disbursement (a modest one) which allows me to buy something for myself (usually a tool), or give it away or save it or maybe even buy something for Jan. Even though I often tell Jan what I do with my allowance, it is nice to have a bit of my own money.

3. Prenuptial Agreements

The purpose of this post is not to discuss the pros and cons of a prenuptial agreement, but I do recognize that they exist. However, I would hope that a prenup would never create lack of trust, money secrets and conflicting marital goals which could undermine a marriage.

Am I saying that all marriages who operate with separate accounts are destined for disaster? Of course not. But I am saying that those separate accounts are either an indicator of existing problems or a formula for future problems.

All the money is to be managed by the married couple for God. Couples should make every attempt possible to treat it that way.

Do you and your spouse have separate accounts in lieu of a joint account? Why? What advantages/disadvantages have you experienced?

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31 Comments
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  1. Great post! Married couples share everything…a bed, saliva, children…why not money? Doesn’t make sense to me (not sharing). Perhaps it boils down to trust when a couple really looks inside. Thanks for sharing this!

  2. It really is amazing the amount of Christian couples I know who keep their finances completely separate. I’m confused by many of the seemingly contradictory views they hold, but they claim it “works for us.” In an age of no absolutes, sometimes there is nothing you can say to change their mind! Couldn’t agree with your five points any more.

    Oliver

    • Oliver,
      Those who say keeping their finances completely separate “works for them” cause me to wonder…exactly why won’t they combine them? If there is a reason, discuss it. If not, go ahead and combine their finances. Doing so is analogous to culminating the marriage.

  3. Somehow, after seeing this post in the RSS feeds for my Google homepage, I decided I needed to comment because I was sure that you had taken the opposite view. How wrong I was. Its so refreshing to see a real Christian perspective on a “Christian” website. Too much today is called Christian that is simply the world polished up under a “Holy” title. Soon the world will be without names to try and describe a people who are truly Christ-like. They have all been taken and re-defined. Enough of my rant…
    Yes, I believe you have it all balanced in your article. I was going to add that if you are truly a Christian there would be no real need to have everything separate, especially the bank account, but I was disarmed after reading your article.:) God bless you and thanks for the nice article.

  4. Very good article! I am currently going through the process of building a house with my partner and looking at the options of joint bank accounts. Yes I find that I am the one that financially supports us, but I also agree that it truly comes down to trust, that is why I will be having a joint bank account.

    • Mark — At the risk of sounding prudish, I DON’T recommend combining finances until the knot is tied. Yes, it is good that the trust level is there, but I believe marriage is the event that should trigger the actual combining of finances…things could get really messy if the marriage somehow doesn’t happen and the two of you part ways.

      • Thank you for your words of wisdom. I do understand where you’re coming from and I have read a number of your articles. I do trust my partner but from an investment point of view, our duel income provides us with good leverage for property investments. Your advice is defiantly noted.

  5. We have our own accounts that we have had as kids and we have joint accounts. Most of our money is in our joint accounts to pay our bills and we have savings building up in others. Our finances are an open book. We share everything. No secrets.

    I once knew a couple where the wife thought that they were poor. The husband worked, she raised the kids, and she thought they were barely getting by. Once he passed away and they went searching through all of his shoe boxes and stuff they found a total of over $50K stashed away. Now that was a big secret.

    • Wow. $50K cash stashed away would be a BIG secret. I am glad the two of you work well together and have zero financial secrets. Just curious: what is the purpose of keeping those accounts you have had since you were kids?

  6. China Newz

    Seems like having joint accounts may give the impression that things will not go well in the marriage financially. Arguing over finances in one of the leading causes of divorce in this country.

  7. Pallab Gupta

    Never thought of doing it separate. Share!

  8. My wife wanted to have separate accounts, but once we got married, it became clear immediately that it would be easier to have joint accounts. This way, there are no secrets and it doesn’t feel like I’m simply giving her an allowance each month (she is in school). With joint accounts, there are simply fewer things to worry about.

  9. Jennifer

    We each have our own personal accounts, and one shared account. Our expenses and short and long-term savings are handled through the joint account (We make about the same, so we put the same amount in, but when we were first married there was a big income gap so we put in amounts proportionate to our incomes)
    The personal accounts are for personal expenses, gifts for each other, etc. This way, we partner on all the big things, like bills and savings, but I have a little bit of my own money if I want to spend it on something my husband doesn’t value as much (books, running gear, etc.) and my husband has money to spend on things that I don’t value as much (electronic gadgets, camping stuff, etc)
    If I buy a birthday gift for him, then, it comes out of my personal money, so it feels more like a gift than “our joint account bought you an ipod” and the surprise isn’t ruined by a review of the joint account.
    This method may not work for every couple, but it’s worked well for us for nearly 10 years, and we’ve yet to have an argument about money. We have different views on spending, and value different material things and experiences, and this allows us to work together on the important things and respect each others differences on the other things.

    • Jennifer — I like your use of the two personal accounts. They are kind of like my allowance money. Just wondering: How do those accounts get funded? Do you budget a set amount to deposit into each account each month?

      • Jennifer

        Yes, we have a set amount every paycheck that goes in to the accounts.

        For other income, if we get monetary gifts from other people it goes in to our personal accounts, and if we get bonuses or something from work it goes into a joint account. This also helps, because if my grandmother sends me $15 for my birthday (even though I’m in my 30s, I know!) I can spend it on something special, instead of letting it absorbed into the grocery budget or something.

        There are also practical considerations – when we have our own little accounts for lunches out and that sort of thing, I never have to worry that my husband and I are spending out of the same account at the same time. To your point #3 (unified budgeting and goal setting) in the article, I think spenders and savers sharing an account at the same time could be disastrous.

        • Jason Roysdon

          Regarding spenders and savers sharing an account, I think that’s where having a budget and sticking to it is important. If a spender has a hard time with that, I suggest a tool like EEBA which allows syncing with multiple smartphones to help them keep track. It’s worked great for my Wife and I, and it lets us know where we are with things like shared budget expenses like gas, eating out, clothing spent on kids, etc. Using EEBA has really turned around our ability to keep to our budget – especially because we use a large variety of spending methods – AMEX for Costco and Costco gas, and anywhere which will take it, VISA for the rest, and ATM for the grocery stores what don’t take CCs and to pull out cash for gas (as paying cash gets you the discount at most gas stations, or at a minimum saves you the ATM fee like at ARCO). We always pay off our credit cards in full (in fact, I pay both the statement balance and all known charges whenever I schedule the monthly payments), and I never have to worry about having enough money to cover it since it was all tracked and kept in budget by EEBA.

  10. I think it really depends on the the couple’s situation. If they are 1st time newlyweds, then I think that haveing shared accounts is a wise idea, so long as they both agree on a budget and spending plans. Even if they have seperate accounts, they can still open a shared account where they each contribute a set amount monthly for shared expenses. However, if the couple are not first time newlyweds, and there are obligations that one or both have such as child support and alimony then I really don’t think that sharing their finances in a single accountis a wise idea. It could and probably would be a source of friction their marriage.

    • Jose — Yes, such things as alimony and child support could be sources of friction, but I still recommend that a married couple combine their finances and budget, as a married couple, those payments. After all, they both knew these things before they got married, so there should be no surprises. I agree with you that it could be testy, but working through those things together will make a stronger marriage. In my mind, it is similar to one spouse bringing debt into the marriage while the other has zero debt and a decent savings account. Once they are married, that debt should be considered marital debt and they should work together to pay it off.

      Readers: any thoughts here?

      • Jennifer

        This is Jennifer of the his, mine and ours accounts in the comments above. My husband has a child from his first marriage and we consider child support a shared expense. When my husband was unexpectedly out of work for a few months, I paid the child support. We feel that it’s our FAMILY’S job to support my stepson, not just my husband’s. If he was paying alimony, I might feel weirder about it, but we’d still do it. The money’s going to the same place anyway, regardless of what it’s called, and when that other household is supported in part by us, my stepson has a higher quality of life and that’s (in our family) a happily shared expense.

        • For recently divorced where you pay for the former spouse or child expenses, you could hide assets better with separate accounts. I’d still advocate married couple could see into both accounts easily still. I also know people that have substantial property investments and stocks that are not co-mingled, but each person can see into the other’s accounts.

  11. Please use my initials only to prevent embarassment all around. My husband and I have been married for over 10 years. My second marriage (2 grown children); his first After a really ugly first marriage, I resolved to never be that vulnerable again. I have maintained an account in my own name since then. My husband, and I had a joint account as well. I rarely withdrew money from this account. He paid the bills for awhile, telling me how much I needed to deposit in order to cover my part. He developed a mental illness or most probably it became much worse, that was the basis of a serious problem. He paid the bills about once every 3 months — much to my horror. I received collection calls at work. Of course I covered the delinquency immediately (even though I had already written him monthly checks. After several months I decided to separate our finances. I had my name removed from our joint account, but only after I covered the $500 deficit. I was unaware that he frequently used his debit card knowing he was out of money. That plus dozens of bank fees had kept us in the red almost monthly. When the bank closed his account, he was overdrawn approximately $500 which remIns in the red. Last year I began filing taxes separately. He had the minimum withheld which put me in the position of paying taxes twice (even though he earned as mu h and sometimes more than I). The good news is that he is now receiving intensive, regular medical care, he operates on a cash basis. After losing several jobs, he has a very part-time job. I pay all but the occasional bill and give him a small allowance. I also cover both of our health insurance premiums — $600 more per month than I was paying. I am pleased that he sought psychiatric help for a condition that is based on brain chemistry as well as other issues, but I will always maintain my own bank account in case of remission and then relapse. This is probably too long for you to use, but I wanted you to hear a different view from a Christian married couple who had several weeks of premarital counseling by our church’s clergy. Thank you

    • CJ — Thanks for taking the time to share your story. Under these circumstances, I don’t think you had any options other than to maintain your own account. I wish you and your husband well; it is a good thing that he sought help, and I pray that he is on the road to recovery.

  12. Daniel @ Bills.com

    If either spouse could face a bank levy, due to collections tied to an IRS tax debt, State tax debt, or a court-ordered judgment, it is NOT a good idea to have a joint account.

  13. I’d like to go against the grain here and put in a word for Separate bank accounts. My husband and I have separate bank accounts and could not be happier. Why? Because we are still completely transparent with each other, have full trust in each other, and still plan our financial futures together.

    How? The key is our budget. It is tracked separately but side by side so we can see each others spending at any time. We’ve split up the bills so neither of us is completely bogged down in bills and can use the rest for variable expenses, savings, or guilt free spending (although we’re both fairly conservative there). We dictate our own savings or in the case of a trip we are saving for, track them separately than have the budget add them together to give us our total savings to date. There are no trust issues, we know each others banking passwords. There is no forced trust only open collaboration.

    To shed some understanding on why, the main reason we keep it separate is so we can each feel proud to carry our own weight and to avoid ever fighting about money due to the unbalance of financial freedoms that happen in a joint bank account relationship. We still look out for each other but its out of love and choice rather than forced sharing. If one of us is down for a month, the other will help out but they have the choice to decide how. We often transfer money between each other without a second thought or pay an extra bill or re-balance the budget till it works.

    Of course this method is highly dependent on the kind of relationship you have with your spouse. For some the joint method may create the exact kind of unity we feel with our separate accounts. For those who have problems with separate accounts, there may be bigger issues involved. If there are trust issues, I wouldn’t always recommend handing over the bank account reigns until the bigger problems are dealt with. You can be open without doing that.

    Dispite my declaration, I did like your article. Its nice to have a better understanding of the other side of the coin!

  14. Wow, I think this might be the most short-sighted article I have ever read on here. I really can’t understand why having separate bank accounts would imply that you don’t have unified budgeting or goal setting. I have NO IDEA why it means that there is likely a financial dictator, and I certainly am surprised to see that separate accounts can only lead to secrets and a lack of trust.

    As you might guess, my husband and I have separate accounts. We dated for a long time before marrying and simply didn’t see the point in combinging the accounts. Now, let’s be clear… all of the money in my account is considered “ours” and all of the money in his account is considered “ours.” All of the expenses are “ours,” but we have simply delegated which person is responsible for paying each bill. If there was a vacation or some major expense we would discuss which account it needed to come from. We constantly have budget discussions and we set our financial goals TOGETHER. There is no financial dictator.

    We do it this way because we think the other option would be disasterous. If I make a purchase when I’m out on my own, I don’t want to worry about spending the money in the account that was (unbeknownst to me) earmarked for the power bill. If I’m the only one spending money in my account, then I know what every dollar is assigned to. While im sure having a joint account can be done, we simply don’t see the need to create a potential organizational problem where one doesn’t exist.

    I understand that everyone does it differently, and different things work for different couples. But I have to be honest, I found some of the proposed implications of having separate accounts to be not only misguided, but borderline offensive.

    • Amanda, for many couples, having separate accounts is extremely dangerous. I’d be willing to venture that in most circumstances, that’s the case. You’re certainly an exception.

      There are several ways you can spend from the same account without getting into trouble. One way is to spend this month’s income next month. That way, you have a couple thousand dollars in the account and don’t have to worry about lack of funds. Another thing you can do is stick to a zero based budget. With that type of budget, if you’re living within the budget, you can’t overspend your account.

      I hope that helps! None of this was meant to be offensive, just honest about what is best for most people. God bless!

  15. It’s like this: There is a better way to eat miso soup. It’s with a spoon. Not chopsticks. Spoon? Better. Now, lo mien? Fork or chopsticks? Depends on who is using them. One better? No. But fork works for most people. Or at least that’s the way I think about it. Fork=joint, chopsticks= separate. Both can be a beautiful tool to accomplish what is ultimately the goal: to honor God with our time, money, and lives.

  16. No reason to make those with separate accounts feel like somehow they aren’t acting according to God’s will or like they are less obedient. It’s a shame that most condemnation and judgement directed toward American Christians usually comes from other Christians. Happily married 10 1/2 years with joint accounts :)

  17. For my wife and I, having a joint account works incredibly well. It’s less work to pay the bills since it’s all linked up to one account, which is the best thing for us. I’m not bothered by the need for feeling independant or like I am the primary provider for my wife, and we are both respectful of the financial needs of the family as well as the personal financial desires of each person. We’re a bit unique in that we are the sort of folks who could spend 24 hours a day, 7 days per week together, doing everything together, joining together for every single pursuit and not ever become tired (we’ve done this previously, it’s awesome!), so the idea of “mine” and “her’s” really isn’t an issue for us.

    Another reason why I prefer having a joint account is because I came from a lifestyle of “spend now, worry later” and the tool of a joint account has been a blessing to my life while learning my way out of that. It’s been hard sometimes, because the flesh wants to kick into overdrive and become desperate to spend, but the joint account has been, for me, “tearing out my eye so that it doesn’t cause me to stumble.” The joint account has been greatly helpful for restraining myself from worldly desires, but ultimately the power of it comes only from submitting to Christ in the process–without His power and blessing of grace, a joint account would just be a worldy “rule” for myself with no power, even if it has an appearance of wisdom.

    I would personally recommend a joint account as a good practical solution to marital finances because it removes the opportunity of the slip–even Paul confessed to slipping–toward poor financial choices that a solo account might allow, but either way, with the pursuit of Christ at the center of what you are doing his power will sustain! Best of luck to the folks who have also enjoyed having solo accounts within their marriage; praying for all of y’all to be filled with a Spirit of continued transparency and wisdom. :)

  18. There isn’t a Christian perspective or Biblical perspective, only a Christian’s (or heathen’s) point of view. Dave and I had separate checking accounts and we had no trust problems because we settled the trust question years prior to saying “I Do”. While others may have an opinion, ultimately, it’s what each couple wants to do; there is NO right or wrong…it’s what works for each couple. Dave always wanted me to have my own money and, because we married late in life, he wanted me to keep my name. Other people might not agree with me keeping my name but it wasn’t a question of loyalty; once we married, it was until death took him, almost seventeen years later.
    We always lived debt free; I still live that way.

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