Sorry to interrupt your newlywed bliss, lovebirds, but here’s a PSA: Before you say “I do,” you should not just talk about your personal commitment to your loved one, but also to money. As you start to merge your life with your chosen partner, it’s important to discuss if and how you are going to merge bank accounts.
Here’s expert advice on how newlyweds can blend finances the right way:
When to combine
There is no one answer about whether or not you should combine all your money. Every person grew up with a different relationship to money and has a different comfort level with sharing it. Some couples like dumping everything into a communal fund, others like keeping their checking accounts separate as they open up a shared savings account. You’ll need to talk about your vision of who pays for what. Recognize that the main advantage to getting a joint checking account is that it helps everyone in the relationship stay on the same page about mutual life goals.
Do you want to go on an awesome vacation to Thailand? Do you want to buy that nice car or send your kid to summer camp? The paychecks and 401K contributions do not lie. When you both can see where the money is going in and pouring out, you learn to hold each other accountable. You get a reality check of the lifestyle you can afford together.
“Generally speaking it’s good to have three accounts: a yours, mine and our account. So you have the joint account for mutual goals — we’re saving for a down payment on a home, we’re trying to get a car, whatever — but then you have your own account that you could spend money freely on smaller items,” Beth Kobliner, personal finance expert, advised Marketplace. “I think marriage in some ways, and this sounds very unromantic, is a catalyst for getting your personal finances together. Looking over everything: Do I have too much credit card debt? How do I cut back? And this is the time to talk openly about it.”
Above all, before you plan a life together in wedded bliss, you should learn to be comfortable with talking about money. Ask each other who is responsible for paying bills each month and for paying off individual debt. Is your partner solely responsible for paying off their student loans? A successful money marriage means you have discussed three major money drains: “paying off debt, starting an emergency fund and creating long-term savings plans,” Karin Price Mueller at the Consumerist wrote. These can be difficult conversations, but you do not want to be surprised when you discover that your partner has a dozen credit cards down the road.
When to separate
For some of us, it may make more sense to create a separate account for personal use. “If one partner is carrying a lot of debt or has mismanaged money in the past, a degree of separation can provide a sense of security for the other person (at least until the debt is paid off),” Jaimie Mackey advised in Brides.com.
This choice may also be generational. A Bank of America study published this past winter found that Millennial couples are more likely to keep separate accounts than couples of previous generations. For Millennial couples, the top source of fights was finances. Millennials may be keeping their finances separate to dodge that fight over how to split the bill. “It’s about wanting to maintain one’s sense of identity, individuality, and autonomy,” Fenaba Addo, an assistant professor of consumer science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said about the changing trend.