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Should You Combine Finances With Your Partner?

What you need to know before sharing a bank account with your significant other.

by Ashley Eneriz
November 30, 2020 | Money
Illustration of young couple inserting coins into large piggy bank, rewire, combine finances
Credit: VectorMine // Adobe

You share a home. You share each other's hearts. So, why not share a bank account? 

For married and unmarried couples alike, getting in tune financially is hard. Before you go all-in on a joint bank account, share a line of credit or a make a large purchase together, consider if joined finances are the right move for your relationship.

Your financial situation is unique

Every couple will need to figure out what works best for them — there is no one-size-fits-all answer. Even if you surveyed 100 couples, you'd find a mix of situations and opinions. 

Here are some key points you should consider if you are thinking about combining finances:

  • Unmarried couples don’t always have the same legal rights. In the case of a divorce, there is legal protection for both parties and their finances. Sharing your finances without being married puts you at risk of both a drained bank account and a broken heart.
  • Be careful what you invest in as a couple. Before you contribute your money to a large purchase like a house or car, make sure it is also in your name. You can make 90 percent of your partner’s car payments, but it is legally theirs if it is only in their name. 
  • Married couples with separate accounts aren’t immune in a divorce. Think individual finances can spare you if your marriage goes south? Think again. Depending on the state and situation, even separate bank accounts and purchases can be argued as marital property. 
  • Both individuals share all debt incurred in a marriage. Even if the debt is in only one person’s name, it is still considered marital property. This means that if your significant other racks up credit card debt or goes back to school using a loan, the debt responsibility is still yours if a divorce were to occur. This can vary by state and situation.

To combine or not to combine

"From a financial perspective, there are both pros and cons to combining your finances as a partnership," said Ethan Taub, the CEO of Loanry, a comparison website for lenders.

Illustration of Two Hands of Couple inserting coins into Heart-shaped Bank, combine finances, rewire
"Having one pot of money can make for shared goals," Taub said.  |  Credit: Lorelyn Medina // Adobe

"Having one pot of money can make for shared goals. It also does keep things simple, all of your bills leave the same account, and you are left with one pot at the end to budget nicely."

Combining finances can also lead to quite a bit of friction in your relationship.

"If one of you has debt and you both take it on to pay it off, this can also become a pressure point. If one of you makes more than the other and feels unfairly treated, this can also cause arguments," Taub said.

Whether you combine your finances with your partner will depend on your relationship and money personality. Married or unmarried, do not combine your finances until you know the following about each other:

  • Income and assets: Be transparent about how much you earn and how much you have stashed away. It is also good to know regular income versus inconsistent income since some jobs like freelancing or real estate fluctuate in pay. 
  • Debt responsibility: Don’t downplay debt. Debt can lead to a lot of financial stress and arguing. 
  • Spending personality: It’s wise to talk about how you both view money, spend money and how your parents handled money. Knowing how your partner’s parents dealt with money can give you better insight into their spending habits.
  • Financial goals: Do you want to buy a house? Pay off all your debt? Invest in traveling the world rather than a 401(k)?
  • Financial responsibility: Do you like splitting costs 50-50? Do you think the partner who makes more should pay more? 
  • Thoughts on shared finances: Finally, it is good to know how you both feel about shared financial accounts and why you feel that way. 

Creating a financial solution for your relationship

"A critical conversation and decision point is deciding how to split expenses," said Marco Sison, a financial coach for Nomadic FIRE

"Especially when there is a discrepancy in income between the two partners, how bills are divided can be a minefield of assumptions and misunderstandings." 

When financial transparency is on the table, it can be easier to decide how to tackle expenses and whether you should combine or not combine finances. 

Many couples might fall somewhere in the middle and decide to have a combined account for shared expenses, such as rent, utilities, car payments and dates. Even if you choose to share finances, it is also okay to keep separate accounts for personal spending or savings.

Whether you are married or not, keep debt separate when possible. Married couples will both be responsible for any debt taken on after the wedding day, but the debt incurred before the vows can remain separate as long as you don't refinance or consolidate. 

Shared financial accounts aren't for every couple, but that's up to you. No matter how you decide to handle your money together, remember to set aside regular times to honestly discuss what is or is not working with your finances.

ashley eneriz
Ashley Eneriz is a staff writer at Wise Bread, a contributing writer at Investopedia and a freelance writer whose work has appeared on GoBankingRates, MoneyCrashers and elsewhere.
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