Which Should You Choose: Joint or Separate Finances?

Several months ago I mentioned in passing that my wife and I keep separate finances. I promised to eventually explain why, and to discuss the pros and cons of doing so.

Our story
When I was a boy, my parents fought about money often. And loudly. They had joint finances, but it didn't seem to matter. Each accused the other of being financially irresponsible. (Both were right.) Their example left me disenchanted with the notion of mutual money management.

During the years Kris and I dated, we had our own accounts. From the beginning, I was a spendthrift and Kris was a saver. She always made smart financial decisions. Because my money was my money, and her money was her money, my poor choices did not drain her savings.

When we were married in 1993, it didn't occur to us to combine our finances. I can't recall that we even discussed the issue. It seemed natural to maintain the status quo. Some people find this strange; they feel that it fundamentally undermines the nature of marriage. But it's one of the best things we've ever done. This system works for us because:

  • We have no children,
  • Our salaries have always been roughly equivalent, and
  • We've found a way to split household bills evenly.

This system also works because we trust each other to take care of financial obligations. (Even when I was a spendthrift, bills and household expenses always came first.) Now that I'm making smart choices, we do have one joint account for use solely as an emergency fund.

Pros and cons
Which is better: joint or separate finances? Both sides offer strong arguments. Good reasons to combine finances include:

  • Religious beliefs. Some religions encourage joint finances.
  • Pragmatism. Some people believe that joint finances make a marriage work more efficiently.
  • Convenience. It's easier for some couples to have a central pool of money from which all expenses are paid.
  • One partner is better at handling money. I know a couple in which the husband has no concept of money. He deposits his paycheck, and buys the things he wants, but he has no idea how to budget or how to keep track of bills. His wife is the just the opposite. For them, joint finances are a must.
  • One partner's income is higher than the other. Nickel recently wrote in the forums: “My wife stays at home and I'm the one that earns the money. However, I wouldn't be able to do what I do without her doing what she does… Keeping separate accounts under such circumstances would just be [wrong.]”
  • It costs less. When a couple has fewer accounts, they pay fewer fees. Also, they can sometimes obtain better interest rates.
  • You want to combine finances.

On the other hand, there are also good reasons to keep your finances separate:

  • Religious beliefs. Some religions encourage separate finances.
  • Pragmatism. Nobody enters a marriage believing it will be one of the 50% that ends in divorce, but some people feel that they should play it safe just in case.
  • Convenience. It's easier for some couples to have separate pools of money.
  • Both partners are capable of handling money. If either partner lacks financial discipline, joint accounts are best.
  • Both partners have about the same income. If one person is the primary breadwinner, joint finances are best.
  • You want to keep separate finances.

I don't believe there's one right answer to this question. The best choice is the one that works for you and your partner. This is something that you need to decide. Don't let anyone — not your church, not your parents, not your friends, not some personal finance guru — tell you that there's only one right way. Each relationship is different.

The bottom line
I love my wife, and believe that maintaining separate finances has strengthened our relationship, not weakened it. But that might not be true for you and your situation. If you and your spouse are happier with joint finances, if joint finances strengthen your marriage, then use joint finances. But don't combine finances just because you think it has to be done that way. It doesn't..

What's most important is honesty and communication. Any system in which the partners are open about their money habits is a good one. Ultimately, it comes down to this: Do what works for you.

You can find more excellent discussions and advice about this subject at these sites:

Your turn
Do you and your partner keep joint accounts or separate? How has this arrangement worked for you? How long have you been together? How equitable is your income distribution? Who pays the bills? How often do you fight about money? What else can you tell us about the way you handle your finances?

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DC Economist
DC Economist

Do you and your partner keep joint accounts or separate? She has a separate account, my account is now joint with her. We did this because we needed to have an account with the bank for our loan (direct debit). My paychecks more than cover it, but she makes more than me, so she has to reimburse me. How has this arrangement worked for you? I’ll let you know. How long have you been together? 2 and a half years, been doing a 60/40 split on expenses which is about the split in our incomes (she’s a sugarmama) How equitable… Read more »

Matt
Matt

My wife and I have now been married almost a year and I handle all the finances. For us, the idea of having separate accounts was never discussed. As a financial analyst, it was always just understood that I would handle the money, pay the bills, and be responsible for saving in retirement accounts. My wife loves this setup because she doesn’t know that much about finances and has no interest in learning. She lived at home for about a year after she got out of school and before we got married, so she never had to worry about life’s… Read more »

Don
Don

My wife and I have always had separate accounts. I had little preference, but it was something that was very important to her. We’ve been married 14 years. When my wife wasn’t working and our incomes were out of balance, I wrote her a check every month. During her childhood, Linda had watched her mother have to ask her father for money whenever she needed to buy something. By writing her a “paycheck” every month, we could avoid some of that power imbalance. That’s the key actually, you can’t let money become a source of power for one, because partners… Read more »

Glenn
Glenn

My wife and I started out with three accounts. One for her, one for me and a joint account. We both contributed to the joint account to pay for our mortgage and bills and we could do whatever we wanted with our personal account. We split bills based on a percentage of income. After six years of marriage we moved to just one account. My wife pays the bills and I make the monthly investments. I can’t remember having a fight about money in the 12 years we have been married. (We do fight about other issues such as our… Read more »

Martin
Martin

I am getting married in August and this has been an issue that we have had to discuss. She has her bank, I have mine and we both like our respective banks. It is definitely an issue that we have to agree upon.

Rick
Rick

For me personally, separate finances make no sense. You both live in the same house. So who pays for the house (or rent or whatever)? Do you 60/40 split it? Again, that doesn’t make any sense? First, it seems the overhead in shuffling all this money around to pay your house payment isn’t worth it. Second, that’s not really separate finances anyway, since you’re sharing the cost. So some people split the bills. He gets the house payment. She pays the food bill. He pays the utilies. She pays the car payment. That may work for awhile. But then let’s… Read more »

Jenny
Jenny

My fiance and I (engaged a year, dating a year before that, good friends six years before that) plan to join accounts once we’re married. Keeping our accounts separate during the engagement has been okay, but we both like to see how we’re doing as a household rather than separately, and we’ve already got joint savings goals and such, so we’re looking forward to the joint accounting to make things simpler. (Also, he and his previous wife had separate accounts and he didn’t like it.) I make about a third more than he does, and I’m currently paying about a… Read more »

Kevin
Kevin

Do you and your partner keep joint accounts or separate? Actually both. We both have our own checking accounts. However, we drain those every other month of the savings and join that into our joint house fund. How has this arrangement worked for you? So far so good. How long have you been together? Going on a year in June. How equitable is your income distribution? My wife is the major earner. Who pays the bills? I tend to pay the smaller bills while she pays for the bigger ones like rent. We also both pay off our own Credit… Read more »

Amy
Amy

I live with my boyfriend, so this may not exactly apply because we are not married, but we do have to worry about finances. We split rent 50/50, and everything else is close to that. However, he makes about 3 times more than I do and we argue about it sometimes. He has school loans to pay and hasn’t started saving like he wants. I have no debt and have some money in the bank (not a ton, but at least in the five figures). He keeps looking at our situations relative to our ages (we are 5 years apart,… Read more »

Matias
Matias

We keep joint accounts, from 1999, and it´s working fine. We are making almost the same ammount and our income distribution is alright. About the bills, every month we sit down and get organized for the next, and we “distribute” tasks for each other. Never had a big fight about this issue. We discuss of course, but the “blood never reachs the river” (an expresion here in Argentina to say that an issue finished before it gets to serious). And another topic, we learn a lot from blogs like this one, really. It´s incredible that in spanish there aren´t so… Read more »

Dylan
Dylan

We’ve had joint finances since getting married five years ago, and we also use the $100 purchase guideline. It has never been a issue for us other than being able to see how much presents to each other cost (not really an issue). In the end, I don’t think it really matters one way or the other unless your willing to leave your partner behind on a vacation or spend your retirement swinging in a hammock eating lobster while your partner eats a PB&J sandwich in the break room at Wal-Mart because s/he mismanaged their own accounts. If you’re sharing… Read more »

Sarah
Sarah

My parents always kept seperate accounts, but my mom was stay-at-home. Recently some friends of mine were married, and i thought what they did was very smart – they have a pool of money that goes for everything – savings / house / cars / etc… but they also each get an equil amount that goes in each of their own accounts. (3 accounts total) This way, all personal expenses (clothes, night out with friends, etc.) come out of your own account. Also all gifts come out of your own account. This also helps balance the fact that they dont… Read more »

Brandon Smith
Brandon Smith

Joint or separate? …Joint. Except we have separate IRA accounts. But for all intents and purposes, everything is shared. How has this arrangement worked for you? Great. How long have you been together? 4 years dating. 4 years married. There How equitable is your income distribution? I work. She raises our beautifully raises our 2 year old and 4 month old. Who pays the bills? Technically, I do. Practically, she initiates the bill payments. I audit at our monthly financial planning. How often do you fight about money? Fight is strong. Disagree and discuss, regularly. Once a month at our… Read more »

Mama's Money
Mama's Money

My partner and I keep separate checking and “small savings” accounts, because each of us organizes our money totally differently. IMO, that’s the biggest question. If you both like to track every detail, or you both hate it, maybe joint accounts won’t make you crazy. But if you are on opposite ends of that spectrum, joint accounts are a recipe for fighting, IMO. BTW, I disagree with JD’s assertion that, “If one person is the primary breadwinner, joint finances are best.” I make almost 3x what my partner makes, and I pay slightly more than that of the bills. We… Read more »

Don Seiler
Don Seiler

My wife is a wonderful stay-at-home mom and homemaker, so I’m the only revenue stream right now. Separate finances probably wouldn’t make too much sense. She also does all the bill paying and all that, although I’ve started playing with Wesabe to try and get a glimpse of our spending trends to curb things. We don’t (yet) have a written budget.

finance girl
finance girl

My husband and I treat our money like our own small business, and so to us we think of collective income, outgoing expenses, and investments at a team level. We have one checking account, which we call the “bus depot”. Money doesn’t stay in it for long unaccounted for; it’s either for an upcoming bill or we put it to work by transferring it to a brokerage account. We DO have separate brokerage accounts, and within those are our IRAs, 401(k), savings in the form of money market mutual funds, and various investments for long term and short term goals.… Read more »

Mary
Mary

My boyfriend and I (we’ve been together 9 years) have separate accounts and then we just opened a joint account for household expenses. Since we have just recently opened this joint account, we don’t really know how to use it yet. Question for couples that have this set-up: how do you maintain this joint account? Each paycheck, does each of you contribute a specified amount to it that will cover household costs? My boyfriend and I also have a joint ING account and two joint CD’s. We have a pretty good system going, but we are new to this whole… Read more »

Jon
Jon

My wife and I both work and we keep separate accounts. I pay the mortgage and a couple of small bills, she pays the utilities, car insurance, cable, & phone. We’ve been married for over 4 years and haven’t had one fight about money (I should mention we also have no kids). I can’t imagine doing it any other way.

Allie
Allie

My husband makes way more than I do. But we still have separate finances. However, I manage most of the bookkeeping for his business, including writing his paycheck (and mine) and I deal with transferring the money from the business account into my own account to pay things like the mortgage. We maintain separate accounts but we share the money. My paycheck is steady, twice a month. His money comes in irregularly. So I always buy groceries, but he goes out for a sandwich once or twice a day. He is not a frugal person, and I try to be… Read more »

Lisa
Lisa

My husband and I have been married for 3 years and have a 2 year old with another on the way. We have separate accounts, with one joint savings account that we each contribute to every month. We have never taken money out of this account. Our checking accounts are separate because he doesn’t want to balance a checkbook. I prefer this too because I always know exactly what’s in my account. We also keep separate credit card accounts. We don’t have a formal bill payment process. He typically pays for the mortgage, car, insurance and phone. I typically pay… Read more »

MoneyChangesThings
MoneyChangesThings

Your question presupposes a first, young marriage. Older adults often carefully segregate their finances/assets and write up a mutual pre-nup. Among wealthy younger first timers this is also starting to be done. The point is, you want to protect your money for your heirs. My mother, who grew up during the Depression, was frugal for 40 years. I am grateful that when she died and my dad remarried, he had a tight prenup. That money which my mom helped preserve is now paying college tuitions, and is not in my [wicked] stepmother’s checking account! When prenups are missing, there naturally… Read more »

Gnashchick
Gnashchick

Q. Do you and your partner keep joint accounts or separate? How has this arrangement worked for you? A. Separate accounts for me and my SO. We have been cohabiting for a year now, and separate finances works out perfectly. Both of us were stung by ex-spouses who were irresponsible with money and both of us were left with big debt after the split. Financial independence is very important to both of us now, and in SO’s words, “If my credit gets hosed again, at least I’ll have the comfort of knowing I hosed it all by myself.” Q. How… Read more »

Aimee
Aimee

We have been married 5 years now, and have always joined our money. Granted, we make it work by doing the finances together from the joint account, this takes the pressure off one person and also holds both people accountable.

Sandy J
Sandy J

My boyfriend of seven years and I have the three account system. We earn nearly the same salary, which goes straight into the respective personal accounts. At the beginning of each month, we both deposit the same amount of money into the joint account. The mortgage, household expenses, and some shared activities come out of the joint account. We save, donate, and buy personal things out of our separate accounts. I think this arrangement has worked out great for us. We have very similar financial habits in general, which I’m sure helps. I currently save more than he does, but… Read more »

Karen
Karen

Like financegirl above, my husband and I treat our finances like a small business. We have one checking account, out of which we pay all of our bills. His paycheck (I’m a SAHM)is deposited into our savings account, which also functions as an emergency fund. Right now, it has about a year’s worth of living expenses in it. At the beginning of the month, we tally the bills and transfer whatever we need to cover them into checking. We pay everything electronically, so there is hardly any money in that account past the first week of the month when the… Read more »

kck2780
kck2780

My husband and I have a joint account. We’ve been married for just over 1.5 years, but have had a joint account for about 2. There are several reasons why we did this. He came from a family that didn’t teach their kids a thing about finances, so it started as a learning tool. I’m from a family that taught me how to save, save, save. He likes the dollar signs and showing him how much money two salaries could do, he instantly became interested. It looked better to him. Now, 2 years later, he’s 100% better at finances. He’s… Read more »

chad
chad

My partner and I have our personal accounts, and then a joint account for bills, as well as a joint investment account. All bills are paid from the joint account [rent, groceries, hydro, etc.], and we each transfer an equal amount in to that account, to cover the next month’s expenses, plus a little bit. We also contribute approx. $100/month each to the investment account [for our future home purchase]. Whatever is left over for each of us is ours to do with as we please. Currently, she is earning a lot more than I do, but I don’t begrudge… Read more »

guinness416
guinness416

*Do you and your partner keep joint accounts or separate? – Separate. * How has this arrangement worked for you? – Fine, we’re happy. * How long have you been together? – 8 years. * How equitable is your income distribution? – I earn $90K, my husband earns $45K. * Who pays the bills? – He pays all household bills, car bills (which are minimal) & most grocery bills from his account. I pay the mortgage, propertytax, insurance and savings and investments from my account. I pay for all flights (we’re both immigrants, travel a lot). Dinners out etc could… Read more »

AM
AM

Our finances are an evolution over a 14-year relationship. We started out young (I was 21, he 24) and we kept seperate checking accounts and started a joint savings right after we moved in together. Then we moved towards joint checking, each contributing equally and getting an allowance. Then, we got accepted to college and while we were getting financial aid, we decided to seperate our finances. Then, we got married while still in school, and kept things more or less separate until I graduated with my masters. Now, he has a separate checking where he gets his allowance, we… Read more »

James
James

I’m not married yet, but I’m planning on having a combination of individual accounts and a joint account for household expenses. I like the idea that Suze Orman suggests, “set up three accounts: two individual checking accounts, to use for private needs and wants, and one account for joint expenses, in which both partners deposit equal percentages of their income, not equal amounts of money.”

Marisa
Marisa

Do you and your partner keep joint accounts or separate? We now have only joint accounts, but for the first six years or so that we were together, we had personal accounts and a shared finances account. Bills were paid out of the central account; both of us had divided direct-deposit of our pay checks so that some money went into our personal account and some went into the shared one. How has this arrangement worked for you? It’s very much evolved over time. That said, we’ve never had any significant disagreements about money. We both have good intentions re:… Read more »

Marie
Marie

My husband and I (both in our 40s) have been married 2 1/2 years and lived together for 3 years before that. We’ve been keeping separate accounts because our money styles are incompatible and because merging money with an irresponsible (now ex-)husband was a disaster that cost me decades of financial progress. We both spend less than we earn, are on track for retirement, and have no debt except a mortgage, but the similarities end there. I plan carefully and track every dollar moving through my accounts. In contrast, when I moved in, he had all his savings in a… Read more »

jeanjeanie
jeanjeanie

My husband and I got married last September, and we both kept our individual bank accounts; partly out of laziness, partly because we both like our banks and couldn’t agree on which one should move to if we consolidated, but mainly because it simplifies things and we couldn’t really come up with a compelling reason to keep a joint account. Since I’m currently the sole earner, and since about all of our debts were brought into the marriage by me, and since in spite of that I still turned out to be the one who is better at money management,… Read more »

Sam
Sam

Really enjoyed this post b/c I just got married last year and we are in the middle of talking about how to combine finances. I was also talking with one of my good friends about this issue and she’s been married for 10 years and found our debate about finances funny. She mentioned that when she got married her and husband had so little it never occured to them not to combine accts. I started talking her through our accounts, we have 4 checking accts, 2 reg. savings accts., mult. online savings accts., mutlitple mortgages on multiple properties, 2 401ks,… Read more »

anne
anne

My fiance and I have been together 2 1/2 years, getting married in August. Before we moved in together we had a money talk to get everything out on the table. I came from a family that watched money very carefully, his not at all. Fortunately for me, he has been very eager to improve his financial situation and adopt better habits, and thus far we have not had any fights about money. We currently split rent relative to our income, and all other bills 50/50. He rarely spends money on non-essential items, and keeps to a tight budget, including… Read more »

Sam
Sam

Now to answer the questions: Do you and your partner keep joint accounts or separate? We have 2 joint checking acounts and 2 individual checking accounts. How has this arrangement worked for you? Worked well until this year. Now that we are tracking our spending and trying to work with a budget its not working as well. How long have you been together? 6 years, 3 years sharing a home, 6 months of marriage. How equitable is your income distribution? I earn more than double what my husband earns and together we bring home quite a bit of bacon. Who… Read more »

Nick Crellin
Nick Crellin

Do you and your partner keep joint accounts or separate? Joint accounts, neither of us wanted separate. Besides, if one of us goes down, the other has complete access to everything. How has this arrangement worked for you? Works great. I’m more financially savvy, used Quicken since ’96, and have taken about 4 years of accounting classes. My wife knows how to handle the budget, work the accounts, balance a checkbook, but does not enjoy it like I do. How long have you been together? Married 2 1/2 years, known each about 4 years total. Who pays the bills? I… Read more »

SoldierGrrrl
SoldierGrrrl

My husband and I have three accounts. We each have individual checking accounts and one joint. Because I am a full-time student, my husband is the sole earner. We are saving to have a house built (on an Army sergeant’s paycheck, too!) so we have a mortgage on a piece of land. Right now, his paycheck gets deposited into his account and he transfers money to the joint account for me to pay bills out of. With us living on two different continents with a nine hour time difference, trying to keep a joint account was…difficult. We’ve been married almost… Read more »

bakeliteTM
bakeliteTM

With separate accounts, if one of you were to die suddenly, it would take a lot longer to access this person’s money.

Bart
Bart

When my wife first started working, we wanted to keep our accounts separate so we could just rely on my income for expenses and count anything she made as gravy. That way, if she decided not to work in the future, the weaning process taking us from two incomes to one would be simple. But my account soon felt too much like just that – “my” account, and hers became “her” account. That wouldn’t be a problem in the long run if we were to keep two separate accounts because I was making enough to cover expenses and then some.… Read more »

Vince
Vince

Hi, my wife and I combined our finances when we got married and I think she was probably more concerned about this because not only am I the spender in the relationship, she also makes nearly twice what I do! But honestly, this has never even been an issue and I can’t even recall one time that we’ve had an argument over money. I still like to spend from time to time, but she has taught me a lot about saving for the future and being smart with “our” money. Two things that we do really seem to help: –… Read more »

Rick B
Rick B

When you get married you become one, why not combine your finances. Couple problems with the “his” account and “her” account are that it is just as easy to apply this logic to other things in your marriage. In reality, whatever money either of you make, is YOUR money together, regardless of your income levels. When we first married we did the separate accounts, and eventually this lead to much less harmony. For instance, wife after having child, changed careers and was contributing a much smaller percentage to expenses. Every month when we would do our budget, it was brought… Read more »

Jessie
Jessie

Do you and your partner keep joint accounts or separate? — We started keeping joint accounts when we were living together about 20 years ago and kept the accounts joint when we married. We made an agreement then that either of us could spend up to $200 on a single item, no questions asked, and that agreement has held. How has this arrangement worked for you? — Well. We realized very early on that making money a power issue would blow our relationship apart, so we worked hard at being equal partners. How long have you been together? — Since… Read more »

melanie
melanie

*Do you and your partner keep joint accounts or separate? – Joint. * How has this arrangement worked for you? – It works really well for us. We consult each other before any purchase, no matter how big or small (even a $1 cup of coffee). Not only does it make sure that we’re not spending money the other person expects to be in the account, it keeps our spending in check. I can’t imagine how silly I’d feel saying, “honey, do you mind if I buy a Margaritaville frozen drink maker?” I know that he’d tell me to go… Read more »

elisabeth
elisabeth

My husband and I have been married 12 years and have always had a “yours, mine and ours” approach to finances. We have a joint account for household expenses and we each have personal checking and personal investment accounts. Every year at tax time, we make up a budget for the coming year based on the previous year’s household expenses. Then we add up our combined income and figure out who makes what percentage of that total — this year he makes 75% and I make 25%. Next we determine the total amount of money that will need to go… Read more »

Slinky
Slinky

My fiancee and I have seperate accounts and will continue to do so. We may or may not create a joint account to pay bills from after we’re married. This arrangement works well for us. I electronically transfer my part of the bills to my fiancee who sends them out as they are mostly all in his name. We’ve been together for about 4 years now and have never fought about money. Until the beginning of this year, I made about 6k (college student) and my fiancee made in the 35-45k range. Quite the difference. I didn’t so much move… Read more »

Malachi T
Malachi T

To me, something seems inherently wrong with having separate accounts. My wife and I have been married for 11 months, and we’ve had a joint account all along. She has been working the whole time too, but since she’s getting close to having our new boy, tomorrow is her last day at work. Though I make more than her, I have always considered the money we make to be our money. I don’t see marriage simply as a symbiotic partnership, it goes much deeper than that. We’re the same person. So to write my wife a check, or for her… Read more »

Bennie
Bennie

As a former member of the Banking industry, I can say that no single item caused more financial difficulties than a joint account. Many couples enter a joint account situation without thinking through the ramifications that sharing finances has (Including myself in a former marriage that died due to financial issues). The diligence required to maintain joint finances when you are starting your “real life” on relatively low incomes can be overwhelming. Working in a customer service center for a top three bank (flame on), I took hundreds of calls from account holders in which a small discrepancy led to… Read more »

Beth
Beth

My husband and I (married 2 years) make similar salaries. We have separate accounts so that we don’t have to keep track of each other’s spending (we’re both lazy about that). We do share our funds a lot, though. We have a joint account, and transfer money into it to pay bills. Originally the idea was that keeping separate accounts would let him pay off his CC debt without affecting me; but I ended up helping him pay off the cards so that he could get rid of that debt faster. For a few months, instead of him paying $X/month… Read more »

Adventures In Money Making
Adventures In Money Making

my wife put it very nicely.

my money is her money.
her money is her money.
our money is her money.

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