Sometimes the most contentious issues with money management are the simplest, like with checking accounts. If you’re married, do you keep separate accounts and function as two relatively independent financial entities, or merge your finances into one with a joint account?
There are advantages and disadvantages to going either way, so it may come down to what it is you consider to be most important.
The advantages of SEPARATE checking accounts
If each spouse is a good money manager, separate checking accounts can work extremely well. Consider the following advantages it offers:
Avoids two people drawing out of a single account. The single biggest disadvantage of joint accounts may also be the biggest argument in favor of separate checking accounts. If you have one account with two people writing checks and drawing ATM funds out (not to mention debit card spending) there’s a far greater likelihood of overdrawing the account and incurring penalty fees. That won’t happen with separate accounts.
Financial diversification. It’s not a bad idea to have multiple accounts in the event that the relationship with one bank goes sour. The fact that one spouse has an account at one bank, may provide the other the time needed to find another bank for his or her account. This type of change could be caused by customer services issues, the imposition (or increasing) of fees, or the elimination of certain services.
A sense of financial independence. Separate accounts can provide a sufficient level of financial independence to each spouse that keeps peace in the relationship. Just as we each like to have cash in our own private wallets, having a checking account to call our own can give us the financial space we need.
Effectively creates a back-up account. In the event that there’s ever a problem with one spouses checking account, the couple can comfortably run financial transactions out of the others account. This is important because account problems can often take days to work out, and expenses and creditors are usually unwilling to wait that long to get paid.
The advantages of JOINT checking accounts
Some couples prefer joint checking from an emotional standpoint—the joining of financial accounts and the sense of unity that it brings. But there are practical advantages as well, some of them even money saving.
Single account, lower fees. Each account that you have generates it’s own set of fees. It could be a monthly service fee, per check fees, or any fee you like. With one account, you have only one set of fees. A joint checking account effectively cuts your bank fee cost in half.
One money management plan. Many household budgeting and financial plans fail for lack of agreement on spending details. A joint account can go a long way toward getting (or forcing) a couple to get on the same page.
Transparency. A joint checking account is one of the best ways to avoid a couple hiding transactions from one another. While there’s always a possibility to do this if one spouse seldom or never reviews and reconciles the checking account statement, the likelihood is greatly reduced on just the potential that he or she might.
One less account to worry about. There’s no getting around the fact that more accounts equals more worry. With joint checking, you have one less account to reconcile and store data for several years. Identity theft is also reduced since more accounts means more targets for theft. On balance, joint checking means more control of records and less paper work in general.
Which is the better account type to have?
Whether as a couple you choose separate or joint checking accounts probably has more to do with personal preferences and circumstances than anything else. Joint checking is definitely simpler and works especially well if one person is a strong money manager and the other either isn’t, or isn’t willing. Separate accounts are the way to go if both spouses are equally good money managers, and have a strong independent streak.
Which kind of checking account do you have—joint or separate—and why do you think it’s better than using the other?