Money is a feminist issue — and yet, women are still reluctant to talk about it. According to a recent Bustle survey of more than 1,000 Millennial women, more than 50 percent of people said they never discuss personal finances with friends, even though 28 percent reported feeling stressed out about money every single day. Bustle's Get Money series gets real about what Millennial women are doing with their money, and why — because managing your finances should feel empowering, not intimidating. Today's topic: opening a joint bank account with your partner.
You know what I still really hate talking about? Money. I can talk about sex — sex acts, sexuality, kinks, sex parties, you name it! — all day and night and with pretty much everyone, but the prospect of talking frankly about budgeting with my partner makes my guts twist up. And I’m not alone in this: One survey from Money Magazine found that 70 percent of couples fight more about money than anything else. We all come into a relationship with our own hangups, emotional attachments, and beliefs about money, so figuring out how manage it as a couple can be a serious pain.
When my partner and I first started living together, we had a haphazard system for managing joint expenses that was supposed to keep things balanced, but our priorities changed a couple years in and the system broke down. Now we’re facing another big shift in our relationship — namely, a new job for him and a new city for both of us — and the issue of money has come up again. And one big thing that we’re trying to figure out is best practices for opening a joint bank account. While my partner tends to do deep dives into all the research ever when faced with stuff like this, I decided to go the “ask an expert” route. “Until a relationship is formalized, pooling money is a risky business,” life coach Erica McCurdy tells Bustle. “Think carefully before taking the big step of joining financial forces.”
So here’s what the experts say about when, how, and why you should open a joint bank account with your significant other.
The first question any couple should be asking when it comes to opening a joint bank account is, “Are we ready?” And that’s a hard one, because it involves a lot of factors.
Some things to consider include how long you’ve been together, what expenses you’re already sharing, whether or not you’ve talked about a long term future together and, as cheesy as it sounds, how you feel about it. Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist Dr. Gary Brown points out that opening a joint bank account builds a sense of “us” in your relationship. "Money touches a lot of our fears, insecurities, and values, so it's best to explore these together before money is blended. This is our account. Our money,” Dr. Brown tells Bustle. “Our statement that our relationship is important to both of us and having a joint account says that our relationship is more than casual.”
And before you even decide to open the account, Licensed Professional Counselor and Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist Nicole Richardson suggests working out a common “financial theory.”
“Some people are savers, some are spenders,” Richardson says. “Some want to pay all the bills then see what money they have left for fun. There isn't necessarily a right way or a wrong way but money touches a lot of our fears, insecurities, and values, so it's best to explore these together before money is blended.”
In addition to lending legitimacy to your relationship, Richardson points out that opening a joint bank account builds upon the trust you’ve already established as a couple. “Pros include building upon established trust,” Richardson tells Bustle. “This helps each of you as members of a couple to have a clear picture about where your shared finances are in terms of spending and saving habits.”
Opening an account also opens the opportunity to talk about big picture relationship stuff. How does your partner approach money? What are your plans for the future? Are you on the same page when it comes to relationship goals? McCurdy says that these dreamy conversations become more concrete when you add money to the mix. "When you save together, you can watch your future grow and together nurture that plan. Another reason to start a joint account is to begin planning for a future joint expense such as a car, a house, a wedding or a child,” McCurdy says. “When you save together, you can watch your future grow and together nurture that plan.”
And, of course, there are the practical advantages of opening an account together: It just makes managing joint expenses easier. “A joint bank account helps you get a better handle on the monthly budget,” McCurdy says. “When both sides are contributing to the monthly expenses, having all the funds combined lets you manage not only your combined regular expenses such as rent, utilities, and insurance but also the unplanned expenses such as car maintenance or medical bills.”
But of course, nothing about managing money is ever easy, so opening a joint bank account together won’t be either. “Money is one of the biggest causes of fighting and tension in a relationship,” McCurdy says. “Not every couple is ready to have those conversations.”
Another con? If your partner isn’t responsible with money, it could put your finances at risk in a way that they wouldn’t be if you kept only separate accounts.
“For unmarried partners, sharing funds puts your money at risk if the other person gets upside down with creditors,” McCurdy says. “When both of you are listed on an account, your money becomes an asset that creditors can attach to the debt of your significant other regardless of how much each of you contributed to the account.”
In the day to day, there’s also a certain amount of lost privacy. When you’re both on an account, you can both see what the other is spending — and where. For some people, that kind loss of privacy can feel really invasive.
“When you share accounts, you both see everything,” McCurdy says. “This can lead to the build up of little resentments such as having the other person know everywhere you spend every penny. For example, not everyone knows how much makeup, hair, shoes and such cost. You may not enjoy having to have conversations about how much your regular personal maintenance costs or how much the other person spends on their daily latte. Make the best financial decision for you and your relationship. Do not make a financial decision because you feel social pressure to do so."
And of course, there’s always the worst case scenario: You break up and your former partner goes ballistic. “The cons are also related to trust,” Dr. Brown says. “If the relationship is rocky for any reason, one of the partners in a fit of rage or hurt, could simply empty out the account without their partner knowing about it until after the fact.”
But, ultimately, the best advice comes from McCurdy, who points out that the decision is going to be different for every couple. “Make the best financial decision for you and your relationship,” McCurdy says. “Do not make a financial decision because you feel social pressure to do so.”
As for me and my partner, we’ve already decided to open an account together — that part is settled. But as we move into this next stage together, the advice from these experts will stay with me. And, who knows? Maybe those money conversations will be just a little bit less painful.
Check out the “Get Money” stream in the Bustle App for more tips and tricks on how to save and spend your money.