What you should know (and ask yourself) before opening a joint bank account with your partner

Four experts answer the most common questions involving shared finances, including the chance that fights over money could damage the relationship

Millenials are less likely than their parents to open joint bank accounts.
Millenials are less likely than their parents to open joint bank accounts.

Sharing a bank account is probably one of the most frequent and life-changing steps in a couple’s life. Sooner or later, at some point in the relationship there will be an opportunity or need to combine savings in order to pay rent, bills, mortgages, or simply to materialize the idea of a joint project in something tangible like a checkbook. However, there are many unresolved questions around this crucial step, and the hesitation is already evident in the statistics: according to a study by Bank of America, 28% of couples made up of millennials (between 25 and 40 years old) choose to keep their finances separate, compared to 13% in their parents’ and grandparents’ age brackets. To shed light on the complexities of this financial dilemma, four experts answered the most frequently asked questions they hear from clients.

First things first: What should I take into account before opening a shared account with my partner?

The four experts agree that we should ask ourselves the following question before taking the step: “What do I want it for?” “It is important to establish your objectives as a couple, as well as the actual point of opening the account. Also, economic rules must be established and needs must be communicated,” states Patricia Caro, a financial coach. Susana Núñez, a financial advisor, recommends making a basic calculation of fixed common expenses that the couple will have to assume, “to determine what share each one is willing to contribute.” And Silvia Sanz, a psychologist and sexologist, stresses the importance of communication as an essential tool to solve any issues that might arise. “Sometimes, difficulties in relationships are not so much about sharing an account, but about not negotiating first or discussing differences between both individuals.”

If I finally do decide to share my savings, is it advisable to still keep my personal account?

Núñez answers this question with an emphatic ‘yes.’ “When a young couple sits down with me and tells me that they intend to open a joint account, I always recommend that they also keep their personal accounts open. Today, young couples like to keep their finances separate. It’s pretty commonplace for the younger generation.”

I’m more of a saver, while my partner is a spender. Should I take any steps to avoid control over the account from turning into a nightmare?

“Common ground must be determined. This means estimating what each partner will contribute to pay for rent, supplies and food. Everything else is managed individually: the spender can spend and the saver has no issue with the other part spending. However, when long-term relationship goals come into play, it is necessary to agree on how to achieve them, and that means making commitments and agreeing on how to manage the money,” states Maria Angeles González, an economist and financial coach for entrepreneurs.

I don’t feel ready to open a joint account, but I’m scared that it may look like I’m not confident about the relationship. What can I do?

Whether you are not ready yet to share your savings, or you are the one proposing to open the joint account, the first step is to talk about it openly and honestly, sharing arguments. “Respect should be the foundation of the relationship and good communication its guide; being able to ask and express what you want is crucial for a relationship to work in a free and healthy way. Opening a joint account doesn’t always mean moving forward, as the meaning each one assigns to money and the fact of sharing it must also be taken into account. Evolution doesn’t always imply sharing whatever the other one wants. Everything depends on the needs of the moment and each one’s philosophy of life,” explains Sanz.

So at which point in the relationship should we consider opening an account together?

Each couple is different, and it is impossible to set universal timeframes, but experts agree on the need of sharing a project first, whether or not they live together, in the mid- to long term. “By then the couple will have some experience communicating about money issues and the confidence to show their needs and share them with the other person,” says Caro. “Sharing and managing our money with another person is a step that must be taken only when we’re ready for it,” adds Susana Núñez, who suggests having a “firm approach” with one’s partner before going to the bank.

Is it better if we contribute the same amount to avoid problems?

Maria Angeles González confirms that fairness is one of the main concerns of the couples that hire her services, in particular if there is a notable difference between their incomes. Her solution, to avoid having one partner push the other one towards unrealistic expenses, is that each partner should contribute proportionately to their income. “For example, if one of them earns $2,000 they can dedicate 30% to housing, so $600. If the other partner’s income were $1,000, 30% would be $300. Between the two of them, they can pay $900 in rent while making a financial effort that reflects their own incomes.”

If an argument arises due to the account’s management and control, can it lead to a breakdown in our relationship?

“Well, that depends on the relationship’s foundations and values,” explains the specialist in couples therapy. “If priorities are shared and there is trust in finance management, then it shouldn’t be an issue. At the end of the day, any difference that arises in how to handle a bank account is an opportunity to deal with a problem like any other that may emerge in the relationship.”

Why are young people more opposed to sharing an account than their parents and grandparents?

“Family structure has been evolving, and millennials have other life goals. If they have a partner, most of them see the relationship from a more individualistic perspective. They may live together, but each one is financially independent,” confirms Patricia Caro. Silvia Sanz agrees with this change in expectations when it comes to one’s sentimental future: “They feel that everything is more finite, and they are a more individualistic generation, where growth, evolution, and moving forward in a relationship doesn’t always involve signals such as sharing an account, putting labels on the relationship, having to buy a place together or creating a family.”

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