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If you’re in a serious relationship, one important item may not be on your discussion list when the two of you envision your lives together: finances. It might be something you’re dreading or something you haven’t even thought of yet – but having those conversations upfront can save you hassle and heartache down the road.

After all, study after study show that fights about money can help put couples on a path to divorce. One key topic to talk through is combining finances. As with all things in life, whether you decide to merge your finances or keep them separate – or a mix of both – communication is key.

Joining Bank Accounts

Joining bank accounts with your significant other is a procedure a financial professional can easily explain, while keeping that joint checking account convenient and uncontentious is a more complicated proposition. Here are steps you can follow:

  1. Make sure you close old accounts you no longer want to keep active, but first change any automatic payments and deposits so they go through the new account. Then, transfer the money from your old accounts to the new one.
  2. Decide upfront which expenses you’ll pay out of the joint account, and whether or not it will annoy the other if joint funds go toward a personal expense every now and then. Also, consider how much each person will transfer into the joint account. Each of you contributing equal amounts is one option; a percentage of income is another.
  3. You may wish to assign one person the task of writing the bills, balancing the checkbook and ensuring the account maintains a minimum balance. Discuss spending thresholds with your partner and remember to always communicate about the timing of big purchases!

Sharing Credit Cards

Another option for joining finances is a shared credit card. Maybe you want to be able to see each other’s purchases, which helps encourage transparency as it relates to financial decision-making. Or you might want to help your spouse build credit. In any case, you have two options for sharing a card.

  • Add your spouse as an authorized user: Doing this will help them build credit (if needed), while the responsibility for paying the card still falls on your shoulders. Whoever is responsible for the debt isn’t that important if you’re sharing your money.
  • Apply for a card together as joint cardholders: If you want an arrangement in which you both have equal responsibility for the card, you should take the joint cardholder route. To do that, you’ll need to apply for a new card together.
Couples may find it takes some experimentation to determine what kind of bank account arrangement works best for them.

Maintaining Separate Accounts

When couples combine lives, do their bank accounts have to follow suit? No. Couples don’t always have the same philosophies about managing finances.

  • Some couples prefer to have separate accounts for their “me” spending and keep a joint account only for mutual expenses, like groceries and rent. This approach calls for additional rules. Spouses who keep separate bank accounts have to devise a sustainable plan. One option is to divvy up the bills, from large ones like the mortgage to smaller ones like the weekly groceries. Assigning responsibility for expenditures can help ensure they are budgeted for and paid.
  • However, individual accounts shouldn’t be secret accounts. Maintaining good communication about saving and spending – and the troubles that may arise – is key for couples who have shared financial goals like buying a home, raising a child or having plentiful assets for retirement.

Couples may find it takes some experimentation to determine what kind of bank account arrangement works best for them. Ultimately, joint and separate accounts can both be beneficial options.

Other Combination Considerations

  • Health insurance: With the phrase “in sickness and in health” comes your cue to think about combining health insurance. Whether adding one spouse to the other’s health insurance is the right move or not depends on the math. If you both have insurance, compare premiums, deductibles and copays to see if dropping one of your plans would save money.
  • Filing taxes: You’ll need to decide whether to file your taxes jointly or separately. There are many calculations that can go into that decision, so it’s a good idea to speak to an accountant or tax advisor (unless you’re a tax whiz yourself). Then, tell your HR department so your employer will withhold the correct amount from your earnings.

If you haven’t started talking with your significant other about combining finances, there’s no time like the present. Doing so will make for a smoother life’s journey.

This information and recommendations contained herein are compiled from sources deemed reliable, but are not represented to be accurate or complete. In providing this information, neither KeyBank nor its affiliates are acting as your agent or are offering any tax, accounting, or legal advice.

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