Should Spouses Share a Bank Account? The Pros and Cons

Should Spouses Share a Bank Account? The Pros and Cons

Can there be marital bliss without the marriage of finances? Experts and couples discuss.

By: Leah Maxwell

Family finances can be tricky business, and there are as many workable solutions as there are couples who need them. But is any one way the best way when it comes to keeping track of your money? We collected anecdotes and expert advice on how banking habits can affect a relationship -- both financially and emotionally -- so you can see how your system stacks up.

One popular school of thought says couples who bank together stay together. “Spouses absolutely need to share bank accounts,” says Hilary Silver, a licensed clinical social worker and relationship expert in Denver, Colorado. “Money isn’t the issue that breaks couples up. It’s actually the underlying and covert issues of power, respect, and control. Keeping accounts separate doesn’t promote partnership; it enforces a tally or score-keeping mentality. [Couples] who share funds have a stronger bond and commitment to their future.”

Many relationship experts and financial advisers endorse couples finding a middle ground between complete independence and complete interdependence, with each partner having access to joint funds but also a separate account under his or her individual control. “I think it’s perfectly fine for spouses to co-own a bank account for ease of handling household and shared expenses, but I also think that it’s important for each person to have his/her own separate account as well,” says Kelley Long, a member of the AICPA’s National CPA Financial Literacy Commission. “Keeping a separate account helps to avoid petty money fights,” says Long. She points out that, these days, couples are waiting until later in life to get married, which means they’ve often developed ingrained and unique financial habits and attitudes that might conflict with how their partners operate.

“I’ve seen separate bank accounts work well when saving occurs first at a joint level, and then each spouse gets an ‘allowance,’” says David J. Nienaber, a certified public accountant and financial planner for Foster & Motley, Inc. “This helps create better accountability for couples, while allowing them to more fully enjoy their hobbies and passions. Sometimes one spouse is more into charity and the other spouse would prefer to fund their grandchildren’s education. Separate accounts allow each spouse to meet their individual goals, while still having the accountability for their savings goals first.”

Silver agrees the “allowance” method is emotionally healthy for couples: “One main account for all money or one account for most money and small separate accounts for each partner’s play money works best to promote trust and longevity,” she says.

Separate accounts can also help prepare and protect couples in matters of practicality. “The statistics don’t lie,” Long says. “More than half of U.S. individuals will experience financial independence at some point, whether due to divorce or death … If each spouse has his/her own spending account to manage without input from the other person, there is less chance of complete financial devastation or bewilderment should one partner die (or leave) unexpectedly.”

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So how do real people make it work? Eight women share how they handle family finances:

“We have a shared checking account (for joint expenses: bills, mortgage, groceries, gas, plane tickets, etc.) and a shared savings account, and then we both have our own personal checking accounts for our own stuff. (We also have a separate savings account for our son that we both contribute to, put birthday money in, etc.) It’s worked really well for us -- pay the boring stuff from our joint money, buy the fun stuff with our own money.” -- Holly B., 33, San Francisco, California

“For me, [sharing one account] really helps keep the ‘our finances’ feeling, [especially] with one of us sometimes being the only earner. Neither of us have ever had to ‘approve’ purchases or anything. I really can’t imagine it any other way.” -- Sarah L., 34, New York City


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“We each have our own accounts, but we each have access to one another’s (checking and savings), and then we have a separate joint account for travel and other ‘extra’ expenses. But we have specific bills we each pay out of our own accounts, and we each pitch in for fun and daily expenses.” -- Kristen S., 34, Gainesville, Florida

“We share all our money, period. While it started out as practical, I’ve found some incredibly deep and meaningful benefits to the completely integrated finances. For one, it feels very much like our life -- our stuff, our savings, our vacations. Even the deficits -- his college loans (which we paid off together), my lower income capacity for a while -- felt like shared burdens/deficits and thus like we were really supporting each other in this tangible way. I don’t really associate it with a feeling of family unity, although I will say it felt just as great to me when we finished paying his college loans as it did for him, since it had been ‘our’ money that whole time!” -- Krissa C., 34, New York City

“My husband and I have a joint account, but we also both have our own accounts. It’s important to keep a certain amount of financial independence, no matter how happy your marriage is. My mother, who has been happily married to my father for almost 50 years, gave me that advice, because she had seen too many women stuck in bad marriages or financially controlled or left without much financial strength after physical and/or psychological illness or death. It was an important piece of psychological independence for her to have some of that financial control.” -- Elan M., 41, Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada


“I used to file divorces for a living; I will never not have a bank account that’s only in my name. That said, we do use a joint checking account for shared household expenses. That shared account doles out an equal amount each month to our individual savings and checking accounts. So no one gets more money, but everyone gets their own money.” -- Jen G., 35, San Mateo, California

“One hundred percent of our day-to-day spending goes on joint credit cards. Then we pay them off at the end of the month with our joint checking that our paychecks dump into. We have our own savings, but my stuff is his stuff.” -- Amber M., 32, New York City

How about you? What style of banking works for your family?

Leah Maxwell is a book editor, freelance writer, cereal addict, wife, and mom to two young boys. She has been blogging at A Girl and a Boy since 2003.

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