How and whether to combine bank accounts?
July 14, 2015 11:22 PM   Subscribe

My husband and I have had separate bank accounts, and are starting to finally merge them. Is there any point to keeping my banking separate?

I am married to my husband, and have been for seven years, two kids. I I have always had my banking (checking, saving, one credit card) with Bank of America, and he has his banking with Chase. When we moved in together we kept it that way for a while, even after being married, for no real reason other than it's a pain to deal with banks. We have since opened an HSBC account in his name here in the US, along with an account in his native France, to handle some of our investments in France and to make it easier to manage our money between the two countries.

He's been suggesting I let go of my BoA account and join the HSBC account. There's really no specific reason I can think of not to do so, other than a teeny part of me wants to retain a shred of financial independence. Which is silly, because 1. even though I work full time he makes four times as much as me and growing, 2. we have no plans to split up at any time, and 3. he works in the financial sector so he handles all of our investments and money management. We really don't compete on the "who brings home more bacon," and we split up our expenses so each person pays for what is reasonable, and transfer funds between us if one of us is short. He makes wise investments, does our taxes and manages our retirement funds, and I trust him on that score. I have no head for finances or figures and feel like a silly helpless female for having to place this trust in his hands, but there we are. I do not want to take on more responsibility for managing our finances because I generally manage our household operations, although I recognize that I could educate myself more about how our money is being invested.

He wants to go add me on the HSBC account this week, which is bringing up some feelings of panic in me. I like having my own banking, so I can feel like I'm supporting myself in a way, even though in reality we pool everything. I'm afraid that not having direct and sole access to the account I'm drawing from will make me even more financially dependent on another person. And I do have work-related expenses, and I'd rather not submit a snapshot of our entire household spending to my workplace in order to get reimbursed. (Work credit cards are not an option.)

For those who will say that BoA is evil, I know that. All banks are evil. My dealings with them have been on a scale small enough that I haven't gotten screwed, and I appreciate the worldwide ATM alliance that they offer. Although HSBC is present in most of the countries we would travel to, so I guess the score is equal in that respect.

If you had reservations about combining accounts, how did you manage to overcome your reservations? Are the reservations I'm having simply fear of change or do I legitimately need to work through them? Is there any benefit to keeping the BoA account open, just in name only?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (29 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
My husband and I technically have "joint" accounts. So that means we EACH have a checking and a savings account, but when I log into online banking, it shows all four accounts. I can transfer money between all of them and have access to all of them. But we each have our own income go into our own accounts. It allows us to have some of our "me" money for fun stuff. We also don't then have to go through and say "who spent this $20 on amazon? Was that you or me?"

Maybe that would work? That way you have freedom to feel like you can access each other's funds easily, but you still have your own accounts so if you wanted to remove him from it, you wouldn't have to create your own. My husband had similar weirdness as you do and he's totally fine with it now.
posted by Crystalinne at 11:50 PM on July 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

Oh and I realized it may be useful to know how we pay bills. I'm the main bill-payer and my husband makes most of the money. So after payday I transfer the money I need for the bills I pay into my account plus some cushion for groceries, etc. Then he has some bills that auto-pay from his account - as he often has more funds overall - such as phone, internet, etc. Then we move money into one savings account. So you may need to transfer money a couple times a month, but I find that easier to keep some sort of separation of finances and Independence.
posted by Crystalinne at 11:56 PM on July 14, 2015

" I have no head for finances or figures and feel like a silly helpless female for having to place this trust in his hands, but there we are. I do not want to take on more responsibility for managing our finances because I generally manage our household operations, although I recognize that I could educate myself more about how our money is being invested."

I went without my own bank account for three years, just a joint one, and in hindsight, that was part of a pattern of financial control that fed into bad dynamics. Post-separation, I am not awesome about finances, but I'm reasonably competent after a decade of thinking I was a ditz. I know people who have totally merged accounts and financial trust just as good as people with totally separate accounts - it's the trust and agreement that matters.

Your emotions are telling you that there's something you don't like about the current arrangement. It's not about the money but the decision making and level of trust. There's no rush to give up your account, and those are issues you should discuss with your partner AFTER you've thought about them yourself.

Your Money or Your Life is a good book for sorting out how you feel about finances.

And your partner might have Complicated Feelings about money too that make him want joint accounts - not necessarily a bad thing, but you're not on the same page.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 12:04 AM on July 15, 2015 [3 favorites]

If you had reservations about combining accounts, how did you manage to overcome your reservations? Are the reservations I'm having simply fear of change or do I legitimately need to work through them?

I've been with my lovely husband for 25 years. I've always kept my own bank account. I share your feelings about having something of your own, that you manage on your own.

For me, having my own bank account was like keeping my surname. It's one small part of my broader desire for having an identity that is separate from my family. There are people who, when asked to say something about themselves, always offer up their marital status and number of kids, but that's not me.

I know you asked how to overcome reservations but I don't see this as something you need to overcome or work through. It's perfectly legitimate to want some things to be separate, it doesn't have to be a big deal any more than keeping your socks separate. Go ahead and be added to the HSBC account but you should feel fine about keeping your own account as well.

Also, on a practical note, my friend wanted to surprise his wife with a trip to Paris that he had to save for. He had to go open a secret separate account because they only had joint accounts. Sometimes, there's stuff you don't want your spouse to see for perfectly nice reasons.
posted by stellathon at 12:16 AM on July 15, 2015 [15 favorites]

We have separate accounts in the same bank that we're both joint on. Plus a third account for income and bills. That way we each have our own walking around money but it's easy to move the money around.

Re:work expenses, I thought most places wanted receipts, not your bank statements.
posted by bleep at 12:19 AM on July 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

I like having a separate account specifically for my own spending money. It makes it easier to budget. Otherwise how on earth do you know whether or not you can afford the shoes/gadget/holiday you're looking at?
posted by emilyw at 1:24 AM on July 15, 2015

My wife and I have separate accounts, and we also share a joint account. The money in the joint account covers food, bills, things the kids need, and other 'family' expenses. Our individual accounts are our own, although in practice a lot of the money in those also goes on 'family' stuff too - trips out, meals, home maintenance, fuel for the car, and so on.

Neither of us gets any say, beyond how much we're each transferring each month to the joint account, over what the other person's individual account is used for. It works well for us. I think if we pooled all of our money, I'd feel guilty every time I spent money on hobbies, or books, or other personal things.
posted by pipeski at 1:24 AM on July 15, 2015 [10 favorites]

Another of the joint AND separate accounts club here.

It's not just about independence and being able to manage your finances, it's also about the fact that sometimes you want to make purchases for yourself - I mean, I buy my partner presents. I don't want him to be able to see the purchase on a bank statement and have the surprise spoiled!

We used to run it much like the first commenter; 'our' money into 'our' accounts, and then transferring over what was needed for bills, household expenses, groceries, and so on into the joint account. But when we were getting ready to buy a house together we reversed that pattern (partly because of disparities in income and partly because my partner was going to have massively increased commuting costs in order for us to move to my new job location) and now both our incomes go straight into the joint account; from there we have a direct debit that pays us an agreed (and equal!) amount of 'personal spending money' into our separate accounts.

I can't really think of a good reason not to maintain a separate account, alongside a joint one.
posted by AFII at 1:34 AM on July 15, 2015 [10 favorites]

My wife and I have always used a single, joint account. It makes life vastly simpler; you never have to transfer money or work out which bill is coming from where. It has worked without problems through big differences in income and in spite of big initial differences in debt; times when the account was down to zero and below, and in the happier recent times when interest is something we receive rather than paying and we don't really need to think about whether we can afford normal stuff.

But it only works because we have very similar attitudes to spending. If one of us thinks we should buy x, the other almost certainly agrees; we're both cautious by nature, and we automatically touch base about big items.

But I know happily married people with excellent relationships where that just isn't the case: without either side being spendthrift or having a gambling habit, they just don't see things quite the same way as each other. They absolutely need a more structured and controlled set-up, and without it would have bad arguments. So I think the decision for you revolves around whether there's a harmonious meeting of minds on spending or not.
posted by Segundus at 2:33 AM on July 15, 2015 [6 favorites]

We currently have a joint account and separate personal accounts but I'm planning to close mine soon. With so many accounts i think we run a higher risk of accidental overdraft. Plus there's a certain amount i keep in my personal account to avoid monthly low balance fees that could be used to pay off loans or put in savings. And i like my finances to be simple.
Now i do feel somewhat uncomfortable with having my wife be able to scrutinize every little purchase i make (not that she would but i still value my privacy). But i have a personal credit card and there's always cash.
In my case, I'm the one who handles finances and we're both women and we have equal salaries, so the decision isn't fraught in the same way.
posted by Gravel at 2:35 AM on July 15, 2015

another joint + separate here. wages are paid into "own" accounts and then automatic transfers feed the joint account. sometimes we have a "i have too much money" (yay) conversation and do something about pooling savings. and sometimes i "i don't seem to have much money" (boo) conversation followed by appropriate transfers.

it works well for us, but we're on pretty much the same page on money issues anyway (and, frankly, have more than enough of it).

apart from feeling good, it's sometimes useful. at least here (chile) not all banks are the same. some are larger, but have worse service. some work better internationally, etc.
posted by andrewcooke at 2:50 AM on July 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

Joint + separate here too for 25+ years. Additionally, we have one joint credit card but each have a card in our own names as well.
posted by Sweetie Darling at 3:38 AM on July 15, 2015

Do you wear a seatbelt in the car? Have homeowners insureance? You may not intend to have accidents, but its a possibility, and the minor discomfort/expense is worthwhile to mitigate the damage if something happens.

Same thing with maintaining an account that he has no access to. Keep enough to fund an ugly divorce, or some other emergency. Different bank than him would be helpful in cases of identity theft or bank glitches.
posted by Sophont at 3:59 AM on July 15, 2015 [8 favorites]

There's no reason to close your bank account. It's weird to me that (if I'm reading correctly) he wants you to close your account instead of just transferring your primary direct deposit to the joint account.

You deserve to have an account that is just yours and for which you don't have to account and no one can get into without your consent even if it just gives you emotional security to feel independent.
posted by winna at 4:39 AM on July 15, 2015 [3 favorites]

Another joint + separate account here. We do it a bit backwards from what most people seem to do: our paychecks go into our joint account and then we each get a hefty "allowance" transferred back each month to our personal accounts. We use personal accounts for any individual purchases (clothes, gifts, personal trips, etc.) and the joint account for joint purchases (groceries, kid stuff, family trips, housewares, etc.) Our investments come from the joint account, too.

I like this set-up because I've got my own account with my own money to manage, as well as all the convenience of a joint account.
posted by whitewall at 4:42 AM on July 15, 2015 [2 favorites]

Nthing joint account(s) plus separate individual account(s) at the same bank. The benefit of having the same bank is the ease of transfers between joint and individual accounts.
posted by zennie at 4:52 AM on July 15, 2015

Don't put the individual accounts at the same bank - spread them around to reduce risk.
posted by Leon at 5:39 AM on July 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

I finally got rid of my separate account and rely on the joint account, but my husband still has a separate checking account and a separate credit card - like you he uses it pretty much solely for business reimbursements. However, I do maintain a separate credit card that I can pay off from the joint account, no questions asked. This is what I use for business reimbursements and presents.

As the financial manager of our family, I think I may understand why your husband doesn't want separate accounts anymore - for me it got incredibly stressful after awhile to juggle several accounts and make sure all the bills were payed and we were meeting our savings/debt goals. Is there some other solution (moving your direct deposit to the joint but getting an "allowance" back?) that would satisfy him? On the other hand, what if you had a separate credit card like I do? Would that satisfy your financial independence?

If you're not already, I'd also suggest a monthly finances meeting, no matter what's going on. Our meeting has gotten pretty informal after 7 years of marriage - when the credit card bill is due I remind my husband of top-level account balances, how we're doing on our budget, and any big expenses coming down the line. But if there are more complex financial things going on (investments, etc) you could also take this opportunity to learn what your husband is doing on a finer scale.
posted by muddgirl at 5:49 AM on July 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

My husband & I have joint accounts, because I pay the bills & I'm too lazy to transfer money all over the place & I hate bank fees. A "current" account for bill paying & a separate one for our emergency savings account. Because I do all the bill paying etc I don't feel the need to have separate personal accounts for everyday use. Hell he logged on to check something & it was the first time in 3 years he'd seen bank balances etc.

Because I moved to a different country to be with my husband we also have a third account at the same bank just in my name. In it is $5K enough to get me back home to my family in an emergency or if my husband & I were to separate, this was my husbands idea as he is the main money earner in our relationship & wanted to keep things "fair" as our savings increase the money in this account will increase, it's a really nice feeling to have my own savings.

If you decide to combine accounts, maybe look at keeping a separate savings account for yourself if you aren't quite ready to combine all the things.
posted by wwax at 5:52 AM on July 15, 2015 [4 favorites]

There are many, many ways that different couples handle their finances. It all depends on your individual circumstances and yes, feelings and attitudes about money. Don't discount those feelings. They matter. ran a series by Jessica Grose about different ways that couples manage their money. You may want to read it for ideas and examples.
posted by chickenmagazine at 6:23 AM on July 15, 2015 [4 favorites]

We have joint and separate account in my marriage as well. We have a joint savings account, joint "bill and mortgage and grocery and kids stuff" account, but we each have our own personal discretionary accounts. Like others, we have no say in how each of us spends that money beyond the joint decision on how much each of us gets. Works great for us.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 7:16 AM on July 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

The reasons you give for wanting to keep your own account are totally legit. The fact that he wants you to merge this week even though you aren't committed to the idea is, kind of weird. I would not appreciate my husband pushing me towards anything, especially something financial, without my complete buy-in. I don't see how it can hurt to keep an account in your name only. You don't say why exactly he wants you to merge - do you know why? Is there a reason?

In my house are also joint plus separate accounts. When we got married we had a joint account only, and then he spent all our money on drugs. That sucked! I opened my own account and paid bills from there for a while, then eventually I came to trust him enough again to also open a joint account.

That was many years ago, and although I have forgiven his past drug abuse and all that came with it, it would not be possible for me to forget it. I know how easy it is to watch everything slip away while you watch in half-disbelief. No one plans for this stuff.

I guess what I'm trying to say is, listen to your heart.
posted by lyssabee at 7:19 AM on July 15, 2015 [3 favorites]

I've been with my husband for 10 years and we both have seperate checking account and one joint savings account. I'm responsible for some bills and he's responsible for others. If one of us needs money, we transfer the money through the savings account. It's worked amazing for us.

I know too many couples who fight about little things with money. I don't want to get into an argument about him buying a soda...
posted by Sara_NOT_Sarah at 8:05 AM on July 15, 2015

Well, the best arrangement is whatever works for you. When my husband and I moved in together, three years before we married, we worked out what our monthly joint expenses were, got one joint bank account, and each paid into that account monthly according to the percentage of income we brought in (it was a 60/40 split). That worked for a few years, then we got married, and as my husband does all the finances--I have ADHD and no head for figures, while he likes digging down into numbers--he eventually got tired of managing it that way and now we have three joint accounts, plus separate accounts for ourselves. Joint accounts are:

1) income, where our paychecks get deposited
2) expenses, where the monthly joint expense money comes from, and the only one for which we have debit cards, so if the card gets compromised there's only a limited amount of money that we could potentially lose
3) savings

And we each keep our own personal accounts, and take a small amount of money each month for our individual expenses--clothes, lunches at work, books, etc.

I've got, like, four accounts on my own but that's because I was basically using the envelope strategy of money management before we moved in together, only with accounts instead of envelopes. I haven't closed them because they come in handy for various things--one is joint with my mother, and she gives me money and reimburses me for things I do for her that way, one I use for personal savings goals like a tablet I've got my eye on, one I use for my Paypal stuff, etc.
posted by telophase at 8:29 AM on July 15, 2015

Yet another joint + separate combo household here.

Frankly, it takes a lot of the stress out of our finances. Our joint money goes towards keeping a roof over our heads, the lights on, our fridge full, etc. And then our personal money is ours to spend how we please. So long as we put enough money into our joint account each month to cover our expenses and then some, there's no guilt or conflict about what we spend on ourselves. We also set up a joint savings account, which all our wedding gift money went into and which we try to contribute to anytime we have a little extra. That's our "big long-term expenses" account. We're about to put a chunk of that savings towards our first international trip together, and the rest will go towards a down payment on a house (eventually).

There's nothing silly about wanting to retain some financial independence. I don't think there's any reason for you to overcome your reservations about it, your hesitation is totally valid.
posted by darkchocolatepyramid at 8:46 AM on July 15, 2015

I maintain my own account, he maintains his own account, and we share a joint account through his bank. That account, we each put $X.XX amount of money into, that goes for rent, utilities, and savings.

Then we split up the bills roughly equally, since we both make about the same. He does internet, netflix, some of our dining out, I handle groceries, general entertainment, household goods, and it works out pretty well for us. I'm definitely more of a "shopper" than he is, so it really does wonders at cutting down on minor quibbles regarding who buys what. (Why did you spend $200 on Amazon or do we really need the $65 fountain pen, etc, etc.) It's our mad money to do with as we please.

Before we moved in together, we went "dutch" on dates and our household expenditures is a continuation of that.

My parents have been married for 20+ years and operated on roughly the same system while maintaining their own separate accounts (My father did the mortgage and the cable, my mother covered utilities and groceries), and it it seems to be working for them, too.

I like how it helps maintain my own sense of identity, keeps me responsible for my own financial well-being, and generally cuts down on the dumb fighting regarding what we spend our fun money on.

The key is, though, that we periodically sit down and look through our bills, talk about upcoming expenses, and offer to redo the arrangement at any time. He just got a raise, I've had a slew of medical expenses, we're trying to save for some big expenses, so we sat down and redid the basics last month. We try to check in every quarter or so and make sure it's all roughly fair and nobody's feeling too broke/stressed/unfair about the deal.
posted by PearlRose at 9:30 AM on July 15, 2015

I have no head for finances or figures and feel like a silly helpless female for having to place this trust in his hands, but there we are. I do not want to take on more responsibility for managing our finances because I generally manage our household operations, although I recognize that I could educate myself more about how our money is being invested.

This says to me that you absolutely need to keep your own account open. Barbie saying "math is hard!" didn't upset me at all, because it's true for some people. What upset me was the lack of followup: " I really need to study tonight!!" In your case, this feeling of financial illiteracy really makes me say that you need to keep your own account open, even if you're only putting $100/week into that, and then using it for your phone bill, gas for your car, etc.

Listen to your gut on this!
posted by disconnect at 10:38 AM on July 15, 2015 [2 favorites]

My opinion:

* Bank of America is EVIL INCARNATE. Yes, all banks are evil, but BoA is the MOST evil of all of them.

* I would advocate for keeping separate accounts as well as a joint account. Pay joint bills like your mortgage, electricity, food, et cetera from the joint account. Maintain the separate accounts as insurance against the unlikely event a divorce might happen. Then again, I'm going through a fairly fresh situation (which may or may not end in divorce) in my own marriage where I have been hurt and which has made me wish I had maintained separate accounts, so I may not be the most impartial advisor here.

* Reasonable financial "experts" argue for merging all finances into a joint account, and other reasonable financial "experts" argue against it.

He wants to go add me on the HSBC account this week

What is the harm if he does that and you still maintain your account with BoA? He can't touch that account.

He makes wise investments, does our taxes and manages our retirement funds, and I trust him on that score. I have no head for finances or figures and feel like a silly helpless female for having to place this trust in his hands

Please don't be a "silly helpless female." Learn. If you decide to join your finances together, they should not be invested in ways you do not FULLY understand and agree with:

* Ask your husband to explain things to you -- investments, taxes, retirement funds.
* Additionally, teach yourself and go research that stuff on your own. Your husband's explanations are likely going to be colored by his opinions.
posted by tckma at 3:15 PM on July 15, 2015

You don't have to give up your own account. What's to say you can't open an individual account at HSBC? My husband and I each have individual accounts, and we also have joint accounts.
posted by bedhead at 7:00 PM on July 17, 2015

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