Good joint checking account for shared monthly household expenses
September 11, 2016 12:16 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking for a something to use as a basic shared checking account for standard household expenses, such as food, laundry, pet supplies, etc., as a way to do shared envelope-style budgeting with my partner. She has bad credit while mine is great. This is harder than I thought.

My partner and I have been living together for a few years now, and while we've gotten by with keeping our expenses separate, we're working on getting better at budgeting. Lately I've been setting up deposits to a spare checking account (at Simple bank) as a digital envelope system, which has been working well, but it's only in my name and we'd like to both be able to deposit money and have our own debit cards. This would only be used on an agreed-upon set of standard household expenses, such as food, laundry, pet supplies, etc. So what's the best joint account option for this unmarried couple?

I tried applying for a joint Ally account, figuring it would be fine since I have a high credit score, plus it was a basic checking account and not a credit card, but we got a rejection notice today saying her credit history didn't meet their requirements.

More details on what we're looking for and some limitations:

* We're not married. I don't know if it would be easier to get a joint account if we were, but we're not planning to get married just for that.
* Our credit scores are quite different, so a bank that is at least more lenient than Ally seems like a requirement
* The account will usually have less than $1000 passing through it every month, and the balance may get close to $0 at times since it's an envelope system. This means we don't care about interest rates, but it also means some checking accounts are off-limits due to their minimum balance requirement.
* We're perfectly happy with our other personal banking arrangements and just want an account where we can both deposit and withdraw money for household expenses that we've agreed upon.
* An app that comes close to Simple's would be great, though it looks like Level might be a workaround if we find something that's a good fit otherwise? I guess Mint is another option. I just really like Simple since it's actually my bank's info and not a third-party that may have outdated information. (Simple doesn't support joint accounts.)
* Free ATM access would be nice, since I'm spoiled by my other online accounts. Ally seemed like a great option.
* We don't care about many other bank features like checks or online bill pay, and plan to opt out of any overdraft protection. This should basically act like an envelope but with debit cards.
* A cash envelope is pretty much out of the question. We want to use plastic.
* The bank would need to be available to Kentucky residents. Online-only banks are fine, perhaps even preferred because of their better fee schedules.
* Soooo many search results turn up articles and threads about how joint accounts may or may not affect our credit scores. My understanding is that any negatives on her accounts won't affect my score, but if the joint account has any problems I'll get dinged too. Please correct me if this isn't how it works.

Are there banks or credit unions out there that fit all the requirements for this special snowflake? Are there other options I'm missing?
posted by enigmango to Work & Money (16 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I think Capital One online checking checks all your boxes, assuming you can get an account. Bonus because it comes with a (very small) interest rate. I'm perfectly happy with them, although online deposits appear to take an extra day or two beyond what I'm used to.
posted by one_bean at 12:22 PM on September 11, 2016 [3 favorites]

(If you wanted to get really fancy, Capital One could help there, too - you can start a bunch of savings accounts that can be linked to your checking through overdraft protection. I know you said you didn't want that, but you could do the envelope thing for real - have a savings account for the rent, and one for the electric, one for the cell phones, etc., and then pay them all out of the single linked checking. Unlike interbank transfers, transfers between savings and checking at Capital One are instantaneous).
posted by one_bean at 12:26 PM on September 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

If you do want to try Capital One, check your mail first to see if you haven't gotten an offer for a sign-up promo from them recently--they tend to scatter them around, but I think you have to actually be targeted to be eligible. Alternatively, if you have any friends who have accounts there, they can refer you for a $25 bonus to the account.

(If you don't have any friends with accounts there and want to try it, you can memail me for a referral code.)
posted by praemunire at 1:05 PM on September 11, 2016

Nthing Capital One, which is what my partner and I use to manage a few joint expenses amounting to a dollar amount similar to what you plan to work with. My experience with Capital One's customer service was also unusually excellent for that sort of thing. I explained what we wanted to do, and a really lovely person helped find and set up an account type that met our needs. We actually ended up setting up a small joint savings account with them, too - and the real benefit of that has been that there's no lag time when it comes to moving money from the savings to the checking accounts housed with Capital One. There is a lag of two business days when we're moving money from our credit unions to the Capital One account, and so sometimes we move the money from savings to checking and then from our credit unions to savings. Their app is decent, too, and I really like the feature where I get a text after a purchase letting me know the balance in the account.
posted by pinkacademic at 1:44 PM on September 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

Ah! Trying hard not to threadsit, but...a point of clarification on Capital One I should've added:
I remember looking into Capital One but forgot about it pretty quickly because we both already have credits cards with them and we were worried we wouldn't be able to keep the bank account separate from the CC accounts and a quick Google search didn't give us more info. Does anyone know if this would be an issue?

Either way, looks like capital one is a solid option.
posted by enigmango at 1:57 PM on September 11, 2016

Keeping them separate how? I have bank accounts and a cc with capital one, and they use the same log in information but i have to log in separately if I'm, say, banking and want to look at my credit card transactions. They definitely won't automatically overdraft your account from the card or automatically pay your credit card with the bank account if you don't set it up that way.
posted by momus_window at 3:49 PM on September 11, 2016 [3 favorites]

I'm confused that you need a good credit score in order to open a checking account. It's a bank, you just walk in and open a checking account and put some money in it. I think this may be an issue specific to Ally and other high-interest online banks.

But for your use case, I think a local credit union is the way to go. They're the most likely to have a no-fee account and extremely unlikely to require a particular credit score to open an account. ATM's won't necessarily be free but both of my credit unions belong to an ATM network that's available in all Walgreens, for example.
posted by serelliya at 4:21 PM on September 11, 2016 [4 favorites]

We do this, but we don't use an online bank, and I'm not sure you need one. Credit won't be an issue at a physical bank. We both have individual accounts at a local bank. We opened a shared checking account which is just for bill paying. It does all the things you need. There are no fees for service at this particular local bank - we can use any ATM, and if imposes a charge, it is immediately reimbursed by our bank. Many local banks are working to emphasize premium service so as to keep your business from going to the big chains. There are a lot of other intangible benefits to local banking (including them being very helpful when there's a mistake, to waive a fee, etc). You can use this website, Bank Local, to check for and compare locally owned banks.
posted by Miko at 4:57 PM on September 11, 2016

I'm confused that you need a good credit score in order to open a checking account. It's a bank, you just walk in and open a checking account and put some money in it. I think this may be an issue specific to Ally and other high-interest online banks.

No, when you open a checking account, they will run you through ChexSystems or similar to try to winnow out people who have previously bounced a lot of checks or left fees unpaid.

(I didn't mention it before, but it's actually a little concerning to me that OP's partner is having this problem, since ChexSystems has, I think, only a five-year window. Since they've been living together several years, has OP's partner had troubles relatively recently she's omitted to tell OP about? Or could there be an error in the report? I'd get a copy--OP should be able to get a free copy based on a recent denial of credit--and go over it.)
posted by praemunire at 5:15 PM on September 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

They might check you but I'm fairly sure there's is consumer law that entitles people to open a account. They may require securing it, thoug$z
posted by Miko at 7:26 PM on September 11, 2016

I might be spoiled by my credit union (First Tech FCU), but I was able to open a joint checking account with my non-married partner that was unconnected to any of my other accounts. If you have an existing account with a bank you like, you might just ask if that's possible. I did have to visit a physical branch to get it done though.
posted by Aleyn at 10:27 PM on September 11, 2016

My wife and I have a little secondary account with Discover Cashback Checking (I use it... for the 10-cents-a-transaction cashback on the debit card), and I think she's been a joint account-holder since before we were married. For a while it had no more than $50 in it, since for us it's mostly a front for the debit card for sub-$10 transactions, and they didn't seem to mind.
posted by Polycarp at 11:53 PM on September 11, 2016

If she currently has any kind of bank account, go there and ask to open a joint checking account. My credit union rejected someone I know for a savings account due to an outstanding judgement, however they were upfront about the steps my friend needed to take in order to clear things up.

As far as keeping the accounts separate when they are with the same bank, it should work like this: you log in and see the joint checking account and your personal credit card. She logs in and sees the joint checking account and her personal credit card. You won't see each others accounts unless you are a joint account holder.
posted by soelo at 7:39 AM on September 12, 2016

We use Capital One 360 online checking for our joint house account. I also have a personal savings account and two credit cards through Capital One that my partner cannot see in his account. We have separate logins.

Use Capital One, it's great.
posted by woodvine at 8:41 AM on September 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

We have joint capital one 360 checking and savings accounts. I have personal checking and savings through 360 and a credit card through capital one as well.

When I log into banking I see:
- My personal checking & savings
- Joint checking & savings
- a LINK to my capital one credit card (where I have to click it, it takes me to the capital one credit card site)

When I log into credit cards I see:
- My capital one credit card

When my husband logs into banking he sees:
- Joint checking & savings

So capital one acknowledges that I have all these types of accounts but doesn't actually connect my credit card to my banking. When I set up bill pay I had to go through the normal bill pay steps of adding the routing and account numbers, it didn't just say "hey you want to use this account we know you have?" I found that annoying, sounds like it is exactly what you need.
posted by magnetsphere at 9:31 AM on September 12, 2016 [2 favorites]

If you're looking for an online way to do envelope budgeting, I recommend NeoBudget. It's available online and through an app. Very simple and intuitive.
posted by Joleta at 8:29 PM on September 12, 2016

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