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Life Kit: Tips for managing joint bank accounts


A recent MarketWatch survey found that couples with joint bank accounts are more likely to be satisfied in their relationships than those with separate accounts or a mix of the two. But does that mean you have to put all your money in one pot? And how do you set yourself up for success? Life Kit's Andee Tagle has answers.

ANDEE TAGLE, BYLINE: If you're married or in a serious relationship, you might be weighing the merits of combining your finances with your partner.

LINDSAY BRYAN-PODVIN: For some couples, having a fully joint account feels great because they are able to spend and save and talk about it very openly.

TAGLE: That's Lindsay Bryan-Podvin, a Michigan-based financial therapist and author of "The Financial Anxiety Solution."

BRYAN-PODVIN: For other couples, having that joint account only feels like they are losing out on that autonomy or on that independence. And so having a theirs, mine and ours account helps to scratch that itch.

TAGLE: The theirs, mine and ours approach is just what it sounds like. Couples have a joint account for shared expenses and individual accounts for personal expenses, so you're making sure your bills are paid on time. Maybe you're saving towards future goals together.

BRYAN-PODVIN: But you each have a little bit of money that you can spend how you want without having to text your partner and say, hey, can I buy you a new pair of shoes? Or, can I buy some Skittles when I go put gas in the tank?

TAGLE: In this scenario, couples might put all their money into that one joint account and then agree to a certain percentage or spending limit to claim as their own on a monthly basis. Bryan-Podvin says this approach is best for anyone who might have hangups around the lack of privacy from a fully merged bank account.

BRYAN-PODVIN: That can provide some of that psychological safety. It can also provide each person with a bit of autonomy, to say, I'm going to spend the money that's in my account the way that I want to spend it. Or I'm going to save it up forever and ever, and you can't tell me otherwise. Right? None of us want to feel like we are under the control of our partner, so having some financial autonomy is really important.

TAGLE: Some couples may prefer to opt for fully separate accounts. Bryan-Podvin says that might be an option that makes sense in some cases - if you've experienced financial abuse or had your identity stolen in the past, for example, if you're going through any legal proceedings that might make it tricky to mix assets with your partner. But the hazard of this approach, she says, are the little financial secrets that can sometimes add up when you keep your money separate.

BRYAN-PODVIN: We can have somebody who is racking up a ton of credit card debt or who is taking out personal loans, or who maybe has a really not-great credit score and isn't working on improving it. And rather than their partner being in on it from the beginning, it becomes a much bigger issue than it would have been if you had, say, seen your partner miss a credit card bill the very first time it happened rather than decades later.

TAGLE: So the key here, says Bryan-Podvin, no matter which approach you choose, is financial transparency. That means not just sharing baseline figures with your partner - how much the other earns, how much debt you have - but really taking the time to understand your partner's relationship to their finances, their money story.

BRYAN-PODVIN: How does the way that you grow up shape what you think and feel about money? What do you believe you're allowed to spend money on? What are you proud of that you do financially? What are things that you wish you were a little better at financially, and how can I help support you?

TAGLE: Once you each have the full picture and settle on shared financial goals, try on different strategies to see how they fit your lifestyle.

BRYAN-PODVIN: So maybe we experiment for three months with having all of our money together and see what it feels like to, say, have all of our bills on autopay. If that feels really stressful for one of us, then we have to sit down and decide, is there something else that we can do to make this feel less stressful?

TAGLE: Give yourself room to change and grow, she says. Managing your finances as an independent adult can be a tricky business.

BRYAN-PODVIN: It's totally fine and normal to have growing pains along the way.

TAGLE: For NPR's Life Kit, I'm Andee Tagle.


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Andee Tagle
Andee Tagle (she/her) is an associate producer and now-and-then host for NPR's Life Kit podcast.