I recently told a friend that hiding a bank account was one of the top financial secrets partners keep from each other.
She laughed and said, “Everyone has a secret bank account.”
According to CreditCards.com, 23 percent of Americans have hidden a credit card or bank account from a significant other.
For some, a secret bank account may mask marital woes. For others, it’s just a way to wield financial independence after combining all other aspects of life. It grants people the ability to make monetary decisions as an individual.
The thing is, an individual account doesn’t have to be a secret.
Being able to say to your partner, “I love you, but I want my own bank account,” should be easy when you’re clearly communicating about your financial goals.
But outlining your individual and shared goals can be hard, considering the fact that money is a leading cause of stress in relationships. For people that are stress-averse, a little financial infidelity may seem reasonable to avoid fights.
Fortunately, you can establish financial intimacy by talking openly about sharing, or not sharing, an account.
Let’s cut to the chase: the best way to gain financial trust is through communication. Here are two questions that you should be able to answer: What do you want as a couple? What do you need as an individual?
By defining your shared desires and working together to meet those goals, you’re building a case for an individual account. And an individual account doesn’t take away from your love or your financial union. Once upon a time, when couples decide to tie the knot, they probably also decided to marry their finances. These days, gender roles are more equitable and often, newlyweds are older, more independent, and more financially established. There are fewer reasons to combine everything and more space for couples to define what a fiscal union means within the confines of their unique relationship.
Married or unmarried, the choice to merge bank accounts may stem from the desire to pay shared bills using one financial source. This decision to share wealth is often viewed as the ultimate sign of partnership. And it can be a financial decision that symbolizes trust and solidarity. That’s why many couples opt for a joint account.
In a TD Bank Love & Money survey, 58 percent of couples have at least one shared account. Millennials are the least likely to share a bank account, with only 50 percent of those between the ages of 18-34 opting to share an account.
Sharing an account can make you vulnerable, in the case of a separation. If you had significant savings prior to marrying, or if you deposit an inheritance in a shared account, you’re more likely to lose half of that money if the marriage dissolves. Plus, it’s empowering to control your own funds. So for many couples who do share an account, it works best for each partner to also have their own personal accounts.
The Negotiating Table: Making Joint Decisions about Individual Accounts
We asked David Rae, a certified financial planner and the founder of DRM Wealth Management, for tips on how to negotiate individual accounts and shared expenses.
Jointly Designate Shared Expenses
The best way to decide what qualifies as an individual expense is by defining what qualifies as a shared expense. Should all recurring expenses—for example, rent, payments on a shared car, student loans, groceries, and utilities—come out of the joint account?
Yes may seem like the obvious answer, but in many relationships, income and goals vary. Maybe one partner has to have the premium cable plan, and the other partner never turns on a TV. So would that qualify as a shared expense, since it’s a recurring bill, even though it’s only used by one person? Is your partner’s cab ride a joint expense? What about if you’re taking the shared car everyday, which is why your partner needs the cab? How about that pricey wedding gift for your partner’s best friend? And the actual travel expenses for the wedding?
Have a frank discussion about how much money is necessary to reach your financial goals as a couple. Are you planning a wedding or saving for a home? If you’re unmarried, do you really need a joint bank account? Be both short and long-sighted when determining shared expenses.
According to David, “The more money you have and the less official your relationship, the leerier I would be of putting my life savings into a joint account. Things are bit less scary once you are married.”
After you’ve established what qualifies as an individual expense and a shared expense, you can create a budget for your joint account.
Collaboratively Decide How Much Money to Allocate Where
With clear financial goals, you can determine how much money you need to allocate each month to achieve shared goals. This will determine what percentage of your individual incomes go to your joint account and what percentage go to your individual accounts. Do the math. This is not a one-size fits all plan.
Discuss the Big Things
Decide what qualifies as a “big” purchase and at what price point a purchase—made from either your joint or individual accounts—requires a conversation. You want to agree on a number, and that number will vary by couple. Is it $500 or $50,000?
Jointly Decide How In-the-Know You Need to Be
If you and your partner want to be kept in the loop about each other’s individual account balances, then state this clearly when discussing plans for individual accounts. Maybe kick around the idea of having monthly or quarterly check-ins to determine whether or not you need to revisit allocations. Remember, it’s important to verbalize how you view your individual accounts and communicate your expectations.
“If [your partner] is paying most of the bills, enabling you to save $10,000, and they have $10, you might want to revisit the conversation on allocation and balances. But you don’t have to feel bad about not advertising what is in an [individual bank account] at any given time,” says David.
Jointly Decide on a Beneficiary
Unlike a joint account, with an individual account, only the account holder has access to the funds. So in the worst case scenario, an individual account does not allow a spouse to gain access to funds without a transfer-on-death or TOD. Talk to your partner and decide who gets named as the beneficiary on the TOD.
Wanting an individual account doesn’t mean you love your significant other any less. In fact, granting a partner the financial independence they need may just be another way to show love. Be honest about both your money and privacy needs from the beginning, and the merging of your finances (and your financial personalities!) should go much more smoothly.