Joint or separate checking? Pros and cons

By Heather Larson

Whether you choose to marry your money when you tie the nuptial knot or to go your separate checking account ways before or during your marriage, the decision remains a personal one. You might think that keeping your money matters separate will avoid all conflicts, but that's not true. One size does not fit all when it comes to money management.

Couples need to create a system that works for both of them. To help keep the peace when it comes to financial issues, here are some considerations to help you decide whether or not a joint checking account is the ticket.

With a joint account both paychecks should be deposited into it. Then, whatever bills the two of you incur will be paid from that checking account.

Benefits of joint checking

Each of you has the same ability to access the money in a joint checking account. If you and your spouse regularly talk openly about income, expenses, financial goals and everything associated with the almighty dollar, this will be a good choice for the two of you. With the larger combined balance, your account fees should be kept to a minimum.

The person who always pays bills early, not the one who doesn't even bother to open the envelopes, will take on the job of check writer and account balancer. Joint checking also makes it simple to handle shared expenses. It all comes out of the same pot of money.

However, you need to look at the not-so-positive side of joint checking.

Downsides of joint checking

One or both of you might feel confined because you really don't have any of your own money with this system. Someone has to be in charge of writing checks and that person may eventually harbor resentment because of the extra work.

A big downfall for many couples is that a joint checking account offers no privacy. Everyone's business is out in the open and completely transparent. You both have equal access to this type of account. If your partner decides to make a giant purchase one day without telling you,  you may find out about it the hard way when your debit card is declined.

If joint checking doesn't fit your lifestyles, think about separate checking accounts.

Advantages of separate checking accounts

You are free to manage your own funds as you like, and so is your partner, as long as you divvy up the expenses. You'll need to talk about whether your portions should be precisely 50 percent or to split it according to your relative incomes. Revisit what your share is whenever one of you gets another job, a big raise or you change your living circumstances.

You both have financial security with this system, even when one of you is away from home, plus you each have control of your own money. Online checking accounts make it easy to have separate accounts that can still "talk to each other" when necessary.

Drawbacks of separate checking accounts

Dividing up regular bills can easily be worked out, but how do you split a big car repair, insurance premium, saving for a vacation or holiday gifts? This division of money also makes it more difficult to save together for a big ticket item.

With your own individual account, no controls are in place, so depending on your money personality, it could turn into a financial disaster.

One of each

If neither a single joint checking account nor two separate ones sound appealing, you can always opt for three accounts - one joint and two separate. Then you each have a separate account to do with what you want and you also have a joint checking account for combined expenses. If you go this route, an online savings account can help you save for big ticket items.

Remember to be flexible. What you decide on now about how you handle your money may not always work. Change your way of managing money and switch accounts as often as your circumstances change, if need be. Continued dialogue, trust, and willingness to compromise should keep your marital money woes to a minimum.