Are Separate Checking Accounts a Harbinger of Marital Problems?

by Joe Plemon on March 12, 2012

In my financial counseling practice, I occasionally meet a couple who operates their household budget from two separate accounts: a “his" account and a “her" account. When I ask them why, they normally respond with, “I am not sure" or “We have always done it this way" or “I like to control my own money" or even “I don’t trust him/her with my money". My counsel is for them to try closing one of those accounts and run all family finances out of a joint account.

Why this advice?

One account will simplify budgeting.

This couple will normally be splitting the bills; each being responsible for certain payments. While this process may get the bills paid, it is a huge hindrance for an effective family budget. Why? Because a budget is more than paying bills; it is a tool for achieving financial and marital goals. A unified budget, with both parties on board, needs to operate from one — not two — accounts.

It will strengthen the marriage.

A marriage is a partnership, not a joint venture. When the preacher declares a couple to be “one", that new unit, by inference, includes their money. Until each relinquishes their grip on “my money" and willingly commingles it into a joint account, this couple has not fully bought into the marriage.

It forces trust.

Some couples state upfront that they keep separate checkbooks because of trust issues – a clear harbinger of marital problems. Creating a joint account will not automatically resolve the trust issues, but should serve as a catalyst for working through whatever issues are undermining that trust.

It eliminates secrets.

I like to control my own money." could be code for “I don’t want my spouse to know what I am doing with my money." Obviously, this mindset is a recipe for keeping secrets. A spouse who keeps money secrets from his/her partner will likely be keeping other secrets as well. Sounds like marital problems to me.

No more power plays

Because one spouse normally earns more money than the other, the practice of keeping separate accounts tends to give more power to whoever has the biggest account. One hears statements like, “I will buy that Harley if I want. It is my money." or “If I want a new living room suite, I will buy it. After all, I earned the money." Both are missing the point of a healthy marriage where all household assets belong equally to both spouses. With this power play mentality, if only one spouse brought home a pay check, that spouse would have 100% control of all family finances. Bad idea.

What about business accounts?

I said in my opening paragraph that a couple who operates their household budget out of separate accounts is asking for marital problems. I understand that separate accounts are needed when one spouse is operating a business in his/her name. But even then, all profit from that business needs to be transferred to the household account and spent in accordance with the family budget.

Am I saying that all marriages who operate with separate accounts are destined for disaster? Of course not. But I am saying that those separate accounts are either an indicator of existing problems or a formula for future problems.

In my opinion, they aren’t worth the risk.

Readers: Do you and your spouse operate your household budget from two separate accounts? Why? How is is working?

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