Setting Up a Joint Bank Account…When You’re Not Married

Over the weekend, R and I finally got down to business and opened a new bank account down here. As the title suggests, we decided to open a joint checking account, and then have two separate savings accounts.

I know this might seem a little odd, considering we aren’t married or even engaged. Even the bank associate seemed taken aback by our decision, asking me if my last name was correct, and then further asking if we’re married or soon to be married.

Please note that the below is me sharing my own personal thoughts and feelings on the matter. If you’ve been dating someone for one month, it’s probably not wise to open up a joint account with them!

joint bank account

Why marriage doesn’t matter for a joint bank account (for us)

I know there were some articles circulating about a month ago highlighting the pros and cons of having joint accounts when you’re married. I read through them, and both sides made sense to me, but I didn’t have much input as I had no prior experience with that.

For us, setting up a joint account was the logical decision as we have been splitting rent and groceries since last year. We now have some utility bills added into the mix, and we figured that this would lessen the headache of transferring money around.

Having been with R for two and a half years (living together for one of them), I know his financial habits, and there really aren’t that many. For the most part, he is frugal, and his focus is on saving money and making more money to pay off his student loans quicker. I’m on board with all of that.

We discuss big purchases and how they will impact our future. For the most part, we have been treating our individual funds as joint funds anyway. There were never any secrets; we’ve been transparent since about the first month of dating. We knew each other’s student loan balances, bank balances, salary, and monthly bills.

I know some couples don’t function this way, and that’s completely okay. Everyone does things differently, and I think they should, as long as it works for them.

Why marriage really doesn’t matter for joint bank accounts

Just the other day, R was telling me a story about one of his co-workers. She is our age, and is married with a kid. Her husband is really “stupid” (her words) with their money, and she even has a separate savings account that he doesn’t know about. Yikes!

He has apparently traded cars in left and right, and went so far as to trade both of their cars in for one single truck. I hope it was worth it! I don’t know any details about the story as R didn’t want to pry, but I really hope he at least mentioned his plans to her before going through with such a big decision.

When it comes down to it, communication is what matters, not necessarily the status of your relationship. R and I are really big on being open with each other, and we are pretty good at picking up on when the other is upset with something. I am grateful that R doesn’t shy away from problems like some other guys I’ve dated, otherwise we would likely never be on the same page.

Truthfully, it doesn’t matter that we aren’t married at this point. We are living together and sharing expenses, and it just makes sense to have a joint bank account in our situation.

My money is your money

I have to be honest with you all and admit that I had hesitations about this. They stemmed from selfishness. I started saving much earlier than R, and I had a better paying job before he did. Well, I actually started working before him, too, which helped give me a head start. I had much, much more money than he did.

I had to realize that this wasn’t about me. R just took a job promotion mostly to get me closer to my parents. He knew it was always my intention to move, and he agreed that it was a win-win due to the fact we would be saving money by living elsewhere. He never questioned it, and without him, we simply wouldn’t be here.

Even though he had no issues with moving, he could have told me that he didn’t want to sacrifice friendships for my sake. He could have said there were better opportunities for him elsewhere. But he shared in my vision, and helped make it a reality.

So who am I to be greedy and say “hands off!”? R has been working much harder than me. He’s put in more hours and more physical labor than I ever have. His expenses happened to be more than mine, but not enormously so. He was working toward the big picture – taking the job he did meant that moving was possible, and we both knew that from day one. It was a means to a few ends – getting a better job, management experience, and moving.

I also have no doubts that he will respect our funds. The only reason we have separate savings accounts right now is because we have different priorities. He is saving for a car purchase, and I am saving for a bunch of things (car repairs, cats, dental things, travel). Once our student loans are paid off, we’ll probably solidify things a bit more.

Regrets?

I know, I know. Some of you are still wondering what the heck we’re going to do if we ever break up. Besides the fact that engagements and marriages end, too, I’ll entertain that thought and leave you with this: if it does happen, I will not regret having a joint account.

I don’t think either of us are petty enough to seriously leave the other broke. It makes sense to share given our living situation, and I think we both have every right to the account right now. Neither of us would have been able to make it this far in our journey without the other, and I think I will be able to look back and appreciate all R has done.

If you have joint accounts, did you wait until marriage to combine? Do you think we’re being foolish?

Erin M.

Erin is a personal finance writer and virtual assistant who loves talking about money and how to use it as a tool to get what you want out of life. When she's not obsessing over numbers or working (which is rare), she can be found messing around in Photoshop, laughing at her cat, watching YouTube videos, playing video games, chair dancing, or any random combination of the above.

56 thoughts on “Setting Up a Joint Bank Account…When You’re Not Married

  1. This may sound un-romantic, but one of the biggest reasons for marriage in my eyes is legal protections of money. Without a contract, either through marriage or through a drawn-up-and-notarized legal document, if a partner in a relationship decides to start siphoning money, it’s much more difficult to prove in a court of law how much money you are owed back. I had a coworker who lived with a man for 17 years and they bought a house together, but because he had it in his business’s name, she had no right to the house after they separated, or at least, she would have needed an expensive attorney to get her fair share back, especially since she put more sweat equity than actual money into the house. Had they been married, she would have been entitled to half and the process to get her portion back would not have required such expensive legal fees.

    Joint bank accounts are good though if you both are good with money and you feel like you have a future together. I have some friends who are not married and have been together for 10 years and are still going strong so sometimes you don’t need that “piece of paper” to make it all official. I would strongly advocate NOT buying any property together as an unmarried couple unless you get a nice strong contract drawn up about ownership.

    Note, I have two lawyers for siblings hence my more “legalese” viewpoint on marriage. Also, while my husband and I have joint checking now, we did not have it until about a month before we got married, so take that into consideration as well.
    Tara @ Streets Ahead Living recently posted: MIA much?My Profile

    1. I appreciate you sharing that story! Unfortunately, sometimes love doesn’t last, and sometimes people do 180’s and take actions that we wouldn’t have expected. My aunt and uncle had a rather nasty divorce that none of us saw coming, and my uncle stooped to very petty levels with the entire thing.

      It is definitely a good idea to get things in writing before entering agreements or owning property together.

  2. I’m not a big fan of combining accounts before marriage…I’ve heard too many horror stories of it turning out badly. But I’m not going to come down on you for doing it either. It sounds like you’ve talked this through and have made sacrifices for one another already. I think you understand the risks here and are willing to take them. At least you are going into it with your eyes open.
    Brian @ Luke1428 recently posted: Why I’m Quitting My Job To Be A Stay At Home DadMy Profile

    1. Oh yes, you definitely have to understand the risks and be aware of what can happen. I know some people get caught up in being all lovey-dovey the first six months of a relationship, only for them to get a reality check after the newness wears off. Two and a half years probably doesn’t seem like much to some people, but R and I have spent mostly every day together even when we weren’t living together, so I think we know each other well enough to avoid that.

  3. It’s sometimes scary how many things in your life parallel the things in my life!

    Although my R and I don’t have a joint banking account, that’s something I’ve been thinking about looking into (but will probably wait until we’re married). Right now, everything has been going through my bank accounts. I don’t mind this, but it does make tracking difficult, and there have been a few times where I didn’t like being the only one managing our money. We talked about this and have made some changes that have made things a while lot better, but I still think having a joint account would help things even more for us. Maybe I won’t wait for a wedding first? :)

    And I’ve also had issues with being selfish… I was making more money than him, but I also had more expenses – so he had “extra” money to spend on his wants, and I had nothing left over. And then I realized that I was wrong… my “want” was actually a big one that costs a whole lot more than his new amp – and by that I mean my car.

    As for my two cents about you’re decision? I think that you guys did what was right for you. Being engaged or married doesn’t change the commitment level by any means – it’s all just paperwork, really.
    Amanda recently posted: Competing With Students for a Summer JobMy Profile

    1. I’m glad you guys talked things over! Honestly, I still manage most of our money. R is responsible for his student loans, but I have reminders for him set. I tally up our spending and figure out our budgets. My parents functioned this way, so I guess it seems natural, but I wish he would take some more interest in things. He doesn’t even care to look at how his 401k is doing!

      Before we moved, I had taken a lower paying job, so R was technically making more, but I was still saving more. It’s been an annoyance for us to keep track, and after a while, R was paying for most of the groceries. I’m hoping by doing it this way, we can avoid that and feel more at ease with our joint spending.

      I agree on the paperwork comment. I’ve never been a big proponent of marriage, and to half of the people we tell our situation to, they think we might as well be married!

    1. I figured it was time I post about something somewhat controversial, so I’m not expecting everyone to agree =). I realize it’s certainly not for all couples, and I understand why, but it’s making our lives a bit easier to manage.

  4. I didn’t combine accounts with my hubby until after we got married, but that was because I didn’t want the hassle of doing it before. I think that marriage is just a piece of paper and financial commitment and openness to it as represented by a joint checking account can happen at any time. Good for the two of you for being so committed, trusting and open!
    Shannon @ Financially Blonde recently posted: Music Mondays – ChangesMy Profile

    1. You stated my thoughts so eloquently, Shannon! It was pretty much out of convenience, as we’re both having to close our other bank accounts anyway. We figured we may as well at this point. I can understand not wanting to go through the hassle beforehand, though.

  5. We just got married about 8 months ago. We combined one of our accounts when we got engaged. Husband had his account. I had my account. Then we had a shared emergency savings and regular checking. We both put a certain percentage in those accounts out of each paychecks to cover bills and to build up emergency funds. That meant that we both had a bit of spending money and “protection money” in case our relationship went sour. We continue to do this today. It seems to work well for us!
    Michelle recently posted: Update: $200 in 3 Weeks Challenge COMPLETED!My Profile

    1. That sounds like a good plan! We are keeping our savings separate for right now so I don’t feel like there’s that much of a risk. If it works well, we will probably continue it for a while!

  6. I love this post because you can tell you and R truly work as a team. I think in your case, it definitely makes sense to have a joint account, mostly because both of you are so responsible and transparent with each other. I think that’s a really great and strong foundation to build on!
    anna recently posted: Brief UpdateMy Profile

    1. Thanks Anna =). That is a good way to think about it – it does feel like we have been a team for a while. I guess it just felt like the natural thing to do after how things have progressed.

  7. I say more power to you. Sharing a bank account is a big commitment that requires a lot of mutual trust. I think it’s smart for couples that are either married or in long-term committed relationships to share their money simply because it’s nolonger about his or hers.. it’s all about “ours”.
    Liz recently posted: How to Save Money on a DogMy Profile

    1. Making that move to viewing the money in terms of “ours” was a bit difficult as I said, but in the end, I think it will benefit us. It’s only right to share when we’ve both made equal amounts of effort to get where we are!

    1. Thanks Shoe! I know it’s not for everyone, but I was just putting the idea out there in case other people were thinking about it.

    1. That’s not good! Honestly, R and I probably would have continued the way we did if we hadn’t moved. We were discussing opening one little joint account just for rent – transferring money from our separate accounts in there and writing a check for it.

      1. I probably should have clarified what I was talking about with the common-law issues. We’ve been common-law for over three years now, and we were of the same mindset as you and R seem to be “meh, marriage is just a piece of paper”. And while I do agree that that level of commitment doesn’t require the marriage certificate, many other things do.

        I recently learned that if something happened to me all my finances would go to my parents rather than my life partner because D and I don’t have wills in place I know this might be common knowledge to many, but it wasn’t because I thought Canada was more liberal in its definition of marriage to include common-law partners, as well as same-sex partners). If we were married there are spousal protections in place that aren’t benefiting us even though we consider ourselves as one unit.

        So basically, as my Mom so elegantly stated it “well Alicia, looks like it is time for a wedding, or a will”.
        Alicia recently posted: Random Updates On Life.My Profile

        1. I figured that’s what you were talking about. I’m not familiar with what our laws are, but maybe I should look into it! I don’t think we qualify just yet, though.

          Ha, what an ultimatum! Technically, we would be okay without each other, as hopefully R would be able to get out of the lease and move to a cheaper place. I would move back in with my parents. I don’t like thinking about drafting a will, though :/.

  8. I believe in do what works best for you. I never had a joint account with someone until marriage but that was a personal choice. I have been together with my DH for over five years and married for 1 1/2 years. It was only a couple of months ago that we opened a joint account for bill paying. Due to the logistics of living in different countries until recently we had no need for a joint account. We also maintain separate accounts and it works fine for us.
    Kassandra recently posted: Money MilestonesMy Profile

    1. That makes sense – if you’re long distance, there’s really no need for a joint account. I tend to believe in doing what works best as well. No one will have the exact same values or thoughts, and that’s why personal finance is personal!

    1. Thanks Jen – I agree. It’s sad to say, but if a relationship is meant to end, it will end regardless of your current status.

  9. I probably would not have combined anything before marriage, but Jim and I were a bit older and established no our own before we met, so that’s probably why. I think any partner, married or not, can do really well or really poorly with money if there isn’t that communication. It’s a must for sure.

    1. That’s a valid point! Being older, you potentially have much more to lose. I suppose it helped that R and I started off together at the very beginning of our “post-college” lives.

  10. My hubby and I had a joint account for bills when we moved in together. Then we fully combined our accounts e.g. all our income and outgoing out of the same account around two years ago – two years after being married!

    I wish I’d done it sooner as the debts might have been under control earlier but live and learn!

    As for you and R, I think that you’re doing the right thing for you. You’ve both obviously weighed things up and although we never quite know what the future holds, you both seem to be on the same page financially! :)
    Hayley @ A Disease Called Debt recently posted: Dear Hayley…My Profile

    1. I honestly don’t know what our system will look like when we do get married. This seems like the most sensible plan for now. We both know that if we ever needed anything major, we could ask the other for help.

  11. I don’t know why people are so weird about the marriage thing. You’re clearly in the same place as a married couple, and probably more fiscally responsible than most. I think it’s just important to define how you will deal with things if the relationship dissolves, like a prenup. When I moved in with my ex. We had a very clear understanding of how things would be split if we broke up so that when we did break up, it was easy for me to just leave.

    1. That is a good plan to have in place. I guess we don’t really see that happening, so we haven’t discussed it, but perhaps we should. R has been respectful the entire time we’ve been dating at least – he’s never asked to borrow money from me, and has insisted on paying his share. That’s mostly why I didn’t have any hesitations about it.

  12. I think it’s clear that you guys communicate and work together on the big stuff – and that’s the most important thing. Being married doesn’t automatically change people’s financial habits or communication skills, so the fact that you’re not married, to me, isn’t the biggest factor in play here. It’s far more important that you guys are on the same page and honest with each other :)

    That being said, we did wait to combine accounts and finances until we were officially married (though we did purchase our home a few months before). It was REALLY annoying to constantly keep tabs on transferring money back and forth – we were like you guys, in that we were interested in splitting costs in a way that was fair – so I definitely wanted to combine finances once we got engaged so we wouldn’t have to worry about it anymore. However, in hindsight, I do appreciate that it was so simple to get everything set up once my last name was legally changed. That might be the only downside for your situation, but I think as long as you’re prepared to deal with making the changes once that time comes, it shouldn’t be a huge deal or anything.
    Kali @ Common Sense Millennial recently posted: How to Score Paying Clients for Your Side Hustle When You’re Short on ExperienceMy Profile

    1. Exactly. I don’t know how people avoid communicating about money in relationships. I would have been beyond livid if I was in his co-workers position. Communication tends to trump a lot of things!

      Having to change your name on everything seems like such a hassle. I don’t plan on changing my name, but R keeps teasing me about it, so we’ll see.

    1. Thanks! That’s exactly what we are aiming for. He has his car and running gear to spend on, and I would take care of my own car and my cats if something should go wrong. We still have individual goals and whatnot, and we have shared expenses.

  13. We don’t have joint accounts, but I see nothing wrong with it in the right situations. You guys clearly are committed to each other and have a system that works for you. Some people thought Eric and I were crazy for buying a house together when we’re not married. Yes, there are risks in every situation, but that’s life. We’ve talked through what would happen if we break up and how things would be divided and I’m sure you guys have too.
    KK @ Student Debt Survivor recently posted: Are you “mingling” money? Stop!My Profile

    1. We were pretty much doing what you and Eric were before – I would transfer the money to R and he would write the check for rent. It’s not the biggest inconvenience, but there was one time I forgot until the day before and I felt bad! It should make everything simpler. I’m not sure if we would buy anything together, but that’s mostly because we don’t have homeownership in mind for several more years!

  14. You’ve presented some points I’d never really thought of before. My daughter is living with her boyfriend and now I’m wondering how they handle this. I think because you are keeping your savings accounts separate and are really just using the joint account for bill payments, it makes sense. How do you allocate how much to put in for bill payments? How do you share the expenses – rent / food etc? 50/50 or prorated based on income?
    debt debs recently posted: Worth It Wednesday – Can a Marriage Survive a Debt Crisis?My Profile

    1. Before, we used to split 50/50 because R was making a smidge more than I was. For right now, until I start making what I was before, R is contributing more. He is paying about 80% of the rent, but I’m covering utilities and the other 20%. I have funds in my budget allocated for groceries and dining out if need be, but he is covering those right now as well. I hope to return to 50/50 soon! Everything will be reflected in our May budget.

  15. Totally behind unmarried cohabitations couples to have a shared account – we certainly do. And the common law here in Australia treats us as ‘de facto’ ie like married in the court of law should we split and want/need to split assets. So now it’s six months in, that applies.

    That being said, we’ve otherwise got separate assets (my house) and savings and shares. I think it’s just the most logical and easiest way. I also think Sydney is very open to this – but I can imagine in parts of the US and very religious parts of the world frowning on the concept!
    SarahN recently posted: Chit chatMy Profile

    1. Oh wow! I think it’s a bit longer here, but I honestly haven’t read up on the law in a while. I just know that R’s company didn’t care as they wouldn’t let him add me onto his dental/eye insurance =). I think people are just cautious, really. I can’t blame them when there are so many stories of relationships gone wrong, where things turn into a war.

  16. My wife and I don’t have joint bank accounts but it isn’t really a choice we have made – its just one more thing on the to-do list we have been meaning to do (for a couple years). I think its a personal decision and can see both positives and negatives on either side, but whatever the case – communication about money is more important than what accounts the money is in
    Dan @ Our Big Fat Wallet recently posted: Why I Always Buy Travel InsuranceMy Profile

    1. Yes, communication about all aspects of the relationship is very important to maintain! I can see how it might be a hassle to combine everything after so long, but for us, it was a hassle to divide everything up each month. Thanks for stopping by!

  17. I’m in a happy relationship and I’ve been living with my partner for over a year but I don’t think I’d get a joined account at this stage. Well, unless it was a joined account where we both banked and equal amount in. I earn a lot more and am a bit better with money so I think it’s best we keep things separate for now. Once we start looking towards bigger investments and purchases, then I’ll be more open but for now I like having my account.
    Christine Berry – Wealth Way Online recently posted: My Plan to Save 90% of My IncomeMy Profile

    1. I hear you on that. I used to make more than my boyfriend, and I had a lot more saved up (and still do), but it wasn’t for his lack of trying. He’s responsible with spending and I trust him, so it worked out.

  18. My Z and I are discussing combing our accounts. I was not for the idea at first being as I make less than him and he has more saved than me. He says that it will help us both with bills and other responsibilities. We have split everything in half since we have lived together, we are 100% in this together. We have the same priorities and we do not see anything changing. We have also talked about marriage and how it will be when we do get married but I don’t think it will be any different. It will simply be a piece of paper. we would only have a join checking account and keep savings separate. I am now after looking at all the ads comments and many positive and negative things. It comes down to how much trust we have for each other. I trust him he Trusts me. So there you have it!

    1. I’m glad you’ve figured out what works for you, Jenna! R and I were in a similar situation not too long ago, where I had more saved, and I was making slightly more. R did feel a little bad about it, but since he’s been earning more than me for almost a year now, it evened out. Hopefully combining everything will make your lives easier!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge