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The Key to Mingling Money in a Relationship

Banking, Checking Accounts, Savings Accounts
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mingling money in relationship

To combine or not combine: That’s the essential question when it comes to couples and their finances — particularly bank accounts.

No matter the decision, it pays to know the potential pitfalls — and talk about them. For couples who share joint accounts, conflict can arise when one partner spends heavily and the other likes to save, or if one overly monitors spending, says psychotherapist Nicolle Osequeda of Chicago.

Separate accounts, on the other hand, can give couples a sense of autonomy but make it difficult to coordinate expenses.

The key is to make sure both partners are on the same page.

“A successful relationship is a result of successful negotiations,” said Brad Klontz, a financial psychologist from Lihue, Hawaii. “Which is not a very romantic way of putting it, but it’s true.”

>> MORE: Are You Ready to Join Bank Accounts With Your Partner?

Jessica Majeski, a 27-year-old marketing specialist, and her husband, Mike, a 29-year-old project manager, married in March. The Holly Springs, North Carolina, couple decided to keep all their accounts separate, as they had for the four years they lived together. Their shared expenses — groceries, bills and mortgage payments — are split 50-50.

They have similar incomes, so they figured they would stick with what was working for them already.

“Going down to the bank and opening a joint account just seemed more complicated,” Jessica said.

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So far, they haven’t run into any problems. When Jessica joined her husband’s health insurance plan, they considered whether joint accounts would be better than their existing arrangement, in which they paid their medical bills from their own accounts. For now, they’ll keep that setup.

Bill Reardon, 43, an engineering manager in Santa Monica, California, took the joint account route for common expenses like bills, groceries and vacations. He shares checking and savings accounts with his wife, Christy, 38, who is a stay-at-home mom.

They decided on this system when they got engaged six years ago, to reflect their belief that financial resources in a family should be shared for common expenses.

The Reardons also use personal accounts —  the same amount of money is automatically transferred to each account from Bill’s paycheck — for their own expenses.

“It’s each person’s ‘fun’ money,” Bill says. “If one of us is out for dinner with friends, wants to impulse buy something on Amazon, or even surprise the other with a gift, we use personal accounts.”

Their system wasn’t always without hitches. Bill says they disagreed on which accounts would pay for certain expenses — clothes, for example. Even now, he admits, they sometimes debate how much should go into their personal accounts.

The decision depends on the couple’s needs and preferences, says Klontz, the psychologist. “There really is no right answer.”

Amber Murakami-Fester is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: amufe@nerdwallet.com.