Growing up, my parents taught me as much about finances as they could, including how to save money, what it meant to have and maintain a credit score, how and why to schedule payments, and everything in between. Throughout my adulthood, the information came in handy, especially when I met my partner and eventually moved in with him. And while I plan on doing everything with him, one thing I never plan on doing is getting a joint account.
Financial security is important for everyone. It’s something I haven’t experienced a lot as an adult, nor as a child. And while I trust my partner, I know our spending habits differ. While we save when needed, pay our bills on time, and split dinners out, we want to buy what we want, without having to justify it to one another each and every time. So, at the end of the day, we never felt the need for a joint account, and we love having separate ones.
And we’re not alone. According to a 2019 study by AIG Life, a majority of United Kingdom-based respondents who were in relationships said they didn’t mind sharing money with their partner, but only 19 percent of their funds ever made it into a specific joint account. What’s more, 54 percent of respondents said that financial independence is important to both members of the relationship; an additional 31 percent of respondents said financial independence was important to them alone.
We’ve come a long way from the era of the default joint account, which has a bit of a misogynistic history. As the Smithsonian notes, many banks in the United States required women of any marital status to have a man cosign their application for a credit card well into the 1960s. Congress passed the Equal Credit Opportunity Act in 1974, which actively prohibited credit discrimination based on gender, national origin, race, or religion. According to the World Bank’s Global Findex survey of 2017, 65 percent of women worldwide have their own bank accounts compared to 72 percent of men — so there is still plenty of work to be done, even though a 2017 Women, Money, and Power study from Allianz Life found that 54 percent of respondents said they had “either complete or a great deal of responsibility for managing their household’s long-term saving and investments.”
While joint accounts have traditionally been modeled toward heterosexual couples, financial independence is important for people in any type of relationship. As Stacey Kane, the Business Development Lead at EasyMerchant, notes, such security is particularly crucial for women. “Even if that’s just having a voice and knowing what is going on with your joint bank account and credit cards, it can [be intimidating] for women to take control of their finances, but it’s satisfying as well,” she says. “By not jumping into a joint account right away, [a woman] gives herself the chance to settle into the relationship and ensure it’s one that she wants.”
If you are considering building a joint account with your partner, Kane suggested doing your own research on how each of you handles your finances. “First, you need to research their spending habits,” she says. “You need to learn how much your partner spends in a month and whether they have any debt.” Even though my partner and I don’t have a joint account, we still make sure to be open about money with each other. Once every month, we go over our finances such as bills, savings, and food. We make sure we’re good for the next month and on track for everything we need, all with our separate accounts.
Kane added that it could be beneficial to wait until you or your partner has cleared any current or outstanding debts before you strike up a joint account, and ultimately recommends that you keep a few accounts of your own so that you can build and maintain your own credit score.
Laura Adams, MBA, is a female personal finance expert with FreeAdvice.com, agreed. “Many people don’t realize that getting a joint account, such as a credit card, auto loan, or mortgage, affects both of your credit scores and has far-reaching legal consequences,” she tells Apartment Therapy.
It’s also important to be honest with your partner about whether you are an ideal candidate to split a bank account with at your present moment. “If you are in the red regarding finances, do not go into a joint account with your partner,” Kane stresses. “If your partner struggles with spending and debt, then they’re not ready to handle any of your finances as well. It’s unfair for you to put them in that position when they aren’t responsible enough.”
I grew up in a household that was as frugal as they come, so I always have been quite tight with my money. Like many women I also have quite a bit of student debt; according to a 2021 study by the American Association of University Women, women in the U.S. hold around two-thirds of the nationwide $1.7 trillion student loan debt. (The amount they owe can compound given racial and ethnic backgrounds, as well as other obligations such as paying for rent or childcare.) As of right now, my partner has no student loan debt, compared to my six-figure debt — and that matters, especially when it comes to conversations about pooling or splitting expenses.
For those who don’t have the option to have a separate account for whatever reason, there’s still the ability to tap into your own financial power. “Your best bet is to split the bills up,” Kari Lorz, a certified Financial Education Instructor and the founder of MoneyfortheMamas, tells Apartment Therapy, suggesting that one partner be in charge of paying bills for electric and cable usage, “and you take water, gas, and trash, or however, it works out evenly. If you must have a joint account, open it at a new bank and don’t auto-link your accounts with transfer privileges.”
And according to Imani Francies, a women’s finance expert with InsuranceProviders.com, it might be useful to establish a joint account for certain shared expenses like rent or household staples. “Determine the account’s purpose and how much each of you will give ahead of time,” she tells Apartment Therapy. “This account could [also] be used to save for an emergency fund, trips, significant purchases like a car, or other long-term priorities.”
Since I grew up with such a frugal mindset, I truly value the concept of financial independence. Despite having such a close relationship, having a separate account has brought my partner and me closer together. We don’t worry about money in one account, and talking about billing is a lot less stressful when it’s evenly split up. Knowing I have my own account gives me that extra sense of security I’ve always wanted — and I’m grateful that my relationship is supportive in this endeavor.