Saying 'I do' to joint checking and credit accounts

By Justin Boyle

Saying 'I do' to joint checking and credit accounts

Earlier this year, a couple of my good friends got married to each other. After a a few months and the initial jubilation passed, the time came to turn their attention to the more business-like aspects of sharing their lives -- and their finances.

Combining checking accounts and coordinating credit cards might seem like a simple proposition, but they learned there are some important points to consider before taking the plunge. My newlywed pals passed along this wisdom on the process, so I thought I'd share it with anyone else whose accounts may soon be "married" to a partner's.

Opening a joint checking account

Both of my friends are entrepreneurs. She runs an online retail store and he's self-employed as a massage therapist, so they approached the union of their finances as a business deal. They were used to handling balance sheets in their professional lives, so it seemed natural to treat their new joint checking account as a merger.

First, they sat down and looked at bank options for their new account. They had been with the same separate banks for years, and it was important to them that they look at all the information and agree on the location for the new account.

They ultimately chose a local credit union, a bank neither of them had used before. Looking at the various options together helped them both feel comfortable about the choice. They now refer to their joint checking as the "company account."

Sharing credit cards

Next, they looked at merging credit card accounts, which can be a little trickier. Most of the people they talked to advised them to have a shared card for household expenses, but not to combine the cards they use for personal spending.

I like this advice. It doesn't make much sense to deal with more than one bill for things like groceries or utility payments, especially if your credit scores are similar.

Keeping small personal accounts is important, though -- especially if you like to treat your partner with gifts, theater shows, vacations or other pleasant surprises. How could they be surprises if they show up on a shared bill? By keeping both personal and joint cards, you'll have a "company card" for basic needs and individual cards for discretionary spending.

It's important to note, though, that there aren't really such a thing as joint credit cards. Usually, one person opens the card in his or her name and signs the other up as an authorized user. Once you know what type of expenses you're likely to charge on the joint card, you may want to opt for a particular type of rewards card, such as one that offers bonuses for gasoline or business purchases.

Final thoughts on your new "family business"

Don't let the word "business" scare you off. Examining the nuts and bolts of your shared accounts and expenses is an important step in your partnership. A tradition of open communication about your finances can help avoid a lot of headaches in the long run.

Of course, if you and your partner operate on a single income, the details of your joint finances may be a little different. But in any case, communicating openly and honestly with your partner is still the best way to prevent money from creating rough spots in your relationship.

Perhaps the most important thing that came out of my chats with my (very happy) newlywed pals was that going over their finances together helped them feel even more like equal partners. It helps a lot, they told me, to feel like they're really in this together.

So, for better or worse, for richer or poorer, taking the right steps to combine your finances can help ensure a solid partnership with your spouse for years to come.

Justin Boyle is a freelance writer living in Austin, Texas.

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