Tired of lending each other money, my girlfriend and I decided to open a joint bank account despite being unmarried.
Creating a joint checking account is the first step. It allows couples like us to contribute to a shared balance using direct deposit and more easily split shared expenses like rent, bills, and groceries.
Why you might want a joint bank account
About 88 percent of couples living together say that financial decisions are a main source of tension, according to a 2016 survey from the American Institute of CPAs.
Hoping to get out in front of that, my girlfriend and I conduct monthly finance meetings at our dinner table. We also created a budget to make sure short-term spending wasn’t inhibiting our long-term goals. A joint checking account was a natural progression.
Pros of a joint bank account
The primary advantage is that it simplified paying our electricity, internet, and gas bills as well as rent and groceries. Similarly, couples wanting to save money together might opt for a joint savings account with a high interest rate.
There are other potential pros. A joint bank account with your significant other could help you:
- Avoid minimum-balance fees on your individual account
- Qualify for a higher interest rate thanks to your larger, combined balance
- Budget monthly spending to emphasize longer-term saving
Cons of a joint bank account
Like the drawbacks of opening a joint credit card, there are also cons to consider before opening a joint bank account:
- It’s harder to keep gifts a secret when they show up on joint statements.
- If one of the account holders falls into debt, creditors could pursue the entire balance.
- If the relationship goes south, untangling the account will be harder than it was to open it.
Being unmarried also brings about cons. Although divorcing couples can rely on the legal system to deal with debt, you’ll be vulnerable if your partner suddenly decides to drain the account. They have as much right to the whole balance as you do.
Communication and trust can help you avoid some of these cons.
And although the plan I forged with my girlfriend isn’t foolproof, we set some ground rules. For one, we agreed to talk through purchases of $100 or more before making them. We also promised not to judge each other’s purchases while acknowledging that what one of us buys might affect the other.
If I waste $75 on a silly purchase, for example, it will come out of our combined budget. It might mean we skip going out to dinner that week. It could also mean that we fall short of our monthly savings goal. These consequences keep us accountable.
What to look for in a joint checking account
The only real difference between bank accounts and joint bank accounts is the number of account holders. When you and your significant other are looking to open an account, it’s important to align your priorities.
After years of earning a dime in interest on my legacy Bank of America account, I liked the idea of opening a high-yield checking account with Aspiration. It offers up to 1.00% interest. I also considered chasing a big checking account bonus by joining a new bank.
My girlfriend, meanwhile, has long banked with Chase, likes their customer service, and values their ATM presence in our neighborhood.
In choosing your checking account, you might be concerned with other factors, such as:
- Maintenance fees
- Allotted number of transactions or ATM withdrawals
- A user-friendly banking app
- A collection of other banking services, from investment accounts to home loans
If you find yourself compromising on what you want in a checking account, you might be thinking about it in the wrong way. Choosing the right joint checking account should be more about what you value as a couple.
If the account’s purpose is to collectively pay for routine bills, convenience might outweigh the interest rate. My girlfriend and I, for example, elected to choose a high-yield checking account for our emergency fund but Chase’s basic offering for our everyday expenses.
How to open a joint bank account
If you’re wondering how to open a joint bank account, it’s as easy as opening a savings or checking account as an individual.
If you’re applying online, you might need to check a box next to “joint checking account.” If you’re applying in a bank’s branch, you’ll both need documentation. My girlfriend is not a citizen, for example, so she needed to supply her green card.
Aside from being 18 and having a U.S. mailing address, you’ll likely be asked to supply your:
- Street address
- Email address
- Date of birth
- Social Security number
- Driver’s license or other ID
If you choose to commingle your cash, wait until after the joint checking account is open before closing your individual checking account. This way, you can transfer funds from the old account to the new one as your opening deposit.
Keeping your older account will also give you time to change your billing information for recurring charges or to set up a direct deposit via your employer.
My girlfriend and I decided to close our individual accounts to go all in on sharing short-term expenses and prioritizing long-term savings goals. But you and your partner might decide that having individual checking accounts gives you more freedom to spend on things you want, like holiday gifts for one another.
Don’t rush to open a joint bank account
If you and your partner aren’t ready for a joint checking account, consider alternatives. You might add each other as beneficiaries on your individual accounts. You could also wait until saying, “I do.”
If you’re ready to begin merging your finances though, start by looking at the pros and cons that are specific to your situation. Take your time considering whether convenience outweighs the risks.
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