Should I Combine Finances With My Partner?
Merging your finances is a big decision and should never be taken lightly. If you and your spouse have reached a point where this seems like a viable option, keep the lines open.
If this hasn’t crossed your mind or theirs, perhaps it’s time to approach for some clarity and see where you each are, money or debt-wise.
The process of creating joint accounts can be a little tedious but not impossible if you’re both willing to ask questions and make decisions on what you will use the accounts for.
Most importantly, it is always good practice to keep money discussions as honest as possible.
This week’s question:
“I live with my boyfriend, and we’re considering combining our finances. Is that a good idea?”
I know it’s annoying for an advice columnist to say, “it depends,” but, it depends. If you’re 23 and you’ve been dating for three months, I’d put on my mom hat and say that you should wait until you and your partner have been together longer before you combine finances. If you’re 28 and you’ve been together three years, I’d be less inclined to run over and grab the shared debit card out of your hand.
Combining finances involves setting up joint checking and savings accounts, applying for a shared credit card, and potentially helping each other pay off student loan or existing credit card debt.
But deciding to merge your money isn’t just moving cash around. It also means choosing to trust your partner completely with your finances. You need to know that there won’t be any impulse motorcycle purchases or secret wine club memberships. You must have a clear understanding of each other’s current financial circumstances, future goals and spending habits, which doesn’t happen overnight.
Let’s say you’re in your late 20s, you live with your partner and you’re planning for a future together (basically, you’re saving engagement rings to Pinterest). Living together before marriage is more common than ever. Among adults ages 25 to 34, 14.9 percent of men and 14.3 percent of women lived with an unmarried partner in 2015, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Those numbers have nearly doubled since 2000 and nearly tripled since 1990.
Step 1: Have the money talk
After moving in, many couples consider combining finances, but it’s not strictly necessary. If you want to merge your money, you should have an open, honest and low-pressure money discussion, in which you lay out all your current and past financial information. Share your income — how much you earn annually and how much hits your bank account each pay period — and your debt, credit scores, savings, investments and financial goals. Set a specific day and time to have this chat, and pick a spot where you feel relaxed and focused.
Talking about money is hard. You or your partner might feel embarrassed or ashamed about your financial history. But you can treat this initial discussion as an opportunity to make a clean start and to prevent money from being a big, scary monster in your relationship. You’ll be doing each other a favor: In a 2009 study published in the journal Family Relations, researchers found that money wasn’t the cause of the most fights among married couples — children and chores topped the list — but arguments about money matters were the most pervasive and problematic over time.