Congratulations on your marriage! You’ll be combining your life with your spouse in many ways, but you should also think about how you’ll be combining your finances—or not.
When I talk about combining marital finances, I mean deciding to what extent you will have separate bank accounts and separate property. Do you each have your own checking and savings accounts? Are your vehicles all in both spouses’ names, or do you have separate titles for each vehicle? (The one thing we know for certain: you each need a last will and testament in your own name, not a joint will.)
There is a certain amount of financial commingling that is impossible to avoid when getting married. Depending on what state you live in, you might be jointly responsible for any debt acquired during your marriage, regardless of which spouse took out the debt in the first place.
Pros of Merging Finances
Combining finances with your spouse reinforces the idea that you are a team, and that financial decisions need to be made together. Here are some concrete advantages of having commingled finances:
- It evens the playing field if you have different incomes. Since you pool all your money together, neither spouse will feel like they don't have enough to keep up;
- Presumably you have joint responsibilities—rent/mortgage, utilities, expenses related to children, even vacations. Having your money together makes it easy to pay for your joint responsibilities equitably.
- Reinforces joint financial goals. Mixing finances means you and your spouse have to work together to reach your financial goals. There are now two people working together to conquer these milestones. This is a good thing, and should strengthen your marriage.
- If there is an emergency—or one of the spouses dies—having everything owned jointly means that the other spouse will have easy, immediate access to the money. You can mitigate this by having each spouse fill out a Pay on Death form that establishes their spouse as a beneficiary for their bank accounts, but that won’t help if one spouse is incapacitated but not dead.
Cons of Commingling Finances
Of course, there are disadvantages to having your finances all held in joint accounts. Not everyone wants to lose control over their finances—and commingling finances with your spouse means a certain amount of lost control, even if it is to someone you love and trust.
Here are some reasons not to combine finances with your spouse:
- Your spouse’s financial decisions can affect your much more than if your finances are kept separate;
- You will lose some autonomy about how you spend your money. Your spouse is more likely to have comments about your spending habits if it comes from a joint account that he or she can see;
- Having combined finances makes it harder should a separation happen.
In this exciting time of your life, finances can be just another thing to worry about. But having positive, healthy conversations with your spouse about your financial futures can be incredibly helpful in cementing good financial habits.