Money at 30: Why My Wife and I Have Separate Bank Accounts
Before my now wife and I got engaged, my mother-in-law forced us both to read a book called Lies at the Altar, which is meant to make couples think about a number of topics and discuss them with each other before jumping into the commitment of marriage. Naturally one of the sections was about money, including questions about whether we would turn all of our accounts into joint accounts or retain our separate ones. When this question arose, I answered honestly: I kind of wanted to keep my bank account.
My reasoning wasn’t that I thought we might get divorced or because I wanted to spend money without my wife knowing — it’s just that I liked my bank. Even as I said this initially, part of me felt I was giving the wrong answer as it seemed like everything I had seen or been told (be it related to financial or marital advice) practically insisted on joint everything. But, in the end, my wife and I were perfectly happy with the prospect of keeping our own accounts and, nearly three years later, neither of us have any regrets about that.
So is there really anything wrong with married couples having separate bank accounts? Not that I can tell. Here’s why it works for us:
This is probably the biggest case people make as to why couples should have joint accounts: it shows trust. I suppose that means you trust that the other person won’t drain the account and split for the coast, but I’d argue that the opposite is actually true. In my case I trust that my wife is handling her money responsibly and she assumes the same from me. Neither of us are using our accounts to hide extra money or make secret purchases — we just have our (as in we share it) money spread out between banks.
Loyalty and status
I opened my Wells Fargo checking account when I was 18 years old. As a result I seem to have been grandfathered into some perks that’s are practically unheard of these day. For example my account has no maintenance fees and no minimum balance. Heck, they didn’t even open a fraudulent account in my name without my knowledge so you know I’m beloved there!
In all honesty I do have loyalty to my bank because when I was broke the guy at my local branch would help me out even when he totally wasn’t supposed to. He once slipped me a note that said “I reversed five O.D.s” — as in overdrafts — which equated to him giving me back over $150 back. (And, yes, I had five overdrafts at one time. Ouch.)
Meanwhile my wife has been with her bank, PNC, since her local bank was purchased by them forever ago. She’s had the same rewards credit card with them for over a decade now and, like my mysterious “student” checking account, they don’t even seem to offer one as good anymore. Believe me when I tell you that, when visiting home this summer, my wife was legitimately excited to visit her bank branch — how could you let go of that?
For whatever reason my wife doesn’t own any personal checks. Not that she needs them very often but there are things like rent and taxes that often require them. Luckily I’m still working on a box I ordered five years ago (that Wells Fargo gave me for free since it had been so long since my initial box) and so it just makes sense that I take care of those items.
Additionally, although we now live in an area where neither of our banks exist, it was important for me to have that Wells Fargo account when my wife first moved to Los Angeles where there wasn’t a PNC around for hundreds of miles. Likewise there have been times where my bank is missing but hers is present. In these cases having more bank accounts has proven helpful, not harmful.
Lastly, with both of us holding onto accounts we’ve had for 12+ years, there’d be a lot we’d have to do if we were to get rid of them. From direct deposit to automatic bill pay, it would honestly just be a pain to have to update everything to our new joint account if we decided to open one. I don’t want to sound lazy but…
This doesn’t quite apply to our separate bank accounts per se but it’s the same principal: we also have separate credit cards. Yes, my wife likely saved my credit by making me an authorized user on the PNC card she loves so much, but I didn’t reciprocate when I recently got my Discover card. Why? Well we had actually opened another card recently as well — a Macy’s AmEx we applied for in order to save $100 on a couch we purchased. This was before I learned about my good credit and so we made a point to put the new card in her name. As a result making each other authorized users could actually hurt us since it would drag our age of credit down.
Similarly we can now keep our credit utilization rates low (like, 9% low) because of the different options we have. As I mentioned everything my wife and I make we still consider our money and not mine or hers. Thus I have no problem putting an extra purchase on my credit card if it means keeping our main Visa below a certain threshold. Having different cards in our different names is also super helpful for maximizing our rewards.
To bring it back to actual banking, there are admittedly times when having multiple accounts can get a little tricky. For example some of my wife’s accounts do have minimum balance requirements that could syphon off our cash if we dip too low. However in these cases I’m easily able to transfer money to her to keep us above that line and avoiding fees. So while there may be some challenges, this point is hardly enough of a negative to really count it as such.
Despite what I may have read (or what my mother-in-law really wants) before getting married, I have yet to find any reason why my wife and I should feel badly for having separate banking accounts. Ultimately it’s not the act of having joint accounts that leads to a happy marriage and happy finances — it’s the mentality behind it. As long as we keep an open dialogue, discussing any potential big purchases with each other and working together to figure out what makes the most financial sense for us, I don’t suppose we’ll be merging our accounts any time soon.