Pros and cons of merging finances with your long-term partner

Couple looking at computer together
May 21, 2024 | Anne Purcell

Whether you are in a long-term partnership or legal marriage, the conversation of merging your finances will come up. While there are benefits to doing so, such as being able to pay for large bills, such as a mortgage, car payment or costs related to children, out of the same account, some couples choose not to combine finances at all.

Many factors can impact the decision whether to combine finances, such as different attitudes around saving and spending, salary differences, individual debt, etc. For some, the conversation about merging finances may not even be a question, while with other couples, it might take a conversation around finances to see what would work best.

For long-term partnerships and legal marriages, there are three common ways to manage finances: completely together, completely separate or some variation of individual and joint bank accounts. Here, we will discuss the arguments for and against these methods. Remember that all couples are different, and what works for some may not work for you.

The argument for and against joint accounts

According to Bankrate, 43% of couples who live together completely combine their finances. Some research even suggests, such as one study from the Indiana University Kelley School of Business conducted in 2023, that couples who combine finances are happier and fight less about money.

Merged bank accounts can make paying bills easier, since the funds will come from one account instead of one partner paying and the other having to pay their partner back. It is easier to track the money coming in and out since it is all stored in one place. Having merged accounts can also give couples a sense of togetherness within their partnership because “mine” turns into “ours.” Also, if someone dies, the surviving partner will already have access to the money, therefore avoiding legal processes concerning accessibility.

On the other hand, some couples feel they would lose control or independence if they merge finances. You cannot control how your partner spends their money, or you may not feel you can spend the money on what you wish. There is also a lack of privacy since all money comes and goes from the same space. Debt can also be a point of tension when it comes to combining finances. Instead of it just being theirs, or yours, to deal with, the debt becomes something that you will need to tackle as a couple. Also, even though you and your partner don’t plan on breaking up, things do happen, and merged accounts will complicate things if you part ways.

The argument for and against separate accounts

While 43% of couples have joint accounts, 23% keep their finances separate. Those with separate accounts may feel that they have more independence over their saving and spending, because whatever they make and spend is wholly theirs. Sometimes, couples keep their accounts separate due to one partner having a lot of debt and the other not feeling as if they should need to take on debt their partner had before they were in a relationship. Furthermore, if the relationship does not last, there wouldn’t be any shared accounts that would need to be split.

Couples with separate accounts may still share some expenses, but both would simply contribute to bills from their individual accounts. Or, they may operate on the idea that if one person takes care of one thing, such as the internet bill, then the other would cover a different bill. With the rise of digital and online banking, moving money from one person to another is much easier than in the past, making the exchange between partners with separate bank accounts more seamless.

However, even though separate accounts may provide each partner with feelings of independence, it might make couples feel less close. It also might be more difficult to collectively save for shared goals due to finances being in different places and not having a transparent view of what is coming in and out for each partner.

At the end of the day, for some couples, separate accounts work best. Gen Z couples, or those between the ages of 18 and 27, are also more likely to keep their finances separate compared to older couples. There are many reasons why this may be, such as the increase in college debt, lower income or fewer shared expenses.

The argument for and against a combination of the two

The choice of what to do with your finances in a relationship doesn’t have to be to combine them or not to combine them. Instead, some couples opt to do a combination of both. In this case, both partners could have a shared account(s) where they put a percentage of their income into it each month and combine expenses, such as a mortgage, childcare or shared vacations, which would come from that account. Then, each partner would have their own account with money to do whatever they wish.

If you are one who feels as if completely combining finances takes away your sense of independence but still wants to have a joint account to take care of combined bills or responsibilities, this might be the best choice for you. For some, this strategy still provides a sense of unity while also providing each partner with a sense of independence. However, tensions still can occur if each partner makes very different salaries, or if one loses or takes a break from a job.

Open conversations about your finances are key

At the end of the day, every relationship is different, and how you approach your finances should be different from that of your neighbors or friends. If you are a younger couple, combining accounts might not make sense since there may be few shared bills, or you may want to merge your accounts later once you have children. If you and your partner are happy with your separate accounts and it works for you – that’s great, too. The best decision is what works best for you (and your partner).

However, a key to having a solid financial relationship with your partner is to continue to talk about your finances openly and regularly; whether you have merged your finances completely, have separate accounts, or a combination. Financial infidelity, the act where one partner hides some specifics around their finances (such as spending habits, secret accounts or credit cards, or debt), affects many couples – with 42% admitting to it, according to Reynolds Financial Group.

This could be due to a need for financial privacy or a desire for control over finances, but it can be detrimental to your relationship. Financial infidelity can occur regardless of whether you have shared or separate accounts. Having transparent conversations and developing plans you can both agree on will help.

Having separate or having joint accounts at Alliant

As an all-digital credit union, Alliant makes it easy to transfer money between members so that you and your partner can keep your accounts separate and transfer money between you. You or your partner can also become a joint member of an account. You can be a joint member on your partner’s account with or without being a member. However, if this is the case, there are some limitations to what you can do within the account. Learn more about joint membership at Alliant here.

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