Merging finances is an important but big move to make for many couples.
There are many reasons to combine incomes; couples with joint accounts may find it easier to keep track of their finances, as they're likely spending on rent, groceries and other shared expenses together. Likewise, a higher sum of money will grow faster in a savings account, so couples can earn more over time.
But merging finances is a serious step in a relationship. After all, you're putting trust in one another to spend and save responsibly and, in some cases, you're agreeing to share your hard-earned income in order to achieve a life you want to live together. So how do you know when the best time to take this step is?
Of course, there's no right or wrong answer, as this step in a relationship is largely situational. But FGBers have been chiming in on their thoughts on the matter on our community board since Kelsey S. asks: "How soon is too soon to combine finances with your partner?"
She goes on:
"My boyfriend and I have been living together for about three years and we are getting to the point where we split pretty much everything evenly. He brought up the option of combining our finances completely, but I'm not sure if this is a smart move before marriage?"
Here's what FGBers have to say.
1. Do it when it feels right.
"My, now husband, and I had the conversation about money when we were living together as we also split the bills," says Rialiama. "Not everyone wants to get married, so they just combine them when they are fully committed partners. I think you have to do it when you feel comfortable. Some people, even with marriage, are not combined. It is just what is best for you two."
2. Consider opening a joint account, but keeping your credit cards and a bank account separate.
"One piece of advice: Keep your own credit cards and bank account," advises Nancie Shuman. "Have a joint account where each of you transfers a set amount of money every month, and have it on auto bill pay so that no one has direct access on a regular basis. Reconcile the hell out of it every month, and make a date every quarter to go over what is working and what isn't, and any adjustments which need to be made, both in contribution and in output. Also, be very clear what is and isn't the household responsibility as opposed to personal. Some things get fuzzy fast."
"We've been married 12 years and we still keep separate accounts," says an anonymous FGBer. "We have one joint account for joint expenses. Both of us went through divorces, so both of us know better than to combine finances. Just don't do it."
Keeping personal accounts personal seems to be a common theme.
"We have our own personal checking and savings, but we also have a joint account to which we contribute monthly in equal amounts, where all the house bills come out off and where we save for such things as vacations and family outings," says Alejandra Meréz. "I like that we have separate so that when I buy them a gift, it’s from my money. Hope that helps some."
3. Keep the communication open.
"Money is a tough issue for some people, so I think a lot of conversations should be had about it — and honestly, make them fun," adds an anonymous FGBer. "Hubby and I have money dates because that's the only way I can talk about finances without panicking. We have a shared checking and shared savings account. We use Simple banking so we can set goals (long- and short-term), and then whatever money we have leftover we keep in our personal accounts for whatever it is, like our hobbies, etc. Communication is key. As long as you have that, you'll be okay!"
4. Understand the legal side.
"Why would you combine finances without being married? I do not see any advantage to you in doing this, unless you have a written agreement relating to the separation of expenses and the division of assets should you separate," says A.N. "In addition, depending on the law in your state, long-term cohabitation could allow a partner to claim common law marriage. Combining finances would only strengthen such a claim. As this suggests, I would not combine finances before marriage without a written agreement. I don’t see the upside to you."
5. Just stick with splitting the bills.
"Keep splitting the bills," says lorikimball26. "Keep your own account and there won't be any disagreements in the future."
Others agree, though they add that you don't necessarily need to split everything; rather, you can just cover each other.
"My boyfriend and I have been together for 2.5 years and we just cover each other's expenses," says Liz Bui. "I will pay for one thing, then he does the next. We don't actually split anything anymore. I would say hold off on putting your finances together until you are legally married to him, just for your own financial safety."
AnnaMarie Houlis is a feminist, a freelance journalist and an adventure aficionado with an affinity for impulsive solo travel. She spends her days writing about women’s empowerment from around the world. You can follow her work on her blog, HerReport.org, and follow her journeys on Instagram @her_report, Twitter @herreport and Facebook.