Why I’m not opening a joint bank account with my husband-to-be

We’ve chosen not to go the route of 64% of couples.



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Every week, I get dozens of press releases from media professionals across the country looking to have their story featured on MoneySense.ca. Some are about new products, others are about upcoming events but the vast majority are findings from some survey or other. I pay most attention to the ones that cast the spotlight on some piece of information that you, dear reader, may find helpful on your personal journey to financial independence. This week however a press release on the topic of love and money caught my eye and entirely for selfish reasons: I’m getting hitched in 6 weeks.

TD Canada Trust surveyed adults in committed relationships and found 79% of Canadian couples have joint finances; no surprise there. But here’s where it gets interesting, well for me anyway. The top three personal finance products that Canadians combine with their partner are a joint bank account (64%), a mortgage (60%) and a joint credit card (50%), the bank found. Looks like my husband-to-be and I are taking the road less travelled.

Sure, I’ll be adopting a portion of the mortgage on Michael’s (and soon our) home. But unlike the majority of respondents to the TD poll, we recently made the decision not to open a joint bank account to pay for household expenses like groceries and utilities since neither of us is comfortable closing our existing accounts in favour of a single joint account. After discussing the logistics and monthly fees involved in transferring money from two individual accounts into a third account, we came to the conclusion that it just wouldn’t pay.

Instead, we thought, why not open a joint credit card to pay for all shared expenses? It’s convenient and reduces transaction costs. It also allows us to adjust our individual contributions from month-to-month. We suspect it’ll take a few months for us to determine exactly how much I’ll be contributing to the monthly bills anyway. You see, Michael is used to carrying the cost of the house on his own while I’ve grown accustomed to aggressively saving and budgeting for the odd luxury item (oh the spoils of living at home). We’re both looking forward to this new financial chapter of our lives and realizing our goals together. Ideally, we’d like to accelerate our mortgage payments but not at the expense of my retirement savings for instance. Realistically, we’re not going to achieve the perfect balance right off the bat. Paying the bills from a joint credit card will allow us to track our monthly expenses and test various splits as we go.

Of course this strategy means we’ll have to be extra diligent about paying off our bill to avoid costly interest fees, but neither of us carry a monthly balance on our credit cards so it really doesn’t require a change in habits. And we’ll be able to earn cash-back by paying with a reward credit card which should in theory help us reduce our monthly bills.

Meanwhile, I’ll transfer my share of the mortgage to Michael in lump sums and he’ll continue to pay the mortgage from his existing account. From our perspective it’s a very cost-conscious approach. But we’re clearly not in the majority here so I figured I’d consult TD’s Janice Farrell Jones for a second opinion.

“I wouldn’t say that there’s necessarily any real flaw in your strategy,” she said. “It is a good place to start with one product first, learn about each other that way and go from there.”

Jones also stressed the importance of clearly defining what our joint credit card should be used for. “What are you looking to spend on and do you have the same views on spending habits. Would you treat (the card) the same way?”

If there’s anything the study shows is that there’s no one-size-fits-all approach and we’re on the right track, Jones said, adding that a financial plan is key regardless of how we decide to combine our finances.

“A financial plan is really what’s helping you toward those long-term goals. If you are in a long-term, committed relationship, that’s likely what’s going to matter most down the road,” she said. The TD study found only 36% of Canadian couples have a common financial plan.TD+Canada+Trust+-+How+to+Marry+Love+and+Money


12 comments on “Why I’m not opening a joint bank account with my husband-to-be

  1. I agree. My first account with my fiance will be a credit card for getting groceries and other household items. I would rather do that since its simpler to do. Plus…I already pay enough bank fees…


  2. The article doesn’t really answer the question in the title. Why aren’t you comfortable merging your chequing accounts? Wouldn’t that be the most logical thing?


  3. Not too bad of a strategy. But, you should be able to find a no fee account if you look hard enough … ING perhaps. Furthermore, what happens when / if you happen to have a child and one of you has NO or a reduced income due to being off of work to look after the child – thats something that needs to be thought of. Are you going to move money between accounts to even things out? What is one of you gets a big raise and the other doesn’t? My wife and I prefer everything going to a joint account and then we each get a certain percentage to spend however you want. And we pay $0 in fees per month for accounts and credit cards.


  4. After i read this article, I said to myself “how sad, putting struggles, ahead of a peace and Calm”. Since my bride and i have wisely jointed our accounts, there have been numerous opportunities to discuss our future. a meeting of the minds so to speak. Our marriage strengthened, we have common goals, holiday trips, hot-tub, vehicle, weddings to plan and pay for. We also have a very healthy retirement set up (even though we started late), together we studied finance in our late 40’s, learned together, played together, communication was very important… WE know for a fact where WE are headed, WE are on the same page. Two of my favorite sayings are “Tell your money where to go… Don’t sit there and wonder Where it went..” also “A Proper Cash Flow Plan tells your money what to do… NOT your spouse”. Joint finances the only way to go..


  5. I think sharing a mortgage and having a joint financial plan are good. Credit cards,bank accounts should be held separate even using different banks. Choosing a low cost bank account plan is vital and a no-fee credit card is a must always.


  6. Sounds like a complicated system. Hope you sit down together a work out a fair market value for the house today, make sure that it is in writing for a prenup, and then track your payments from there forward. I had a boyfriend who lived with me for a year and thought he owned half my house. Not. My ex husband and I never split expenses according to income. We were a unit and we worked that way. Eventually, I stayed home with the kids (working as a freelancer for part of that time) and our incomes were crazy lopsided. We might have been broke on one income but we weren’t squabbling about who paid for what. We were both 100% in for everything. I did keep a separate bank account for tracking income and expenses for freelance work, and I kept a separate credit card that I used occasionally to pay for classes but that was just practical as you want to maintain your own credit rating in the event your ever separate. I don’t think I could have been comfortable with someone who wanted to break things down by percentage though maybe it is logical. It would have been strange though to split kid expenses like school lunches, baseball, shoes, etc., on an on-going basis. And does the bigger income earner get to spend their “extra” cash as they see fit without consulting the other spouse? We had family money, full stop. :-)


  7. Should either of you die or be killed in an accident/unexpectedly, the spouse’s bank account who died will be frozen by the bank. They will wait for a probated will. You will have no access to any of that money for the family or yourself. This is not the case if the account were joint.


  8. While I’m admitedly biased by my approach (MY WAY has to be right… RIGHT?), I feel it’s important to be as analytical as possible when planning family financial matters, and check the emotions at the door. On paper, it just doesn’t make sense to have multiple separate personal accounts. For a variety of reasons, efficiency being the number one, one account with all withdrawls and deposits makes the most sense. Surplus funds should be put in an appropriate agreed upon joint savings vehicle.

    In theory you are joined for life, so to do anything separate only makes sense if you accept separation/divorce as a vialbe option (not unreasonable, but people need to understand this is really the only acceptable argument to keep things separate).

    If you take separation/divorce off the table, one joint account, one joint financial plan (separate accounts for tax efficiency within the financial plan makes sense for investements) and all joint assets is the only model that makes sense in terms of efficiency.

    If you have poor communication and/or feel there is a disparity in spending, then set an agreed upon number that makes sense based onyour incomes ($100?) and agree that any purchase over that number will be cleared with the other partner first. If you feel it’s death by a thousand cuts, then set an agreed upon annual budget with your partner for misc purchases ($1000?) and have them track to it.

    Why are you saving separately? Hoarding your own piles of money just doesn’t make sense for a married couple unless you consider the potential for divorce (and even then.. assets are generally split equally…so you don’t accomplish anything but avoiding talking about money). Transparency is best for a marriage… go ahead, take the plunge and merge your accounts!


  9. My partner (now wife) setup a joint account into which we both paid 50% of our Net (after tax and so on). The joint account paid the mortgage and other agreed costs such as car expenses (insurance, repairs and taxes) house insurance, phone, TV and internet, groceries, hydro, vacations, and other household running costs.
    We were responsible for our own credit card bills with the understanding that the outstanding that the outstanding balance was paid each month to avoid interest charges. Credit card bills for items that were agreed to be joint expenses were paid from the joint account. If the joint account was in surplus at month end the surplus was carried forward: any shortage was covered monthly by additional payments by each of us in the same percentage as our monthly contribution.We both attempted to pay to our RRSPs sufficient to max out our contributions if possible.
    At the end of the year a contribution was made to a spousal RRSP so that RRSP contributions were balanced using the balance in the joint account.
    By contributing to the joint account the same percentage of our after tax and other deductions took into account the difference in our incomes and monthly variations in our pay from commissions and bonuses.



  10. We hope your 2-½ year old marriage is working well AND your finances. Good article. May I add that I did trust my ex gf to pay some bills, for our morally joint triplex renovations. Make a simple written agreement limiting joint expenses, both qualitatively and quantitatively. (Max to spend on what.) Things you should pay for: your own clothes, personal effect, and he- his; I’d suggest never an expensive seldom used tool for him and a fancy seldom worn dress for you jointly. This from a guy who had to sue his own ex-GIRLfriend who not only spent his money without asking, she sold the entire triplex, because both it and all the leases were registered only in her name! Btw, amazingly I alone won -versus- her and two lawyers. Needless to say, we never married


  11. If you are combining finances and are concerned about the fees on multiple accounts, something I found really surprising, even as a financial planner of many years, is that going up to the premium service of a financial institution provides one of the most economical ways to have multiple bank accounts and credit card fees at one very low monthly price. These usually also provide discounts on safety deposit boxes. We are so use to looking downward that sometimes looking upward is far less expensive.


  12. I would have chosen the joint bank account over the joint credit card. As a previous reply stated in the event of a death the bank account will be frozen unless it is joint. Worse still the credit card will only continue to be valid if it is the primary cardholder who did not die. If you are not the primary card holder and you spouse dies then your card will be cancelled. It seems to make sense to have separate credit cards or at least a joint one and then the person who is not the primary card holder on the joint one should have their own card as well. This will build a credit rating for both of you instead of just the primary card holder.


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