Combining Bank Accounts With Your Spouse? What Financial Experts Want You to Consider

The biggest business decision you'll ever make is picking your romantic partner. One of my wisest former editors told me this, and the advice has always stuck with me. I've shared it with my circle of friends, and it's become a sort of litmus test in our group. Whenever we're considering a serious relationship with someone, we ask, "You love them, sure — but would you want them to be your business partner?"

It's not always a dating dealbreaker, but it's a fair question to ask — especially if you're considering consolidating bank accounts. Merging money requires not only trust, but a ton of understanding and open communication. There are certainly benefits, but it's also easy for things to go awry.

In a recent survey of 1,659 people by the financial services company Bread Financial, 48 percent of coupled respondents who shared a bank account with their partner said they were surprised by what they found when they merged finances. When it comes to merging accounts, "surprises" aren't ideal, whether they involve a low credit score, debt, a Temu addiction, or tons of money tied up in "buy now, pay later" purchases. (Even a good surprise — like finding out your partner is secretly loaded, as in the case of George and Callie in "Grey's Anatomy" — may signal some subpar communication habits in your relationship.)

If everyone is honest and shares openly, though, it lessens the chance of major surprises popping up when you take the big step of merging accounts, says Aja Evans, LMHC, a financial therapist in New York. But sharing a bank account is different than sharing a pizza or even a bedroom — it's a big deal. This is true whether you've decided to merge money with a spouse, a partner, or multiple people in a polycule.

We asked experts what you should know before you merge and how to best set yourself up for success if you do.

What to Consider Before Combining Bank Accounts

There's really no "wrong" way to go about handling finances in your relationship, but there is a lot to discuss before you take the plunge. First, what, exactly, are you merging? Everything? Specific accounts that you'll use to save or pay for shared expenses? What kind of assets and debts are in play? It's good to go over all the nitty-gritty details before you move any money, says Lindsay Bryan-Podvin, LMSW, a financial therapist at Mind Money Balance and behavioral finance expert at Bread Financial.

Pre-merge is also a good time to discuss any financial traumas or anxieties each of you has. Bryan-Podvin defines "money trauma" as any financial scenario you've experienced that leads you to feel worried about how your finances will impact your livelihood, whether that's the loss of a job or having grown up without much money. This can cause a scarcity mindset, or the idea that "there's never enough" money, Evans says. Or, it might lead you to overspend.

"If we imagine a child who grew up food insecure, we would understand how, even as an adult, they might struggle if there's a buffet presented to them," Bryan-Podvin says. "Growing up in a place where we didn't know where food was going to come from, we respond by overeating when we have the choice. Similarly, when we imagine a person who grew up in financial scarcity, it would make sense that if money is coming in, they might spend it really quickly."

Whatever informed your relationship to spending and saving, Evans calls this your "money story," and it's worth telling to your partner, especially if you feel safe enough to share an account number with them.

The Benefits of Combining Bank Accounts With a Spouse

If you have these conversations and decide to move forward and join some or all of your accounts, there are some real benefits. "You earn more interest on products like CDs [certificates of deposit] or high-yield savings accounts," Bryan-Podvin notes. It's also often just convenient, and nice to have everything in one or a few places as you monitor what's going in and out.

You also might save on fees or penalties, especially if your bank requires you to keep a certain amount of money in an account. Similarly, if you share a credit card, you'll likely only have to pay one premium.

Merging accounts, meanwhile, means being very transparent about what you're spending, which can be a good way to emphasize trust with your partner. "There's no bigger vulnerability than saying, 'Here's my bank account,'" Bryan-Podvin says.

"There's no bigger vulnerability than saying, 'Here's my bank account.'"

Sharing funds also means you have someone to work towards goals with, which Evans says can be a beautiful thing. "I always encourage couples to have both goals that they want to accomplish individually and goals that they want to accomplish as a couple," she says. "When you have joint finances, being able to accomplish those goals together can be a lot easier because you see your money pooled together." It also means you have an accountability buddy. Just having someone to nudge you and say, "Hey, did you know you spent $1,000 on random TikTok Shop purchases this month?" can be a welcome wake-up call.

Beyond that, your partner can be a sounding board. Perhaps you read the viral Charlotte Cowles article in The Cut, which detailed the columnist's harrowing journey falling for a scam and handing $50,000 cash in a taped-up shoe box to a stranger through the window of an SUV. "She says in the piece that, as soon as she told her husband what had happened, she realized it was a scam — vulnerability that I appreciated," Bryan-Podvin says.

"She wished she would have said something earlier. If she had, her husband might have said, 'Hang on let's take a beat here — how likely is it that the CIA is contacting you about this, when there's no proof your identity has been stolen?' It sounds extreme; but 8 to 15 percent of Americans are falling vulnerable to these scams," Bryan-Podvin adds, citing a Gallup survey.

In general, two heads are better than one, whether you're trying to decipher a possible scam, or you're just trying to balance your budget for the month.

When You Shouldn't Combine Bank Accounts

You may choose not to merge if there's a huge income difference, Bryan-Podvin notes, or "if one of you is coming into the partnership with financial expenses or responsibilities, such as caring for children from a previous relationship or paying for an adult sibling who is disabled. Those are gonna be times where you're probably not going to want to integrate finances because it's already so complex."

Many people have debt, but its presence can also be a complicating factor for joint-account holders. If one person in your relationship has a lot of debt and the other person doesn't, using joint income to pay off the balance requires buy-in from both parties. If one (or both) of you aren't comfortable using shared funds in this way, it might be a better choice to keep separate accounts.

If you already know that you and your partner spend your money very differently, it's worth considering whether combining could lead to fights that could otherwise be avoided. If this is the case, you could choose not to merge anything, or could do a "yours, mine, and ours," strategy, where each person has their own bank account for personal expenses, but you have a combined account for shared expenses. Alternatively, you could share all your money, but set aside a certain amount of discretionary funds that each person can spend on whatever they want. That way, there's transparency, but also freedom, Bryan-Podvin says.

Of course, the biggest reason not to share an account with someone is if you don't fully trust them. "The reality is, if you have a shared checking or banking account, and you're putting all of the money in, one person can be taking all the money out," Bryan-Podvin says. "So we really need to have a good level of trust and communication so something like that doesn't happen."

That's an extreme scenario, but there could also be more minor spending behind each other's backs that adds up if there isn't trust. In the Bread Financial survey mentioned earlier, almost half of couples admitted to "financial infidelity," with more than 1 in 10 hiding a purchase from their partner because they were embarrassed. Meanwhile, about 12 percent of men surveyed said they'd hidden cryptocurrency ownership from a partner.

Financial infidelity can take many forms and look like having some extra shopping bags stashed away in the trunk, having an offshore bank account, or even committing fraud, Evans says.

Beyond the extreme examples (which do happen), a lot of financial infidelity seems to stem from our societal aversion to — and shame associated with — talking about money. Before you merge anything, you can head off problems by "just checking with your partner emotionally — what are the topics that might be a little bit more sensitive or a little bit more emotionally charged for them?" Bryan-Podvin says.

"One person might be super comfortable talking about their debt, whereas another person might feel really embarrassed about it," Bryan-Podvin says. "One person in the relationship might feel really excited to talk about their income, whereas somebody else might have some shame tied to it. Get a sense of: what are your financial pain points that you can be cognizant of in the future?"

"You have to trust each other and you have to have open communication," Evans adds. "If you don't have that, don't feel like you have to join your accounts. Do what feels best for both of you. . . . You want to make sure you're protecting yourself."

Trust your gut. "If some of those red flags are going up in the beginning — or even if they're yellow flags — try to have a conversation with your partner, and yourself," Bryan-Podvin says.

Red flags can easily turn into big problems when money is involved, Evans notes. Financial abuse is more pervasive than most of us realize — it actually occurs in 99 percent of domestic violence cases, per The Center For Financial Security. It can look different for different folks, but it could mean someone withholds or controls your funds, yells at you for every purchase, or impacts your ability to work and make money.

If you're feeling there's a lack of trust, even if you merge most of your money, you may decide to have a separate account for relationship emergencies — enough to buy a plane ticket home or get a hotel for a week. "It's so important for us to have our own financial safety net that is not necessarily a secret, but is separate," Bryan-Podvin adds.

Other Considerations and Questions to Ask Before Combining Bank Accounts

Beyond the pros and cons, there are some other considerations you might take into account (a pun that simply couldn't be avoided) before you take this big step with your partner.

You'll want to go into detail on the types of expenses you're going to share: will you just be sharing on rent and groceries or do you want to invest together? If you're sharing an emergency fund, you'll want to define what the term "emergency" means to each of you.

"Everyone has their own threshold," Bryan-Podvin says. "So having that conversation beforehand can be very helpful. What if someone uses half the emergency fund because their favorite singer is coming to town and they couldn't help but buy tickets for the concert? Some would say that's a novelty, not an emergency, like losing your job is, but everyone has a different financial mindset."

You might also discuss alternative options to merging accounts, like being that couple who's always Venmo-ing each other (no shade, if it works, it works!). Financial therapy could also be helpful to consider in order to chat all this through with someone who may be able to mediate or offer guidance.

So, Should You Combine Bank Accounts With a Spouse?

Everyone's financial situation and relationship is different, so what works for one, might not work for another. But all of these considerations are worth delving into before you take the plunge and pool your funds.

And whatever you decide, be flexible. "The most important thing is having these conversations in an ongoing way," Bryan-Podvin says. "People come in thinking, 'We're going to split our finances 60/40, and now that's set things in stone.' Instead, you might say, 'For now, this works — given that one person makes more than the other — but if something changes, like one person leaves the workforce or gets laid off or gets a raise, everything can change.'"

The bottom line: be flexible and remember to trust your gut. This is a business decision.

If you are the victim of financial abuse, the National Domestic Hotline has resources online, and you can also call them at 1-800-799-7233.

Molly Longman is a freelance journalist who loves to tell stories at the intersection of health and politics.