What Are Joint Bank Accounts Best (and Not Best) For?

Lindsay Goldwert
August 17th, 2020 | 5 min
What Are Joint Bank Accounts Best (and Not Best) For?
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Combining your finances and opening a joint bank account with your partner is a big step. It’s one thing to tell the person you love all your darkest secrets and deepest fears but showing them how you spend your money and revealing your less-than-perfect financial habits? Um, that can seem way too personal.

Despite the fact that millennials are combining finances at a lower rate than Boomers (and about the same rate as Gen Xers), joint accounts and merged money are still very much a part of couples finance.

That said, there’s no one-size-fits all approach to how much money couples can or should allocate to their joint bank accounts and keep in their individual accounts. How you share finances and what you choose to include as shared expenses will always vary couple-to-couple.

Taking an “I’ll show you mine, if you show me yours” approach to money takes guts and trust. That said, beyond the anxiety of combining finances, there’s some tried and true practical advice to how you can use the money in your joint bank account.

We asked some experts to give guidance on how you can get the most out of a joint bank account (without giving up the independence that comes with having your own individual accounts).

What goes into your joint bank account?

One way to think about your joint account is the pot of money you each contribute to in order to keep your household running smoothly without interruptions.

Douglas Boneparth, an NYC-based financial planner who works with millennials, recommends that shared expenses be paid out of a joint account, versus juggling who pays what from each person’s individual account.

“Think about it as life’s operational account, so all the things that make life work for a couple get paid from there,” he said. “Ultimately, couples need to do what’s best for their situation and relationship, but I prefer they have one joint checking account to handle all joint expenses like rent/mortgage and shared bills.”

If you are constantly ping-ponging money between the two of you for various bills, you may want to think about combining finances for the things that keep the lights on (literally and figuratively).

“Paying already shared household expenses like housing, utilities, internet, etc. from your first joint account can be a simple way to start merging your finances while also streamlining your money as a couple,” said personal finance writer Stefanie O’Connell-Rodriguez.

There’s also the ease of paying those bills.

“Rather than Venmoing your rent to your partner at the start of every month or vice versa, you can both contribute to your joint checking account and pay the rent directly from your joint account,” she said.

Establishing rules for the joint account

When you’re a couple, you spend so much money on stuff that’s for you both -- sort of. But is it a shared expense or an expense that you should (according to your rules) come out of your individual account?

This is also the time to dig into the nebulous world of shared but somewhat together finances -- gym memberships, wedding gifts, vacations, or streaming services. Who uses what more? Who wants to treat the other one? That’s up to you guys to work out and decide what to allocate as individual vs a shared expense.

Whatever you do, create the rules and stick to them or be clear when there needs to be a break from the rules so that there’s never any confusion as to what the joint account is for.

“I'm not of the view that there's any one right system of rules and expectations for sharing your money, but I do believe it's critical that each couple establish their own,” said O’Connell-Rodriguez. “Problems tend to arise when the money rules and expectations are violated, or if they've never been established to begin with.”

How and Who Contributes To the Joint Account (and When)

Once you've outlined what your shared expenses are the next, and honestly, the most important step, is to have a conversation with your partner about the rules and expectations around the shared money and what gets spent from the joint bank account vs. your individual account.

In short, how much of your paycheck is for “us” and how much is for “you.”

“For example, are you both expecting to deposit your paychecks in full to your shared checking account? Or is there a set amount of money you're each committed to contributing to your shared checking account, leaving the rest of your income to spend or save for whatever personal expenses you might have,” said Stefanie O’Connell-Rodriguez.

Now is the time to hammer out the rules of the joint account and how you want to communicate about the money in it.

“Is there a certain dollar amount at which you expect your partner to check in with you before withdrawing money from or making a purchase from your shared accounts, ex. $500?” she said.

Think of the joint account as the “team account”

So yes, joint accounts are a really helpful way to simplify your lives and the coordinate around shared expenses and lives.

“You’re both legal co-owners of the account so you have to be comfortable opening it with someone who has access to any and all monies in there,” said Aditi Shekar, CEO of Zeta. “If you’ve passed that sniff test, then joint accounts open up tons of possibility! You can stop sending money back and forth to each other and instead just put money into your joint account and spend from there.”

How you set up your financial lives and create your rules is ultimately up to you.

“We’ve seen couples do this many ways,” said Shekar. “They may deposit full or part of their paychecks into their joint account or set up recurring transfers into that joint account from personal accounts or even deposit money one-off when the joint account needs cash.”

By setting up the rules around shared vs individual expenses and how to use the joint account early, you’ll be way more likely to get the most out of your joint account -- and then you can start planning for all the adventures and good times you’ll have after getting bills out of the way.

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The Zeta Joint Card and Joint Account is offered by Radius Bank, Member FDIC. Zeta Help Inc. is a service provider of the issuing bank. All deposit accounts of the same ownership and/or vesting held at the issuing bank are combined and insured under an FDIC Certificate, up to $500,000. The Zeta Joint Debit Card, provided by MasterCard, may be used everywhere where MasterCard Debit Cards are accepted.