Opening a Joint Bank Account: When's the Right Time

Tiana Soto
October 13th, 2019 | 7 mins

Every relationship has those milestones that you’ll both remember forever. Things like saying your first “I love you,” getting married, buying a home together, or having your first baby. But there’s one important milestone that rarely gets included in family scrapbooks: opening a joint bank account with your partner.

While it’s not as glamorous as a wedding or as heartwarming as ILYSM, combining finances is still a key moment in any relationship. For many of us, it can serve as a sign of trust, commitment and/or a shared future together. And considering that every couple and relationship is different, knowing when the right time is to open a joint bank account can definitely leave you scratching your head. Should you open one together after you tie the knot? Or maybe when you both start splitting bills after the move-in? There’s no right or wrong answer but, we can certainly tell you what other couples have done!

But before we get into the nitty gritty of timing, here’s why opening a joint bank account can be a smart move:

What are the benefits of opening a joint bank account?

Joint bank accounts have several benefits as your lives together start to get more intertwined. In some cases, it may even make sense to open a joint checking and savings account at the same time. To figure out what’s right for you, here’s a breakdown of what each of these accounts can offer a relationship:

Joint checking account

Establish maturity in the relationship

Nothing says “I’m in this for the long haul” quite like putting your hard earned money into a joint bank account that your S/O also has access to. More importantly, it shows a certain level of commitment to your relationship and the amount of trust you have with each other. You wouldn’t want just anyone having direct access to your money and the same goes for your partner.

Easily manage shared expenses

One of the biggest benefits of opening a joint checking account is the convenience of managing shared expenses together. Getting a joint bank account can make your life that much easier because your money can be pooled for things you might spend on or earn together. It definitely puts an end to the the whole “Who paid last?” debate and the constant Venmo’ing back and forth.

Build budgets together

Budgeting together is a lot easier when both of you have your money flowing into a single place. You have full transparency into where all the money is going, making earning, spending and savings habits more clear. In turn, this makes managing your spending (and even creating a budget) way simpler than sitting next to each other with your individual bank apps open, trying to figure out who spent what.

Joint savings account

Save as a team

Ready to start saving for something together like a vacation or even a home? A joint savings account makes it easy for both of you to contribute to these milestones as a team. It’s as simple as deciding what you want to save for, how much you want to save, and how often you want to transfer the money. Saving together will give you insight into how you’re doing against your goals.

Build an emergency fund together

Another benefit of having a joint bank account is that it allows you to prepare for the unexpected together. You'll both be able to contribute to your shared emergency fund and have access to money if something comes up - like if your car breaks down or if one of you needs medical attention. Opening a joint savings account allows you to build up a slush fund together for those things-happen moments.

It doesn’t have to be all or nothing

One thing to keep in mind is that opening a joint bank account isn’t an all-or-nothing game. In fact, as our guide to combining finances shares, modern-day couples are choosing across several models to merge their money. So if the idea of opening a joint bank account stresses you out, remind yourself that you can still share an account without sacrificing your financial freedom. So how can you do this? Here are two ways to approach it:

1. Open a joint bank account just for shared expenses.

Whether you start with paying shared bills or go full-hog and cover all shared expenses, a good way to start is by opening a joint checking account for the necessities you spend on together.

For example, you could open a joint bank account only meant for bills or even one meant just for fun things like vacations and date nights, while maintaining your individual accounts. To do this effectively, you’ll want to agree on an amount that you will each deposit and then setup a recurring weekly or monthly transfer to automate it for you. Over time, you might choose to evolve from this model or maintain it based on what feels right to you both.

2. Try the allowance model

Another approach we’ve seen on Zeta is one where couples deposit their income into one joint bank account and then send individual monthly “allowances” to their personal accounts for their guilty pleasures. This gives couples the best of both worlds, where each partner can still maintain a measure of financial independence. Similarly, the easiest thing to do here is to pick on your individual allowance (pro tip: they don’t have to be the same!) and then setup auto-transfers to your personal accounts when you get paid.

The most important thing is to start by having an open discussion with your partner about the value a joint bank account will bring you (if any). For Kim and Derrik, it helped to keep each other in check when one of them may have been overspending. For Amanda and Tanner, it helped them to create and (try to) stick to their shared budgets.

So, when’s the right time to open a joint bank account?

There’s no exact answer as to when you should open a joint bank account because the timing will always be unique to your situation. That said, many couples tend to open joint bank accounts around particular life moments such as:

Moving in together

Obviously when you move in together, you’re going to be paying your fair share of bills as a duo. For the couples that don’t want the hassle of splitting everything 50/50, opening a joint bank account can be an easy way to reduce the “workload” of managing money. Instead of divvying up everything and constantly Venmo’ing each other back and forth, just pay what’s due from one joint bank account. Gone are the days of multiple spreadsheets and unlimited texts about who owes what.

Getting engaged and/or married

Ever heard the saying, “what’s yours is mine?” Welcome to marriage. Either before or after you’ve said your ‘I do's’, it’s a perfect time to reevaluate how you want to manage your finances together. For some couples, it’s easier to manage wedding expenses (and gifts) via a joint bank account but for others, they’d rather wait until after the ink has dried on their marriage certificate! Either way, it’s worth noting that even if you choose not to combine your finances in a joint bank account, depending on where you live, marriage law might see it as one anyway. Most couples will typically open a joint bank account at this stage of their relationship.

Having a baby

Bringing new life into the world is something that will link you to your partner for the rest of your life. And do you know how much it costs to have a baby? It’s expensive! Which is why so many couples choose to open a joint bank account before the baby arrives. From doctor’s appointments and the hospital stay to decorating a nursery - kids will incur many expenses for years to come. Shared expenses easily double when you have a baby, so if you haven’t already, opening a joint bank account at this stage definitely makes sense.

Potential issues with joint bank accounts

The need for communication doesn’t stop just because you’ve made the step from separate finances to shared. If anything, you need to communicate more. Make sure you and your partner set rules or boundaries about how money is handled from the joint bank account. If you don’t, you can run into issues like excess spending, misuse of the account or even divorce. The most important thing to remember is that a true joint bank account means you both own the assets within it.

So make sure you understand the consequences before you sync up your money.

How Zeta can help

Zeta Joint Accounts can help you keep track of your finances as a couple! The joint bank account comes with an app designed specifically for people looking to master their money together as a team.

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