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Updated on Thursday, December 17, 2020
Some couples love a night out on the town, while others prefer takeout and a TV remote. And these differences can apply to finances, too, as couples decide whether to keep their money separate or open a joint account.
MagnifyMoney analyzed the most recent Federal Reserve Survey of Consumer Finances to see how couples — married and cohabitating, straight and gay — handle their checking accounts. One discovery was that men have $1,191 more in their checking accounts than their wives and live-in girlfriends. Here’s what else we learned.
- Key findings
- Among straight couples, men have 15.1% more in individual checking accounts than women
- Straight couples have an average of $18,334 in joint accounts
- 48.5% of same-sex couples have joint checking accounts
- Is a joint checking account right for you?
- In straight couples, men have — on average — $1,191 more tucked away than women when both partners hold their own checking accounts.
- Only 39.9% of straight women, whether married or cohabitating, have more money in their individual accounts, compared with 51.2% of straight men.
- Straight married couples keep an average of $18,334 in their joint checking accounts, compared with just $2,298 for straight couples who live together.
- 72.3% of straight couples have joint checking accounts, while 48.5% of same-sex couples have joint checking accounts.
Among straight couples, men have 15.1% more in individual checking accounts than women
In straight relationships where both partners have their own checking accounts, men had an average balance of $7,872, while women had an average balance of $6,681 — a 15.1% difference.
To be considered a partner when not married, the couple — per the Survey of Consumer Finances — needed to be in the same “economic unit,” and neither party could be considered economically independent.
The difference in the amount of money that married men and women have in their individual checking accounts shrinks to just $85, or a 1.6% difference between the two spouses.
That contrast spikes to $2,927 for couples who live together ($6,613 for men, versus $3,686 for women) — a difference of 44.3%. This insight shows that married couples tend to be pretty equitable, while men who live with their girlfriends have nearly two-thirds of the funds if the couple’s individual accounts were combined.
Men, women rarely have equal amounts in individual checking accounts
Nearly 4 in 10 straight women — whether married or living with their partner — have more money in their individual accounts than their male partner does. That means that women and men only have an equal amount of funds in their checking accounts 9% of the time.
Gender wage gap plays likely role in disparities, our expert says
DepositAccounts founder Ken Tumin believes the gender wage gap may be causing the large differences between unmarried couples who are living together.
Since women — on average — earn less than men, Tumin said, one of the consequences is likely to be that women have smaller individual checking account balances than men.
“Married couples may do more sharing of income and expenses,” Tumin said. But “unmarried couples may have less trust and do less sharing,” he added, which could result in more use of individual checking accounts than joint checking accounts.
If each partner continues to use direct deposit with their individual checking accounts, the gender wage gap, per Tumin, would generally allow for men to have larger checking balances.
Straight couples have an average of $18,334 in joint accounts
Married straight couples with joint checking accounts have an average balance of $18,334 in those accounts, while cohabitating couples with these accounts have an average balance of just $2,298. This is likely because even if unmarried couples have a joint account that helps them manage shared household expenses, they may not have combined all their finances into one account.
72.3% of straight couples have joint checking accounts
Nearly three-fourths of straight couples (72.3%) have joint checking accounts. Out of all straight couples (whether married or not), just more than 1 in 3 men and women have their own checking accounts.
Only 10.7% of couples only have accounts in one person’s name, which is split pretty evenly across both genders.
While the majority of married couples (81.9%) have joint accounts, there is still a solid amount of husbands and wives who each have independent accounts (more than 28% each). Many people assume once you get married that you have to combine your finances, but that isn’t a hard-and-fast rule. Some couples may find they prefer to continue managing their finances separately even after they tie the knot.
Even though 21.9% of cohabiting couples have joint checking accounts, men (72%) are slightly more likely than women (70.3%) to have an independent checking account. Cohabitating couples have an almost identical percentage of individual accounts in both the man’s and woman’s name.
Overall, women and men tend to keep their own accounts at about the same rates. Men aren’t more likely to have their own checking account than women, but they are more likely to have a higher balance in their account.
48.5% of same-sex couples have joint checking accounts
There is a pretty even split among same-sex couples who do and don’t have joint checking accounts. In fact, 51.6% of lesbian couples have joint accounts, while 45.8% of gay couples do. Overall, 48.5% of same-sex couples have joint checking accounts.
Both partners have individual accounts 41.6% of the time, while 29.7% of lesbian and gay couples only have accounts in one partner’s name. When it comes to having an individual account for only one partner and no joint account, 37.2% of lesbian couples and 23.2% of gay couples fall into that category.
Is a joint checking account right for you?
Honestly, it depends. If you’re leaning toward opening a joint checking account with your partner, one of the following situations may sound familiar.
Yes, a joint account is right for you when …
- You share common expenses. Some may find this method of managing joint expenses easier than tallying up what they each owe for groceries or the gas bill that month.
- You have savings differences. When partners in a couple have uneven savings amounts, a joint account can help provide support in the worst-case scenario. “If the partner with more savings dies or becomes incapacitated, the other partner may need that joint checking account to pay the bills,” Tumin said.
- You track spending. This may be ideal for couples who want to stick to a tight budget or who are working toward big savings goals, such as buying a home.
No, a joint account isn’t right for you when …
On the flip side, there are certain scenarios that may make a couple decide against opening a joint checking account. If either of these situations applies to you, you may find it better to keep a separate checking account for the time being.
- You lack trust. “Since joint account owners have equal rights to the account, it’s important that you trust the other owner,” Tumin warned. “One partner could drain the joint account for his or her own gain.”
- You’re uncomfortable with savings differences. Having a joint checking account can be a good way to provide security with less savings. However, not everyone may feel ready for this. “If one partner has significantly more savings than the other, the partner with more savings may want to maintain one or more individual accounts in addition to the joint account,” Tumin said. “This can impact how funds are divided in a divorce.”
Using microdata from the Federal Reserve’s 2019 Survey of Consumer Finances, analysts calculated the types of checking accounts held by couples with at least one account, as well as the average balances in the respective accounts. The analysis was limited to accounts that were held jointly or individually by partners, excluding accounts held by other family members or jointly with people outside of the couple.