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Updated on Friday, June 19, 2015
Your wedding day is likely one of the best, most memorable days of your life. You get to celebrate your commitment to your spouse and the promise of a wonderful future amongst friends and family. The cake, the dress, the music – every detail goes into making it the perfect day. But after the honeymoon ends and life resumes, you’re suddenly left with a hard dose of reality.
Many find that sorting out the finances of living life with another person can be confusing. Two incomes become one, and debts pile together to create what could potentially be a monumental undertaking. In fact, discussing finances can be one of the most challenging aspects of marriage in general and can even contribute to divorce if you’re not careful. Combining your resources – the good and the bad – takes effort and organization, but knowing where to start can help set you on the course to success.
There are many ways to go about merging incomes, and many couples choose to maintain separate bank accounts to avoid the issue altogether. There are benefits to combining bank accounts into one, though, so we’ll take a look at a few options.
You and your partner may have to separate checking and/or savings accounts through potentially two different banks. If you opt to merge those into one, you’re agreeing that bills will all be paid through that joint account. There’s no “you pay for this and I pay for that” mentality, but rather the mentality of “what’s yours is mine and what’s mine is yours”. This can help cut out the need to split bills and delegate payments.
Maintain Separate Accounts
Some couples opt to forego merging their accounts altogether in favor of sticking with the status quo. In this scenario, you’ll want to consider splitting bills so that each spouse can pay for different utilities, rent/mortgage, and so on. There are two ways to go about doing this:
- Split bills equally: In this scenario, you’ll add up the total amounts of all your bills and split them in a way that each spouse pays an equal amount of dollars, regardless of income. You can either allocate full bills with the totals equalling about half of the full amount of all bills, or you can split each bill right down the middle. In that case, you’ll need to find a way to have both parties contribute to a common fund, or have one spouse pay the other.
- Split based on income: Because you’re choosing to keep incomes separate, you may want to opt for a compromise where bills are split but in accordance with the amount of income each person makes. For instance, add up the incomes of both spouses and then find the percentage of the total that each spouse makes. So if one spouse makes $60k/year and the other $40k/year, the total is $100k/year with one spouse bringing in 60% of the income and the other 40%. Thus, splitting the bills would leave one spouse paying 60% of the total and the other paying 40%. Incomes are still separate, but payments are tailored to suit both parties equally.
Maintain Separate Accounts but Add an Additional Joint Account
A middle-ground would be to maintain each spouse’s original accounts while creating a joint account to pool money for bills and other joint expenses. It’s a common way to maintain individuality while catering to the more pragmatic requirements of living with another person.
With the good comes the bad, and most times at least one – and maybe both! – spouses will bring debt with their income into a marriage. Depending on the situation, there are a few ways to go about handling the debt:
If only one spouse has debt, then you’ll have to decide whether or not that spouse is solely responsible for that payment or if both parties are making a team effort to pay it off. This could be a decision based on whether or not you’ll both be combining accounts, tailoring bill payments to percentages earned, or keeping all accounts separate and splitting everything 50/50. Typically those with the ‘equal bill pay’ mentality will lean further towards ‘pay your own debt’ while those who are combining incomes into one joint account and paying everything from that singular account will be more likely to consider paying debts together as a team, regardless of who acquired them in the first place.
If both spouses have debt, you can again go about paying that debt in a variety of ways:
- Combine all debt and pay together: Rather than each spouse accepting responsibility for their own debt, both spouses accept responsibility for both debts as a whole and pay them off together.
- Keep debts separate, pay for your own: Even if both spouses have debt, many will opt to simply pay for what they’ve acquired. In this manner, one spouse may pay theirs off before the other, and then it’s a matter of deciding whether or not to team up to pay the rest off quickly.
Remember that even after deciding on how to combine income and debt, you’ll want to continue the conversation as both parties evolve and their incomes change. It’s very likely for things to change from year to year, and a great time for discussion is when any major event comes up (baby, promotions, etc) or on a yearly basis around tax time. ‘Til death do us part – and that includes your financial obligations!