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Should I open a joint checking account with my spouse?

The answer depends on several factors. Among them are how you and your spouse feel money should be handled, your respective spending and saving habits, and whether there are any reasons to keep your money separate. Many couples find that the best solution is to have a joint account in addition to each keeping an individual account.

When used wisely and monitored carefully, a checking account can be an excellent way to keep track of your expenses. This is easiest to do when the account is held in one person's name only, although that may leave the other person without ready access to funds. When two people have access to the same account, keeping track becomes more difficult and requires more communication between the parties involved. Therefore, it is very important to keep a master account register up to date, recording all deposits, checks, and withdrawals. You don't want your spouse to bounce a check because you wrote one or made a withdrawal and didn't record it. Banks and check-printing companies offer duplicate checks--each comes with a carbon copy--that you may find helpful when sharing an account.

For various reasons, many couples prefer to have a joint checking account. Since most banks now charge monthly service fees, the fewer accounts you have, the smaller your fee expense. Moreover, you and your spouse may feel that you want to pool your money, particularly that spent on shared expenses--housing, utilities, groceries, and perhaps the car(s). Doing so not only gives you more of a sense of "being in this together" but also makes keeping a record of these expenses much simpler.

However, you may still prefer to have access to some money you can call your own, and for which you are not accountable to your spouse. In some cases, this may be simply a cash allowance for which you may not need a separate checking account. In other cases, particularly if you are both working, you may continue to handle some of your expenses separately. For example, you each may be responsible for your own car payments and insurance, or for your own credit card payments. If this is your situation, you may want to have a joint account for what you together consider the common (usually household) expenses, and separate accounts for handling your individual responsibilities.

If either of you wants to establish credit individually, you may decide to maintain separate checking accounts at least until you have done so. Separate checking accounts can be used as a lever to help you obtain credit. If either of you has poor credit, you may wish to keep your funds separate to circumvent attachment of joint funds to pay one spouse's bad debt. If your money is pooled in a joint account, the entire amount is legally available to either of you. A creditor is then justified in attaching those funds to pay a debt that only one of you may have incurred. If your marriage is foundering or if you have severe disagreements about how to manage money, you may want to maintain separate accounts. With joint accounts, either party can "clean out" the other simply by withdrawing all the funds in the account.