As part of our Women, Work & Money series, Carla Naumburg enlightens us on the joys of a separate bank account.
Soon after my husband and I got married almost 9 years ago, we set up a joint bank account. My husband closed the personal account he had maintained since college. I did not. I kept my own account, under my own name. Nearly a decade later, I still have it.
We each have a checkbook and ATM card for our joint account. I also have a checkbook and debit card for my own account. My husband’s credit card is linked to our shared account; my credit card (which is also under my name alone) is linked to mine. My husband is the primary earner in our family, and his income is deposited into our joint account each month. My inconsistent income from writing, teaching, and advising, goes into my account.
The monthly bills and major expenses get paid out of the joint account, while daily expenses such as trips to the grocery store or medical co-pays come out of mine. To be honest, there’s no rhyme or reason to it. If I’m low on funds, I’ll pay for something out of the joint account, and vice versa. All of our assets are shared; both of our names are on the mortgage and the car titles. My decision to have a separate account is not about division of funds or hiding anything from my husband. (We both have online access to both accounts; my husband can see my bank statement or credit card bill any time he wants.)
Rather, my decision to keep my own account, under my name alone, is based entirely on the fact that I am a woman who may not always be married to my husband. My financial knowledge is limited, and it’s possible that having my own account won’t actually make a difference, but I always felt it was important to keep my own account, my own credit card, and my own credit score. (You can learn more about how to access your credit score here.)
You may wonder why my husband doesn’t have his own account. He just never chose to, I suppose. The reality is that as a man with a business background, he’ll always have a higher earning potential and an easier time getting a loan or making large purchases than I will, as a woman and a social worker. (Research has shown that women pay more for everything from hair cuts to home mortgages; one Jezebel article referred to it as a “vagina tax.”) I don’t have to worry about that right now, as I am fortunate to have my husband–I don’t make any major purchases without him. (The feminist in me cringes as I write this, but rather than an acknowledgement of my weakness, I choose to understand it as an acknowledgement of the reality of the culture in which we currently live.) I know that I might not always have my husband and I want to be on the best financial footing possible, should it ever come to that.
I don’t know if our set-up is the most effective or sensible choice, but it works for us. How do you and your partner manage the family finances? What advice have you been given, and what advice would you give? Let’s share our collective knowledge about this important topic!