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How to avoid joint (account) pain

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Nila Sweeney

It’s always the shortest sentences that have the biggest impact on relationships: “I love you”, “will you marry me”, “let’s open a joint account”.

If you’re committed to someone, at some point the conversation is going to come up. There are several advantages to opening a joint account. It’s a hassle way to share finances and pay bills. And in the event one partner dies, the other has automatic access to the account, without having to sit out a probation period.

But there are a few downsides. Both partners have full access to withdraw and deposit money into the account, without having to inform the other person. Miscommunication between partners can lead to problems. For instance, one partner makes a purchase, leaving no money left for the other to pay a bill.

As well, should the relationship turn sour there is nothing to stop one person from draining the account and skipping town.

So before you hold hands in front of the bank manager and say ‘I do’ to opening a joint account, there are a couple things you should hammer out at home.

What’s yours is mine, and what’s mine is mine
Opening a joint account is about sharing – just like you learned in Kindergarten. So it’s important to enter into the arrangement with that in mind. You need to be upfront about how much you make and what debts you owe. If one person earns twice as much as the other, you should decide upfront if the higher earner will put in more, or if both parties will pony up the same amount.

A frank discussion about your individual attitudes towards money is also necessary. If one person is a complete tightwad and the other is a big fan of the pokies  – well, it doesn’t take Dr.Phil to diagnose the outcome of that one.

You should also discuss what the account will be used for: bills, groceries, gas – being clear about its purpose will avoid fights later on. Many couple keep separate accounts, as well as opening up one joint account that is solely used for shared expenses. This is a good way to protect yourself should the relationship sour. You might end up losing a little money, but not your entire life savings.

Make a budget
As painful as it sounds, making a budget will ensure you both stay on track financially and that there is always enough money to cover your expenses. But be sure to include spending money for each partner.

You should be free to spend that money however you like without justifying it to your partner. It’s a crucial part of maintaining your individuality.

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