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Shared or Separate Bank Accounts: How to Budget with a Partner

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Are you in a long-term relationship? Do you share a bank account?

There are any number of reasons that a couple may choose not to merge their finances, even when married or in a long-term partnership. You may decide to keep your bank accounts separate to maintain financial independence, to equitably work through individual debt or simply because you've decided you get along better when you each manage your own income, debt and investments.

But just because you choose to have separate bank accounts doesn't mean all of your expenses will be separate. If you share financial responsibilities with a partner — rent or mortgage payments, utilities, a vehicle, grocery bills, etc. — you should tackle budgeting for those joint expenses together.

Here are some things to consider when developing a household budget to cover shared and separate expenses with a spouse or partner:

Start with the Budgeting Basics

  1. Have an initial conversation about money and credit. If you are in a long-term romantic relationship, you should be comfortable talking to your other half about what you both earn, what you set aside for retirement, what you pay each month toward debt, what your credit scores are and how much you save. Pick a quiet time to have a productive conversation with your spouse or partner about your income and expenses, as well as your approach to managing money now and in the future. There are several important reasons to have this initial conversation about personal finances. Chief among them is to make sure you're on the same page and can work out any issues together.
  2. Document what you earn. On a sheet of paper, in a digital spreadsheet or using a budgeting app, list all sources of income, including money from side gigs, bonuses and tax refunds, in addition to any salaried or hourly jobs you have.
  3. Create a list of all your expenses. Be sure to include housing, utilities, subscription services, food, transportation, medical costs, insurance, household goods, debt payments, entertainment and anything else you spend money on each month. Be sure you don't overlook any expenses you pay less frequently, such as annual membership fees.
  4. Determine how you'll pay each expense — jointly or separately. For example, if you have student loans, you may agree that paying off that debt is something you should both tackle or you may decide that it's something you alone will be responsible for paying.
  5. Add it all up. Tally the lists of joint and separate expenses and compare the totals to the amount you earn as a couple each month. Do your total expenses exceed your joint income? Do your separate expenses exceed your individual income? If you answer yes to either question, you'll need to pare down your expenses until they are in line with your take-home pay and other income sources.
  6. Decide how the expenses will be divided. Many couples choose to split these joint costs (rent or mortgage payments, utilities, vacations, etc.) each month while maintaining separate bank accounts, even if you decide to divide expenses based on individual income, rather than splitting them equally. If one partner earns more than the other, you may choose to have that person pay a larger percentage of the monthly expenses. Just be sure that you agree on how much each of you will contribute to each shared household expense.

However you decide to approach your joint expenses, you have several ways to pay these bills each month: You can open up a joint account for shared household expenses, you can each write a check for your portion of the expenses, or one of you can pay the expenses and be reimbursed by the other via check or by using a digital payment service, such as Venmo, Zelle or Paypal. Just remember: When determining how to pay your monthly bills or considering any other financial decisions as a couple, communication is key.

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