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Merging finances long after marriage? Here’s how to start – The Mercury News

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By Chanelle Bessette | NerdWallet

Combining finances with a partner can happen at any stage of your relationship, even if you’ve been married to your partner for a long time. It can be a great opportunity for a couple to get on the same page about what they want their financial future to look like, especially when it comes to big considerations such as child care, homeownership and retirement.

An academic study published in the Journal of Consumer Research in 2023 found that couples with joint bank accounts experience less financial conflict and greater harmony within their relationships. The study results indicated that couples who merged their finances had a strong sense of financial partnership. In contrast, couples with separate bank accounts tended to operate in a more “tit for tat” financial exchange.

If you and your partner feel like it’s time to combine your finances, here’s how you can work toward merging your money.

Taking the plunge on merging finances with your partner

Perhaps you’ve kept your finances separate out of convenience, but now you’re getting tired of making online transfers to your partner for every shared expense. Or maybe you’ve got a considerable expense coming up and you want to streamline your accounts.

Jen Mayer, an accredited financial counselor and founder of the Brooklyn, New York-based firm Fully Funded, often works with couples who are deciding whether to combine their finances after a long time together. The first thing she likes to do is retrace the couple’s steps.

“When helping these couples, we usually want to know why their finances weren’t merged originally,” Mayer says. “There may be some beliefs about money from someone’s childhood — like maybe their parents had a bad marriage with a lot of conflict around money — that led them to want to keep their finances separate. We have to work out those beliefs first.”

Once a couple is aware of potential hang-ups around money, they can communicate more about their money management, goals and expectations as they begin the merging process. They might find that shared bank accounts can make their lives easier, but they also might choose to partially merge their accounts and keep separate accounts as well so each partner can have independent spending money.

Ultimately, if you’re married, Mayer says, all of your money is in the same pot and belongs to both people. A couple just has to decide how they will manage it.

How to merge finances long after marriage

Track spending habits and consider making a budget. For some, the act of tracking income and expenses can bring up uncomfortable feelings.

“If someone hasn’t been tracking their spending, they might not want to know where their money is going,” Mayer says. “But that information is data, and knowledge is power. If you want to change things, you have to be able to make informed decisions with that data.”

Once you have details about your income versus expenses, you and your partner can decide how much you want to spend on groceries, dining out, clothes and more. You also might make bigger decisions, such as moving into a home with lower rent or buying a car with a monthly payment that you can more easily afford.

Discuss how you’ll split shared expenses. Couples rarely have equal incomes, but when you’re married, your household expenses become a shared responsibility. To avoid resentment, couples should discuss an equitable arrangement for how expenses will be paid and who is responsible for which financial tasks in the household. For example, if one partner makes twice as much money as the other, perhaps they’ll contribute double to household expenses.

Open a joint account or add your partner to an existing account. If you don’t have a shared checking or savings account, you can shop around for a new account or see if your bank will allow you to add a co-owner to an existing account. Keep in mind that co-owners each have full ownership of the account and can withdraw as much money as they see fit. You may want to set spending limits with each other so you’ll both be informed about big purchases and avoid potential overdrafts. For a shared savings account, you’ll want to look for a high-yield account that helps you earn as much interest as possible on your money.

As you navigate the world of shared finances, remember that a strong financial partnership starts with a commitment to honest communication, teamwork and shared goals. These values can help you maintain a solid foundation in your marriage, too.

Chanelle Bessette writes for NerdWallet. Email: [email protected].



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