I am frequently asked to give nuts-and-bolts advice for married couples. As for big pictures items, sure it’s probably easier to work with money as a couple if you have the same financial goals and values and sometimes couples have that from the start and at other times successful couples grow into that. Amazingly, some couples are successful despite not having many of the same financial goals and values. It really does take all types.
Logistically, I think it is easier for couples to have joint accounts for everything except the retirement accounts that have to be in one individual’s name, like 401(k)s and IRAs. In my experience, the people who keep many or most things separate tend to be those who have married later in life or are on one or both of their second marriages. If your bank, credit card, investment accounts, and loans are all in both names, then it is very easy for either spouse to take care of whatever comes up in the ordinary course of life: dispute a charge or change an investment or what have you.
I met my wife when we were young and we have most accounts in common and the only time we have difficulties in tending to our accounts is if one of our names is not on the account. If the spouse who is not on the account is the one who handles your finances, or has the time or is inclined to handle the specific situation that has come up, then they have to get the other spouse to get on the phone with the company and provide permission for the company rep to speak to the spouse.
Sometimes that’s no big deal, but if you are trying to handle something during the workday, or have to handle it during the workday, and you don’t work together, it can be a real hassle, and there are some things that have to be handled by a person on the account. In those situations, the spouse on the account has to handle the problem, whether or not they have the time and it doesn’t matter if it is something they’d rather not deal with.
Having both spouses on your accounts gives you a lot more flexibility, and believe me, that will help things as most marriages deal with stress at times. If you aren’t going to handle everything jointly, you should at least have some common accounts for daily life, like a checking account that you pay the household bills with, savings and investment accounts for common goals, and a credit card that you put common charges on. If you don’t do everything jointly, you need to make sure you have clear ground rules for how everything is going to be handled, and you have to revise them as life changes, and life will change.
Many fear combining accounts because they are afraid of losing control or they fear losing their assets in case of divorce. Marriage is about sharing your life with someone and that invariably involves voluntarily ceding control of some aspects of your daily life. As for divorce, when you go to split stuff up, the divorce lawyers don’t care so much whose name happens to be on the account. It just depends on whether or not it is a marital asset.
In my business, the couples who keep things more separate tend to have more issues with money. I can’t say for sure which is the symptom and which is the cause, but it’s something to think about.