Former Wall Street trader and financial content creator Vivian Tu (who goes by the handle Your Rich BFF) recently shared her opinion about joint bank accounts in a YouTube short. Many people combine finances with their spouse when they get married, and some end up with only one bank account between them, meaning all the money they each earn (and spend) flows in and out of that account.
While this certainly sounds convenient, especially when it comes to paying joint bills that may cost more than each person can afford on their own (like a mortgage payment), Vivian Tu isn’t a fan — and she has good reasons.
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Joint bank accounts can create shame around spending
The first point that Tu makes in her video (which is in response to a Wall Street Journal article that summarized a study that found that couples with just one joint account were happier) is one regarding emotions and money. Namely, the couples in the study were more mindful of avoiding “frivolous” purchases because both partners had access to the account and could see what was spent and where.
Tu points out that money shouldn’t be tied up with shame and guilt. You deserve to be able to spend your money in any way you want or need to. If you’re in a relationship with someone who has a very different attitude toward money (maybe you’re more of a natural saver, while they like to spend more freely), having just one bank account between you could end up being a source of conflict. Many couples fight about money (a 2021 Fidelity study found that 1 in 5 rated money as their greatest relationship challenge), so it pays to avoid this opportunity for marital strife.
Giving up financial independence can be dangerous
The other reason Tu gives for disliking joint accounts is one I very much agree with. If both members of a couple are keeping their money together, it’s much easier for one person to cut off the other’s access, by way of, say, physically taking away their debit card or changing the login information for the account. A loved one depriving you of access to money is a major sign of financial abuse, and women are particularly susceptible. We are already paid less than men, and far too often, financial advice for women amounts to “stop spending money on shoes and purses,” rather than “here is how to invest for retirement, buy a home, and live comfortably.”
A loss of financial independence is dangerous for anyone, but it’s a sad fact that a higher proportion of women have experienced this. If you’re a woman and you’ve given up your job to raise children, don’t have a bank account of your own, and find yourself being abused (physically, emotionally, or otherwise), you are often stuck. Tu notes that she receives many messages from women in abusive relationships who can’t escape because they have no access to money.
Is there another way?
Thankfully, if you get married, no one will automatically issue you and your spouse a single bank account to share. You have options, and it’s extremely important for couples to discuss finances and make a plan together.
Tu recommends that each person has their own bank account, and you share a third account with the other person. You can pay your own personal bills and buy whatever you want using your personal account, and each deposit money for your shared bills into the joint account. This way, the bills are covered, and if the relationship sours, each person is protected financially by still having sole access to their own money. Along the way, you should also communicate about spending and saving, and about your shared (and individual) goals. That’s what a financially healthy partnership looks like — both people have agency and can work together toward common goals.
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