Married Finances: Where to hold our joint accounts?

I’m starting a series on what our married finances look like that will run until I run out of inspiration :)

My husband and I opened up a joint checking account back when he moved in at the credit union where we both had accounts. We also both had online savings accounts at Ally Bank. At the beginning of 2016, I moved my accounts to Alliant Credit Union because I was tired of meeting the rewards checking account requirements and Alliant has the same savings account interest rate as Ally Bank.

Back when we were both at the same credit union, we would transfer money to each other to pay each other back. As things became more serious, we started using a lazy spreadsheet to keep track of who paid for what rather than paying each other back for each individual item, so that wasn’t nearly as annoying as it would have been at the beginning. Plus, Square Cash is incredibly useful and easy to use, so that made the separate credit unions transition easier.

Managing the joint checking account became far more annoying though because then in order for me to get money into it, I needed to first transfer the money to my checking account at our shared credit union and then transfer that sum to the joint checking account OR send my half of the money to my husband via Square Cash and he transfer the whole amount into the joint checking account. We hadn’t used the joint checking account in a year until we went to the first wedding of the year and paid our interior designer via check out of the joint account and then this turned into a huge hassle when we then wrote about 10 checks off the account this year. We also pay our biweekly house cleaner with a check.

And then we got married, which prompted the joint accounts debate again. Like good engineers, we’ve been developing requirements for a joint account. Our two top contenders are Ally Bank and Alliant Credit Union. We ruled out our current shared credit union as they don’t have good interest rates and the ATM fee rebates require a certain number of debit card transactions per month. We ruled out major banks as they have terrible interest rates, though we will likely keep a brick and mortar joint account as well at least for now for ease of depositing the wedding present checks that we have been getting.

  1. All of our checking and savings accounts should be at the same financial institution: her personal checking, his personal checking, her personal savings accounts, his personal savings accounts, joint checking, and joint savings accounts. Neither of us is convinced into spending money that is in savings, so this is a great convenience fee.
  2. We should be able to transfer immediately and freely between all of the accounts listed in 1.
  3. We should be able to ACH transfer quickly (ish) for free to accounts at other institutions.
  4. The checking account should refund at least 2 ATM fees per month, for free with no requirements. [Alliant does this immediately and has a $20 maximum. Ally Bank has a $10 maximum and I’m not sure how quickly they do this.]
  5. Easy to acquire free checks on the checking account because apparently we write a lot of checks off the joint account.
  6. Free bill pay, but that seems to be a given these days.
  7. A clean and friendly user interface on their website (ahem current shared credit union does not meet this!)
  8. An easy to use mobile app [Ally is currently winning this one, but Alliant’s Twitter account says they’ll have a new app out in November]
  9. Ability to deposit cash at ATMs
  10. Two-factor authentication [Neither Ally nor Alliant seem to have this…]
  11. The savings account should have a reasonable interest rate, e.g. at least 1% today.

This has been a fun decision to make! Generally I make more of our organizing personal finance decisions since I’m the planner, but my husband took to /r/personalfinance and Bogleheads to research these two options before we give one a try.

I’ll report back in a few months on how we’re enjoying the one we picked! It will, after all, take a little while to get things rearranged.

Readers, how did your banking setups change when you got married?

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24 thoughts on “Married Finances: Where to hold our joint accounts?

  1. When we got married, we decided that all income and expenses and everything we owned coming into the marriage would be held jointly, so that probably simplified some matter since we didn’t have to worry about reimbursing one another or anything like that.

    For the accounts, I had two main financial institutions, Wells Fargo and a credit union. Mr PoP just had a credit union (same as mine). We each had checking and savings at all of these, so we consolidated the credit union ones under Mr PoP’s old account numbers (adding my name to that) and added him as a joint owner to my old accounts at Wells Fargo. Our direct deposits go to the two institutions separately, so we get the benefits of no fees/reimbursed ATM fees at both. Maybe it’s a little redundant two have two complete checking/savings setups, but it’s been useful for us at different times with mortgages and loans and provides the odd little benefit that we each have checks where our name is listed first (mine on WF, his on the CU). Never thought that would feel important to me, but it does for some reason.

    • I think it’s kind of sweet that you kept both pairs of accounts! They definitely both have some benefits. One thing we’re trying to sort out eventually is that we would like a safe deposit box at a bank and we’re unsure which bank we would pick for that yet.

      Our hope is to move more to a yours/mine/ours approach versus our current yours/mine approach and to combine as much as reasonable and fair to both of us. We’re working on sorting out what counts as joint vs separate in terms of income, spending, and assets. I’ll continue this series on those parts as we make some decisions. Sometimes I wish we had started dating earlier and then we would just combine everything like you two do! We have such similar philosophies, but our asset levels are too different to fully combine at this point in our lives.

      My name is listed first on all of our checks because I’m the one who opens accounts ;) In fact, I’m pretty sure he doesn’t know my SSN, but I know his lol.

  2. We got married so long ago that branch banking wasn’t yet allowed in all states so we had to change our bank accounts anyway since we’d both moved from different states and couldn’t easily access our old banks. We each closed our college accounts and opened a new joint account at a credit union in walking distance of his graduate school. (It took several months for my money to transfer from my bank to the credit union which was really difficult for us since we had no money.) Since then everything has been joint except our retirement accounts and our credit cards. I vaguely remember reading somewhere that it’s good to have separate credit lines so there didn’t seem to be any point in joining those accounts. I take care of all the bills and investment decisions with input from DH. He does taxes so we’re on the same page at least once a year.

    • It seems crazy today to say that you had to open new bank accounts when you moved to another state!

      A lot of banks won’t even let you open a credit card jointly – there’s a primary holder and then an authorized user and the authorized user doesn’t always get online banking access even though it gets reported to credit bureaus with their SSN! One customer service rep we discussed this with told us to to just give the other person our online banking username and password for the account :/ We need to be careful with who opens the credit if we ever need a new mortgage because his credit score still isn’t over 760 yet.

      • I’m sure it won’t take that much longer for him to get over 760. It takes a little while to build up a credit history at first, but I assume he’s starting on the tail end of that given your ages (assuming he started a credit history in or just out of college, etc.).

        • I think he should get there in another year or two possibly? He’s getting close, but it’s slower going than mine because he doesn’t have a mortgage. Those are great for your credit score yet having a better credit score gets you better rates… He started his credit history in 2012 I think, like several years after college because inertia.

        • Student loans are also good for kick-starting, which I guess was an advantage my DH had!

          I started a credit card that I almost never used in college just so I could start my own credit history (I was an authorized user on my parent’s for school expenses). (Of course, back then it was a lot easier to get credit cards.) Inertia boggles my mind!

  3. Our banking changed before we got married. We joined everything together at a credit union in 2006 I think, two years before we got married.The notion of splitting up expenses was getting so silly. We already were living together, and to be equitable I was trying to split expenses 60/40 since that was our income levels. So much tracking. It was just a big nuisance.

    Plus she got dinged with an account overdraft fee on her individual account and I wanted to make sure that NEVER HAPPENED AGAIN. Hmm.. maybe I’m a controlling husband. But in a good way!

    • Before you got married! You two are feisty. We had a joint checking account that had an expected balance of $0 at all times and then each person paid for different things, which meant we could procrastinate joining things. Our incomes have varied and honestly they’re no longer 50/50, but they are both over six figures we had different enough asset levels that 50/50 felt fair anyway.

      We came up with a way that we didn’t have to track very closely by splitting up expenses by category and that worked pretty well. I don’t want to keep that spreadsheet forever though so I think we’re going to move to a two joint credit card system and then pay the bills out of the joint checking account each month.

  4. I would drop either the interest rate requirement or the one institution requirement+ drop cash ATM deposits for the checking unless you are closing your local bank account. If either of you is exploring a cash business, I might take a different approach.

    Checking account buffer (e.g., 3x spending) + regular automated transfers/deposits into checking of average monthly spending is the only method I can think of that does not require manual adjustment and I do not believe it makes much of a difference if checking and savings is separate if you are using that method, so you can cherry pick the best of each when best of each is not at the same institution. With this approach, I do not find I ever need to transfer instantly (and rarely at all) and find the enormous convenience worth any interest lost from keeping a higher balance and a low interest checking.

    Note, that I do not believe you can do unlimited overdraft checking from savings anywhere even if they are in the same institution as savings account must have transfer limitations (I believe so they can count savings a different way for capital requirements) – if you know otherwise, please let me know.

    I do Fidelity + CIT (25k free wires) but Fidelity/Schwab + any high rate savings should work (though I believe Schwab’s two factor is hardware only). Fidelity shows direct deposits I receive 1-2 days before other institutions.

    I use BOA/ML as local Bank with free cashiers check and for free stock trades and 2.625 no forex fee credit card. I also really like their website. If I did not care about unrestricted free international ATM, I would just use BOA for checking (though still CIT or equivalent for savings) since BOA does every other checking thing Fidelity does. This would allow me to get down to 2 institutions (BOA/ML and CIT). If you are willing to sacrifice the international ATM deal, I would do BOA/ML+Savings elsewhere and consolidate to two financial institutions including investments. This also allows you to deposit cash in ATMs. BOA/ML have fingerprint log on for their apps as well which is nice. Benefits start meeting requirements besides savings account interest at 50K and max out at 100K (includes investment balance, IRAs etc)+ have the benefit of free trades, likely local offices and best credit card.

    • Hah. So first response: you’re writing this to me. My husband is not me. He doesn’t like organizing things or having many accounts to keep track of or reconciling his Mint transactions more often than once a year. He, however, is frugal compared to his income, likes index funds, has the same Investment Policy Statement as me, etc.

      What you’re describing of three months expenses in checking and then adding one each month is basically what my husband does. He doesn’t keep much in savings – it’s basically just a holding account to transfer to Vanguard.

      We both turn off overdraft protection actually.

      The problem at the moment is that we don’t really know how much we will spend jointly and so we really want to have our joint and separate checking accounts at the same place and be able to transfer between them freely. Because of grad school and my planned sabbatical from paid employment, I currently have a lot of cash on hand and really appreciate the savings account being in the same place as my checking account. I’ve been really happy with Alliant Credit Union and we’ve both been happy with Ally Bank in the past – their accounts meet most of our requirements, so we will go with one of them.

  5. I’ve always been fascinated with private banking but always lacked the income to qualify truly. When we were gathering funds for our large down payment on our new home, I was contacted by my bank’s private banking arm wanting to discuss how to manage our money. Although I knew they wanted a cut of that money, I was curious what they offered the wealthy compared to the average Joe. Maybe you should look into it and let us plebeians know what private banking is all about 😆

    • My husband is fascinated too – he read reports that you could get approved for the Chase Sapphire Reserve even when you’ve hit 5/24, so then he wanted to give them $250k so he could get approved for it even though he was past 5/24 lol. I’ll be sure to keep you posted if we ever go that route.

      • Interesting that I didn’t know about the 5/24 rule until I read this post. I have been doing sign up bonuses for the checking and savings for the last two years. I will be a sad panda if they were to deny me the next time I take them up on their offer. Last year they gave me $400. This year they gave me $500!

  6. We totally did not do this. In fact, we still don’t have a joint checking – there is really no need. There is no need for them to be separate either, that is just how they were when we combined. All money is seen as joint philosophically, though we do indeed have accounts that aren’t joint.

    We both have basic checking/savings/atm cards at Wells Fargo (ugh) out of historic reasons and the fact that they have a zillion ATMs around here. Our savings are joint at Capital One 360 (due to formerly being ING, which was once very competitive), and linked to both our WF accounts. We use that as a means for transferring money to various goals/accounts. We’ve rarely transferred directly between or WF accounts, though it is easy/instant to do. I make the mortgage prepayments out of a money market account, he writes all other misc checks from his WF. He makes the mortgage payments and also tax bills. We have joint credit cards that we use for the bulk of our spending, and I take responsibility for making sure they are paid. I usually pay from my checking, or sometimes our “short term savings” if we purchased something large. On rare occasion, I ask him to make the payment from his checking instead, if he has too much buffer. Either of us will withdraw cash as needed and share freely.

    I told him he launders our money, because he pays for business trips with the joint card, I pay it, then he submits reimbursements that are deposited to his account

    • I wasn’t quite done, but hit submit! But I am mostly done. The money “laundering” is just a joke, and he transfers to savings when that happens. Generally, he pays for very little directly from his checking beyond the mortgage, so there is no reason for him to have much excess funds. He does have one “personal” card that he sometimes puts business trips on and he is responsible for – but I also have login/access to that and it comes up on my Mint. I usually want him to use the joint card for miles/points purposes anyway.

      So, it is not systematic, and we may take cues from you once you sort it out. Though judging by our progress in the past 6 years, we probably won’t :)

    • I find it really fascinating that you two consider everything joint philosophically, but don’t really have jointly titled accounts. Part of why we plan to have a distinction that who is on the title of an account is who owns that money is because we will have a postnuptial agreement saying so to help keep premarital assets clean. You guys aren’t concerned with that part though.

      Lol at laundering your money!

      I’m curious though why you don’t either open a new joint checking/savings/ATM card account at Wells Fargo or add one of you to the other’s existing one rather than making different payments and deposits out of the two separate accounts. Inertia?

      • Savings, where the bulk of our cash money is held, is jointly titled. And of course, our mortgage. We don’t have investments outside of retirement yet, but if we did, those also would be joint. Credit, where most of our spending is done, is all joint. Well, we each have one non-joint for credit score reasons, but we don’t really use them.

        Yes, inertia. I think we’d pick a new back before optimizing WF accounts. We hardly use the WF accounts, except as a passthrough. If we could add each other online without going into a branch, it would be done. We are really bad at getting little dumb things like this done, and there hasn’t been anything to trigger the need.

        • That makes far more sense! It sounds like you guys just see checking accounts as for cash flow and that for convenience sake, it’s easier to keep them separately titled even though they’re philosophically joint.

          What banks will give you fully joint credit?! We’ve so far only ended up with AU cards because they don’t do joint credit cards…

        • You are right, they are just authorized users, not fully joint. I guess I’m very loose how I view things “philosophically” vs how they are viewed legally, and I’m much more concerned with the former. What is your concern having just AU vs fully joint?

        • My main concern about just AU vs fully joint is that the other person can’t fully see the transactions online in their own login, so we had to set up an aggregator (we went with Personal Capital for joint stuff) in order for both of us to be able to see transactions. It also makes it minorly more annoying for the AU person to be able to pay it vs if they could see it in their own online banking…

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