3 things you should know before opening a joint bank account

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There are a few major moments in every relationship: moving in together, getting married, having kids.

Opening a joint bank account is not usually included in this list, but most financial experts would argue that the stakes are just as high.

In the view of finance expert Melissa Leong, it’s not a decision that should come lightly.

“If you’re going to open (a joint account), it should come with a discussion about money expectations and boundaries,” said Leong, the author of finance guide Happy Go Money.

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“When you’re in a committed relationship and you’re working toward shared financial goals, it totally makes sense to have a joint bank account,” she said.

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Having one account for recurring costs — like housing, utilities and groceries — is much more convenient than keeping a tally of who owes who what.

“It also makes it easier to understand how the two of you spend cash and to talk about your finances,” said Leong.

She believes these conversations are a crucial part of a happy and healthy relationship.

Chantal Heide of Canada’s Dating Coach agrees. In her view, the finance conversation should happen even before you live together.

“You’re setting yourself up for disappointment if your partner isn’t on the same page,” she said.

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“Put your own (thoughts) on the table and take it from there.”

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Once both you and your partner are clear about your financial goals, you should agree on a set of rules for the account.

For Heide, this means asking questions like, “Who’s taking care of what expenses? Who’s going to put how much into the account and when? How is that money going to be taken out and distributed?”

Financial expert Desirae Odjick takes this one step further.

She believes you and your partner should have several finance-related conversations before diving into a joint account.

“It’s really important to have conversations about budgeting before you talk about the logistics of how you’re going to pay for things,” said Odjick.

“If you’re nervous about it, (try) grounding it in something really concrete — like taking a vacation together. This is a great place to start.”

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Both Odjick and Leong concur — a joint bank account can be great, but it needs to be used properly.

Here are some things to consider if you and your partner are thinking about opening a joint account.

Find what works for you

The way another couple uses their joint account may not be the best model for you and your partner — and that’s OK.

In Leong’s case, each month, she and her husband automatically transfer a set amount of money out of their joint account and into their private accounts.

“This is an agreed-upon stipend strictly for personal spending and fun,” Leong said.

“This way, I don’t feel guilty about treating my best friend to a pedicure date, and he doesn’t ask why I need more shoes.”

It’s critical to keep the lines of communication open so that both you and your partner are comfortable with how your money is being used.

Don’t close your personal account

Odjick cautions against putting all of your eggs in one basket.

“Whether you’re moving in together or you’re married, things happen,” she said.

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“It’s unfortunate to talk about because it’s not what anyone wants to happen, but you always need to have an exit.”

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Odjick believes you should always have your own money, regardless of how long you have been together.

“You can be paid into your own bank account and contribute to a joint account with your partner,” she said.

“It’s a good introduction to sharing finances while not offending the financial systems you already have in place.”

The legal implications

“Just because you have equal access, it doesn’t mean you’ll both use the money fairly,” warned Leong.

“You have to trust that the other person won’t behave like a jerk with the pool of money.”

And, as Odjick points out, this can create legal issues should you and your partner break up.

“The other person has the same legal right to that money as you do,” she said.

By putting someone else’s name on the account, they can empty the account at any time.

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“That’s the level of trust that you really need to be thinking about… if you’re going into this. That money is legally both of yours,” Odjick said.

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