Shelley Bridgeman: What's the point of a joint account?

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What's the point of a shared bank account when financial independence means being able to take care of your own business? Photo / Thinkstock
What's the point of a shared bank account when financial independence means being able to take care of your own business? Photo / Thinkstock

Unless you include saving on bank fees, I've never seen the real advantage of having a joint bank account. And personally, I'd rather spend the $4 (or whatever amount it is I pay each month to keep my cheque account operating) rather than submit to the claustrophobia I imagine accompanies the holding of a joint account.

I subscribe to the principle that both my spending and my earnings are mainly my business. Despite nineteen years of marriage, our household finances resemble more those of flatmates than spouses. I earn my income and pay my bills. My husband earns his income and pays his bills. As the main income earner he pays the majority of the household bills too but if we make an especially large joint purchase we occasionally go halves. I'm guessing that's an unusual arrangement but then I've nothing to compare it to.

When we got married we each had a job as well as many years of independence and financial self-sufficiency under our belts.

Marriage didn't herald a change in our financial situation or our working circumstances and so opening a joint account simply didn't enter our minds. It was business as usual as far as earning and paying the mortgage and bills were concerned.

A friend once said to me that her mother told her from hard experience that there's nothing more demeaning than having to beg your husband for money to buy tampons. Painting as it does a picture of a grim life in which a woman has relinquished total economic power to a man, it's a comment I've never forgotten.

Perhaps I've subconsciously held close the idea that as long as I'm in charge of my own finances I'll never need to ask anyone for money for anything. And I have this impression that possessing a joint account obliges each holder to have purchases authorised by the other party but that may be a false assumption.

I can imagine the opening of a joint account being viewed as some sort of grand romantic gesture. If you were eighteen and in love and keen to provide concrete evidence of your affection for each other and your confidence in a shared future, then it could seem downright churlish to not want to blend your finances too.

Yet you don't have to look far for cautionary tales about such decisions - doubtless made with the best intentions while bathed in the rosy glow of optimism but sadly regretted once confronted by the realities of married life. An article in the Weekend Herald called, 'Ending marriage can be a costly business', told of a woman who "complained that, while she was being told transactions on the account required her former husband's consent, he was allowed to use the account without her consent".

There are plenty of warnings. Parenting website kidspot.co.nz warns that we should "[o]nly open a joint account with someone you trust completely". An article on Preston Russell Law's site entitled "The perils of joint bank accounts" says it can be a risky move. "Joint bank accounts and credit cards can be a source of trouble, particularly if the split is acrimonious," says moneymax.co.nz.

But amongst all the pessimism is one tangible reason you may wish to open a joint bank account. Immigration New Zealand advises visa seekers that "evidence of financial interdependence, such as joint bank accounts" may help convince bureaucrats that their relationship with a New Zealander is bona fide. That's taken all the romance out of them, for sure.

So that's my take on the subject. What's yours? Do you and your beloved hold a joint account together? What were your reasons for doing so? Do you love it or loathe it? Can you imagine it causing any grief in future?

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