BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — According to a new study, the secret to a longer, happier marriage may lie in couples consolidating their finances. Study authors in Indiana found that married couples with joint bank accounts argued less about money, felt more confident about household financial management, and reported better overall relationship satisfaction. Couples sharing resources also felt more unified and committed to shared goals.
Researchers from Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business were the first to demonstrate a causal relationship between marital happiness and combined finances, although previous studies have suggested a connection.
“When we surveyed people of varying relationship lengths, those who had merged accounts reported higher levels of communality within their marriage compared to people with separate accounts, or even those who partially merged their finances,” says Jenny Olson, an assistant professor of Marketing at Kelley, in a university release. “Considering the significant shifts we observed over two years, this is compelling evidence for the benefits of merging finances. It certainly warrants a discussion with your partner.”
Scroll down to see the steps for opening a joint bank account
The study followed 230 engaged or newly married couples over two years as they started their lives together. The average age of these partners was 28, with a predominantly White demographic (75%), and 12 percent identifying as Black. Approximately 36 percent had a university education, and the average combined income was $50,000. Each couple knew each other for about five years and had been romantically involved for an average of three years. Ten percent had children.
At the start of the study, everyone maintained separate bank accounts and agreed to consider changing their financial arrangements. This was the first marriage for all participants. Some couples were randomly instructed to keep their separate bank accounts, while others were advised to open a joint bank account. A third group was given the freedom to decide for themselves.
After two years, couples who were instructed to open joint bank accounts reported significantly higher relationship quality than those who kept separate accounts. The researchers believe that merging finances encourages greater alignment with financial goals, increased transparency, and a shared understanding of marital responsibilities.
“A communal relationship is one where partners respond to each other’s needs because there’s a need. ‘I want to help you because you need it. I’m not keeping track.’ There’s a ‘we’ perspective, which we theorized would be related to a joint bank account,” Olson explains.
Do separate finances lead to divorce?
Olson adds that couples with separate accounts tended to view financial decisions as more transactional.
“It’s a mindset of ‘I help you because you’re going to help me later.’ It’s quid pro quo, which we see more often with separate accounts. Separate accounts also led people to believe it is easier to leave the relationship.”
The study had a dropout rate of 20 percent, with a significant percentage of couples who separated choosing not to merge their bank accounts.
The findings are published in the Journal of Consumer Research.
How do you open a joint bank account?
Opening a joint bank account can be a useful way for two or more individuals to manage shared finances. However, the exact steps can vary based on the financial institution. Here is a general guideline:
- Choose the right type of account for the both of you: Joint bank accounts can come in various forms, such as checking accounts, savings accounts, or money market accounts. Choose the one that best fits your needs.
- Select the bank or credit union of your preference: You may want to open your joint account at the same bank where you have your existing accounts, but it’s also a good idea to shop around. Look for the best interest rates, lowest fees, and most convenient locations and online banking services.
- Make sure you understand the different types of joint accounts: In many cases, joint bank accounts offer “rights of survivorship,” meaning that if one account holder dies, the remaining balance in the account becomes the property of the surviving account holder(s). This is often true of “Joint Tenancy” accounts. However, you might also opt for a “Tenancy in Common” account, where each person owns a specific share of the account and can designate a beneficiary.
- Gather the necessary documents: Both parties will need to provide personal information to open the joint account. This usually includes proof of identity (passport, driver’s license, etc.), proof of address (utility bill, lease agreement, etc.), social security number or tax identification number, date of birth.
- Complete the application: Depending on the bank, you may be able to complete this process online, or you might need to visit a branch in person. Make sure you understand all the terms and conditions before you sign anything.
- Make an initial deposit: Many banks require an initial deposit to open the account. Check with your bank to see if this applies to you.
- Set up online and mobile banking: After your account is open, you may want to set up online and mobile banking features. This will allow both parties to monitor the account, make deposits, pay bills, etc.
- Communicate regularly: Communication is key when managing a joint bank account. Make sure both parties are clear on how the account will be used, who will pay what, and how disputes will be resolved.
South West News Service writer Jim Leffman contributed to this report.