When is the Best Time for Couples to Combine Finances?

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relationships, debt and marriage, marriage, family, financial planning, combining finances

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The following post is by MPFJ staff writer, . Greg is a proud husband, father, and debt crusader who is in the process of becoming debt free. Along with his wife, Greg co-founded the personal finance blog, Club Thrifty, where they encourage readers to “Stop Spending. Start Living.”

The topic of love and money has been a hotly debated topic for years.

It seems like every blogger in the personal finance world has an opinion on it. For some reason, the topic triggers very vocal opinions from both bloggers and non-bloggers alike. Chase Card Services decided to stir the pot in January and came out with their “Chase Blueprint for Valentines Day Survey.” Among other things, the survey specifically asks if people should discuss finances on the first date and reports that only 21 percent of respondents said that they would help pay down their significant others debt – which I find kind of shocking. The results have set off a firestorm of response posts in the personal finance sphere and got me thinking about when couples should begin sharing their finances.

In the past, I’ve made no secret that I believe that married couples should be sharing their finances. I believe that talking about money and handling your money together is one of the keys to building a strong relationship. When couples decided to get married, they are agreeing to share their life together. They are no longer individuals, but a unit that acts as one – both emotionally and legally. They share their lives, children, and property, so it boggles my mind that couples would choose not to share their finances. In fact, from a strictly sanitized viewpoint, one of the biggest advantages to getting married is the ability to combine your incomes and accomplish things as a team that would be unreachable for each individual alone.

Money issues are the number one cause of divorce in North America. With the divorce rate in the United States near the 50% mark, it should be painfully clear that communication about handling money is a key element in the success of one’s marriage. One may argue that not sharing finances is a way to keep arguments about money to a minimum. I completely disagree. Sharing your finances forces couples to be on the same page when it comes to money. On the other hand, not talking about money is one way to breed resentment toward each other.

Look, I’m sure that there are marriages out there where the finances are kept separate and are working just fine. However, for the vast majority of couples, I think this is a way to get into some serious money and relationship troubles. By not sharing finances, you can avoid taking responsibility for your actions. You are not forced to hold yourself or your partner accountable for handling money in the proper way – which is where both money and relationship problems can begin.

Since the finances of each partner affect the family as a whole, I find it absolutely insane that married couples would not help their spouses pay off debt. Whether you do or whether you don’t, the money is all coming out of the family’s pot anyway. You’re just playing a shell game of shifting money from one place to the other, so why not just openly pay the debt off together – particularly if it is student loan debt? The income which that debt helps to generate is theoretically helping the entire family. Why shouldn’t the entire family help to pay it off? Be a team, help each other, and avoid the possibility of resentment from either side.

When Should Couples Combine Their Finances?

If we assume that sharing finances is the way to go, when is the best time to merge those finances together? Should couples begin sharing their finances before marriage? Should you help your future spouse pay off their debt before you take the plunge?

Honestly, I think there is quite a bit of gray area here. In an ideal world, nobody would have any debt and couples would not have to combine their finances until the day that they are married. However, I’m not sure that is realistic. While I wouldn’t advocate somebody paying off their significant other’s debt after dating for only a few months, if you have made a commitment to each other and are engaged to be married, you may want to think about starting to pay that debt off before you tie the knot. Once you marry a person, you marry their debt as well, so why not start helping them pay it off?

Of course, this would also depend upon the size of the debt your partner has accrued. You want to be very careful about giving others your money before you are married. Paying off $1,000 in credit card debt before the wedding is helpful. Paying off a $15,000 car may not be the best choice to make. Always remember that if you choose to help a significant other financially before you are married, essentially, you are giving them a gift. Should you break up, they probably are not going to be required to give you back the money. While helping them out is noble and may help you both in the long run, you could also lose a big chunk of money if anything happens to the relationship.

So, there you have it. What do you think about my take on couples and finances? Should married couples pay off each other’s debts? When do you think couples should combine their money? 

Let me know in the comments below!

***Photo courtesy of http://www.flickr.com/photos/allyrose18/179537772/sizes/z/in/photostream/


  1. I could see the reasoning to paying off a little of a fiance's debt before marriage if it is high interest rate. My fiancee has 55k (starting from 80k) in student loans at 8% max. I'm saving to help her pay down her debt, but I'm not contributing the money until we're married. I don't forsee any problems, but you never know about cold feet!

    When we get married we'll combine finances and I'll be attacking her student loans.
    My recent post Don’t Settle for Plan B – Find a Way to Get to Plan A

  2. moneybeagle says:

    Well, as far as the when, here is how it went for my wife and I. We got engaged in April 2006 and got married in September 2007, but we did the process of combining finances during our engagement. I began tracking all of our assets and debts in the net worth tracking spreadsheet I'd already been using in September 2006. During the remaining period, we began merging many of our bank accounts and such. We also bought our house in June 2007 so that was all handled from a combined standpoint. So, I guess the points are that it is a gradual process and also that it is probably best kicked off after whatever point the couple mutually determines that they're in it for the long haul.
    My recent post 10 Things I Wonder About

    • It is probably different for everybody. The thing about rules of thumb is that they are not right in all cases. It sounds like what you did worked brilliantly for you.
      My recent post How Much Energy Are You Using?

  3. myfijourney says:

    I think it's a bit of a gradual process. If you live together, then you should both be paying into the bills. If you're planning on getting married, you both should have the money talk to make sure that you're both on the same financial page. And if you marry the person – you also marry their debt.
    My recent post Should I buy a new car or keep the old one?

    • So true, when you're married, their debt is your debt. I also think the money talk is extremely important. You need to be on the same page to undergo this type of committment.
      My recent post How Much Energy Are You Using?

  4. All the his-hers-ours married couples I've known have been unstable in their marriages.

    If you aren't married, you should have separate bills, accounts, etc., because you aren't a family. If you are married, then you should act like it.
    My recent post Use Grocery Circulars – Saving Money On Groceries, Part 4

  5. I got married almost 28 years ago, so my situation may no longer be typical.

    We had no debt when we got married, but we still kept separate account for several years. We combined accounts when it got to the point that I was making a lot more money than my wife and she was in debt to me. 🙂
    My recent post New Tutorial – My Asset Allocation

  6. BrokeMillennial says:

    Your final point about paying off debt before you're married is really important! I agree that married couples should help pay off debt together, but I wouldn't feel comfortable paying off someone's debt before the rings were on the fingers and papers were signed.

    As someone who is debt free, it's a huge kick in the stomach to consider taking on a future husband's debt. It's not a pressing issue in my life, but certainly something I've thought about. However, I would want to be open and honest about money from the time the relationship started to become serious. I don't think it would be my business how much debt he has exactly, but debt vs. debt free would be good to know. Once the engagement discussions started…then I would want to know exact numbers in terms of student loans or credit card debt.

    My recent post Confession: I Avoided the Millennial Curse

    • Totally agree. I think $1,000 or so is legit. But I definitely am not paying off somebody's car before we are married.
      My recent post The VIP Club Roundup – Sorority Meltdown Edition

  7. Great post. I think it depends on each couple. Me and W already live as though we are married, and marriage has been in the plans since day 1. We've had joint finances for 6 years now and it's worked out well for us, but I know of many couples and marriages where one person takes advantage too much of the other.
    My recent post Relationships and Money: Talk is Not Cheap

    • If it is working for you, cool! I”m not sure that there is a set way it needs to be. If it were my daughter, I would always caution her not to pay off debt until the ring is on the finger, but Holly helped me a little before we were married. I think it is kind of a gray area.
      My recent post The VIP Club Roundup – Sorority Meltdown Edition

      • We don't have any separate debt. Everything that we have was accrued together. Plus, our house is in both of our names 🙂 We would have gotten married years ago, but with all of the deaths in our families that we have experienced, we put it on hold.
        My recent post Relationships and Money: Talk is Not Cheap

  8. healthfulsave says:

    Maybe yours/mine/ours works if you are getting married at age 60 or more, but for us, having completely merged finances has been another area for intimacy, communication, and pride in our 18 year marriage. We set goals together, plan for our future, and even have a budget category for each of us to have some “mad money”. We touch base on the budget and upcoming expenses a couple times a week.
    My recent post What I Did This Week to Save Money

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