It’s becoming less common for young, newlywed couples to merge their finances after getting married. A 2017 study from TD Bank found that 29% of couples age 34 and under keep their money separate compared to just 16% of couples 35-54 and 9% of couples 55+.
Money is a touchy subject that can strain a relationship, but 86% of people ages 18-34 reported feeling “very comfortable” or “extremely comfortable” talking about finances with their partner. In fact, younger couples were more comfortable discussing money than older couples — 74% of couples 34-54 and 79% 55+ said they were comfortable talking about money with their partner.
But that doesn’t mean young couples are merging their accounts after marriage.
To find out if Charlotte newlyweds reflect national money management trends, I asked local financial and relationship experts to weigh in on patterns they’re seeing among recently married couples ages 25-34.
1. Financial transparency is almost nonexistent.
“Full integration and full transparency with young, newly married couples is almost extinct,” Rhondale Haywood, a portfolio manager at U.S. Trust, told the Agenda.
Transparency, he explained, is different from having a pool of shared resources. Instead, it’s full knowledge of everything from a partner’s debt to their saving habits to how much money they make — something only 1 in 5 can’t speak to.
To put the lack of financial transparency in perspective, a recent study found that married couples are less likely to know their spouse’s credit scores than the other party’s number of sexual partners. Another study found that 17% of millennials were deliberately keeping a financial secret from their partner.
Money is a topic that’s viewed as a source of tension for 1 in 5 relationships and is a leading cause of divorce, but that’s not to say that millennial couples don’t ever talk about it. In fact, happy couples are more likely to discuss their finances once a month despite also likely arguing about it.
Although Haywood says full financial transparency is rare, some element of combining finances after marriage is not.
2. Most couples keep their finances separate with the exception of contributing to one joint account.
“We usually, almost without exception, see at least one shared account,” he said. These accounts are mostly used for housing and related expenses, and are often recommended for ease and simplicity without sacrificing their own individuality.
The trend is relatively new and Haywood’s take is that it’s largely in part due to the rise in two-income households over the past few decades.
3. A couple able to talk open and honestly about finances is more likely to succeed, regardless of whether they combine the money or keep it separate.
There’s no cut-and-dry answer when it comes to whether or not combining finances or keeping them separate is best for a couple, Haywood says it’s about what’s best for the individual couple, and rule number one is talking about it.
“It’s important that you plan together and establish similar values so that you can establish a similar vision,” he explained. “You’ve decided you’re heading in the same direction. If not, good luck with that relationship, right? A big part of heading in the same direction is finance.”
Deona Frierson, LCSW Licensed Therapist/Relationship Expert at The Excellent Marriage, echoed that sentiment.
“In marriage, you have to have intimacy,” Frierson said. “And I think people sometimes only think about emotional intimacy, physical intimacy and spiritual intimacy, but there’s also financial intimacy.”
She’s seen financial management done well both ways — completely separate or completely merged — but she, too, sees more and more couples whose finances are separate but are contributing to a joint account.
“There’s no right or wrong [answer]. It’s about understanding your partner’s perspective and what makes them feel like they’re part of a union, like they’re moving toward oneness,” she said.
Like Haywood, Frierson is keen on a couple creating a ‘vision,’ and even more so on putting everything on the table, including the harder topics like debt and saving for the future.
“There should be no surprises when you’re moving toward marriage, when you’re engaged and when you’re married,” she said. “Oftentimes, when finances are a problem, it’s because there are surprises.”