Your joint credit card: A gift or a curse?

by Kristina Tahnyak on May 26, 2014 · 9 comments

Paying Cash

Good morning Dinks.  This past weekend Nick and I were shopping for household items and when we got to the checkout we had to decide how we were going to pay for our purchases. We could pay debit, credit or cash for our purchases.  We had to decide if we were going to use our joint bank account or our joint credit card to pay for our purchases.

Until recently Nick and I kept separate bank accounts and to tell you the truth we opened a joint bank account but we don’t actually use it.  We opened the account because I felt a couple who has been together for 15 years should have a joint bank account; but we were already so set in our ways that neither one of us wanted to change how we banked.  Needless to say whenever we go shopping together it never occurs to us to pay with money from our joint account.

Is a joint account only for household expenses?

How do you and your spouse decide what purchases you make from a joint account?  Maybe your joint account is a bank account or maybe it’s a credit card, Nick and I now have both.  We have always had a joint credit card and now we also have a joint bank account.  I would like to know how other couples do it.  Who pays for what in your relationship and how do you decide whether to use your joint bank account, joint credit card or pay cash?

Joint account for joint use?

I personally think that a joint bank account should be used for joint expenses such as monthly house expenses like groceries or furniture or a fun couple’s expense like a couple’s vacation.  Nick and I each pay for everything equally and usually with our debit card.

Sometimes we use our joint credit card for major purchases such as our new TV (remember my week of bad money luck?) but usually we just pay for expenses with our own money from our individual accounts.  We don’t necessarily split each bill right down the middle, but we do end up contributing equally at the end of the month.  What types of purchases do you and your spouse charge on your joint credit card or pay from a joint bank account?

The problem with joint account

My only credit card is the joint credit card that I have with Nick.  This makes it very hard to surprise him with any gifts unless I pay cash for purchases from my own bank account.  There are certain types of purchases that require a credit card.

I recently wanted to surprise Nick with two tickets to an NBA game, you probably remember that he is a huge sports fan.  I called Ticketmaster from my office and charged the purchase on our credit card.  I didn’t know if Nick had used the card recently and therefore I didn’t think he would be watching the transactions on our joint credit card.  Well I was wrong.  He knew about the tickets even before I received them in the mail.  Eliminating the element of surprise is a major disadvantage to having a joint credit card.

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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Dee @ Color Me Frugal May 26, 2014 at 8:27 am

Yeah, the element of surprise thing is an issue for us. Sometimes if we want to be sneaky we’ll go withdraw cash and then pay for the item with that, but it’s harder to do when it’s something like tickets to an event that you had to buy online. We split our finances and expenses for the first 3-4 years of our marriage, but them somewhere along the way it just got too complicated with having all those bank accounts. We combined finances about five years ago and it’s really been a good decision for us. It’s just less complicated, and it forces us to have regular conversations about our finances and upcoming purchases. Neither of us are big spenders though; I think the combined approach would be harder if one person likes to spend.

2 Kathy May 26, 2014 at 9:08 am

We’ve been married 37 years and have had everything joint the whole time. Even our small individual “stash” accounts are held jointly although his credit union account is supposed to be his money and my small town bank account is supposed to be mine. The reality is it is all ours. As far as buying gifts, at Christmas I use one credit card and he uses the other and we both know not to look at the other’s bill until after Christmas. Or you can use a debit card tied to your individual account if you kept them. Debit cards work anywhere credit cards do except there is a little more element of risk in that there is less protection from a unsatisfactory transaction.

3 Brock @cleverdude May 26, 2014 at 12:34 pm

My wife and I have our finances combined, so it is a little challenging to surprise each other with a gift. Most of the time, we use our “blow” money to do it, so it’s fairly easy. For those times where a credit card (or debit) card need to be used, it’s a little more tricky. We usually don’t review our credit card statements until they come in the mail, so purchases like that normally don’t come under review…but there have been times when I or her have had to say “don’t look at that account right now…..” Which does take some of the surprise out of it…..but it works usually. :)

4 James May 26, 2014 at 4:48 pm

Joint accounts are fine as long as it is clear who is accountable for paying the bills.

5 Jen @Sprout Wealth May 27, 2014 at 12:04 am

I am not into any kind of joint accounts that is because I am single, my marriage of 22 years having ended 10 years ago. Nevertheless, I enjoyed your post because I know what I learn from it, I can relay to friends who might need pieces of advice in something similar.

6 Hannah @ Wise Dollar May 27, 2014 at 10:38 pm

Joint account is a gift for me. Me and my husband we had joint accounts, and it makes me comfortable because I knew every time he withdraw and on what he spends for the money.

7 Terry C July 5, 2014 at 4:14 pm

Joint on everything except the house due to exemptions I receive on property taxes. Our state doesn’t yet have marriage equality. There’s a signed warranty deed to my husband in my estate package which is kept by a close friend of ours. Do not do a quit claim deed, title companies and some mortgage companies hate them.

Each of us keeps a mad money box for fun and emergencies. That is almost the only cash we ever use, everything else is put on reward credit cards, that includes many monthly bills like cable and phone, all daily living costs, etc. I scoop up the rebate check from Costco and any other purchases and toss it into my mad money box. It all adds up.

Even more important for any couple is estate planning. It’s really not rocket science but you can be in a world of hurt without it. Make sure you take the time to consider what would happen if you were to die together. Don’t leave a mess for your families or you could end up with a worthless estate from attorney fees. Review your wills every five years and adjust accordingly. I fully intend to leave the planet as a pauper, my hubs will be comfortable for life.

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