Ask Harry: What’s the best way to handle finances as a couple?

relationship finances

Whether it’s early days or it’s been a while, have you given some thought to how you and your partner manage money as a couple? Money can be a huge source of tension in any relationship – Harry explains how to best handle it.

What’s the best way to handle finances as a couple?

The reality is that finances, if not properly managed and understood by each partner, can be a major source of tension in any relationship, and financial stress is one of the leading causes of relationship breakdowns.  

The earlier you and your partner can form a shared understanding of, and commitment to, your future goals and objectives, the better off you’ll both be.

Bank Accounts & Credit Cards

The first area to tackle is the joint versus single bank account issue. There is no right or wrong answer here.  My wife and I have had the same shared bank account into which our respective salaries are directed pretty much for as long as we’ve been married. We also have the one credit card on which we put nearly all non-trivial expenses.  

By keeping such a simple system, we can monitor our monthly cashflow as a couple just by looking at the credit card outstanding balance and our joint account.  We have never deliberately let our credit card balance remain outstanding by the due date, and thus have hardly paid any credit card interest over the years. Banks don’t make much money off people like us.

We know a couple who have been married for about the same length of time and have never had a joint account. Each has a bank account into which their pay is credited, and each is responsible for meeting certain financial commitments.

Investing as a Couple

When it comes to investing however, often times togetherness only adds to complexity rather than alleviating it. Many couples choose to hold investment assets in joint names, and this can work superbly if you’re organised and whilst your financial affairs are relatively straightforward.

Holding investments in joint names does however add to complexity at tax time. If you have made an investment in joint names it will be the responsibility of each person to correctly capture the amount of assessable income for tax purposes (and any other taxable components) in their tax return.  This also applies to any interest income from bank accounts or term deposits.

If you are not comfortable dealing with the splitting of different tax components between you and your partner at tax time, you may need the services of a suitably qualified taxation professional to help you prepare and lodge your respective tax returns.  

Given the complexity of splitting investment income for taxation purposes, some couples elect to hold investment assets in one person’s name only, depending on the asset. Here one person might hold a certain type of investment, like listed shares or ETFs while another might be the sole titleholder on an investment property.

In addition to simplifying their taxation affairs, this approach may be beneficial where the couple has different risk preferences or time horizons, or where there may be an advantage to doing so from a taxation perspective.

Not sure what your risk preference is? Get your free risk profile using this link.

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Who is Harry?

Ask Harry

Harry has over 20 years of experience in wealth management. In that time he has advised both individual and institutional investors. Previously a Certified Financial Planner, he now is a Certified Investment Management Analyst. So.. he knows his stuff.

When not making personal finance easier and less intimidating for Aussies, Harry loves his weekend bike rides and spending time with his wife and son. He’s pretty much the finance-savvy uncle you never had.

Got a question for him? Send him a question at harry.chemay@clover.com.au and connect with him on LinkedIn.


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