I got engaged! But… how should couples be combining finances?

September 25, 2023

Sarah Hovde

Sarah Hovde is BankTech's Head of Investor Relations. Sarah keeps the Fund's 100+ Limited Partners informed on all things happening in the BankTech ecosystem, which is quite a lot considering we aim to be a high-touch, high-engagement fund.

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Summer of 2023 was a good one. As the title reads, I got engaged (woohoo!) and my now-fiancé, Geoff, and I are in a very exciting time of our lives where anything feels possible. We’re currently exploring where we’d like to move, and since we’re blessed with two fully-remote jobs, we’ve spent the last 6 months living in 6 different cities, to compare the living experience and determine the right community for us. We’re rounding out our travels now, and are close to picking a future home (although we are planning to rent a house first, as this still doesn’t feel like a buyer’s market). We haven’t spent much time planning the wedding yet, since that’s a beast all on its own (stay tuned for a rant about how the wedding industry has become absurdly excessive and overpriced!). 

Since the engagement, we’ve been faced with an avalanche of new life variables to consider and strategize for.  One of the more interesting conversations has revolved around how to approach joint-finances and combining assets. I’ve found this topic to be one that very few discuss openly. Certainly not “taboo” per se, but there is a startling lack of resources and advice online for couples in our position (a position that a majority of people will go through in their lifetimes), and we’ve found that our peers tend not to discuss how they themselves navigated this transition.

With this article, I will share our experience thus far and welcome any advice that you, the reader, want to share on how you approached joint-finances. Especially considering almost all of us are in the finance/banking industry (at least I assume you are, if you’ve found your way to our blog).

Some background: While Geoff and I were dating, we’d simply trade off picking up the bill.  Then about a year into our relationship, I added him as an Authorized User on my credit card, and that way we don’t have to go through the “I’ve got this one… No, you got it last time, let me, please!” conversation every time we went on a date or simply grabbed groceries.  And while adding him as a user was an exciting step forward in our relationship, the card is still entirely under my control and tied to my credit, which means I’m the only one with access to the statements via my online banking portal. That results in me having to reconcile and Venmo him each month for reimbursement, which is not particularly fun (even to my spreadsheet loving self), nor is it a sustainable approach as our joint-expenses will only increase in both the amount of money and number of transactions.  What I think is the best next step would be to open a Joint Savings Account that we’d both auto-deposit a monthly sum into, maybe open a Joint Investment Account (as we start jointly saving for a future home and having kids one day), and then have a truly Joint Credit Card (tied to both of our credit; both able to have log-ins to view the statements; then auto-paid off via our Joint Savings Account).  To sum it up, our goals are simply Transparency, Convenience, and Fairness when it comes to combining our finances. 

That doesn’t seem like a difficult plan of action. So last week, I went into my current bank’s branch (which was creepily empty actually – only one banker was staffed) only to learn that while they can offer Joint Savings, they cannot offer a Joint Credit Card.  I then stopped into the local community bank across the street (a much warmer experience), to find that they didn't know whether a joint credit card was even possible.  To their credit, they followed up with answers a few days later, after calling their fintech partner.  While at both banks, I spoke with the banker about feeling confused on what best practices are. Both bankers empathized with this experience and also mentioned how they’re trying to navigate similar waters, but couldn't give any sort of guidance on if this was the right direction. Alas, the difficulty I’ve faced in answering these simple questions felt almost comical.  Which, still today, leaves me (a) fascinated by this gap in the banking industry, and (b) with no further guidance on what is a reasonable plan of action for a couple in our position. 

Some brainstorming: From where I am standing, I see this as an area ripe with opportunity for banks to deepen their relationships with their customers by becoming a “money coach” of sorts. I would have loved it if either of the two banks—or any banks online—had some concrete guidance on how to responsibly take the next step as a couple and work towards combining assets/splitting finances. Maybe they could share best practices that they’ve seen, outline easy steps to get there, and suggest tools (aka the Joint Credit Card) to do so. I recognize that every person and every couple has a different history with finances, and different priorities when approaching combining assets with a partner, but it does seem like if I’m faced with this much friction and confusion (as someone hyper-interested in Personal Finance already, plus has worked in finance for awhile now), then how in the world is everybody else navigating this next step so easily and quickly?

Final thoughts: I’d love to hear how you’ve approached this with your partner, if you have. At what point did you combine assets? How did you do it? Do you have any advice for couples nowadays? Email us back at info@banktechventures.com with your thoughts or suggestions, and if okay, we may explore your story in a future blog post.

And separately, for our bankers who are reading, do you feel like your bank has targeted this at all?  It’s true that most banks in our BankTech Ventures ecosystem are predominantly commercially focused, and that my measly deposits probably aren’t worth a bank's time… but my hope is that my measly deposits today would eventually turn into a larger sum, eventually a mortgage, and maybe exist alongside future business loans or at the very least, some quality referrals for some.

Our BankTech team has been exploring opportunities for banks to attract younger customers and make digital account opening/switching easier, so this broader Retail opportunity has been on our mind. Stay tuned for an update, or maybe another rant, as I continue on my quest to figure all of this out. Cheers!