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60-Second Guide to Managing a Joint Checking Account

May 26, 2010

By Barbara Marquand | Money Rates Columnist

A joint checking account lets you and your partner pool your money for the major bills and, when managed wisely, gives both of you the sense of being on the same financial team.

But little mistakes can add up to big blunders in a joint account, which can hurt your bottom line as well as your relationship. Follow these strategies to prevent a joint account from tearing the two of you apart.

Checking Account Chats: Talk to Each Other

Keeping track of one person's expenditures is tough enough, but with two people having access to one account, tracking becomes more challenging. Mistakes happen even in the most financially organized households.

Let's say, for instance, your beloved writes a generous check at a charity luncheon but forgets to write it down in the check register. Then you write checks for a stack of bills and send them off, trusting there's plenty of money in the account to cover them. Days later, you get a bounced check notice and a fat penalty fee from the bank.

The main solution? Check in with one another regularly about the account and upcoming expenditures.

Maintain One Master Checking Account Register

Agree to write down all your deposits, ATM transactions, and check amounts in one master register that you keep in a safe spot. Reconcile the account regularly to make sure the balance in the register is accurate and you both know where you are financially.

Designate one of you who will be responsible for balancing the checkbook. If the task makes your eyes glaze over and your spouse is a CPA who loves nothing more than crunching numbers, then by all means let your spouse do the reconciling. But make sure you stay tuned into the bottom line even if you're not the one doing the balancing.

Checking Account Monitoring: Go Electronic

If you haven't done so already, sign up for online banking to keep tabs on the account. Frequent monitoring will help catch mistakes, such as unrecorded ATM withdrawals, and let both partners see what's happening in the account, in case one forgets to tell the other about a transaction.

Discuss Big Purchases

Agree to discuss any purchases, other than regular bill payments, that exceed a certain dollar amount before you make them. That way, one person in the relationship won't get caught off-guard by a whopping reduction in the account--and more importantly, you'll build a better relationship by planning things together.

Maintain Separate Savings Accounts

Many couples have one joint checking account as well as a savings account for each person. That gives everyone a little financial leeway for some fun without having to explain every penny spent.

Link Joint Checking Account to Savings

Give yourself a cushion to guard against accidental overdrafts. Link your joint checking account to a joint savings account in an overdraft protection program.

With communication, some agreed-upon guidelines, careful monitoring, and a safety net for catching mistakes, managing a joint checking account should go smoothly and help the two of you build a solid financial foundation for the years to come.

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