I know we've talked about this some, but Mouse talked about it lately and we talked about it on Twitter and I wanted to offer my lawyerly perspective and explain what we did and why. There are basically four schools of thought that I have found when it comes to combining money.
1. Everybody dumps all of their money into a single account, neither retain personal accounts. All spending and saving is joint. Each partner deposits their paycheck into the joint account.
2. Each partner keeps their own checking (and possibly savings account), and have a joint account. Each partner gets paid into their own account. Both partners transfer an equal or proportionate amount of money into the joint account to pay joint bills.
3. Each partner keeps their own checking (and possibly savings) account, and have a joint account. All earnings go into the joint account and all bills are paid out of the joint account, but partners still maintain "separate" money.
4. Each partner keeps their own separate accounts. They divide all expenses equally or proportionately and each pay a share of them.
I think it is important for partners to maintain separate money, and for legal reasons, I think it is important to keep money you had coming into the marriage separate. (This is NOT legal advice. You should talk to a lawyer in your state about how to protect your money just in case you get divorced.) In Maryland, as I understand it, money you had before marriage or inherit, it's yours as long as you keep it separate. Once you comingle it, it becomes joint. Marital earnings are inherently joint. Knowing this, we went for option 3, which protects any separate assets we had, and made life much easier when we were living on a single income.
Many of my friends who worked before getting married went for option 2. I think that both partners working prior to marriage creates a different mindset about money and people who have experienced autonomy and been self-supporting like to maintain that feeling. I think between options 2 & 3, there isn't that much difference (but would love to hear if you think otherwise), it's a matter of personal preference.
Options 1 & 4 both concern me. I know that there are people who it works for, but, especially if there is a big difference in earnings, keeping everything or nothing separate has definite drawbacks. The biggest drawback of having no separate accounts is that if something happens to you and your account gets frozen (suspected fraud, actual fraud, bank malfunction, bank changeover, your student loan company makes a mistake and destroys your credit and the bank freezes your account - true story), you don't have any access to any money. The biggest advantage is that if you die, it's non-probate and your spouse automatically gets it without having to open an estate. This can be solved with beneficiary designations. We'll talk more about this soon.
Option 4, in my opinion, sometimes leads to keeping score and an obsession with keeping things equal. I think it is fine to keep some things separate, but when you do not share anything, it can be a problem. If you do not want any joint accounts, consider a joint credit card for shared expenses that you each pay half the bill on (although you do not want to do this if one partner is irresponsible or likely to abuse the credit card). We did this while we were living together but not married, because we did not want to share finances but we also didn't want to be constantly keeping score over who bought groceries, and it worked really well. Option 4 also leads to a potential mess in the event of a divorce, because you have potentially comingled marital earnings with non-marital earnings, which matters in some states. If you truly want to keep your finances separate and not joint, you should really see a lawyer about a pre-nup or a post-nup, because you will not actually be protected in the event of a divorce unless you have something in writing.
Which option did you go with? Is there an option that I missed?