Many couples in long-term relationships maintain independent finances, but typically operate one or more joint accounts to cover day-to-day expenses, bills and savings. This decision is generally based on personal preference, but there are several benefits and risks to managing money together.
On the simplest level, a joint account can help couples keep track of their finances and ensure costs are spread fairly. Both partners have equal access to their shared funds, regardless of who has contributed what. But differing attitudes to spending and saving can be a source of tension.
If you buy a home together, or just open a joint bank account, your finances become inter-linked, creating potential pitfalls. For instance, shared finances could affect your credit rating, as you will be ‘co-scored’ if you apply for credit. This means a partner with a poorer credit score may impact on your own rating.
Remember, if you have a shared mortgage, loan or overdraft, you will be liable to repay the whole amount if your partner can’t – or won’t – contribute to the repayments.
However, there are advantages alongside the potential risks. For instance, if one partner is a basic rate taxpayer or non-taxpayer and the other pays income tax at a higher rate, it could be worth switching some savings or investments to the lower earner to reduce the overall tax payable.
Sharing the ownership of investments could also save capital gains tax (CGT). This could allow both partners to use their annual CGT exempt amount of £11,700 for 2018/19, to give them a potential gain of £23,400, which would be exempt from tax within this tax year.
Husbands, wives and civil partners can normally transfer assets freely between each other without incurring a tax on any gains which would otherwise be realised by the gift. However, unmarried couples may find themselves with tax to pay on gains realised by making such gifts of assets. They may also create inheritance tax issues for themselves later in life.
Higher earners can choose to contribute to the pension of a lower-earning spouse, subject to the annual allowance, with the amount of tax relief available the greater of £3,600 or their relevant UK earnings. This could help couples make best use of both their personal allowances for income tax in retirement.
The key to successful joint finances is trust and openness. Couples must be prepared to have full and frank discussions about their earnings, financial goals and future aims. A qualified financial planner can help identify your current situation and the best options for the future.
Levels and bases of taxation and tax reliefs are subject to change and their value depends on individual circumstances. The Financial Conduct Authority does not regulate tax advice. Occupational pension schemes are regulated by The Pensions Regulator. The value of your investment can go down as well as up and you may not get back the full amount you invested.