Avoid money arguments and successfully work together for a happy financial future.
Money matters can put a lot of stress on a relationship (31% reported money as a major source of conflict or tension in the American Psychological Association's 2015 Stress in America Survey), but they don't need to. While there is no one-size-fits all approach to accounts and expenses, the key is good communication. You already know there are plenty of ways you're compatible, have "the money talk" to find out if your goals and values for your wallet are too.
Some people find it hard to talk about money and they consider it on the list of taboo dinner topics like religion and politics. In a long-relationship, however, keep lines of communication open. You won't agree on all aspects of spending versus saving, but you'll have a better chance of succeeding if you can get comfortable discussing priorities.
For example, does your partner buy new vehicles every 3 years while you're continuing to drive the 10-year-old car you inherited from a family member? Maybe your partner puts a lot of miles on their car and wants to make sure it's reliable, and you frequently take the train and only need yours for weekend errands. There may be easy compromises or ways to jointly save that will also fit into your overall plans, like making one vehicle work for both of you and ditching the additional insurance and registration costs of the other.
With a little time, it'll become more natural to discuss finances and you'll find ways to increasingly work together. Use each other's strengths and it can even be fun. Want to plan an upcoming trip, move somewhere new or go back to school? If one person is better at researching and the other likes to negotiate - you could find cheaper and more interesting places to vacation rather than tourist hot spots, negotiate a better lease or price on a home, or discover additional scholarship opportunities.
Know Your History
Credit scores are used in a lot of different ways and low scores, large debt burdens or prior events like bankruptcies can cause stress and cost you money. The first step is to get your free annual credit report, then share it with your partner.
A couple with good scores can look for ways to make the most of them by finding the best rates. If one or both of you have a poor credit history or a large debt burden, consider your game plan for going forward.
Remember, being joint owners on accounts or loans means you are both legally and financially responsible. If there is a mismatch in scores, it can help the person with worse credit get a better rate with a joint owner, but you'll want the mismatch to be known in advance. Overcoming debt or bankruptcy can be a long process, but it can be done and it'll help the other partner be supportive if they know about the existing obstacles.
Consider Your Options
You have a lot of options for savings, checking and investment accounts. There is also no rule saying you have to merge any or all of your finances with your partner. A good place to start is by thinking about how you each use your accounts and how you want to pay for joint expenses.
Two people with similar habits will find it easier to merge accounts without having surprises or misunderstandings, if that's the route you want to take. If one person likes to manage everything electronically while the other prefers to rely on a register, you may consider easing into joint accounts and setting some ground rules.
Shared expenses can be the easiest ones to tackle first - decide where the money is coming from and how you want to make the payment: cash, check, electronic payment or bill pay. Next could be money for your shared goals. Do you want to have an emergency or vacation fund? Decide how much you want to save, where the money is going to be stashed and how it's getting there. It's also good to discuss when you each think it's reasonable to dip into that fund, either for its intended or not-intended purposes.
Everyday-use funds require the most communication if you're going to use a joint account. Make sure you set up the expectations first so there aren't bad feelings down the road. Set some operating rules to guide you and get to know each other's comfort level with spending limits and minimum account balances. Now is a great time to look at habits and budgets, and decide when or if you prefer discussing certain types of purchases as a team before they're made.
Have fun getting to know this new side of your partner. On the surface, money talk may not seem romantic. However, when you start dreaming about future goals together and ways to achieve them, it quickly becomes something to bond over.