Shacking Up?

Unmarried couples face many of the same administrative money issues as their matrimonially bound counterparts. While you may not be covered under each other's work insurance plans or eligible for the family discount card at the Korner Kwik-E-Mart, you do have joint decisions to ponder:

1. To merge, or not to merge?
It's the age-old question for couples, married or not -- joint or separate checking accounts? A few things to consider. Are your salaries dramatically different, or does only one of you work? If so, the partner bringing home most or all of the money may feel penalized by a joint account, depending on how it's handled. With separate accounts, it may not seem difficult to split fixed bills, but what about variable ones? In the case of phone bills, for example, if one of you spends more time on the phone than the other, having one partner cover the bill might be a problem.

2. Who will pay for what?
Which expenses will be shared, and which will be separate? What if one person has more debt than the other? Is that his/her entire responsibility? Does each of you pay roughly the same dollar amount? Or do you contribute a similar proportion of your take-home pay? What about child care and personal travel? Are you going to pool any of your accounts or split utilities, food, laundry, and dog treats 50/50? If your salaries are wildly different, you may want to consider dividing expenses based on a percentage of your income.

3. Who will be in charge of paying the bills?
Anyone who shares a phone line, electricity, and a roof must tackle this chore. Will you establish one account where you each contribute money toward household bills? Will one person pay the phone bill and the other pick up cable TV?

Some of these issues have been mitigated by online account access and personal finance software. Whether you have separate or joint accounts, using these tools can make it much easier to track your finances. Even your bank's 800 number (which enables you to call and get your exact balance) can be helpful.

Regardless of whether your mother is cool with your cohabitation, you need to address these questions. Check out what Fools in love have to say about the subject on our discussion board. And for a more hands-on experience in togetherness, consider our How-To Guide for Couples on how to handle money with your honey.

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