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When it comes to checking and credit, many couples going for his and hers, not ours

Posted: Thursday, July 12, 2001

NEW YORK (AP) -- It used to be that couples followed their walk down the aisle with a saunter to the bank, where they opened their first joint account and, perhaps, merged their credit cards.

A study conducted four years ago by the Roper Center at the University of Connecticut found that more than 66 percent of couples shared a joint checking account. These days, however, more couples appear to be opting for separate ''his'' and ''hers'' accounts -- or his, hers and a very limited ''ours.''

Take the case of Valerie Rodriguez, 31, and Scott McMurray, 30, who met on the job at Credit Suisse First Boston in New York and were married in April.

''We're keeping our separate checking accounts,'' said Rodriguez, who is a vice president in the CSFB e-commerce division. ''Everything was in place, like direct deposit of our paychecks, and it just didn't seem worth the hassle of changing.''

They did open one joint account -- as a place to deposit wedding checks made out to both of them. And while they keep their own credit cards, they also signed up for a joint American Express card that they use for household and other shared expenses. They split the bill at the end of the month, she said.

''I like the feeling of being independent,'' Rodriguez said. ''I'm responsible for my own money, my own savings, and I don't have to change my spending.''

Consumer experts acknowledge the tradition of joint accounts, but see a lot of merit in keeping finances separate.

''There are a lot of newlyweds who see marriage as a new joint venture, and a joint account is in the spirit of that,'' said Virginia B. Morris, author of ''A Woman's Guide to Personal Finance.''

But there are alternatives, she pointed out. One is to keep separate checking and savings accounts, but set up a joint household account that you fund on a predetermined basis.

''Each can contribute a set amount every month,'' she said. ''Or, if your incomes are significantly different, a set percentage of your salaries.''

The key is determining the formula in advance so it doesn't become a source of friction.

The advantage of retaining some financial separation is that it allows for different savings -- and buying -- decisions as well as a sense of independence for both the husband and the wife.

''More women work these days, and they have their own 401(k)s and IRAs anyway,'' Morris pointed out.

Separate credit cards, meanwhile, allow both to build credit records. That will be helpful if the couple decides to buy a house together. If they split, both will have the ability -- and credit rating -- to borrow on their own.

Greg McBride, a financial analyst at Bankrate.com in North Palm Beach, Fla., suggests that a joint account should be for bills a couple incurs jointly -- mortgages, utilities, food.

Separate accounts, he said, ''are especially useful if one brings considerably more debt to the marriage than the other'' or if they want to avoid quibbling over very different spending habits.

He suggested that a lot of couples might start out with his and hers accounts but should be aware that ''as time goes on, things tend to grow together.''

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