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husband and wife looking at their bank account together

Can Your Spouse Access Your Bank Account?

Money is often a difficult topic, even between people who love each other, and it can be a point of friction in marriages and partnerships alike. Nobody wants to have financial problems with their spouse or act as though they don’t trust them, but many couples prefer to keep some degree of separation when it comes to money.

Many people aren’t sure, can your spouse access your bank account, or is it only you? Since this is a complicated area, let’s learn a bit about spouses and bank accounts, what rights people have, and what your spouse can do with your bank account.

Key Takeaways

  • In individual checking accounts, a spouse generally has limited access, depending on the bank and state laws.
  • Setting up a joint bank account provides equal access to funds for both spouses, allowing them to use the account without the other person's consent.
  • Legal avenues for a spouse to access an individual's account include being an authorized user, having power of attorney, or being named as a beneficiary, emphasizing the importance of communication and trust in financial matters.

Can Your Spouse Use Your Bank Account?

If the account is a joint account for both of you, your spouse can use your shared bank account. If your checking account is an individual account, your spouse will have limited access. The level of access will depend on your bank and state laws. 

Spousal Rights on Joint Bank Accounts vs. Regular Bank Accounts

If you and your spouse set up a joint bank account together, you will have equal access to the funds within the account, and you will be able to use them without the other person’s consent.

A regular bank account, however, is owned by just one person, and only that person has access to the account. No other person, including a spouse, can use the money in the account, except in very specific circumstances, such as having legal power of attorney or perhaps being the main beneficiary of the account.

Beyond these special circumstances, a regular bank account is owned and operated entirely by one person, and is not usable by any other individual, regardless of their relationship to the owner.

Many spouses choose to keep their bank accounts separate for several reasons. It can make it easier for both parties to manage their own financial affairs and may stop bickering about money. Furthermore, if one partner has a lot of debt, not joining financial affairs may be a preferable approach.

Understanding Your Bank’s Policy

Some banks will allow spouses a degree of limited access to the account, but this usually only pertains to information about the account.

For example, your bank might permit your spouse to access information about your recent transaction history or find out what your account balance is, but they will not be allowed to access your funds or make transactions themselves.

Understanding the policy in advance helps ensure it will suit you. If you need your spouse to be able to do more than this, you may want to consider a joint account, at least for some of your funds.

Legal Ways To Access a Spouse’s Account

Here are some situations where a spouse may be legally allowed by the bank to access your bank account.

  • Authorized user. You can add your spouse as an authorized user on your individual checking account. This allows your spouse to use the account for certain transactions without full ownership rights.
  • Power of attorney (POA). Granting your spouse power of attorney provides them with legal authority to manage your financial affairs, including accessing your checking account. POA can be limited or broad, depending on your preferences.
  • Beneficiary designation. In the event of your passing, your spouse may gain access to your checking account as a named beneficiary. This often involves presenting a death certificate and other required documents to the bank.
  • Informal agreement. Even without a formal joint account, some couples informally share access to each other's accounts by sharing login credentials or ATM cards. However, this approach may pose security risks and is not recommended without careful consideration.

Reasons for Requesting Access to a Spouse’s Account

Here are some situations where a spouse may access or receive visibility into your bank account.

Bill Payments

Payment of bills is the most common reason for one spouse to access the other spouse’s bank account. For example, if your spouse is usually responsible for paying the bills but they are away, unwell, or otherwise unavailable, you might find that you need to access their account to do this.

This is particularly likely to occur if one partner handles all bill payments and the bills are paid manually, rather than by direct debit. If the other partner does not have the money to handle the bills from their own account, they might need to access their spouse’s account.

If you have a joint account, you are both able to take care of the bills as and when the need arises. This increases flexibility, helps you avoid late payments, and may also make both partners feel empowered, reducing the burden and sharing the load.

Emergencies

An emergency is another common reason for accessing a spouse’s bank account, especially if they are either injured or otherwise unable to help you deal with the emergency. For example, if your spouse has fallen ill, you may need to access their bank account to cover emergency medical care, travel expenses, etc.

Not being able to access funds when something goes wrong is immensely stressful, and adds to a potentially already stressful situation. It’s therefore wise for spouses to have a backup plan or money available in a joint account in case something like this should occur.

Transparency

It’s very important to be able to trust your spouse, and transparency when it comes to finances is key to this for some couples. If you feel like your spouse is hiding money or otherwise being dishonest about their finances, this can drive an uncomfortable wedge between you, especially if one party earns more than the other.

Some couples find that they can function much more comfortably if they have everything out in the open and both sides can access money equally. This increases trust and ensures both people are on the same page about where finances are.

Can Your Spouse View Your Bank Statements?

In most cases, your spouse cannot view your bank statements if you only have a personal account, rather than a joint account. However, bear in mind that if you receive paper statements, they may be able to open them when you receive them, or check your filing system to read them.

Furthermore, if you do not keep your details secure, there is a chance that your spouse could log into your online banking (depending upon the setup) and view your statements there.

If you don’t want your spouse to view your bank statements, you may wish to stop paper statements and ensure you keep your login details secure. Most banks will provide only electronic statements if you request this, and these may be easier to keep private. Alternatively, you can scan and then shred paper statements, but this is more work and less eco-friendly.

Can My Spouse See My Credit Report?

No, your spouse cannot usually see your credit report. Marrying somebody does not give them automatic access to this information, and it will remain confidential. If you wish to find out anything about your credit report, you will generally have to get in touch in person.

Some circumstances let other parties view your credit report, something known as “permissible purpose,” but this usually only refers to those who have a specific need to check it, such as a money lender, an employer considering a potential employee, or a landlord considering a new tenant.

Marriage does not count as a “permissible purpose,” and therefore your spouse cannot access your credit report.

Should Spouses Have Separate Bank Accounts?

This depends very much on the couple in question. Some people strongly believe that it is important for spouses to have separate bank accounts, while others think it is much better to have a shared account.

Let’s briefly explore the reasons for and against. We have already looked at a few reasons why having a joint account can make life easier when something unexpected comes up, but it can also make life more efficient, and ensure that joint expenses can be dealt with easily.

For example, if you have a joint account, you can both pay for things like groceries, fuel, etc., with ease, and you don’t have to worry about paying each other back. This is convenient and can make both parties feel equal, even if they do not earn the same amount of money.

It’s also easier to track spending goals, check outgoings, and make adjustments when something needs changing, while separate accounts can make these actions more complex. There’s less need to discuss money, because you’ll both be on the same page, and this can make life easier and reduce disagreements.

However, it’s important to be aware that some couples dislike the amount of oversight and end up feeling anxious and scrutinized. It can also increase the risk of debt collectors taking money from both individuals, even if the debt is only owned by one spouse.

It also causes other logistical issues, especially in terms of buying gifts. It isn’t easy to surprise your spouse if you both have access to the account and can see all transactions and where the money is going. Forget springing a romantic activity or big ticket item on them at the last minute – they’re likely to see it in the statement in advance.

Furthermore, if you do decide to separate, it can make the split messier and may leave one or the other partner vulnerable to being controlled by the other. Uncomfortable and awkward discussions may arise, while if you have your own accounts, you can keep your money as yours, and their money as theirs.

Some couples choose to have both a joint account and separate accounts, which can work well – but bear in mind that many banks charge for every account you have, which increases your monthly expenditure and may feel like an unnecessary cost to add to your life.

Related Frequently Asked Questions

Here are a few frequently asked questions when readers look up spousal bank account rules.

Can You Still Withdraw Money from a Joint Account If One Person Dies?

Yes, in most cases, the surviving account holder(s) can still withdraw money from a joint account if one person dies. Joint accounts are typically set up with rights of survivorship, which means that if one account holder passes away, the surviving account holder(s) retain full access to the funds in the account. However, it's important to note that there may be additional steps or documentation required, such as providing a death certificate, to access the funds.

What Does "TOD" Mean in Banking?

"TOD" stands for "Transfer on Death." In banking, a TOD designation is used to transfer the balance of an account to a named beneficiary upon the account holder's death. This designation allows the account to bypass the probate process and pass directly to the beneficiary.

TOD designations are commonly used for bank accounts, such as savings accounts or certificates of deposit (CDs), and can be added to both individual and joint accounts.

Can My Spouse Empty My Bank Account During a Divorce?

In most cases, both spouses have equal rights to funds in a joint bank account. This means that either spouse can withdraw money from the account without the other's consent. However, there are rules in place to prevent one spouse from taking advantage of this.

Many states have automatic temporary restraining orders (ATROs) that come into effect when a divorce is filed. These orders often prevent either spouse from making large financial transactions without the other's consent. Violating these orders can lead to serious consequences.

If you're worried about your spouse emptying a joint bank account during your divorce, it's important to take action to protect yourself. Consider speaking with your attorney about obtaining a court order to prevent your spouse from accessing the account or moving funds to a separate account in your name only.

What Happens To Separate Accounts When a Spouse Dies?

Having separate accounts can be a serious drawback when one spouse passes away. The account will be immediately frozen when the account holder dies, and will then need to go through the probate process, and will pass into the control of the executor.

The spouse will not be allowed to access the funds, regardless of previous documentation (power of attorney, written instructions on the account, etc.). The only exception to this is if the partner who owned the account has set up something called “Transfer On Death” (TOD), which will permit you to access it once you have provided a death certificate.

If this is the case, you must be one of the named beneficiaries or individuals with a right to access the account, or you still won’t be able to do anything. If there are no named beneficiaries, the account becomes part of the estate and will pass into a probate court.

The court will then decide where the funds go, and this is often time-consuming and expensive. Individuals need to be aware of this when they set up TOD accounts.

What Should I Do If My Spouse Takes Money from My Personal Bank Account?

This depends on the setup you have. If you and your spouse share a joint account, there is nothing you can do to prevent them from removing funds; they have that right. This is true even if they empty the account without your approval. Unfortunately, this does happen to individuals at times, so bear this in mind when you settle upon a banking setup.

If your spouse accesses your personal account, they are acting illegally, and you have legal rights to demand the money be paid back. You may need to hire an attorney for this.

There are many complexities to consider when you’re dealing with bank accounts and marriage. Many people assume that their finances will merge automatically, but that’s not the case; you’ll need to decide for yourself how separate (or not) you want to keep your money.

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