My boyfriend was hanging out at a restaurant with some newlyweds. At one point, they debated ordering more food but finally declined: “We’re on a budget,” they said.
“I know they just got married,” my boyfriend told me. “But I was kind of jealous I couldn’t say we were on a budget too.”
Now we can. Sort of. For the past six weeks, we’ve been using online bank Simple’s shared accounts feature, which Simple released publicly today. Shared accounts are a kind of “kind-of” joint checking account—a way of sharing money when you aren’t quite ready for the commitment of tying your financial lives together but you are too close to keep asking, “Can you Venmo me for that deli order?”
That’s where my boyfriend and I have been for awhile now. He is—how should I put this?—pretty anti-mainstream, especially when it comes to tech. He doesn’t have a Facebook account and hails cabs by hand. I can’t get him to download Venmo, which has cost him hundreds of dollars in bar tabs because I never carry cash.
He was skeptical about a joint Simple account but finally gave in. We experienced a few hiccups in the sign-up process, particularly when while proving we are who we said we are. (Note for the privacy-minded: Simple requires a scanned picture of your driver’s license, Social Security card, or passport.) But once we were in, it worked for us.
With a shared account, each person maintains an individual account and a separate account linked to them. You get debit cards for both accounts, and you can move money between them or transfer money between the shared account and an external bank account. You don’t have to sign out of the app to switch accounts, either. It’s intuitive all around.
My boyfriend and I have fallen into the routine of depositing around $300 into the shared pool each month. We use our shared debit cards to pay for everything when we’re together—dinner, coffee, shared books, movie tickets. Last night, I even tied our Netflix subscription to our shared Simple account. When one person uses the shared debit card, Simple sends a push notification to the other, but no one is privy to the other’s personal finances or account info. You still maintain some privacy, which I like.
Shared accounts are limited to two people, and it would be great if they could accommodate more. Simple says the accounts are great not just for romantic relationships, but any non-business partnerships like roommates or road-trippers. I’d love to see shared accounts for family or households with more than two roommates.
Simple started in 2009 calling itself a tech company, not a bank. It exists purely online, with no brick-and-mortar branches. Spanish bank BBVA bought the startup in 2014, and some users say that’s caused problems. But it’s still courting a young, mobile-centric user base—ugh, I’ll say it: Millennials, like me and my boyfriend. Simple knows launching shared accounts for our demographic is long overdue. Customers would open an account, use it for a few years, then send the inevitable message: “Sorry, I have to close my account. I just got engaged.”
“It would just break our hearts,” says product manager Derek Zumsteg. Simple doesn’t care about the relationship between people sharing an account, and doesn’t want you to worry about it, either. “You don’t want to walk into a bank and have to get the side eye from a manager when you want to open a joint account, asking, ‘What exactly is the relationship between you two?’” he says.
As for me, a faux-joint account has made me feel pretty empowered about our partnership—we’re both literally invested in this. But my boyfriend isn’t convinced it makes much of a difference. “I think it most affected our relationship with waitstaff,” he told me. “At least now they don’t have to split our check on multiple cards.”