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Even if you’ve been a couple for years, your financial arrangement can be refined to reduce stress and conflict. Money issues are a prime cause of break-ups.

There’s no correct way to set up a household’s budget, spending and planning process, but any system should prevent ugly financial surprises. It should smoothly appropriate funds for routine bills and provide for emergencies and long-term needs like retirement. It should also ensure that each partner builds a solid individual credit history.

For many couples, stress and conflict can be reduced by keeping financial interactions to a minimum. Instead of talking face-to-face, some couples prefer e-mail, which gives more time to calm down before reacting to unwelcome news.

In the 1950s stereotype, the husband made the money and controlled all the finances. Today, it’s more likely that both partners bring wages home. Even if one does not, it pays for both to keep abreast of the finances, since relationships can end, ultimately leaving each partner to have to manage the finances on their own.

If you do end up single again, one thing that’s important is to have an established credit history, which will allow you to get credit cards, a mortgage or other loans. Each partner should therefore have credit cards in his or her own name, even if the monthly bill is paid through a joint account. Use the shopping tool to find the best deal.

While it makes sense to use a joint checking account for shared expenses, it’s also good for each person to have an individual account. By doing this, each can spend modest sums on things like clothes and lunches without the aggravation of requiring the other’s approval, and without creating confusion in the joint account.

Online banking and bill paying makes the process much easier. Select a bank and set up a joint account and two individual accounts, giving each person authority to move cash back and forth.

After a few months, you’ll see how much you typically need for the mortgage, car payments and other shared expenses, and you can agree on each partner’s monthly contributions to the joint account.

If possible, have your employers automatically deposit your pay into your individual accounts, then go online to shift the required sums to the joint account on a fixed schedule, or have the bank do it automatically. Also, get debit cards linked to each account, so you can draw from the appropriate ones for cash purchases.

The survey finds that interest-bearing checking accounts are paying only 0.16 percent, so interest is not a big factor in choosing an account. Use the Compare Savings Rates calculator to assess the value of potential interest earnings.  Then, use the search service to shop for the best checking deal. Be sure to find a bank that won’t nickel and dime you with fees, or restrict the number of transfers between accounts.

Also link your checking accounts to your brokerage and mutual fund accounts, so you can have a quick way to replenish cash if your checking accounts run low.

Many big banks, like Wachovia (Stock Quote: WFC), Bank of America (Stock Quote: BAC) and Commerce Bank (Stock Quote: CBSH), offer seamless online transfers and bill pay, and many smaller local banks and credit unions do as well.

If you have numerous financial accounts, it may pay to track everything with financial software like Quicken (Stock Quote: INTU), or Microsoft Money (Stock Quote: MSFT). Both programs can be used for online bill paying through several banks.

Related Stories:

•    Joint Finances: What You Need to Know First
•    Couples, It’s Time to Resolve Money Differences
•    Get The Most Out Of Your Checking Account

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