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Protecting your finances during a break-up

Breaking up with your significant other is a painful process, and most people want to get it over with as soon as possible – even if it means avoiding important discussions about possessions, finances, and joint assets.

But leaving issues unresolved can be a costly mistake – both financially and emotionally, and you might not truly realize the impact until several years down the road. This is especially true if you live together. I know first-hand how hard it can be! But I’ve learned from each experience, and I know to be a lot more cautious in the future.

Even though it sucks to think about the possibility of your relationship falling apart, but it happens sometimes. And in order for each of you to protect your finances during a break-up, you both need to put your differences aside and have a mature discussion.

Here are a few ways you can protect yourself and your finances:

Make a list of joint assets and liabilities

You will need to make copies of any joint bank account statements, Registered Retirement Savings Plan (RRSP) accounts, Tax-Free Savings Accounts (TFSA), and any investments. Don’t forget to include past tax returns, credit card statements, insurance and extended health policies, as well as mortgage payers or rental agreements.

If you have joint savings accounts or assets, talk about how you plan on splitting the money. Then, close the joint accounts as soon as possible. If you don’t already have one, open up a new account in your own name.

If you have joint debt, or if one partner owes the other partner money, you need to start talking about it immediately. Come up with a realistic payment schedule that both of you can agree upon, and don’t forget about any interest or banking fees that might accumulate as a result of holding the debt. The last thing you want to do is have to take (or be taken) to small claims court, garnish wages, fill out the endless amounts of paperwork – it’s a nightmare. I’ve been down that road, and trust me, it’s not fun.

Cancel joint credit cards and keep paying your bills

Make sure all joint loans and credit cards are canceled, and that you have a credit card in your own name only. Regardless of who owes what on your joint accounts, you are both responsible for paying it off. Interest charges can add up fast, so make sure you are both on the same page when it comes to creating a plan to get rid of your joint liabilities as quickly as possible.

Don’t forget to check your Equifax and Transunion credit reports a few months after breaking up to make sure that all of the information the credit bureaus have on you is accurate and up-to-date.

Have cash easily accessible

If you have been able to funnel cash into a savings account or emergency fund over the years, keep it where you can easily access it. You might need it for various expenses such as moving, rental deposits, furniture, and other miscellaneous costs.

If you don’t have cash available to you, consider opening up a low interest line of credit with your bank. It is not ideal, but it’s better than using a credit card, and it could help you out in an emergency situation.

Don’t make any huge financial decisions

Take your time and try not to rush into huge investment decisions or making big purchases right away. Chances are you aren’t thinking with a clear head, and if you don’t have a plan of action, you could end up making a costly mistake.

You need to make logical decisions that will help you reach your financial goals. If you’re unsure of how to handle money, get advice from an expert before going to friends or relatives.

Update your extended benefits, insurance policies and will

If your partner was listed as a dependent and/or beneficiary through your extended health benefits and insurance policies, you should update that information immediately. Contact your HR department as well as your benefits provider to advise them of the changes.

If your partner was listed as your emergency contact, make sure to go through your records and change that information as soon as you can.

Unfortunately, not all relationships last forever. This is especially true for 20-somethings who are still trying to figure out what they want from life. Make sure you’re talking openly about money and goals with your partner, and remember that it’s so important to always keep a sense of financial independence!

What tips do you have for protecting yourself during a break-up?

Author: Krystal Yee

I’m a personal finance blogger and marketing professional based in Vancouver. I’m a former Toronto Star (Moneyville) columnist, author of The Beginner’s Guide to Saving and Investing, and co-founder of the Canadian Personal Finance Conference. When I’m not working, you can usually find me running, climbing, playing field hockey, or plotting my next adventure.


  1. Frugalfries says:

    Thankfully, I have never been in this situation. I’ve been with my current significant other for more than seven years, so I am sure it would be messy if we were to split though!

    Despite that, we actually don’t have joint savings or shared accounts for anything. We’ve always kept it separate. I think other things, like splitting possessions or figuring out cat custody would be the difficult part. I mean, who gets to keep the tv when you both paid for it? That is some tricky business right there.

    • Krystal Yee says:

      I totally agree! When you go 50/50 with someone on something, how do you decide? My last relationship was 3.5 years long, and we purchased everything separately. I paid for the couch and the TV myself, and we used his kitchen stuff (mine was stored in boxes) so there was no doubt who owned what when we broke up.

  2. Savvy Scot says:

    Ill be honest – we haven’t thought about that at all – and don’t plan to. After recently getting married, I have committed for life – the way I see that I am so confident that it will work – I am willing to lose it all :)

    • Geoff says:

      That’s a great attitude to have. Such a shame more aren’t committed to marriage the way they were in times gone by. The prevailing idea seems to be that if it doesn’t work out just get a divorce.

  3. Anonymous says:

    “Take your time and try not to rush into huge investment decisions or making big purchases right away. Chances are you aren’t thinking with a clear head, and if you don’t have a plan of action, you could end up making a costly mistake.”

    Would buying property immediately following a breakup be a good example of this?

  4. We haven’t rushed into purchasing huge items together or combining finances. After living together for a while, we just opened up a joint chequing account because it makes life easier. We each make a deposit every month that is for living expenses for that month only.

    For me, it’s not idea to have a stake in each others finances or benefits unless we’re married, even then things could get ugly, but it gives me more confidence.

    We’re in the process of saving for a house and our savings are separate.

  5. Michelle says:

    We honestly haven’t thought about what we would do. It’s a scary thing to think about.

  6. Modest Money says:

    I just went through all of this last month. It can be messy splitting everything up. At the time I just wanted her to be happy. So I ended up giving her a lot of the stuff that I actually wanted and needed too. I figured it’s better to make a clean break rather than have her bitter and leave the potential for her taking me to court. I did make sure I got the big tv that I paid for though.

    • Savvy Scott says:

      The other thing to consider is that often joint possessions have memories you would rather not be painfully reminded of everyday. Agree with Jeremy that a clean break is good!

  7. greg says:

    Not to be rude or anything – but did you write this? It doesn’t really sound like your voice – its so much more formal that how you normally write. Seems almost like a rejected article for Moneyville or something. I wish you would write in your voice – I mean why couldn’t you have linked it back to your experience last year to provide more personal examples?

  8. Savvy Scott says:

    If all you are going to do is hate – then f off and go and read another blog. Although after saying that, you are making Krystal more money by commenting and visiting so keep at it :)

  9. Check your credit files. For as long as credit agencies think you’re still together, you’re former other-half’s credit rating will continue to affect yours.

    Not sure what the situation is over on the other side of the Atlantic, but over here, you need to write to credit reference agencies to request ‘disassociation’ after you’ve split.

    Incidentally I’m with @SavvyScott here. @sara nice to see bitchiness while you cower behind the anonymity of the internet. Very big of you.

  10. Most couples don’t want to have a contract because it’s unromantic and they “will never split up.” But these would be good discussion points for a couple even if they don’t put anything in writing. The worst cases I’ve seen are the ones in which the couple has a huge disparity in resources, such as one partner putting the other through school, and then comes the breakup.

  11. This is a great post. Thankfully I have never been in this scenario but I can see how it could be stressful.

  12. Peter says:

    I’m sorry you and your boyfriend are on the rocks. It’s good to think about your own finances now before the inevitable happens.

  13. Frugally fabulous student says:

    Wow, there are some really insecure commenters on here who seem to feel better about themselves by criticizing/putting down others. Great blog Krystal. I love reading it and I think you have some really great articles. I think it takes a lot of courage to write a blog, especially on personal finance, and you’ve done a great job.

  14. FloJo says:

    Seems kinda inevitable you guys would have a rough time living like the way you do and being so tight with money.

    Good luck! Just don’t be with that many guys or else the guy you really want to be with won’t want to be with you b/c no guy wants to go out with a girl whose been around the block that much.

  15. AM says:

    When my husband and I combined our finances we made relatively the same, had the same in savings. We combined our finances officially when we bought our first place, made a joint budget, etc. We never even thought about keeping our finances separate and it’s worked for us. We usually know how much we’ll spend in a month. We try to buy only what we need/will thoroughly enjoy and have savings goals. We do consult on big purchases but in five years of marriage, we haven’t said no to each other. We just haven’t asked for anything ridiculous. I think subconsciously we’ve kept each in check. I think combining finances can work for some people. It just depends if your spending habits are the same.

    @FloJo – I’ve dated many, many people. I married the love of my life at 26. Your comment is a complete put-down to women. Implying a woman is damaged goods because she has sex is very insulting. A confident, kind woman, in my opinion, is the best catch a man can hope for and vice-versa.

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