I made a common money mistake in my early 20s: I combined all of my finances with my live-in boyfriend's. It seemed like the smart thing to do at the time. As it turned out, not so much.
After we separated, I could not qualify for even a credit card in my own name. Even though I co-owned a condo and made regular payments on our joint card, I had not built up any credit history of my own. As far as the banks were concerned, I did not have a financial identity.
I'm not alone in this one. I have met many couples who combine all areas of their finances, including credit cards, lines of credit and bank accounts.
Having a joint account is important for couples. It's a place to funnel money for shared expenses and common goals. However, having an individual account and credit in your own name is equally important.
It's not about hiding purchases from your partner, as you should each know what's coming into and what's going out (dollar-wise) of all accounts. Rather, it's about maintaining a level of independence, financial identity and know-how.
Bottom line: Even if you're happily coupled, you need credit in your own name. Start building it today.
Angela Self is one of the founders of the Smart Cookies money group. Read her biweekly column on managing debt and saving money at globeinvestor.com.