What are the Rules of a Joint Account?

Zeta Team
August 4th, 2020 | 5 min
What are the Rules of a Joint Account?
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Joint accounts can be a great tool for sharing finances with an important person in your life, whether it be a partner, parent, sibling or best friend. But before jumping into such a big financial decision, it's important to understand exactly what you're getting into.

This helpful guide will walk you through the rules of creating and maintaining a joint account so that you can understand exactly what you’re signing up for. We'll also help you weigh the pros and cons so that you can decide if a joint account is right for you.

Rules for a Joint Account

Every aspect of starting, owning and maintaining a joint account is governed by strict guidelines. It’s important for you and your partner to understand the rules of a joint account for you both to create a long-lasting, stable financial relationship.

Opening Your Joint Bank Account

Good news! Opening a joint bank account is a fairly simple process and not that different from opening an account by yourself. When applying for the account and filling out the paperwork, you must select the "joint account" option. You are also required to provide a few pieces of important information, including your address, Social Security number, photo ID, and any other required data. The other person on the joint account will have to provide the same information.

Some banks may allow you to simply add a second person to an existing account in order to convert it to a joint holding. Others will require you to close your existing account and start the account opening process from scratch. Make sure to determine what kind of accounts your bank or credit union offers before you open your account there. You should also decide together what sort of account it will be -- checking, savings, a combination of both, or something else entirely.

Make sure you’re opening your joint checking account from a bank that’s FDIC insured. Most banks are, but it's good to get into the habit of checking to see that your money is protected.

How Will the Account Be Funded?

Okay, you’ve both chosen the kind of account you want and you’re ready to go. But wait, you’ll need to put money in the joint account to get it started. This is a good time to start having some important conversations about sharing this account.

You need to decide whether one or both of you will provide the initial funding for the account. Then, decide if you plan on contributing to it regularly or occasionally and your goals for the account. Do you want to work together towards growing the account or simply use it as a place to store your money? It's up to you. Hammering this out early is essential for the two of you to have a stress-free financial relationship.

Who Owns the Money in a Joint Bank Account?

One of the biggest and most important question to ask regarding a joint bank account is "who owns the money?" According to the rules for joint checking accounts, the account and all money contained within are the legal property of all holders. This is still the case if one person is designated as the "primary account holder" and others as "secondary".

Legal arguments regarding joint accounts can become very complicated, as both partners are considered to have equal legal right to all money in the account. Keep in mind that this still holds true even if one person has contributed 100% of the funds and the other has contributed 0%.

According to joint account beneficiary rules, if one holder of a shared account dies, the ownership typically transfers to the surviving holder, unless alternate arrangements have been made in a legally binding manner.

Who Is Allowed to Withdraw Money from a Joint Account?

Both partners are considered equal owners, so you both have equal access to the joint account. This holds true regardless of who put the money into the account in the first place (or who has contributed the most money). All money, up to and including the account's full balance, can be legally withdrawn by any holder at any time.

If either of the account holders possesses an individual account with the same bank, they will also be able to transfer money from the joint account to their individual account at any time. If the individual account is with another bank, this is still possible (and legal), although the process is slightly more complicated, as they’ll have to write a check from the joint account and deposit it into the individual one.

All of the above is why trust is an essential part of opening a shared account with someone.

Who Can Close the Joint Account?

You and the other account holder have the ability to close the account at any time. Keep in mind that the majority of banks do not require proof of agreement to close, meaning that a single person can unilaterally close the account without needing to obtain the consent of the other.

Pros and Cons of a Opening a Joint Account

Keeping all of these rules in mind, it's clear to see that there are both pros and cons to opening a joint account. You should only open a joint account with someone who you trust and have an open, honest financial relationship with. But even if you trust the person you’re opening a shared account with, there are potential downfalls to sharing your finances in this manner.

Consider the following when deciding if a joint account is right for you:

Pros

A joint account can streamline your money management and simplify keeping track of income and expenses.

It gives all account holders a sense of financial responsibility.

Opening a joint account is a great kickoff to beginning to make decisions as a team regarding shared finances.

If you have a child on a joint account, it can offer financial independence (while under a parent’s watchful eye).

Cons

One partner can choose at any time to withdraw all money in the account or even close it entirely.

You both have equal access to the money, even if only one of you is funding the account.

Each account holder can be "on the hook" for the other's behavior (for example, should they overdraft the account).

Now you understand the rules, pros and cons of opening a joint account. If you decide that it's right for you, Zeta is the perfect choice to get started.

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The Zeta Joint Card and Joint Account is offered by Radius Bank, Member FDIC. Zeta Help Inc. is a service provider of the issuing bank. All deposit accounts of the same ownership and/or vesting held at the issuing bank are combined and insured under an FDIC Certificate, up to $500,000. The Zeta Joint Debit Card, provided by MasterCard, may be used everywhere where MasterCard Debit Cards are accepted.