Who Owns the Money in a Joint Bank Account?

Lindsay Goldwert
December 1st, 2020 | 5 min
Who Owns the Money in a Joint Bank Account?
Photo by Norwood on Unsplash
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It takes two (or more) to open a joint account. But really, who owns the money in the account? We break it down so that you can go into this decision with confidence.

What’s a joint bank account?

In short, a joint account is a bank account held by more than one person.Joint accounts aren’t just for married couples. Cohabitating couples, family members, roommates can all go into a bank or sign up for a joint account. The account holders can write, sign, or send checks from the account or use a shared debit card.

Who owns the money in a joint account?

Here’s what’s important to know: Both or all parties are legal owners of the joint account, and thereby, own the money. It doesn’t matter who decides to open the account, each individual is able to deposit and withdraw money into and from it.

Important: This means that one account holder can withdraw all of the money in the account without the consent of the other.

What if one of us deposits more of the money into the joint account?

It doesn’t matter who the larger contributor is, you both have equal access to the funds within the account. So even if Jane is constantly funding the account but Joe is constantly withdrawing money, they have equal access to the money in the account.

Who’s legally responsible for the money in a joint account?

You’re in it together. That means if one account holder overdrafts the account, commits fraud, or commits other negative financial actions, all the holders are on the hook and are financially or even possibly criminally liable.

This is why it’s so important to trust the person that you’re opening the account with. Before opening the account, make sure you know the rules going in and are confident that your co-account holders are financially responsible enough to commit to sharing a bank account with.

Can I keep some of my money separate from the money in my joint account?

Of course, there’s no rule that you have to go all-in with your finances with another person. You can absolutely keep your own individual account and contribute to your joint account as you see fit. There are lots of ways to automate money into your joint account so that there’s always money when your rent or mortgage is due.

Some banks will allow funds to be transferred from a joint account into an individual account if both accounts are owned by the same bank. If you want to understand all the ways your money can flow back and forth from your joint account and individual accounts, it’s best to check with your bank and see what it allows you to do.

Who gets the money if one of us dies?

If one holder of the account dies, depending on what state you're in, the account and all money contained within will most likely transfer to the surviving holder.

How do I know if I can trust the person I open the account with?

This comes down to your personal judgement and understanding of that person’s financial situation and history with money. At Zeta, we believe that communicating with your partner is key for getting on the same page around money habits and goals for the account.

If you and your partner are ready to take this step, consider playing our 20 Questions game. Not only will it bring you closer to understanding your financial past, present, and future, it will also help you understand each other’s money stories, a part of your biographies that don’t get discussed during the honeymoon phase of relationships.

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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.