What Is a Joint Account?

A joint account is a bank or brokerage account that is shared between two or more individuals. Joint accounts are most likely to be used by relatives, couples, or business partners who have a level of familiarity and trust with each other. It typically allows anyone named on the account to access funds within it.

There are multiple ways accounts can be established, each with its own implications for how money or assets can be accessed within the account or how the contents of the account are handled after one of the joint holders passes away.

Key Takeaways

  • A joint account is a bank or brokerage account shared by two or more individuals.
  • Joint accounts holders have equal access to funds, but also share equal responsibility of any fees or charges incurred.
  • Transactions conducted through a joint account may require the signature of all parties or just one.

How Joint Accounts Work

Joint accounts work just like regular accounts, expect they can have two or more authorized users. They can be established on a permanent basis, such as an account between a couple into which their salaries are deposited. They may also be temporary, such as an account between two parties who contribute funds for a short-term purpose.

Bank accounts held jointly between two parties may be titled with an "and" or an "or" between the account holders' names. If the account is listed as an "and" account, then both/all parties must sign to access the funds. If it is an "or" account, only one of the parties needs to sign. 

Accounts that are jointly held include deposit accounts at banks including checking and savings accounts, credit cards, and other credit products such as loans, lines of credit (LOC), and mortgages. The joint status authorizes all those listed on the account full use, but also the responsibility for any payments, fees, or charges incurred.

Opening a joint account is as simple as opening up a single account. Both parties should be present at the bank when the account is open—whether that's a deposit account or other product like a mortgage or loan. For credit cards, adding a secondary or authorized user is akin to opening a joint account. In most cases, this requires the signature of the second party.

Uses and Benefits of Joint Accounts

Joint accounts can be useful for their holders and provide a number of benefits. Many accounts require minimum balances, especially if they want to access the benefits of a specific account type. By pooling their money together, two people can bypass this requirement and reap the benefits of the account.

Opening a joint account may also be very helpful to newer couples who are at the relationship stage of combining their finances. They may find it easier to have a single account into which they can deposit their paychecks and make payments for their rent or mortgage, bills, or other joint debts.

A senior may find it useful to put one of their children or another authorized user onto their accounts in order to pay bills and do routine banking on their behalf if and when they aren't able to do so on their own.

Pitfalls of Joint Accounts

Joint accounts can cause some major headaches, though, because they generally provide all parties unlimited access to the funds. This is especially true if one party is more frivolous with money than the other. For instance, if one spouse can't seem to control their spending habits, that will affect the other spouse, who may be more frugal. The frugal spouse isn't able to challenge the withdrawals or transactions of the other spouse with the bank because they are listed as a joint account holder.

Another thing to keep in mind with joint accounts is that all parties with access are responsible for any and all fees and charges. If your husband runs up your joint credit card, you are both equally responsible to pay it back. Similarly, if your joint checking account goes into overdraft, you're both liable to bring the balance back into the black.

The government may seize any funds in a joint account to satisfy an outstanding order. That includes back taxes that may be owing, child support, or other court-ordered garnishments that may be issued.

It's best for both parties to speak to one another and understand what responsibilities come opening a joint account before doing so. By doing this, you can avoid any unnecessary problems and conflict that may arise.

All parties should discuss the pros and cons of opening a joint account before doing so in order to avoid any issues that may arise.

Joint Account Rights

There are several titling mechanics that designate how the funds are divided if one of the parties on the account passes away. These options are required on brokerage accounts.

Joint Tenants with Rights of Survivorship (JTWROS): If one of the parties passes away, the assets in the account pass by the rule of law—outside of probate—to the surviving parties.

Tenants in Common (TIC): This allows each joint holder of the account to designate their own beneficiary for their portion of the assets in the event they pass away. Instead of transferring by the rule of law to the second account holder, the assets are passed to the beneficiary. In addition, the assets may not be automatically split 50/50. The TIC designation allows the tenants to divide ownership of the property any way they choose.

Joint Tenants option: Selecting this option mandates a 50/50 split of the assets in the joint account.