A joint account is a good option for those individuals who want or need more than one person authorized to use a bank account. Generally speaking, when you open a new checking or savings account at a bank or credit union your name will appear on the account and only your name will appear on the account. This is fine for some people, but there are others, especially married couples, who need more than that one name on the account. For those individuals a joint account is the way to go.
A joint account does not have to be limited to married couples. Many businesses will use a joint account. Parents who have adult children may wish to open a joint account. Some community agencies may wish to have joint accounts as well.
Once a joint account is opened any person listed on the account may make deposits into the account; they may write checks on the account and they can withdraw money from the account. In some cases, however, the joint account can be restricted so that it takes two signatures on checks or withdrawal slips before money is released. This is usually done to avoid secret or illegal withdraws from the account.
As mentioned above, a joint account is very popular with married couples. This type of account allows both people to have access to the money and it can make bill paying much easier as either party can sign the check to be sent off. There are others who may find a joint account useful as well. Elderly parents may want to set up a joint account with their adult children in order to pay bills or to avoid probate court after death.
An important issue about joint accounts is that of right of survivorship. What this means is that if two people open a joint account and one dies, the other party is usually entitled to the remaining balance of that account without having to go to probate court in order to get it. This may not be the case with other types of accounts that may be subject to probate court restrictions. Those types of accounts can keep the money in probate or escrow (which means you cannot use it) for years.
Before you agree to a joint account with another person make sure that you understand that the other person will have full access to the funds in the account. You need to trust the other person and they need to be able to trust you. You also need to understand that you can be held liable for any overdrafts to the account even if you did not write the check.
Another important issue to consider before agreeing to a joint account is that creditors look at joint accounts the same way they do individual accounts. What this means is that they will be able to deduct money from the account even if you did not default with them.
For married couples, there are some occasions when having two individual accounts is preferable to a joint account. This can be especially important if one party has a lot of outstanding debt and may be at risk of liens on his or her bank account. Joint accounts work best only when they are set up with those who trust you and with whom you trust.