With regular bank accounts, individuals have sole control over their finances and funds. But, for those looking to open an account with their significant other or family member, the answer lies in a joint account.
According to Chris Hess, branch manager at Middlefield Bank in Beachwood; David Mikolay, vice president and Akron-Canton regional market manager at CF Bank in Fairlawn; and Jacki Pellettiere, branch manager at Peoples Bank in Beachwood, joint accounts function the same way individual accounts do, but allow for multiple account holders.
“It is an account with more than one owner and everyone has full ownership of the account, regardless of who makes the deposits,” Mikolay said. “Usually, joint owners can have individual debit card access to that account, check-writing access and online access. More people are able to access the account.”
Joint accounts can be used in any personal relationship – not only for married couples. This includes parents and young adult children, friends, roommates, partners and business associates.
“You don’t have to be married to open a joint account,” Pellettiere explained. “You can add whoever you want to add as long as they are over 18 years old with proper ID. It can be life partners or a parent that is helping their child in college so they can still use the account, make deposits and do banking work while the student is out of town.”
The benefits of joint accounts vary, Hess said.
“The major benefit is in the event of death, the account avoids probate,” he stated. “You just have to produce a death certificate proving one of the owners is deceased and then the remaining owner, or owners, become the sole owner(s) of those funds. You don’t have to have appointment papers from the court to access and change it.”
Hess added that is where family squabbles can happen, as the conversation of intent comes into play.
“The bank is not in the business of determining if someone is in their sound mind, though it is part of the equation,” he noted. “There is elder abuse, and we do watch for that, but you can usually tell with the interaction between the two that everything is fine.”
But when there are benefits to a situation, there are always potential downsides. Pellettiere said though it’s good both account holders have equal responsibility in the account, that can also cause issues.
“You have the keys to the kingdom,” she said. “If you add someone to your account and they overdraw and cause fees, you’re also responsible.”
Mikolay said, “I would always recommend knowing who you’re going to be on the account with them as each person is responsible for the activity. If deposits are made, everyone has access to those funds. If there are overdrafts, each person is responsible.”
Misconceptions go along with joint accounts.
“The first one is the idea that you have to be married or related,” Mikolay said. “The other one is all about responsibility on the account. If you’re on the account with another person and they write a bad check, you’re responsible though you didn’t do it.”
Hess said another misconception goes back to intention in the event of the death of an owner.
“The banks will never get into an argument with the survivor of a deceased individual,” he said. “It’s hard to prove and you’re more than welcome to take legal action if you wish, but the person on the account is who we’re going to speak to and release the funds to.”
Establishing a joint account is as easy as setting up an individual account, the professionals said. Each signer should have a valid ID and be over age 18. Other information needed includes current addresses, telephone numbers, dates of birth and banking habits. The accounts must be opened in person.
“Don’t ever be afraid to ask questions,” Pellettiere added. “It is the bank’s job to help you. Make sure you have your accounts set up exactly how you’d like them to function. That way, you’re better prepared in your banking.”