One account, two names
Opening a joint account with your partner is a huge commitment and one of the biggest decisions you will make in your relationship. Only do it if you completely trust them to responsibly access the money, in good times and in bad.
Here are some tips to work out whether a joint account is right for you.
Risks of joint accounts
It's not a good idea to open a joint account with someone you have just met as you are giving them access to your money. Joint accounts are only suitable for people who trust each other deeply, like a family member or your long-term partner.
Case study: Costa's girlfriend takes him for a ride
Costa works interstate a lot. He decided to open a joint account with his girlfriend, Jenny. The joint account meant he wouldn't have to worry about paying his bills when he was away as she would arrange it for him.
A few weeks later, Costa checked his account to make sure his boss had paid him that week. He was shocked to find there was no money in the account. Costa tried to contact Jenny but she would not return his calls. He rang his bank and found she had withdrawn all his money. She could do this as it was a joint account that did not need his permission for withdrawals.
After this bad experience, Costa got a separate bank account and decided to set up direct debits for his bills. It would be a long time before he trusted anyone with his money again.
Be very wary of anyone pressuring you to open a joint account. People do have money troubles and may see you as a way to help solve their financial problems.
If you open a joint account which offers credit, and one account holder racks up a large amount of debt they can't pay back, you both risk having a bad entry on your credit report. You are also legally responsible for paying off the debt.
Benefits of joint accounts
People often open a joint account because they pay fewer fees with one account than two. It can also make joint payments like mortgage, rent and other bills easier to manage.
Joint accounts work well for people who spend money in a similar way. Both people should agree how and when they will deposit and withdraw money, to meet the same goals.
If you are thinking about opening a joint account, ask yourself:
A shared account for shared bills
One way to make things more convenient for you and your partner would be to keep your money in separate accounts but open one shared account for your shared bills. Discuss with your partner what bills you will pay with your shared account and how much you each will contribute.
Types of joint accounts
There are two types of joint accounts.
Both to sign
This type of account only allows transactions to be made when both parties sign. For example, if you don't agree that your partner should spend money from the account on a new motorbike, they wouldn't be able to access the money without your agreement. If you are worried about security, this may be a good option for you.
Either to sign
This account allows both parties to transact independently of each other. This is a less secure option because one person can withdraw and use the money without the approval or knowledge of the other.
Case study: Missy's ex-husband empties their bank account
Missy was married for 5 years before she and her husband decided to separate. They had over $10,000 in a joint account that they used to pay bills and save for their children's education. A couple of weeks after the separation, Missy's card was declined in the supermarket. There was no money left in the account and she couldn't pay for her groceries.
Missy rang her bank to complain only to find out that her husband had emptied the joint account. Their account allowed either to sign, so her husband hadn't done anything illegal by emptying the account. Missy talked to a lawyer who told her she would have to fight to get her money back, which could take years.
Additional credit cards on your account
Your credit card provider may offer you the option of having additional cards for family members. These are not strictly joint accounts and the primary credit card holder is usually solely liable for the debt. For more information see secondary credit cards.
Closing a joint account
There is more to closing a joint account than just cutting up the card. Follow the steps below to close the joint account properly.