Joint bank accounts are those bank accounts held jointly between two or more people. Joint bank accounts are commonly held between spouses, though children and parents may be listed as joint owners. Joint bank account holders can both withdraw money from the account and deposit money into the account.
Joint bank accounts are different than authorized users on credit cards. Authorized users on credit cards can charge money to the account but can be removed by the primary account holder. Joint bank account owners cannot exclude the other without his or her permission, though they can take all of the money out of the account. During bankruptcy, joint bank accounts are presumed to be owned equally by all account holders. If one spouse declares bankruptcy, all money going into the joint bank account is considered halfway owned by the debtor in the proceedings. If you have money in a joint bank account, it is considered joint property and at least partially owned by the debtor, even if the other spouse or partner earned all of the money in the account. You will need an attorney’s help to rebut or contest this presumption of joint property.
An unmarried couple with a joint bank account is also subject to this presumption of joint ownership. This is why unmarried couples should not have joint bank accounts but should pay the bills equally out of their own bank accounts. If one person owns a bank account established before the marriage, this is considered non-marital property. However, once the other party is added to the bank account and it is made a joint account, it is considered the other person’s property and becomes subject to garnishment or liquidation during a bankruptcy.
If one person takes money out of a joint account and puts it in a personal bank account in an effort to shield the assets from bankruptcy, this can be mistaken for bankruptcy fraud. If you have joint bank accounts and are facing bankruptcy, consult with an attorney before transferring any money out of the account. Removing a joint bank account holder from the bank account in an effort to shield the other partner is also seen as bankruptcy fraud; instead, you should talk to an attorney about rebutting the presumption of joint ownership and legally contest the creditors’ attempts to claim the money that actually belongs to the innocent party. Speak with a legal professional before you set up a new bank account in your spouse’s name or child’s name or set up new accounts to receive deposited pay checks. Any actions seen by the courts as an effort to hide money will result in a loss of bankruptcy protection and possibly steep fines.
Joint bank accounts can also be set up by parents to save money for a child’s future. If your minor child has a joint bank account, talk to a lawyer to ensure that your child’s assets are not mistakenly claimed by creditors. Older adults who have adult children listed on joint bank accounts need legal representation to prevent pension payouts and Social Security checks from being seized upon deposit to pay a grown child’s creditors.