Who Pays Interest Taxes on Joint Bank Accounts?

There are plenty of advantages and disadvantages of joint bank accounts.

And, when you sign up for a joint bank account, the last thing you’re thinking about is how do joint bank account taxes work.

In some cases, joint bank account taxes are easy to figure out, but in other cases, things may be more difficult to figure out.

Who is responsible for paying the taxes on earned interest in a joint bank account?

The answer:

It depends on which account owner takes responsibility for the tax liability or if all accountholders are paying their fair share.

Learn how taxes apply to joint bank accounts and how to address them when it comes time to your tax return.

How Do Taxes Work for Interest Paid on Joint Bank Accounts?

Look:

Banks are required to report interest earned on a bank account in excess of $10 each year to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) using Form 1099-INT.

Essentially, the IRS requires this so that people pay taxes on the interest they earn.

Without this form, many people would likely forget to report and pay taxes on this income.

For individual accounts

For a traditional bank account with just one owner, the process is easy.

If the interest paid exceeds $10 in a year, the bank issues a 1099-INT to the account holder. Then, the account holder reports that income on their income tax return.

Unfortunately, things get more complicated when a bank account is jointly held with more than one person.

For joint accounts

The Form 1099-INT only has room to list one recipient and Social Security Number to report the interest income.

This means the financial institution cannot issue the 1099-INT to both joint account holders using one form.

The banks can’t send two 1099-INT forms with the total interest earned, either.

This would double report the income which would confuse the IRS. It’d also result in two people having to pay taxes on the same income.

So, what can the banks do?

The bank will likely issue a 1099-INT with the total interest earned in the year to the primary account holder.

The secondary or joint account holder likely won’t receive a 1099-INT from the bank at all.

Does that mean the person who receives the 1099-INT has to pay all of the tax on the interest income?

Here’s what you need to know.

If you're married and filing a tax return jointly

If you’re married to the joint account holder and filing a joint tax return, the situation is easy.

Simply take the reported income on the 1099-INT and put it on your joint tax return.

Since everything is combined on your tax return, you’ll both end up paying the tax on the interest income together.

If you're married filing separately

If you’re married but filing separate tax returns, things get more complicated.

Because each spouse files a tax return separately, you’ll have to divide the interest income between the two joint account holders.

The IRS treats the division of income on joint accounts based on local laws. That means you need to know how your state divides assets.

Then, use those rules to determine who pays the tax and how much tax they pay.

For those that live in a community property state, the math is simple. Each person reports half of the interest income on their individual returns.

For those that don’t live in community property states, it’s a bit more complex.

You’ll have to divide the interest income based on your portion of ownership of the account throughout the year.

You’ll also need to alert the IRS that the person that received the 1099-INT isn’t reporting the full income on their return.

The IRS will need to know who is paying tax on the rest of the income.

You’ll learn exactly how to do this in a minute.

If you're not married

If you hold a joint bank account and you aren’t married, you don’t have to worry about community property laws.

Instead:

Just pay taxes on the interest based on your portion of ownership of the account.

Just like with those married filing separately, you’ll need to alert the IRS that the interest income will be reported on two tax returns. Here’s how to do that.

Reporting Interest Paid by the Joint Account Holder

When one person receives interest on behalf of someone else, it’s called nominee interest.

The person that receives the interest has two choices on how to treat it as far as taxes go.

1. Take full liability of owed taxes

First, you can choose to pay all the taxes on the interest earned.

If the amount of interest reported on the joint bank account is low, it may make sense just to pay the tax on the interest yourself.

Yes:

You may pay a little bit more in taxes, but it makes life much easier. If you’re married or the joint owner is a loved one, it may not be worth the hassle.

By opting to pay taxes on the interest yourself, you don’t have to worry about filling out extra forms. The joint owner doesn’t have to pay any taxes on the interest, either.

That said, it is possible to earn a hefty amount of interest if the account has a high enough balance.

In these cases, you may have to pay more than just a little bit of tax on the interest income.

2. Split the tax liability

If this is your situation, you may want to split the income even if the joint owner is a family member or loved one.

To split the interest income, you’ll need to fill out a Form 1099-INT. You will list your information as the payer and the joint owner’s information as the recipient.

You’ll list the joint owner’s interest income in box 1, interest income. Make sure you only list the portion the joint owner is responsible for, not the full amount.

This will let the IRS know you aren’t reporting the reported portion of the interest on your tax return. It also alerts the IRS that the joint owner and recipient of the 1099-INT will be reporting their share of the income on their tax return.

The form will need to be sent to the person receiving the interest (the joint owner) and to the IRS.

The IRS also requires you to file Form 1096, which is a summary of all 1099 forms you send to the IRS.

Don’t Forget About Joint Bank Account Drawbacks

While joint bank accounts can make your life easier most of the time, they can also result in chaos.

The chaos can far exceed the minor inconvenience of figuring out who pays taxes on the interest.

Full control by all parties

When you sign up for a joint bank account, both people have 100% ownership over the account.

That means they can completely empty the account leaving you high and dry.

Joint bank accounts can also leave you in unanticipated sticky situations. Since both account holders have 100% ownership, the assets in the account can be subject to many unanticipated issues.

Subject to bank levy and garnishment

If a joint account holder is sued, accountholders technically have the right to 100% of the assets.

This means the assets could be lost to the lawsuit even though you aren’t the one being sued.

Similarly, if a joint account holder gets behind on the debts or child support, the assets in the bank account might end up getting used to pay off a debt that isn’t yours.

How Does Interest on Custodian Accounts Work?

Thankfully, custodian account interest is much easier to deal with.

Custodian accounts are typically Uniform Gift to Minors Act (UGMA) or Uniform Transfer to Minors Act (UTMA) accounts.

The interest, in this case, is easy because the account is owned by the child. That means the interest will be reported using the child’s Social Security Number, not the custodian’s.

Most children won’t have enough income to bother filing a tax return so it won’t be an issue.

That said:

Your child may have to file a tax return and include income from 1099-INT forms if they have enough income.

Summary

Figuring out how to report interest income earned from a joint bank account shouldn’t be too difficult.

If you don’t mind paying all the tax, the primary account holder can just report all of the income on their return.

Otherwise, divide the income based on the rules for where you live. Then, report the nominee income to the IRS using form 1099-INT.

Even so, tax laws are extremely complicated.

It always helps to consult a tax professional about your particular situation.  

Tax professionals can examine everything going on in your life. Then, they can determine exactly how you should treat a particular source of income, like joint bank account interest, for tax purposes.


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