Primary vs Joint Ownership? Breaking down your account options.

by Karita Robins

Process Design Analyst


Did you know your personal accounts include the option for Joint Ownership? Let’s break down the differences between Primary and Joint Ownership and what they mean for you at Coastal.

Account Ownership

To join Coastal, you must deposit at least $5 into a primary savings account. This creates your membership number. Any additional products or accounts you open are all tied to this membership number. This differs from most banks, where each account or product might have its own specific account number.

One of the key distinctions that separates us from other banks is how our account ownership works. Some of the terms you might often hear when discussing account ownership rights are Primary or Joint Owner. Let’s take a minute to explain what the two terms mean.

Primary Ownership

“Primary” refers to the Primary Member-Owner of a Coastal Membership account, plus any additional accounts or products opened under that membership number. For example, once you open your membership or savings account, you have all the rights and privileges of a credit union member and are then eligible to open products such as a checking account, mortgage, auto loan, etc., all under the same Membership number. As the Primary Member Owner, you have full control over all those accounts and products.

Joint Ownership

“Joint Owner” refers to someone who is added to a specific product or account.  Joint Owners can only be assigned privileges on individual product types or accounts, not given automatic access to all accounts or products. Take our previous example— when you add a Joint Owner to your checking account, they will only have access to your checking account. The joint owner would not be authorized to access any other products you may have under your membership number.

As the Primary Owner, you may elect to include “Joint with Right of Survivorship” to the jointly held products. That means upon the death of one joint owner, the money remaining in the account belongs equally to the surviving joint owners and will not pass by inheritance to heirs of the deceased joint owner or be controlled by the deceased joint owner’s will.

A big distinction to make is that Joint Owners are NOT considered Coastal Members unless they have their own individual Membership account tied to their own Social Security Number.

There are some restrictions on the rights and access privileges of Joint Owners. Let’s look at the different access privileges of a Primary and Joint Owner:


  Primary Owner Joint Owner
Access to all products under the member number
i.e., Primary Savings, Go Green Checking, Loans, Mortgage, etc.
Remove joint owner
*If an account has multiple joint owners, a joint owner may only remove themselves and not other joint owners.
Perform transactions on the products
i.e., Deposits, Withdrawals, Transfers
Perform maintenance on products/account*
*Joint Owner may change data related to their personal information, such as contact details
Change online banking password X  
Open new products X  
Close products X  
Close membership account X  

Now, you may be asking yourself, why this big difference? Why does it matter?

As we mentioned above, when a Primary Membership account is opened at Coastal, that account is tied to your Social Security Number. All information related to the account, including information that gets reported for tax purposes, such as dividends earned or interest paid, is only linked to your SSN. If you have a Joint Owner on the account, information is not tied to that person’s Social Security Number.

Next Steps

Before proceeding with opening your account, make sure to have a conversation about account rights and access with anyone you intend to include on your account. It is important for potential Joint Owners to be aware of which accounts they can or cannot access. You may also want to discuss the designation of beneficiaries on your accounts.

Here are some questions to ask before deciding on joint ownership:

  • Who is the person who most often does the general banking transactions for your family?
  • Who prefers online or digital banking the most?
  • What access concerns do you have with a joint owner?

If you still have questions or concerns regarding joint ownership, visit one of our branches to speak with a Coastal Representative. We can help you determine how Joint Ownership should be decided to meet your financial needs best.

We are so excited you are considering Coastal to be your trusted financial partner. And we look forward to helping you bank better to live better.


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